Walking the Path of Exile

A few months back, I wrote a post about how I would probably never play Path of Exile. From that point on you had to know it was inevitable that I would.

The character select screen in Path of ExileI did not, for the record, end up trying PoE because my view of it had changed. Instead, it was due to my job with Massively Overpowered. MJ provides most of our PoE coverage, but since ARPGs are one of the main genres covered by my column, I feel I should have at least some minimal experience with the big names in the genre, including PoE. And since it’s free to play, there’s not much to lose by trying.

Path of Exile is not entirely what I expected, though it is pretty close.

Given its popularity with the “uphill in the snow both ways” crowd, I was expecting this game to have some quality of life issues, but I was not prepared for just how bad it would be. What stands out for me about Path of Exile more than anything else is just what an absolute nightmare inventory management is in this game.

Maybe it gets better later on, but at least to start, inventory space is severely limited. Making matters worse is that there’s no gold in this game; it’s all barter. Yes, really. So your “currency” also takes up inventory space.

The barter rates aren’t exactly generous, either. Town portal scrolls, for example, are actually fairly pricey, at least from the perspective of a low level character. I quickly realized the optimal way to play was to just not pick up the large majority of loot. It doesn’t sell for enough to justify the cost of taking a portal back to town to sell it.

For a loot-grinder game, this feels downright bizarre.

My witch in Path of ExileOh, yeah, and unlike any other game made in the last twenty years, you can’t double click or right click to sell things, either. You have to click and drag each item over to the sell window — which is entirely separate from the buy window, because screw you, that’s why — which itself has limited space.

On the subject of items, I do want to note how irritating it is to have your skills tied to socketed gems. Nothing like not being able to equip an item that’s an upgrade because its sockets are the wrong colour.

I also quickly realized that there isn’t actually much depth to PoE’s massive and much-applauded skill web. The large majority of the passives are very simple, and it’s not hard at all to figure out a build. It doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out that if I’m playing a class focused on magic and pets I should take the passives that buff magic and pets.

The only thing that makes it challenging is the fact that the damn thing is so huge and is not exactly laid out in the most logical fashion.

The really funny thing is that the actual gameplay — at least at low levels — is really easy. Right now I don’t even have to push buttons on most fights. My zombies can just mow down everything for me.

Near as I can tell Path of Exile’s vaunted challenge is based almost entirely on bad UI design. Clear up some of the QoL issues and you’re left with a relatively simple and pretty easy game.

Combat in Path of ExileNot that I’m really surprised. The kind of people who speak most loudly about games being too casual these days are generally not the upper tiers of players. They’re people who want gatekeeping so they can feel elite regardless of their actual skills.

All that said, there is one thing that impressed me about PoE: The world-building actually seems really good. The setting seems quite deep and fairly original, and I found a lot of interesting lore snippets out in the world. Each is narrated by some surprisingly strong voice acting, and as in Diablo III you can keep moving and fighting while you listen to the narration. It’s great.

Based on its reputation, I had not expected PoE to be a game that puts any effort into story at all, but instead the story seems to have had quite a lot of love poured into it.

This is a world I would like to spend more time in. I am more than a little tempted to keep playing based on the strength of the story alone. I’m just not sure it’s worth fighting with the gods-awful UI and inventory issues.

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It’s Not the Band I Hate; It’s Their Fans

I have never played Path of Exile. I probably never will.

A promotional screenshot from the action RPG Path of ExileThis is not entirely because it’s a game that doesn’t appeal to me. As a free to play fantasy ARPG, it’s in my wheelhouse enough that it should theoretically be worth a look, if nothing else. Unfortunately, its community has done a singularly good job of turning me off the game.

You see, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say anything good about Path of Exile that wasn’t couched in the form of a dig at Diablo III.

This is a turn-off on a number of levels.

Firstly, if the only good thing you can say about your game is that it’s not another game, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Drawing comparisons is one thing, but any game should be able to stand on its own merits.

Second, there is a strong streak of elitism in the criticism leveled at Diablo III, and therefore also in the praise of PoE. While some people do have legitimate grievances of D3 that I won’t argue with, a lot of the time it’s people who seem to think it’s too “dumbed down” and childish, whereas PoE is a “real” ARPG with “proper” skill trees and an appropriately “mature” tone. UPHILL. IN THE SNOW. BOTH WAYS. LIKE A REAL MAN. GRR.

Related to the above, a lot of the things people hate D3 for are the very same things I like about it. I like that I don’t need to Google a guide to figure out my build. I like that experimentation is encouraged. I like that freedom and flexibility.

My crusader in Diablo IIIThe end result is that I have been given the overwhelming impression that PoE is not just a game that isn’t for me, but a game designed for and occupied by people who don’t want players like me around.

Now, I grant it is possible — nay, probable — that I am being unfair. I don’t doubt that a great many people playing Path of Exile are perfectly fine, and not embittered edgelord elitists. It’s also quite possible it’s a fine game I might enjoy.

Unfortunately, the embittered edgelord elitists are the ones you hear from most often, so for me they have become the face of PoE and its community. They’re the first thing I think of when I think of the game, and it’s a negative association that’s gotten so ingrained over the years that it’s hard to overcome.

I started off this post thinking only about Path of Exile, but mulling it over, it occurs to me that PoE is not the first gaming experience I’ve been turned off of by the community.

Despite the fact I’ve playing MMORPGs avidly for the better part of a decade now, I’ve never really gotten into raiding, as longtime readers undoubtedly know. I flirted with it during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, but once the Raid Finder was added, I gave up on “real” raiding forever. Not even my beloved Secret World could make me care about its raids. I never even attempted them.

On reflection, this has at least as much to do with raiders as it does with raids.

A raid group in World of WarcraftMy experience with the raiding community has been almost uniformly one of bitterness, scorn, and elitism. Raiders are the ones who spent years calling me a “filthy casual,” and that’s by far the least offensive label I’ve been given. Raiders are the ones who fly off the handle the moment anyone like me has even a shot at minimal progression. Raiders are the ones I saw treating everyone outside their clique as something less than human.

And again, I know not all raiders are like that. Many are just fine, I know. But that was the prevailing experience I’ve had with raiders. That is the public face of the raiding community, and that bile is what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of raiding.

And that is one of the driving reasons why I never became a raider. There are other things I don’t love about raiding — such as the time commitments — but the community turned me off so badly I never had much motivation to give it a serious shot. Maybe I never would have gotten into raiding anyway, but we’ll never know.

My disinterest in PvP is also affected by this kind of community negativity. Never, in my entire WoW career, have I seen a battleground team lose with good grace. It always ends in name-calling and rage, without exception.

Now, PvP is fairly outside what I find compelling in games to begin with, and I have other issues with PvP outside the community, but the experience I’ve had with people who PvP hasn’t improved matters. PvP was never going to be a favourite activity for me, but it might have made up a larger portion of my gaming diet if my experience with its community had been one of sportsmanship and respect rather than a teeming mass of homophobes, tea-baggers, and nerd-raging man-children.

My rather pitiful rank in Heroes of the StormAll this is just more testament to how negativity and toxicity is poisoning gaming. If you want your hobby to prosper, you need to present a welcoming face, not elitism and hostility.