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Path of Exile Review

  • First Released Oct 23, 2013
  • Reviewed Nov 7, 2013
  • PC

Expatriate games.

The first leg of the journey is a familiar one: within moments of waking on a lonely beach, you are fending off the lurching undead, receiving only a few words of encouragement to help you find your bearings. And that's just fine. Clicking on monsters until they die is now a role-playing tradition, and Path of Exile trusts your instincts. It allows you to discover its world's mysteries without immediately overwhelming you with its complexities. And it all starts with the clicking, as it so often does.

Given its initial similarities to the Diablo series, it's no surprise that Path of Exile's players so frequently compare it to Diablo III, a game they treat with much disdain. This always-online game's chat channels are often filled with statements like "This is the sequel to Diablo II I always wanted," and developer Grinding Gear Games clearly looked to Blizzard's classic for inspiration: the dark and arcane continent of Wraeclast recalls Sanctuary's murkiest regions, and the skeletons and wildlife you encounter in the early hours are much like the foes you manically clicked on years ago.

Path of Exile is not a mere retread of Diablo II, however, though it smartly uses this familiarity to instill comfort before introducing you to the diverse mechanics, vaporous dungeons, and wandering phantasms that give the game its unique identity. After you reach Wraeclast's first sign of civilization, quest givers send you into the wilds, where you slaughter goatmen and cannibals as one of six classes. (A seventh class, the scion, unlocks when you first reach the final act's conclusion.) The click-happy action leads you across three increasingly large and intriguing acts. The standard hellions and scavengers that populate Wraeclast's sandy beaches give way to religious temples swarming with floating banners that strike you with deathly bolts of electricity. Path of Exile masterfully builds its world without spending unnecessary time on narrative exposition. Each underground network is more squalid than the last, until you're sure you can smell the stench on your own clothing. You leave behind unremarkable forests in favor of intricate hedge mazes and ramshackle city ruins, and as the world deepens, so too does your investment in it.

That's not because Path of Exile tells a stupendous story. Magniloquent sentences spill from characters' mouths, but the stories they convey are less interesting than the lilt of their speech. "Clarissa pesters me with pity once more," says one resident. "There's only so much broth, so many bouquets a man can take." Such alliteration is more at home in written language than in speech, but it sounds reasonable in Wraeclast, as if the exiles realize that they themselves are this barbarous world's only source of tamed culture. This place is much like Dark Souls' kingdom of Lordran, where I was drawn in not so much by the words the characters said as much as I was by how they said them.

Your body is a temple. This place is also a temple.
Your body is a temple. This place is also a temple.

Wraeclast's wildness is amplified by multiple mechanics that subvert genre tropes in intelligent ways. You don't collect piles of gold here; there is no use for such extravagances on this callous continent. Instead, you barter with merchants, and indeed, with other players. Scrolls of wisdom, which you use to identify equipment, form the basis of the economy, though players and merchants may require you to give up valuable whetstones if you want an orb that improves a health flask. And like that orb, health itself is a precious commodity that you cannot just purchase from a wandering salesman. Instead, you equip health and mana flasks that fill as you murder your attackers. Like other kinds of equipment, flasks can be modified with orbs that you loot from corpses. Swigging from a flask doesn't just replenish your magical energy; the refreshing liquid may also temporarily add knockback to your melee attacks, or remove bleeding.

Electrified golems emit crackling orbs in all directions as your friends sling arrows and knives into their petrified flesh.

I see Wraeclast through the eyes of my witch. And she is truly my witch, different from the other witches I encounter in Path of Exile's shared areas. The game provides an astounding number of ways to customize your abilities, starting with skill gems. Your active abilities are not determined by a talent tree but by jewels you insert into slots on your equipment. Both gems and slots are color-coded, and you may only insert a gem into a matching slot. You earn some gems by completing quests, but others appear as loot after a particularly energetic battle, and the game doesn't restrict your choices based on your chosen class. Path of Exile offers an incredible amount of skill flexibility, and showers you with a bounty of treasure.

The abundance of loot that clatters to the ground as you slash through a quiver of cobras is continually useful, in part because its value does not rest on its core attributes alone. You must also consider the number of gem slots items contain, as well as the colors of those slots. Some gems support others, causing an ability to last longer, or turning a single fireball into an entire trio of them--but they only function when the support slot is joined to the slot it modifies. A rare robe might seem a remarkable find, but may not allow you to retain your preferred skill composition. The higher you level, the more gems you collect, and the harder the choices you must make become. You can apply certain baubles to your equipment to change the colors of gems, the number of them, and how they are linked, but there is no guarantee that the randomized result will be any more to your liking.

