Grinding Gear Games

Path of Exile pulls from Diablo, Dungeon Siege; the dark and gritty action RPG is back

Path of Exile pulls from Diablo, Dungeon Siege; the dark and gritty action RPG is back

Path of Exile isn't a bright, colorful Action RPG like Torchlight 2. It's not the record-shattering Diablo 3. It's not made by a large team, or one with a strong pedigree. It's a dark, gritty, horror-infused take on the action RPG genre, inspired in part by the original Diablo and Dungeon Siege games, and is the first title from Grinding Gear Games. It's also cool as hell, and completely free.

Ph@t l00tz and a race to level up

One of the most addicting principles behind action RPG game play is the quest for more, and better, pieces of equipment and items. Chris Wilson, CEO of Grinding Gear, told the Report he himself became “hopelessly addicted” to collecting loot in games like Diablo and Dungeon Siege when he was younger.So, when it came time to design the way items would work in Path of Exile, Wilson wanted to push the concept as far as he could. Path of Exile doesn't just add new a list of new modifiers to weapons, it makes items and collecting a core concept in almost every aspect of game play. “Because we felt that traveling to town to constantly stock up on potions was unnecessary, we've itemized Flasks that are reusable and can get properties that change how they work,” Wilson said. Let's say you have a life Flask. Instead of buying potions every time you go to town to stock up in case you need health while adventuring, the Flask can refill with charges when you land a killing blow on a monster. A Small Life Flask can hold 21 charges of healing, so you kill 21 normal monsters to fill it up, and each use causes you to heal 60 points of damage. The rarer the monster, the more charges you get. There are also random properties and modifiers on the Flasks. An “Ample” Flask gives extra charges, and a Flask “of Fending” knocks back foes while you heal. Combine the two and you have an Ample Small Life Flask of Fending. The game already has more than two dozen combined prefix and suffix modifiers, and that's just Flasks. Even endgame maps can receive random properties and be traded between players. Speaking of endgame: Players racing to reach the level cap in an MMORPG, Action RPG, or any game with leveling system is a common occurrence. It's not unusual for Blizzard to release an expansion pack to World of Warcraft, only to have a player take up bragging rights as the first to ding the highest level mere hours after it goes live. One Guild Wars 2 player drew attention for reaching max level within 32 hours for crafting his way through the final 20 levels. These races are popular, and gamers love trying to come out on top. What's interesting is that where most MMOs, Action RPGs, and other similar games promise to create more and more content for endgame level players, Path of Exile opts instead to regularly recreate that frantic scramble. “We've made this a sport by running sets of short duration – 1 to 4 hours, or one week – events where players can compete to win prizes based on how quickly they can level up in the game,” Wilson explained. “These events are very popular because they reward players who are skilled at the game, rather than those who have the most free time.”

In the nitty gritty

Path of Exile's gritty aesthetic helps it stand apart as a dark, mature presentation in a genre that's become dominated by bright palettes and cartoony, stylized art. I asked Wilson if this was a response to recent games in the genre, but he said it's just coincidence; the team has been working on Path of Exile since 2006, long before Diablo 3 surfaced, and even longer before the appearance of Torchlight. “With RPGs, there seems to be a pendulum that swings between cartoony and realistic. At the moment we're at the peak of the cartoony swing,” Wilson said. “Path of Exile is different, and is more similar to the aesthetic of past – and, in our opinion, future – RPGs.”“Because few Action RPGs currently offer an art style like ours, the players who like this have responded really positively. Some parts of Path of Exile are very gory, especially right at the end of Act Three, and we've received a lot praise from players who weren't able to find this in other games.” Wilson revealed that player numbers actually went up, “dramatically” so, around the time of Diablo 3's release. So where does the game draw from for inspiration? Erik Olofsson, Path of Exile art director, pointed to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan The Barbarian as examples. “These authors both created vast and very believable universes that felt very authentic and weren't based on gimmicks,” Olofsson said. “I'd want the Path of Exile universe to evolve into something with a similar depth and attention to detail one day.” One step toward achieving that goal is to make everything feel complete, as though it all has a place within the universe. This is another instance where the team has taken the standard looting mechanic and turned it on its ear by making it part of the story. “Players must value the quest for perfect items above all else,” Olofsson explained. In Path of Exile, it's not about saving the world, it's about becoming stronger and defeating the one who exiled you. You're not a noble, selfless knight. You're a criminal, out for vengeance. It makes sense for your character to be hunting down the most powerful items and artifacts in the game, because that's who your character is: a power-hungry anti-hero. Sometimes, being bad feels good. Path of Exile is in open beta now. I've just started playing, but I'm already having a blast as my Ranger, and plan to bring you game play impressions when I've tackled some more of the content. Until then, you can play by signing up for an account and downloading the beta. Happy loot hunting!