Steven checks in with PathofExile.
Path of Exile is not the same game it used to be. When it first launched in 2013, it was a charmingly grim but janky throwback to
Diablo II that doubled down on character customisation using an obscenely complex progression system. In the years since then, however, that obscene complexity has spread to nearly every other system, creating a sprawling, daunting and deeply satisfying RPG that evolves at such a rapid pace it’s a challenge to keep up. Thanks to a rigorous schedule of four expansions a year, Path of Exile is a free-to-play game that never stays in one place for long.
Take Delve, Path of Exile’s last update, for example. Like all of Path of Exile’s Challenge Leagues, Delve requires players to start a new character from scratch. This would be enormously frustrating in any other online RPG, but Path of Exile’s Challenge Leagues make starting a new character a tantalising experience because of how dramatically each reworks the main campaign. While I’m still completing the same quests and killing the same bosses from the regular campaign, Delve adds an infinite dungeon that I gradually explore at the same time, along with new skills to play with and tweaks to everything else. Path of Exile’s character progression is so staggeringly diverse that starting over is just an opportunity to try something entirely new.
This infinite dungeon isn’t just a gimmick on the side, but could easily be the setting of an entirely separate RPG. Casual players might occasionally spelunk their way through it looking to plunder some new treasure, but more advanced dungeon delvers will spend thousands of hours pushing their character to its absolute limits trying to be the first to uncover what lies in Delve’s infinite depths.
That’s a very different experience to the previous Incursion expansion, in which players strategically created time paradoxes by travelling to an ancient temple in the past where their actions would shape its layout. Available rewards could then be found in the present. The expansion before that had players playing Pokémon but with a suitable grimdark twist: capturing different rare monsters to use like baking ingredients in a blood offering in order to modify or create different pieces of gear.
The biggest downside to these Challenge League expansions is that they are temporary. If you take a few months out of playing Path of Exile, you will miss out on the current league and all of its exciting new features and unique rewards. Fortunately, it’s common for Grinding Gear Games to take the best ideas from popular Challenge Leagues and find ways of incorporating them into the base game, like the Prophecy expansion which challenged players with finding and fulfilling specific prophecies in exchange for rare loot.
But not everything in Path of Exile
is so fleeting. The Fall of Oriath
expansion was the biggest to date, introducing six brand-new story chapters that addressed many of the narrative threads that were left dangling from the original campaign. War for the Atlas also reworked the entire endgame by adding two nefarious powers that vie for control of Path of Exile’s multiverse. Along the way, Grinding Gear Games is continually adjusting and improving the game’s core systems. When Path of Exile first released, for example, network lag made combat painfully unpredictable, but that issue was solved years ago.
Reinventing the wheel
The end result is an action RPG that is always transforming – a ceaseless wheel of reinvention, innovation and iteration that never stops churning as players start new characters, level them up, gain powerful items and start the process over again to refine their process and (hopefully) earn even more powerful gear the next time around. That process is daunting for newcomers, but it also makes Path of Exile one online game where you will never see and do everything – let alone understand it. That’s a big difference over similar games like Diablo III, which hasn’t changed all that much since 2014’s Reaper of Souls expansion came out.
Unlike Diablo III, Path of Exile isn’t a game defined by one single update. Like all the best MMOs, it’s a world that grows as much as each new character I start, and it’s the single biggest reason to keep playing month after month. Even if you don’t fancy a specific expansion, there’s always a new one on the horizon filled with new features and clever subversions of its core DNA. Oh, and loot. There’s always more loot.
not everything in
Path ofExile is so fleeting