"Those looking for a solid action RPG experience will find much to enjoy here."
Since its inception in 2015, the free-to-play loothack Path of Exile has garnered a significant fanbase, supplemented by developer Grinding Gear Games' steady supply of new content updates and expansions. The Fall of Oriath is the title's sixth major expansion, and is set for release on both PC and Xbox One sometime in July this year. I had an opportunity to try out the console build of the game at E3, and while I haven't played Path of Exile since launch and had little idea of what to expect, I walked away feeling somewhat optimistic for the game's future.
First off, porting to the Xbox One proved to be something of a challenge for the developers — one they were keen to overcome. The near-final result I played was very similar to the PC version in terms of how it played, which was a slightly different approach than, say, the console port of Diablo III, which featured a more brawleresque gameplay system. The menus are a little bit fiddly, with numerous tabs to flip between and a Resident Evil 4-style inventory that felt very cumbersome to traverse, a clear carryover from a porting process that adheres too closely to its PC counterpart. Fortunately, the core gameplay experience felt great: combat had a good amount of heft to it and skills were assigned to the face buttons and right trigger for easy access. Grinding Gear Games also promised that Path of Exile: The Fall of Oriath will also take advantage of the new Xbox One X.
Path of Exile represented something of an alternative to Diablo during the low point of that game's release, and those looking for a solid action RPG experience will find much to enjoy here. Players explore randomly-generated zones, killing mobs of enemies and picking up new weapons and gear to strengthen their characters. What makes Path of Exile unique is the sheer number of skills and abilities at the player's disposal, with a massive Sphere Grid-esque talent tree and slots for gems and other enhancements on gear that allow for numerous effects. As an example, the developer showed a basic fireball attack before slotting in an enhancement that caused the fireballs to rebound, and then another that spawned a totem pole that would cast the spell itself and leave the player free to move around the environment. This is one of several ways in which the player is able to customize their moveset in The Fall of Oriath.
Our demo concluded with a large scale boss fight that plays a significant story role in the game. Amidst the burning ruins of a city, the animated statue of an angry god erupts from a hole in the ground like the Colossus of Rhodes from God of War II and attacks the player with large sweeping strikes. According to the developer, a seasoned Path of Exile veteran had challenged this boss prior and been soundly defeated. As it turns out, this is all part of the story: after whittling down the boss's health a bit, a second phase begins where the player needs to use a magical device located in the arena to remove the creature's heart and attack it directly as minions spawn to divert their attention. Completing that stage leads to the boss destroying the device, causing the player to lose the fight and be rescued by a certain plot-important NPC. What will follow is the beginning of Path of Exile's sixth Act, out of ten: Fall of Oriath will nearly double the amount of game time by bringing players back to Wraeclast and having them visit familiar locales that have changed dramatically during the player's absence.
Grinding Gear Games has done right by the Path of Exile community, showing dedication and drive for supporting their fans while bringing the game to a whole new audience on XB1. The development team's directive was to make what was old feel fresh, and while what I experienced of the console port was imperfect, it should satisfy those looking for an exciting action RPG on the system.
"Path of Exile is a shining example of a free to play game that's fair to players."
It is rare that online games increase the number of hours played a few years after release. Path of Exile has done just that, increasing the total by 44 percent over 2015 and culminating in over one million players playing the game in December 2016. Not one to rest on their laurels, Grinding Gear Games is working on Path of Exile: The Fall of Oriath, a major update to their online exclusive action-RPG. Fall of Oriath also marks the game's console debut on Xbox One. I went to the press event for a hands-on impression of what players can expect later this year.
The latest update to Path of Exile, Fall of Oriath is set to make several changes to the game, starting with expanding the story. At the start of the game, each playable character had committed various crimes, causing them to be exiled from their home in Oriath to the cursed continent of Wraeclast. In Fall of Oriath, your character returns to their hometown to exact revenge on those who exiled them. Players see the results of their actions taken during earlier acts, ranging from environmental changes to NPCs acknowledging your actions benefiting them. Lastly, the upcoming six acts will replace the difficulty level feature in the current version.
My time with the game was fairly enjoyable. I played the upcoming Xbox One version and was impressed with the fluid controls and smooth, crisp graphics. Gameplay-wise, players can expect a challenging experience. While delving into the upcoming acts, I traversed an area to get a feel for the field exploration and enemy battles. The boss battle I faced was a tough fight that required near perfect dodging skills and a strategic attack plan to prevail. Though the difficulty levels will be removed, experienced players won't have to worry about watered down bosses as there is plenty of challenge to be found in Fall of Oriath.
Path of Exile has a deep, intricate weapon customization system and skill tree that will remain in place after the update. For those unfamiliar with the game, weapons and armor can be equipped with Skill Gems to provide attributes such as fire and ice as well and even change an attack's trajectory to be more concentrated or spread out. The high level of customization also applies to player attributes such as health, attack, regeneration speed and mana. As equipped Skill Gems level up alongside a character, they are further enhanced.
Although the free to play business model is inevitably a part of the gaming industry's future, it doesn't have to be a lop-sided deal; Path of Exile is a shining example of a free to play game that's fair to players. We've certainly had disastrous examples such as Final Fantasy: All the Bravest, but Path of Exile has given me faith that it is possible to implement micro-transactions in a way that doesn't feel abusive while having a solid, challenging game to show for it. Micro-transactions are limited to costumes and extra space for your inventory, and this is not going to change with Fall of Oriath.
Overall, I had a positive experience with Fall of Oriath. The update will certainly please the game's loyal fanbase while providing them with a lot of new content to keep them busy for months to come. Xbox One gamers will also get their chance to try out the game for the first time with the update included. Grinding Gear Games has done a great job of refining a game for the fans, and those who love Path of Exile will likely be happy with what's to come.