NVIDIA F2P Bundle (2014) ReviewGuest_Jim_* - April 2, 2014
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Path of Exile:
Unlike the other games in this bundle, I have been playing Path of Exile for a number of months now. This means I am more familiar with the experience it offers than the others, but that I may also have a bias for it due to the time I have invested. I will try to prevent any bias, but this disclosure is in case I fail.
Path of Exile is an action-RPG that has you rise from being an outcast, washed up on a beach after being thrown from a boat, to a force great enough to free the other exiles from their constant dangers. This involves defeating many dangerous and horrendous creatures, as well as powerful humans looking to keep their power.
While action-RPG is a very accurate way to describe the temperament of the game, there is much more to it thanks to some interesting tweaks to the traditional mechanics. One of these that you can discover very early on is how the health and mana vials work. Instead of having a slot filled with potions to restore whichever stat, you have only five slots for vials, and there is no stacking. Each vial can contain so many charges, which restore whatever they are supposed to when activated. Recharging vials requires returning to a city or killing enemies. Effectively you have unlimited health potions, but you have to earn them.
The skill gem system has some interesting twists as you can freely move them around at any time. This is definitely useful as you swap out one piece of gear for another. In general, if you can have a gem equipped, equip it because the gems will level up as you kill enemies. Each level makes the ability they grant you more powerful, and those abilities can change the direction of any battle. Also, you do not need to worry about an equipped gem being too high level to use, as their stat requirements increase with their level. You have to press a button to allow them to level up, and that button will be greyed out if you cannot equip the next level.
The economy in Path of Exile is a bit more complicated than trading piles of otherwise-useless gold with a store owner. Selling items will give you other items, such as orbs. These orbs can be used to purchase other items or they can be used to modify those you already have. Do you want to try to improve what you already have, or just buy something that looks to be better? Up to you.
In my time playing, I have found these mechanics above to be very well balanced and well implemented. One tweaked mechanic, however, that is not as well implemented as I would like is the passive skill tree. All characters use the same tree, but start in different places. This is pretty nice as in theory you can make any character into whatever you want. The catch is that the tree is huge! A player could probably invest over an hour just exploring the tree to plan out what skills they want to put points in, which gets me to the one issue I have with it. There is no planning mechanic in the game. You cannot trace out the path you want to take along the tree, so when you get a point to deposit, you can't quickly find where to put it. Instead you have to move through the tree to find what is open, then possibly take the time to read the options before choosing. That takes a while, and something in-game to help with that would be greatly welcomed by me.
One final thing I want to mention before moving on to other elements is the league system. At any one time, there are four leagues going in Path of Exile, and these are roughly equivalent to difficulties, but really are something completely different. The lowest league is the standard league, where you can die and respawn. Next up is the hardcore league, which is identical to the standard league, except that death kicks you to the standard league. You will keep whatever items are on your character when this happens, but anything in you hardcore stash remains there for future characters. The next two leagues actually change every few months, but can be considered more difficult sub-types of the two permanent leagues, with better loot. Both of these temporary leagues offer a greater challenge, though only one is hardcore. When you die in that one, your character will be moved to standard. Because the stashes are connected to the league instead of the character, you can store up items to make advancement easier on your new characters. When a league ends, the items you collected will be moved to the appropriate permanent league.
While it can be a little frustrating to think that the character(s) in the highest difficult league are just going to be pushed out of it at some point, this does actually add some replayability to the game. Every few months the challenge changes, so how far can you get now?
The graphics of Path of Exile are described as gritty by the developers, and I completely agree with them. You are not spared from seeing the darkness of the game-world, and it is all made to look real. At least on my computer, it also runs almost flawlessly. As far as the graphics are concerned, it is flawless, even at the highest settings, but one mechanic does complicate performance, and it itself is complicated.
As Path of Exile runs on both your computer and a server, there can be issues with the data being synchronized between them. Different games handle desync differently, and because Path of Exile has been designed for fast action, any issues with how it handles desync can be exacerbated. For example, I have personally had to spam-click/press before because it can take an extra beat for something to be activated, and if I did not press the button multiple times, it may not happen at all. This can be quite frustrating, but eventually you can get used to it. Whether you consider that a negative or not is up to you. I am just letting you know.
As you can guess by the fact that I have already invested many hours into Path of Exile, I do enjoy playing it, and for someone looking for an action-RPG, I would comfortably recommend it. Even if you had to pay for it, I would recommend it, but instead it is free-to-play, making the only cost signing up for an account. Of course there are micro-transactions in the game, but these are limited to non-gameplay-altering effects. For example you can change the visual appearance of your loot to look awesome, but the stats are unchanged. Pets similarly are for visual effect and do not impact combat (except by maybe getting another player to try attacking them, thinking they are another enemy). You can also purchase additional stash pages to store more of the loot you pick up. Simply put, Path of Exile is not a pay-to-win game.
Something more I want to mention before leaving this game is something I personally enjoy a great deal. This may sound weird, but I love the fact that you can sign in with your Steam account. The reason I like this as much as I do is that I have in fact decided to not play some free-to-play games specifically because I do not want to have to worry about yet another account somewhere online; yet another place with my email address, a username, birthdate, password, etc. That may sound silly, but I personally prefer to keep a smaller digital footprint, and not all free-to-play games allow that.