I like Path of Exile and I hate Path of Exile. This game is everything I loved about Diablo 2, but it also amps up the parts of Diablo 2 that I was not a fan of. It is an action-RPG title that experiments with excess, and by doing so has given me all sorts of mixed feelings.
When I saw that passive tech-tree for Path of Exile the twinker in me squealed in glee as I could now pour over this behemoth of number enhancements and gameplay altering skills to optimize my brain-babies and create gods among digital men. This passive tree combined with how fluid the skills/spells are made for amazing customizability. To actually explain: skills/spells are not tied to character classes. Instead they are orb/rune/whatevers that you place in your equipment (and can freely take back out). When you have one equipped you then have access to the skill inside no matter what class you are playing. This means you could be playing a warrior barbarian who casts lightning bolts. Now, your location on the passive tree might not be optimal for casting the best and brightest lightning bolts, but by God you can do it. Not only that, but weapon types also provide potentially character-global bonuses. My favorite discovery was noticing that daggers offered a 40% bonus to your critical strike chance to spells as well as dagger attacks. Not only that, but dual-wielding daggers gave you that bonus twice. They stacked! This prompted me to make a spellcaster who pumped as many points as they could into critical strike chance and critical strike damage multipliers. I made a crit-mage, and it was awesome.
On top of the fluidity of customization you can also alter the mechanics of your character. One way to do this is the passive tree. On the outer edges and innermost circle of the tree are some spectacular abilities that completely change up the game. As an example, there is an ability which removes mana from the game and instead makes you use your health to cast spells. There is another which makes you immune to a damage type that ignores all defenses, but in exchange reduces your total health pool to just one point. In addition to this there are rune bobbits similar to your skills/spells that can be linked to your spells through proper equipping techniques (see: one of my complaints). These bobbits actually adjust how your skills work. Some are as simple as damage enhancers, but others can do as much as splitting a single-shot fireball into a shotgun-style spread. If you have access to every spell bobbit, every enhancement bobbit, equipment which allows for perfect combinations, and are fully leveled-up, then you can truly make a specialized brain-baby that you can call your own.
But herein lies my problem with Path of Exile. First, the maximum level is ridiculously high, so you will likely not reach it if you play casually. But that’s honestly ok. It is easy enough to reach most of the important abilities that we can almost ignore this problem. But then there is the problem that the rune bobbits containing your spells and spell-adjusters come in three colors, and those colors need to match up with the colors of the slots in your equipment. If you have a red spell, then you need to make sure you have a red slot available to place it inside of. Then, if you want to adjust that spell you need to make sure your adjustment bobbit has a slot of appropriate color not only available, but linked to the slot of your spell bobbit. Not only that, but your equipment also have stats as per every RPG ever, and so you want to make sure that those are powerful enough and have good enough abilities. NOT ONLY THAT, but bobbits of both kinds and all equipment are randomly drops from killed enemies and opened chests. Yes, you heard me right. Your spells. Your basic abilities. These are random drops in the game. You aren’t guaranteed to have any of them. You can go into character creation planning on making a frost nova ranger man, and end up never seeing a frost nova bobbit for your first twenty levels. And once you have finally gotten the spell(s) that you want you need to make sure your equipment can hold it (them). The game provides tools to make this a tad easier. There are other items which you acquire through random… drops… (MOTHERFU-) which allow you to adjust the statistics, slot colors, and slot links on equipment.
Just to tally how many potentially important things are dropped randomly, and thus must be farmed: spells, spell-adjusters, equipment, equipment-adjusters. That is four things. Going back to the game I compared Path of Exile to, Diablo 2 randomly dropped equipment and equipment-adjusters. That is half as many things. You might argue that Diablo 2 also dropped resource in the form of gold, but Path of Exile did away with gold and replaced it with your equipment-adjusters. So yeah… the items which are key to customizing your character just right are also your currency, and they are less guaranteed to drop than gold in Diablo 2.
For someone who just wants to play the game they want to play the game this is immensely frustrating. You often find yourself in situations where a piece of gear you want to use doesn’t have the right bobbit slots, and thus you either have to expend some of your precious adjusters or choose between using the equipment or using the spell (by the way, the spells level-up as well, so if you don’t have it equipped you are then losing out on experience). I had fun with Diablo 2 because I could attain my preferred playstyle relatively quickly and guaranteed, so I could then spend a majority of my time having fun with that playstyle and only being concerned with the statistics of equipment. Path of Exile enhances the customizability of Diablo 2 tenfold, and I love that, but it then fights me by forcing me to grind and farm for an unknown period of time just to attain the playstyle that I want. Really, the best way to play Path of Exile is to know someone who is already far in the game and has a spare of every spell/spell-adjuster so they can just give them too you, and all you will have to worry about from that point on is equipment (which is still a royal pain).
In the end I do recommend you give the game a shot if you at all enjoy top-down action-RPGs where you break your mouse by clicking so much, but I do warn that the grinding can be intense. Oh, and extra bonus: it is free.