Make sure to use your portal scrolls when grouped, lest you get separated from your party.
Make sure to use your portal scrolls when grouped, lest you get separated from your party.

One of the earliest gems I found in my travels allowed me to resuscitate corpses as shambling zombies. I could fling fire from my wand and generate a ring of ice, but I soon found myself wanting to play the role of necromancer. Later, I was summoning skeletons from thin air and resurrecting fallen creatures as phantoms, and ultimately could forge a spiritual sentry out of the melee weapons and shimmering armor littering the ground. I scavenged the Imperial Gardens with a 15-member undead entourage, watching my minions tear living statues to pieces while I shot bolts of energy at the most dangerous adversaries. A few glitches occasionally interfered with the fun; I sometimes wasted mana by trying to cast the animate guardian skill on items the spell can't affect, for instance. But I was compelled to push onward at every step, anxious to find an array of gems and armor that fully supported the witch of my dark-fantasy dreams.

Many mysteries still await me, even in the savage regions I've already charted.

I found myself relying on my fatal flames when my minions were vanquished, particularly when corpses were in short supply. If you rely on certain key skills in this manner, you should approach Path of Exile's extraordinary passive skill tree with thoughtful care. This massive web of passive augmentations is a shock the first time you open it; the entire range of possibilities stretches beyond the confines of the screen, your eyes glazing over due to the sheer magnitude. If you get too experimental with this tree, you could ruin your character, wasting points on skills that don't improve your effectiveness. That's a scary proposition. Common sense is the talent you must rely on here, presuming you don't rush to the Internet to research popular character builds. By the time you reach vital branches in the passive skill tree, you should already have a decent idea of where your path might lead.

Perusing the passive skill tree is an intellectual delight when you're hanging around town, preparing for your next adventure. Nevertheless, bloodthirsty combat forms Path of Exile's ironclad foundation, and the moment-to-moment thrills are inescapable, especially if you invite other players to the battleground. It's easy to join up to five others, and should you create a public party, at least a few others are certain to accompany you on your journey. Marching forward as a full party is a visual treat. Electrified golems emit crackling orbs in all directions as your friends sling arrows and knives into their petrified flesh. Multiple marauders hammer on a colossal walker as you conjure an elemental deluge. Some boss fights prove difficult should you face them alone, but fellow exiles are quick to leap to your aid. Sometimes too quick, as it turns out: in a few cases, my powerful teammates quickly slaughtered the opposing general before I had time to blink.

Ethereal knives do plenty of damage in spite of their ghostly nature.
Ethereal knives do plenty of damage in spite of their ghostly nature.

It's too bad that Path of Exile's competitive play is so limited. Not only does joining a player-versus-player queue force you to stay in a village, but you can participate only when your level falls within certain bounds. (If you're too high in level, you're out of luck.) Overall, however, you couldn't accuse the game of wanting for content. Various leagues reshape the rules, making bosses more difficult, adding unique items, and implementing permanent death. Other leagues pit players against each other in races, spurring participants to level up as quickly as possible. And even after it seems you've exhausted every possible option, collectible maps give you access to unique adventuring areas with various modifiers applied to them.

Considering that Path of Exile costs you nothing beyond some Internet bandwidth, it provides an embarrassment of pleasures. If you like standing out in a crowd, you could toss Grinding Gear Games some cash by purchasing a cosmetic accessory, like a nature aura to surround your wand, or a pet ferret to tail you. I'm so fully committed to Path of Exile that I've spent a bit of coin myself, and my witch is only one of many wayfarers I intend to guide through Wraeclast. Many mysteries still await me, even in the savage regions I've already charted.

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The Good
Complex and compelling customization options
Foreboding atmosphere that deepens as you go
Colorful, enjoyable click-heavy action
Evolving environment and creature designs make for rewarding exploration
Systems mesh well with the forlorn world
The Bad
Half-implemented player-versus-player features
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kevin VanOrd has clicked his way through countless role-playing games. Dungeon Siege 2 has always been his enduring favorite in the genre, but Path of Exile may have replaced it. For the purposes of this review, Kevin played about 50 hours.
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Avatar image for danievdw

Fantastic game. Been playing it for years, and it just keeps getting better with each new expansion.

