The talk of the town these past few days has been about BlizzCon. More specifically, it’s Blizzard’s decision to announce a mobile game, Diablo: Immortal, which did not sit well with their hardcore PC fanbase. We’ve already covered Diablo: Immortal quite a fair bit, including the reaction from the Path of Exile community. The action role-playing game (ARPG) from New Zealand-based Grinding Gear Games has become the main alternative for anyone seeking to move away from Diablo. That’s probably why the community has been very welcoming of new players — “Diablo refugees” or “Diablo exiles” to the world of Wraeclast — looking to give their game a try.
This is my story as a Path of Exile newcomer. I came in with an open mind and I ended up with a discombobulated brain within the first few seconds. I shared this experience with the Path of Exile community on Reddit, and they had an overwhelmingly positive response. If you’re new to the game — probably a former Diablo player — you might be able to relate to it as well.
Your First Build Will Absolutely Suck
With Path of Exile having a big content update announcement next week, I knew I had to experience the game first-hand. It’s a way to familiarize myself with the features and mechanics prior to doing coverage on the update. As a long-time ARPG player, I thought I could easily handle it. Little did I know that the learning curve and all the game’s mechanics would shock me to the core. The first time that happened was the moment I opened my character’s skill tree (seen above).
My wife wanted me to pick a Ranger, and so I did. I half expected only a few points for allocation and some bread-and-butter skills to make things work. But, when I opened that skill tree, I didn’t even know where to start. Eventually, I started dumping points into Dexterity, Attack Speed, and Critical Hit, thinking that those stats were the best ways to improve my DPS. Little did I know that Path of Exile is more about having a focus on Health and Resistances.
I then found out that respecing my passives wouldn’t be that easy. I needed to complete sidequests for tomes or be lucky enough to find an Orb of Regret just to reset a point. It’s a far cry from other ARPGs where you could respec your points every now and then. Even Diablo II eventually allowed that feature, albeit limited to a few times. If you came from Diablo III, then there isn’t even a “limited respec” feature since you can switch skills as often as you’d like.
So yes, at around Level 25 in Path of Exile, I knew I had to look for some viable builds. I finally found one from a user named Angry_Roleplayer, one that focuses on Toxic Rain and Herald of Agony — two skills I used fairly often — and the Pathfinder Ascendancy class.
The Mechanics And Content Will Surprise You
Apart from having my jaw drop because of the massive skill tree, other features in Path of Exile also left me wide-eyed. For instance, the 10-act campaign took me around 25 hours to complete as a newcomer. That already included researching the game’s mechanics, checking my build, and trading for some necessary items. All of these, however, were just part of an elaborate tutorial of sorts — the endgame is where it’s at.
Right now, you’ve got Delve, which has you entering the Azurite Mine and dungeon-crawling your way into its lowest depths. You’ll need dynamite and various items just to make it through successive floors. You also have your Atlas of Worlds, another endgame content that you can access via maps. These maps can be placed in devices that create a procedurally-generated dungeon for you to explore and get your loot. Think of it like Diablo‘s Greater Rift system.
Maps also come in various tiers and environment types featuring some brutal boss fights such as The Shaper or Uber Elder. I was even told by many players that, though they’ve been playing for years or have logged in thousands of hours, they still haven’t beaten these bosses. That video you see above is for the Uber Elder fight, by the way, where you end up facing off against two endgame bosses.
Your first 25-50 hours in Path of Exile will probably not even scratch the surface of what you can experience in the game. You’ve still got your Masters who provide crafting benefits and hideout decorations. There’s also Divination Cards that you can collect to exchange for unique items. You have your Pantheon of gods that you need to defeat to empower additional buffs. And yes, you still have your Trials of Ascendancy to unlock Ascendancy class perks.
Items Will Make You Slap Your Forehead
There’s so much to do in Path of Exile that you could easily get confused. Yes, even the currency and economy of Path of Exile took a while to get used to. Unlike in other games, where all you had to take note of was your gold or some other unique currency, Path of Exile‘s economy works very much like barter. You don’t buy Portal Scrolls via gold; you need to exchange them for three Identify Scrolls instead. The same works for other items sold by NPCs, such as armor pieces in exchange for Orbs of Alteration. Even when trading with other players, the exchange is done by way of materials such as Chaos Orbs or Exalted Orbs instead.
What you’ll generally want to focus on when it comes to your item drops are the number of sockets and their colors. Dissimilar to other ARPGs, Path of Exile characters don’t gain skills automatically. Instead, your powers come from skill gems that are obtained from missions, traded from other characters, or dropped by monsters. Certain skill gem combinations along with support gems offer unique results, from ones that increase debuff durations or minion damage, to those that will be cast when you’re hit or when you die. All these myriad combinations lead to insane builds and unbelievably deep customization options that you can experiment on.
Apart from the item sockets for your skill gems, their respective affixes also come into play. While a number of unique (orange) items are necessary for a build, more often than not rare (yellow) items are invaluable. In some cases, amazingly rolled rares are even better than uniques. Sometimes you’d even wonder if something is worth throwing away or trading to an NPC because your trash might just be someone else’s treasure.
