Path of Exile Atlas of Worlds

What Is Path of Exile?

Apr 22, 2017

On first examination, it’s easy to dismiss Path of Exile as just another ARPG. To be fair, the trademarks of the genre aren’t hard to find–you’ve got character customization, lots of monsters to kill, and, of course, an endless quest for loot. Path of Exile is, like almost any decent ARPG, often compared to the Diablo franchise, and, it’s worth noting the developers at Grinding Gear Games have described Diablo 2 as the spiritual prequel to the game.

While much of the games surprisingly active playerbase finds enjoyment in creating new characters and exploring Path of Exile’s gargantuan assortment of build options, there’s no denying that the game is, truly, all about loot. In other words, Path of Exile does involve running through the same (or similar) pieces of content multiple times in the hopes of getting a particular drop.

If grinding sends you running for the great outdoors, Path of Exile is not the game for you.

If you want to experience the most innovative ARPG we’ve played in years, then boot up Steam and start downloading Path of Exile (for free) right now.

Path of Exile: The Story

First things first, it’s important for me to note that Path of Exile’s story will be undergoing some massive reworks over the next few months.

Much like Diablo, Path of Exile’s content is divided into acts–currently, there are four acts, each of which much be played through three times on your journey to the end game content. While the gameplay doesn’t get stale, I’ll be the first to admit that it does get tedious running the same acts over and over each time you create a new character. But when Path of Exile’s upcoming expansion launches (3.0), Grinding Gear Games will be adding six entirely new acts. We’re not sure entirely what this will look like, but it is believed that you’ll be able to level a character to “end game” within a single playthrough.*

(*Editor’s note: if you’re new to ARPGs or MMORPGs, you might be a bit confused about what we mean when we’re talking about progressing ‘towards end game.’ The end game in an ARPG or MMORPG is all the game content you can’t experience until you hit a certain level or other milestone. In other words, it’s the stuff that you don’t unlock until you ‘beat the game.’ And in almost every ARPG and MMO, it’s this end game content that keeps players coming back–the real fun doesn’t start until you’ve gotten to the end game. I’m making it sound way more boring than it is, but you get the idea. —@jpcornerGG)

Path of Exile has never really been about storytelling for me, but the gameplay is sandwiched between pieces of rich narrative that I do have to admire. At the same time, Path of Exile is way more about killing monsters than it is about mythology–at least, that’s how I think of it. You can delve into the lore if you want to, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the game.

That’s not to say the game world feels lifeless–it doesn’t.

Grinding Gear Games worked painstakingly to breathe life into almost every corner of thegame world, offering lore-junkies plenty of intricate legacies to study. That being said, none of this has anything to do with the real meat and potatoes of Path of Exile: the absolutely stellar gameplay.

Gameplay: Let’s Grind 

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the basics here. Much like in Diablo, you control a single character and move around the map killing enemies, looting corpses, completing quests, leveling up, and unlocking more powerful skills. This is pretty standard stuff in games about killing lots of monsters, but the game’s unbelievably complex skill tree provides players with an almost infinite number of combinations.

Skills are truly Path of Exile’s beating heart, and the sheer vastness of the game’s skill tree is what sets it apart from the multitude of Diablo clones it shares a genre with. The skills range from basic abilities like a simple Fireball to intricate combinations that allow you to create vortexes of whirling blades.

Path of Exile is as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

One of the big things that most loot-based grinding games suffer from is a lack of fulfilling end game content. In games like Diablo 3, you run through the story, get to the end, and then there’s nothing to do. You can run the same maps over and over, but that’s about it, there’s no goal. Path of Exile had some of the same problems, although to a lesser extent. With the release of the Atlas of Worlds expansion, the developers added enough content to keep even the most hardcore grinders busy for an almost unthinkable amount of time.

You do need to grind if you want to play Path of Exile. But there is an end goal, and the journey feels all the more meaningful after you slogging through so much grinding before you can get to it.

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Fractals: Path of Exile’s Complex Skill Tree

Here is where Path of Exile truly shines.

After logging over 400 hours, watching countless YouTube videos and gudies, reading up about builds and researching drop rates, watching streamers, and visiting forums on a daily basis, I still feel like a noob.

There’s just so much content, and the best part is, you can enjoy the game without having to understand the nearly limitless gameplay canvas that Path of Exile offers.

Example of a character build in Path of Exile's massive skill tree.
Part of Path of Exile’s skill tree. Here’s my most recent build.

Here’s what the skill tree looks like.


It looks intimidating, and, it’s true that there are a million things to learn, but it’s easy to play Path of Exile with an open mind. You’ll learn as you go and slowly get better and better. I don’t think you could possibly ever get to a point where you understand everything about the game. It’s this level of seemingly endless depth that’s played a massive role in making the MOBA genre so successful in recent years.

Path of Exile might be the perfect game for me.

What Should New Players Do?

As I said, Path of Exile can be very overwhelming for new players, but don’t be discouraged if you get off to a rough start. You’ll earn new skills, level up, and, eventually, you go from dying to bosses to one-shotting them once you’ve got the proper gear.

There are two types of new players to Path. Those who want to try their own builds, and those who want to play optimally efficient builds from the start. My biggest suggestion to both players is to look at starter build guides. It’s up to you whether you end up following them, but they will point you in the right direction, and hopefully teach you about the game. There’s no shame in ripping off someone else’s build–in fact, I highly recommend it! I myself have used several builds from other players. Now that I’m getting more experienced, I’m still using other builds as starting points, but making my own adjustments. If you do want to see builds, simply check out the official Path of Exile forums, they are very active and have an entire guide section for every class. Here’s a direct link, check them out!

I first picked up Path of Exile a few years ago, didn’t really get invested, and dropped it. But I picked it up again about a month and a half ago, and I was hooked. 400 hours in a month and a half kind of speaks for itself. I’m still a complete noob, and I’m loving every minute I spend on the game. Give Path of Exile a shot. It’s free-to-play, so you’ve got nothing to lose except your free time.

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Stephen Draper
Stephen has a degree in English from Brock University. He grew up playing video games and card games, always having an affection for strategy. He picked up League of Legends in early Season One and has since achieved Diamond rank multiple times. He also picked up Hearthstone in Beta and has since achieved Legend consistently. When he isn’t reading, writing, or gaming, he’s probably watching other people game.
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