Avatar image for scalamoosh

Come on people. This game is 10/10 all day long. It's has more content for a fully free to play game than you will find anywhere in the entire gaming world. It puts some $200 million AAA games to shame with its depth and reward for continued play. I've probably spent $250 on this game because i'm so hooked, and its free, and the stuff i bought is purely cosmetic nonsense. No Pay-to-win foolishness here.

So many horrible and foolish reviews here I had to make an account. This is one of the most rewarding games I have ever played, period. The whole premise of the game is discovering and experimenting with your own builds. The builds for this game are quite literally endless. You can augment one skill or one piece of gear into a build that has never before been thought of.

It's clear to me, having 150ish hours logged, that if you were able to filter these reviews by <24 hours played vs >24 hours played you would have 99% haters vs 99% fanboys. The reason being, is that the systems of this game are so complex and so hard to wrap your head around you really don't know what you are doing until you hit level 65 and realize you built your character horribly and have to re-roll. But along the grueling way you pick up on the mechanics, the awesome gear, and the endless skill/gem combinations and just want to keep playing more more more!

This game is about as hardcore and unforgiving as they come. You can theorycraft all day and come up with the ultimate build, only to overlook one mechanic and shamefully fail. But then you re-roll yet another character and he clicks and you have never felt so rewarded in all your life.

The only way you're enjoying this game is if you sink your time and effort into understanding its complex systems. You need to play this like you played games back when you were 15. Long hours of drooling in front of the screen. Its the only game my 27 year old brain can't get enough of, aside from Civ 5.

Bravo GGG! I'll always consider your game one of the best.

Avatar image for higochumbo

@scalamoosh Not everyone has fun playing a spreadsheet.

Avatar image for bobban49

Defintely worth a go since it is free, but just a really bland experience in general for me (for the first 6 odd hours at least).

If this was released 10 years I would be as excited as the reviewer about it. Graphics are not too bad but it's just a very depressing, dark and dreary world. I get that this is the theme of Wraeclast but there is no reprieve so far. The levels are just too repetitive. There is so few texture variations or points of interest it is like every level is just a kind of randomly generated flat labarinthine map, and each new stage feels just like the last. The monsters are all feeling the same too. Undead zombies or mutant blob creatures trying to swarm you in numbers and some throw stuff too. Storyline is barley there and the less said about the voice acting the better. Just go to this zone, shoot up lots of stuff, come get your reward and get sent to the next zone to do the same again.

RPG elements are fairly solid. Just have to accustomise to their take on stats, items etc. Gem slots fun and I guess interesting that you actually level your gems. Currency is a bit of a novelty that gets tiring. A bunch of other items which are usable also replace gold. Not entirely offensive but cannot see the fun in it personally.

The one part of the game that does catch the eye is the passive ability chart which looks like a giant processor control board that you build up node by node in the way you prefer as you level. Pleasant to look at and use and kind of one of the reasons I would like to progress further. Apart from this I just am having a done it all before pew pew rpg shooter experience and I will pick this game up when I want more mindless dungeon crawling carnage.

I score this a 6 although I recommend trying it out to see if it is to your taste.

Avatar image for D_S_e_V_e_N

Played for a short while, but found the combat and animations to be too wooden and uninspiring. That and the fact that I've done/served my 400+ hours in Diablo II means I cannot go back there unless I am seduced by something utterly spectacular and, regrettably, there was nothing even remotely spectacular about this game, sorry.

In this day and age, and given the fact it is free I would rate this game...


Avatar image for ChaosUndivided

Looks good need a new hack n slash. D3, TL2 and Titan's Quest have been hammered. Although I do have reaper of souls to play but that will only last so long and with this being free it would be stupid not to get it.

Avatar image for advocacy

Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls came out already. But even then, Path of Exile is still more fun to play.

Avatar image for Walkerdowntown

I wish they could release this on consoles. Preferably xbox

Avatar image for lonewolf315

@Ezio_2009 @Maxxgold He's such a good reviewer he sometimes gets the character names wrong for games he's reviewing that he's supposedly played.

Avatar image for zedetach

@nicolasetespqr @lonewolf315 @Ezio_2009 @Maxxgold its diablo 2 through and through. for those who were not happy with d3, path of exile is the closest thing to d2.

