My Path of Exile / Diablo III Conundrum

With the Diablo III beta coming to a close earlier today, I felt it a fitting time as ever to give my thoughts on Diablo III (more specifically, the limited beta content) and how it relates to my recent-found fondness for Path of Exile.

For those out of the loop, Path of Exile is a free-to-play, isometric, action RPG by Grinding Gear Games that is currently in closed beta. I feel like I have to give that little “what is” spiel every time I mention Path of Exile because it seems PoE is being unfortunately overshadowed by the Diablo III launch hype. It’s a shame really, because I think the people who would enjoy PoE the most are the same people who played the Diablo II ladder for all these years leading up to Diablo III. PoE is a straight up, no holds barred, homage to the Diablo II era of isometric, hack’n’slash, role-playing games. There are times when I’m playing PoE that I have to seriously stop, do a double-take, and say to myself “yep, they just did that,” as I note something that is a whole-hog taken from Diablo II and implemented slickly into PoE. Some quick, off the top of my head examples are the UI, the inventory (item tetris…with no auto-arrange), and the overlay map (why did you change this Blizzard?!). At the same time, PoE isn’t just a rehash of Diablo II; there are plenty of new additions, innovations, and sharpening of mechanics that make PoE a worthy alternative to Diablo II or Diablo III. The combat feels super tight and the flow of enemies as you venture into unexplored areas seems endless at some points; you never really feel safe. The skill system is unique, in that your abilities/skills are encased in color-coded gems that you socket into your items at will. These gems level independently (as long as they’re in a socket and the item is equipped) from your character, and from what I’ve seen so far, are mainly retrieved through quest rewards. And of course, the thing that sticks out to me the most about PoE is the robust skill tree.

The skill tree in PoE is absolutely breathtaking. It is easy for people to dismiss the PoE skill tree as “just a bunch of boring passive stat gains,” but I think that’s sidestepping the point. If you’re an RPG gamer like me, you live off the stat changes, passive skills, and advancement of your character being dictated by player choice. I don’t care what the hype says, Diablo III has less choice than Diablo II had and drastically less than PoE has. I’m not saying this is an objectively bad or good thing, I’m just stating it and I think people should accept it like I have. The counter-argument is that the “choices you do make (in Diablo III) are more exciting and noticeable.” I’ll humor that argument, but it can’t be proven until May 15th. The Diablo III beta was just too small of a vertical-slice of content and levels to actually see any of the intricate skill/rune builds play out.  Maybe I’ll take back all I’m saying a month from now. Maybe I’m just a sucker for skill-trees and the visual representation of choice and advancement that Diablo III has removed.

I’ve been in both Diablo III and PoE closed betas for about equal time, and I have definitely put the majority of the time between them into PoE. Despite Diablo III having obviously less content unlocked, I still believe my time spent in PoE is telling of how I feel about the games. I’ve barely scratched the surface of PoE, having yet to dive into any of the advanced “Leagues” or get a character past the level 15-20 range, yet I’m already sold on this game. My first play-through of the Diablo III beta left me with the epitome of “meh” in my gut. There was nothing grossly wrong with it, but I think I was just expecting something more. I’m a strong believer of judging a game by what it is, not what it is not, and with that in mind, Diablo III should be a fantastic game and I’ll definitely be taking advantage of my WoW Annual Pass free copy of Diablo III come the 15th of May, but I’m extremely interested to see how I feel about it, especially next to PoE, after the “meh” taste it has left in my mouth.

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