People Will Run Past You
Now, if you’re adventuring in Wraeclast, you might encounter a number of demon and angel wing-clad characters running about. Sometimes, if you join or create your own leveling party, you might notice them just breeze past you without a care in the world. That’s because these players are veterans just looking to level up their alternate characters (alts).
Since the default Challenge Leagues in Path of Exile last for three months, it’s normal for most players to take their time with the grind for around a month or so. Past that timeframe, a majority of veterans will just breeze through the campaign. Some veterans have told me that they can finish the entire campaign in one sitting or around eight hours. That allows them to focus more of their time in the endgame.
So yes, if you’re a Diablo newcomer, expect that people will rush past you when doing the campaign. Your best course of action is to remind people that you’re new to Path of Exile, and maybe they’ll slow their pace. Otherwise, just play solo or group up with other beginners.
The reality is that you’ll have to repeat this process whenever a new Challenge League or expansion starts. You’ll need to remake your character, finish the campaign, try out the new content, test your build, farm, and so on. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself breezing through the early-game content like the veterans you’ve encountered before.
Check Out Community-Made Resources
It’s fun to go through Path of Exile blind and without a care in the world. Sadly, as mentioned above, you’re going to struggle towards the endgame if you made the wrong choices. Your first playthrough is best for learning the basics, so that’s fine. Keep in mind, however, that there are a ton of resources and guides that you can use to learn more about the game and prepare yourself for successive playthroughs.
The game’s wiki, which is completely community-driven, is there. If ever someone mentioned a term or item you’re not familiar with, go ahead and search for that there. The POE.ninja website is there as well for all your database and build-related concerns.
The POE.trade website is there for all your trading needs, so there’s no point in using the trade channel. You can directly whisper people and see if they’re online to make those trades as well. The video above even shows you some “dos and don’ts” when making trades.
Meanwhile, the game’s official forum has sections dedicated to guides for specific classes and all the viable builds. Players experiment with certain creations and detail their success with certain skills and item combinations. You might also need to use the Path of Building tool (seen above) — whose creator has just been recently hired by Grinding Gear Games — to plan your builds ahead of time. You can also use that to import the builds of other players so you can assign those points.
There are also numerous guides out there that are catered to beginners. One particular YouTube series made by Engineering Eternity has no less than ten parts. It’s less like learning a video game via tutorial and more similar to completing an online course. I mean that in a good way due to all the details provided.
Last but certainly not least, you need those Loot Filters. There are a number of tools that help you in determining which drops are decent and which ones are utter crap (they’ll appear with teensy fonts just to let you know how insignificant they are). The one I’m currently using is Neversink’s regular loot filter (seen below):
You Will Still Die… A Lot
Even with all the preparation and knowledge in the world, you are still going to die fairly often in Wraeclast. That’s due to a combination of factors.
Path of Exile has a notoriously low field-of-view setting. Even when you’re fully zoomed-out, you can’t see further afield. A number of bosses also have a plethora of spells with barely any tells. If you’re from Diablo, you might’ve been able to avoid all of Belial’s or Diablo’s attacks. In Path of Exile, good luck trying to memorize Kitava’s patterns when you’re fighting from a distance and can’t see half its body.
The difficulty ramps up in later chapters of the game in Part 2 (Acts 9-10); you even lose a ton of elemental resistances once you finish the campaign. This means you’ll need to boost your defenses to be viable for the early endgame. Everything hits hard, and, coupled with any rare de-sync issues that might happen, you’re bound to restart from a checkpoint or town every now and then.
Dying might not be so much of an issue since (in most cases) you won’t need to restart an encounter or the boss’ health doesn’t refill. That’s until you realize that Path of Exile penalizes you with experience point deductions. While you cannot “level down,” your experience can drop to the barest minimum of your bar. When you’re at level 90+ and mobs only give a sliver of experience, self-preservation is of utmost importance.
It’s Frustratingly Good
In spite of the overwhelming number of mechanics that you need to learn just to be good at Path of Exile, your main challenge would be the RNG gods. There are layers upon layers of RNG that will determine how far you can go in the game. RNG determines the rarity or tier level of maps, which means if you can’t get one to drop, you’ll just have to keep playing.
There are players who devote several hours to farming the same content over and over — such as a bloke who farmed enough Exalted Orbs by running extremely difficult content, just so he could buy a single Mirror of Kalandra item in the end. Getting the Mirror, which creates a copy of any item, is akin to winning the lottery. Yes, in many cases, getting amazing rolls in this game is also akin to winning the lottery. That’s all due to the number of factors and affixes that you need to consider.
You will be frustrated and exasperated numerous times. In the end, all you’ll need to remember is that Path of Exile is completely free-to-play and enjoy. The microtransactions are purely cosmetic and offer no gameplay advantage whatsoever. You’ll never be handed a shortcut, and the game is unlikely to throw you a bone anyway (no pity timers).
You can explore Wraeclast on your own, and spend hundreds or thousands of hours learning it from the ground up. Or you can do that with the help of a welcoming community that can guide your decisions. With the upcoming 3.5.0 update which we were lucky enough to preview, needless to say, every exile new and old will have a lot of things to look forward to. For now, here’s part of our series of interviews with Chris Wilson regarding Private Leagues with more to come in the next few days about 3.5.0.