Avatar image for nicolasetespqr

@lonewolf315 @Ezio_2009 @Maxxgold

I believe he means (and i think the same so far) that the score is inflated just because the game is free.

Price aside, this game is not a 9 at all. It has a pretty arcaic gameplay and the huge skill tree which is one of its main features is pretty gimicky (lots of +1% x stat points one after the next).

I did like the gritty atmosphere too.

I'm downloading it again to give it another try (comparing it to Torchlight, which is another game i can't really get into no matter how many times i try). Let's see if i make my friends get it or just ignore it completelly.

Avatar image for user_pt

If VanOrd says this might replace Dungeon Siege 2 as his all time favourite, I'm going to try it. DS2 is amazing and I don't understand why it isn't regarded as one of the best of its genre. Glad to see someone gives it the recognition it deserves.

Avatar image for obsequies

meh. Maybe its just not my genre.

Avatar image for dmblum1799

Hmm, I missed this one as I was busy in nov. but if it's free I will definitely give it a go.

Avatar image for chyng85

So Torchlight II totally lost...

Avatar image for nicolasetespqr


Not a big fan of torchlight either, but Torchlight definatelly has a much better and fluid gameplay.

I just don't get what people fin so amazing in PoE. Granted it's free and has some original mechanics that solve some of the most common problems aRPGs have... but the game itself does not feel that good, the combat is stiff and irresponsive and so far the abilities i have seen are not fun to use...

I think this game will be more important for the influence it might have in future titles within the genre rather than because of beeing a good game itself.

Avatar image for Maxxgold

9, lol. I guess some of you think a free game is great. Way to go Kevin, another blown review. Good job.

Avatar image for deactivated-59a444385740e

@Maxxgold He's reviewing based on the current free to play genre, which, by most standards, is absolutely TERRIBLE. This is an actually decent game with three solid acts, memorable characters, and it's own innovative approach to skills. The fact that you do not have to pay a dime for such a solid game is impressive, and when compared to D3, even if D3 was free, it is STILL better because it isn't broken. And even if it was broken the developer actually has a mind and patches the dang thing while it took D3 well over a year and a half to finally figure out that their auction house was ruining the game for everyone. If you never factor in price for what you are getting, then you cannot physically review a game unbiased, because you are judging a game when compared to 250 million dollar budgets, which makes no sense. So stop judging the best reviewer on this site and stop being a toxic A-hole in general.

Avatar image for Walkerdowntown

@Maxxgold Can free games not be good? Why is it a blown interview?

Avatar image for Ezio_2009

@Maxxgold Kevin is the best reviewer on this site, so I don't know what crack you are smoking. And what's wrong with games being free? You think free = not a quality game? League and Dota laugh at your logic, numbnuts.

Avatar image for nina_maja

This game is both entertaining and well done, considering that it's free! I definitely love it.

Avatar image for shreddyz

good free game but the non-stop desyncing issue, kills the game.

Avatar image for greasemonkey42

So who else wondered over to this review after seeing this game crop up in the GOTY nominations?

Holy moly Kevin was not kidding about that skill tree!

Avatar image for r_ruiz6047


Avatar image for sacavana

i created an account of game spot just to comment on this game.

i have played PoE for a while. (300hrs?) i will say Kelvin did a good job on the review, however PoE has too much going for for him to totally cover all of it. Especially the end game gameplay. and the idea of currency (involves more then just identify scrolls =])

I am not going to argue PoE deserve a 9 or if it deserve to be played by everyone. PoE is and will always be for hardcore gamers with casual players in mind by the developers. Its intrinsic passive trees coupled with numerous skill gems and support skill gems allow huge (i am not saying infinite as not all builds work) possibilities of how you build your character. Which to hard-core players would find it a gem

It does tries to cater to casual players, however since its a F2P. I agree the graphics and battle animations aren't up to stretch, but hey you didn't pay anything for it. Casual players would be cheated by such a high rating as i feel (IMO, I CAN BE WRONG) they have been spoon fed streamlined games where everything is simply done for the player.

I have done my fair share of research. And PoE players would say " its normal to crap your first character" as without any in depth idea of what are you looking for. you would hit a brick hall ( MY shadow was lv 45 before i call quits). But now i am AWE FACE-SMASHING DUELIST BREAKING FACES OF MONSTER WITH MY BARE HANDS! ( A legendary item that disables weapon slot LOL, gives tons of damage though).

