Path of Exile has been out for awhile now and I still find the game a ton of fun, mostly because its pretty much a revamped MMO-esq version of Diablo II. Ive played quite a bit of Path of Exile recently and boy does it bring back some fond memories of D2 and its time for everyone to gather around and hear more moaning and whining about D3.
The key thing that Path of Exile has for it is the fact that it is simple. There isnt a lot of dialog in the game, the story is pretty much non-existent. You load into the game, the tutorial involves clicking a few items on the ground and equipping them, and youre already fighting enemies. The difficulty scales rather well from point a to point b and the game works hard to make sure youre sufficiently prepared as you move forward.
In Diablo III the game has way too much story that almost no one cares about. The tutorial is about an hour long and you dont even get all of your slots until youre a bit in the game. The tutorial doesnt even teach you anything other than the fundamentals for all of the time it holds your hand, like what stats on loot to look for, what the different loot colors truly mean, you know the stuff people care about.
In Path of Exile you walk around randomly generated environments in an open world environment. In D3 you stay in rails the entire game, no matter the difficulty or your playstyle. You must adhere to the quests that youre a part of. There is no going against the mighty machine, you must follow the quests. You can pick the last quest in an act and play that to unlock everything, but the game still puts great importance on the active quest and the active act.
To sum the previous points up, Path of Exile iterates on D2 while D3 just sort of pretends like its related to D2 and is instead an action game with sort of a grimdark setting.
Of course, the iteration in Path of Exile is beautiful at times. For instance potions refill when you kill stuff. A major annoyance in D2 was buying potions over and over and over again, that totally solves the issue. Path of Exile also gets rid of currency and instead uses basic items for vendor currency (like identify scrolls). Thats genius, because gold in D3 has had less and less of a use as inflation continues to run out of control and the auction house is soon to be closed down.
Another major improvement is the skill tree in Path of Exile which is pretty freaking huge. Its a stark contrast to D3 in which you are heavily limited in what you can build your character out with. Again, another thing from D2 that D3 walked away from - the ability to customize your character. Blizzard ditched talent trees in WoW and it was successful, but doing so in D3 was a huge mistake.
Limiting what we can and can't do in a game is difficult because without limits we don't have any structure. With too many limits then there isn't any excitment. That's my biggest issue with D3 and how it abadoned D2's skill trees. The fun of leveling a character up was spending each point and making tough choices on how you wanted your character to be. Each season you got a reason to start fresh, fix whatever errors you made, and make a new character that was even more powerful. Respecs came eventually and were implemented smartly.
In D2 you can pretty much be whatever you want, whenever you want, but the options are very limited. You can equip a handful of skills and passives, but with so few passives you can pretty much take whatever skills you want, which end up being the skills that are the most efficent. In Path of Exile you're given tons of choices and a skill tree that's very big, but also makes you make some tough choices on where you want to go. It brings back the D2 talent tree and gives it a modern twist that lets any character pretty much build itself out however it wishes.
There is a lot of other things I could nitpick about, but I'll finally wrap it up with the fact that Path of Exile captured what D2 was while D3 forgot what D2 was and tried to be a WoW version of D2. Highly accessible to everyone, very user friendly, and very mass market. D2 was not a mass market game but that's what made it so popular. All of the game media at the time (mostly magazines) loved it and so did the players, because it was all about clicking enemies mindlessly and messing around. That is what made it accessible to everyone. Dumbing it down any further was unncessary as long as you kept the key component - tons of clicking on monsters and watching them explode, in the game.
Which, as a side note, Path of Exile does.
Let me say that Ive also put a ton of time into D3 and I really like the game, as an action game. I dont like it as a successor to D2, to scratch my D2 itch I immediately load up Path of Exile and run around killing random things and feeling good. Path of Exile isnt a perfect game either, far from it. It has tons of issues, but fundamentally speaking it has a strong grasp on what D2 players enjoy.
Blizzard is continuing to work on D3 and improve on the experience and I really hope they take a second to give Path of Exile a playthrough to see what its like to play something that is ultimately the spiritual success to D2. I know that I am and Im loving it.
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