People keep telling me I should play this over Diablo 3. Now that I've dropped almost 80 hours into this game. I have no idea why people like it. This is one of the most tedious and boring ARPGs that I have played. People keep telling me it gets better, but it never feels like it. After the 3.0 updates, I still don't see any of the problems getting resolves. I feel like a lot of the time, people in game laugh at others who are trying to make offers for a purchase or trade as too cheap and the others complain about Diablo 3 while reminding themselves of how great Diablo 2 was rather than judging Path of Exile on its own merits.
I'm not really sure about the story. It is a little weird. I know that the ancients known as the Vaal are somehow involved with a creature known as the Beast that seems to corrupt everything it touches. At some point, your character is sent into exile through a boat, but you end up shipwrecked as the only survivor. You end up having to fight the Beast and some guy in it. After that, you decide it is time to return to where you came (this is the starting point of the 3.0 expansion story).
The game looks great as a 2.5D style setup. The colors are dark, yet you can still make out some differences. The act end boss monsters look great for the most part. The only downside is that the color palette seems to be really limited and they use it frequently to reskin enemies. The types of enemies available in the game are very limited and the only form of customization available is in the form of auras in the item mall. You can earn some with each league (they're like temporary events where you create a character and attempt achievements), but there's only a few rewards each season and you basically have to go through a ton of them to really get a number of options. The only other way to acquire them is from the item mall.
The game starts off fairly simple as it guides you through some basics including your gear and gem slots. As you level up, a few tutorials appear to teach you the mechanics including your leveling tree and other things. But, it is double sided. The tutorials don't really teach you anything meaningful or how gem combinations might be optimized. It's just a matter of guessing and checking until you find one that works.
Your abilities comes from gems that are attached to your items. There are four colors of sockets, red, which is mostly for melee characters, green, which is mostly for ranged characters, and blue, which is mostly for ranged characters. The fourth color is white, which allows gems of any colors to be in it, but are extremely rare and I have only seen it on a few unique items with serious downsides to using them. The sockets also have links, which can be chained together for effects. Sadly, you basically have to reach level 50 before items of four linked sockets drop regularly and you can start getting creative. If you want to do it at a lower level, it depends heavily on luck. Ideally, all the sockets are linked, but it is exceptionally rare. There are special orbs that can be used to reroll the number of sockets, the links of sockets, and the colors of the sockets. Sadly, they do not drop in large numbers and are extraordinarily rare until you reach the post game content. There are a few skill orbs that are corrupted and have more powerful effects, but they require you to kill so many enemies that they are kind of useless until end game. Acquiring them is also not easy either. You have to complete optional areas with different effects on you or the monsters and you get one of the hundred different possible gems that might not even be your class.
Most of your stats come from a skill tree. Each class starts on a different position in the skill tree though it is possible to make any character into almost anything you want. There are also other types of points known as ascendancy points and another thing called pantheons. They provide different bonuses as well, but are basically just like a separate skill tree that uses a different type of points. The skill tree is daunting and there is very little you can do other than look up guides to figure it out. This is very problematic as it becomes difficult to experiment with builds. You can earn some respec points, but they only undo one skill point and it has to be at the very edge of the points you spent. There are orbs to add more, but they are exceptionally rare and it is easier to just make a new character. This just feels very punishing. I remade one of my characters four times before I found a build that I like. Yet, it kind of sucks at the same time, which is another problem. The number of viable builds just feels too small.
The game tries to be complex, but I found that it was lacking that by trying too hard. The difficulty in finding socketed items mean that 99% of the loot that is dropped isn't even worth picking up. You're better off just picking up the various orbs, which are also used as currency with no standard currency. The entire first two columns of your inventory are devoted to various fragments of those orbs that only become orbs upon picking up 20 or so fragments. Many of the items are items I found at the very beginning of the game. At level 60, I was still using a Rare Goat Wand on my Witch that I found at like level 10. From level 30 to 60, I think I replaced one ring twice and one amulet once and that was it. The rest of the items were just either not for my class, lacked the gem sockets, or just had poor stat bonuses. There's just so much useless trash items that it feels like you're rarely ever making progress other than with levels. When you do reach late game, you're basically spamming one skill endlessly to farm and that is another problem. You are just using a single skill over and over. In most other ARPGs, you usually at least have several skills. In some cases, as many as two full bars. But in Path of Exile, it feels like you're mindlessly clicking two: one to kill everything and one to jump around really fast. The rest of your buttons are just saved for passive skills that reduce your maximum mana.
Unfortunately, even that gets boring as the game feels like a game of one hit kills. The main story bosses (Act 4 and Act 10 ones namely) feel like they act like one hit kill enemies unless you have very high mobility skills. There are some special blue and yellow enemies that have such insane attack power and health that they can two shot you. By the time you get to end game, it becomes a game of instant kills where you attempt to instant kill them before they instant kill you. The game becomes either instantly too easy because you one shot them or it becomes too hard as they one shot you.
What pisses me off the most is that your class change in the ascendancy tree requires you to do a fairly long dungeon with no breaks in between. You basically have to fight a boss three times. You can make him a little easier by finding special items in the dungeon that will weaken him, but it just feels repetitive when you fight him so many times. In order to earn all your ascendancy points, you have to do the trial multiple times as well, which only makes it even worse. It's not a one time thing. In order to get all your points, you have to do it four times. If you die at any point, you have to do the dungeon all over again from the very beginning. To make matters worse, you have to find stupid puzzles scattered around the world to unlock each trial. At some point, it turned from being a challenge to just being repetitive and boring.
There's also a massive difficulty spike towards the end of Act 5. At the beginning of Act 6 there is another difficulty spike, you start losing experience for deaths for no reason when you did not before. Your resistance numbers do not seem to match up anymore either (I seem to lose 15% or so resistance for no apparent reason when none of my items or equipment takes away any). Enemies start coming in larger numbers and sometimes spawn right next to you. Enemies suddenly seem to have five times more health. Enemies start using giant laser beams of death that cause bleed so that you take damage even when you are far away from the attack. You literally have to be more than a screen away to avoid it. Normal enemies suddenly have three passive skills while rare ones have six or more. Dead enemies also do not leave corpses so you are screwed if you use a Raise Zombie build. And to top it off, enemies still drop level 10 items that are pretty much useless. No matter what class I play, I seem to get a ton more dexterity items than anything else so it makes it even harder to gear up anything else. Boss battles just become about dying and respawning multiple times until you get their health down to 0 and almost all of them will one shot you.
Final Score: 5/10
Path of Exile seems like a game with potential, but I just do not see the arguments that people make for the game working. The gem system seems to have depth at first, but becomes dumbed down end game as you just chain them to empower a single skill you press mindlessly as you spam potions that give you even more passive boosts. The game quickly degrades into a game of one hit kills on both sides. The skill tree system feels punishing for any mistake and really gives the player no means to experiment or test out builds. You simply have to start a character and hope it works out 20 hours later. You really have to depend on luck to get any useful items. You will probably fully gear your character by level 30 until you can start farming for post game unique items. In the end, I've played other ARPGs much more enjoyable than this, even when they resort to one hit kills in theirs as well. At least those games have more useful skills for your character and isn't a two button mash fest, well five if you count ctrl, left mouse, and right mouse.