A Different Path

A computer game has been taking up a lot of my time recently. Quite a lot of my time. In fact, you could say every single waking moment of my free time. And it hasn’t all been spent playing – I have been reading the FAQs and the wiki, planning skill sets, learning crafting recipes…

But let’s back up for a second. In the dark depths of the last century (1997) when the first Diablo came out, it was (along with the more complex Baldur’s Gate) credited with ‘saving’ the RPG genre which was widely proclaimed to be dead or dying. Nevertheless, Diablo featured a streamlined RPG mechanic, which reduced the often ridiculous complexity of golden age RPGs, while still offering plenty of depth in terms of choices for players to develop their character. The choices were inherently non-complex, boiling down to choosing your character’s stats (Strength, Dexterity, etc.), items and spells of various differing attributes. This deceptively simple system allowed for a great deal of customisation, often creating quite different gameplay experiences. In 2000 Blizzard followed up with Diablo 2, which elaborated on the themes, added organised multiplayer and became a huge hit. And in 2012 we got Diablo 3.

...and there was much rejoicing

Diablo 3 gameplay

For me, somewhere along the way, Diablo games (and action RPGs which copied it) lost some of their lustre. With each Diablo or Diablo-esque game, the customisation elements (which I enjoyed) seemed less prominent or interesting, and the Skinner box mechanics of getting bigger and better loot was given a more prominent place. When Blizzard (now called, ominously, Activision Blizzard) announced that Diablo 3 would be online-only, even in single player, and that items would be bought and sold in a real-money auction house, I knew that I would never buy it – for two reasons. Firstly, I was never a great fan of the Diablo 2 multiplayer, but I had a go a couple of times and it was fun enough playing with friends. However,I live in the UK, which rejoices in a pre-WW2 telephone infrastructure that can be a bit unkind to its users. The mere idea of playing an online game can be pretty frustrating, with frequent lag and sudden and unexplained interruptions. I couldn’t even imagine trying to go through that for an ostensibly single-player game. I also had a chance to play Torclight recently, which was fun at first but very soon became tiresome busywork*. Seemingly, my tastes, for better or worse, had changed and I did not enjoy action RPGs any more. Oh well…

So imagine my surprise that, after a slow start, I found myself obsessively playing Path of Exile over the past week or so. An action RPG, a Diablo clone, a loot-em-up and of all things – a (mainly) single-player game that is online only! What gives? What’s different?

poeinterface

Red sphere, blue sphere, some potions and some flasks. Oh and monsters. Lots of.

At first glance not much. The interface looks no different to Diablo and its ilk. There are hordes of monsters, they get killed, they drop loot. Player levels up, fights bigger monsters that drop better loot… rinse, repeat… But, despite these initial similarities, PoE does quite a few things differently to Diablo. And although these differences seem subtle at first, they can have a profound impact on gameplay. In fact, at first it’s not easy to see where the main differences are or to predict how they affect the overall experience. I have been playing for a couple of weeks now (getting one character to level 16 and a couple of others to lower levels) and in the next couple of posts, I’ll try to describe a few mechanics that have interesting gameplay consequences.

* I mean, I understand that tiresome busywork is what these games are, but this just got a bit too boring a bit too quickly.
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