PoE is a time-sink game. the more you play, the better you get the more rewarding it gets when it drops a unique (legendary) when you grind (then again not all uniques are good) . I will say, this is not a great game for casual gamers as they hop along from one game to another. I Played Diablo series, and i say its unfair to compare any game with another. Saying which game is better is moot as the real winners are rewarded by players loyalties.

In short if you skipped reading the top part.

all i have to say is. this game would cater as much bad reviews as good ones. its all up to you to try! and more so, not the first 10 minutes or 24 hours. I might be bitching, but if you don reach Merciless act 3 end game. Your review wouldn't hold much weigh since YOU DIDNT FINISH THE GAME. (ps. i know you have to redo the acts. but didnt Diablo do that too? oops i am comparing. peace out.)

I AM A DUELIST IN DOMINATION LEAGUE. LV 79 FACEBREAKING STUPID MOBS In END GAME MAPS! ( You wont understand if you didn't finish the game)

Avatar image for jacquelineferre

@sacavana TL;DR

Avatar image for -ZenTaurus-

@jacquelineferre Well, you do look like someone that has problems reading. <3

Avatar image for sacavana

Oops i forget, in case i didnt make it clear, i am a PoE fanboy. =X

Avatar image for Lash540

@sacavana I could tell Lol.

Avatar image for moldyspud

I played until I killed a boss, and it dropped more stuff than I could carry, and I didn't have enough scrolls to identify it. I realized then that my tiny inventory that can't carry anything and maybe nets 1-2 scrolls if lucky, that I would be going back and forth to town constantly getting scrolls. I don't know about you... but I don't want to constantly go back and forth to towns to identify something that usually sucks. Not sure why people like constantly selling gear, but okay...

If I'm missing something let me know, but otherwise I think this is pretty much a sell grind to identify worthless gear.

Avatar image for SkylabOne

@moldyspud Why would you want to identify everything? If you're a witch, most likely you won't use two-handed swords, so you don't identify them. Later on in the game you'll have so many scrolls that there aren't enough items to identify.

The reason why you didn't continue is because it's not your type of game. But if it is, then you'll get hooked and agree with any praise that has been given to it.

Avatar image for skhirloloemr

Really enjoyed this one. Works great on my low end pc. F2P is wonderful (:

Avatar image for conorhat

I gave it a shot and really didn't find it fun. If your idea of fun involves a skinner box with bland colors and monotonous gameplay, you're in luck: this game is free to play and requires you to do nothing more than spam click your mouse for hours on end. Enjoy!

Avatar image for zedetach

@conorhat lol. if you never liked the diablo formula you're not going to like this game any better.

Avatar image for WillyWynn

Better then diablo 3!!!!! And guess what, it is Free to play!

Avatar image for tyrosxps

Hey gamespot, you new site design fracking sucks. Things are hard to find and video player is not working properly. Also it's a lot slower than the old one. Fix it please. Thank you.

Avatar image for JimB

@tyrosxps Couldn't agree more.

Avatar image for r_ruiz6047

@tyrosxps Agreed.

Avatar image for Deevoshun

This game is simply great, good review. It is free, but I can't help myself want to donate to these guys. They deserve every penny.

Avatar image for Viridianzealot

The skill tree reminds me of FFX. I will try it, looks very promising and best of all its a real F2P game.

Avatar image for Caldrin

Best arpg for a long time.. great review.

Avatar image for nomailx

Don't like the viewing angle. Deal Breaker. Kevin must have been tired when he reviewed this crap.

Avatar image for nomailx

btw, why not mentioning FF7 Materia and FF10 Sphere Grid? It's not like they invented something new.

Avatar image for ecs33

@nomailx They combined aspects of all these games and put it into 1. This game was meant to appease Diablo 2 fans who were unhappy with the direction of Diablo 3. I for one don't mind the viewing angle at all and find it to be fun. Game doesn't look bad on max settings. It's a good mix of the old with the new.

Path of Exile More Info

  • First Released Oct 23, 2013
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Path of Exile is a free-to-play PC online action Role-Playing Game where players find themselves banished for their past misdeeds to the dark fantasy world of Wraeclast.
    Average Rating458 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Path of Exile
    Developed by:
    Grinding Gear Games
    Published by:
    Grinding Gear Games
    Free-to-Play, Role-Playing, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.