The point, click, kill-style action RPG seems to be in a resurgence lately, with a number of titles popping up or being announced in fairly quick succession over the past year. Out of the lot, by far the biggest are Blizzard’s Diablo 3 and Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile.
We had been waiting for Diablo 3 for about ten years and it was the most hotly anticipated PC game on its release. Many bought it… too many.
The release of Diablo 3 was a mess, a terrible cluster-f**k of always-on-drm (a hateful and vile tendency in the gaming industry of late, and one that should be done away with as soon as possible) and piss-poor server management. Basically, Blizzard sold more discs and licenses than their servers could ever hope to handle, all on the same day.
Because you need to be logged in to their servers to even play a single-player game (NO!), players installed the game only to be told that they would have to wait for many hours before they could log in… and then their game would crash after half an hour of gameplay.
This is just not good enough. It is a black stain on Blizzard’s reputation that we must never forget and which they have not yet adequately apologised for.
Path of Exile had issues too. It is more akin to an MMO and so doesn’t have a single player (effectively this means it IS always on drm). It wasn’t exactly hours of waiting to log in, but they had similar server problems. Their servers were wildly unstable, and could shut down entirely, booting everyone off the game at once. Coding issues and capacity were constant worries in the first few weeks of the games release.
There are two reasons why Path of Exile may be given a little more slack in this regard (although really, developers shouldn’t use always on drm). Firstly, they are the fact that Grinding Gear are tiny when compared to Blizzard and could therefore not be expected to have the recourses or the cash available for top-spec servers. Secondly and most importantly, the game is completely free! It doesn’t make it any less irritating…
So server issues aside (because they have been largely sorted out now), how do the two games stack up against each other? In the end, it is pretty close and each game does some things better than the other.
In terms of graphics, Path of Exile wins hands down. It’s world is darker, more gritty and everything just looks more shiny than Diablo’s slightly more cartoonistic world. Don’t get me wrong, Diablo still looks great, and it’s cut-scenes are second to none, but Path of Exile is jaw-droppingly pretty.
Diablo 3’s classes are very much your generic bunch of adventurers (aside from the re-skinned necromancer and archer) and all of them can complete the game and have a linear set of skills.
Path of Exile’s character classes are generally more interesting, and many have dark pasts. These are not your generic “heroes” (some are absolute villains). The thing with Path of Exile is that you get to choose what kind of character you will develop. Every class can learn any skill.
When you gain a level, you earn “passive skill points” that you can use to add a new node on the board (nodes can be attribute bonus’, skills and traits that add flavour to the character and make it work completely differently to another… for example, there is a skill that completely removes energy shield and adds the number you would get to your evasion bonus).
The board is very similar to Final Fantasy X’s “sphere grid”, and the character you choose, merely dictate’s where you start on it. After this, Diablo 3’s character levelling choices seem positively linear!
What this does however, is make Path of Exile incredibly difficult to complete on your own. As you level, if you’re not careful you can become very good at one thing and not great at other things (e.g. massive magic dps, but bugger all hp). If you’re playing as a group, this works really well though, as you can do all the ranged dps and another can tank properly, but might not be able to solo a boss because of his low damage output.
What this does is encourage you to team up and makes the game really difficult if you don’t feel like it. Diablo 3 is in this regard, far easier.
Equipment in Path of Exile is hard earned very rare. You need to use enhancing trinkets that you pick up to keep ahead of the enemy and survive. If you don’t upgrade your armour and weaponry, you will soon begin to die very often.
Diablo 3 on the other hand has an auction house. You basically find rare items, sell them for gold and buy the best gear from other players on the auction house. Gold is easy to come by and you can gear up with minimal effort required. After Diablo 2’s hardcore grind-fest, I’ll admit that I was disappointed. Games, too often give in to the casual gamer.
So what about storyline? Diablo absolutely, categorically wins this round. The story is good enough to keep you interested, and a fair bit longer than Path of Exile’s. In fact, (without giving any of the story away) Path of Exile ends rather anticlimactically.
There is a reason for this however. Path of Exile isn’t finished yet. Another act has already been announced for release later this year, and I can’t wait.
Both have all the replay value you’ll ever need, with newgame+ modes, where they ramp up the difficulty and you do it again. I predict that you’ll spend a similar amount of time on both, because whilst Diablo 3 is longer, Path of Exile makes creating and playing new characters a more varied and interesting experience.
So which one should you buy?
Diablo 3 is for the more casual gamer. If you want to shell out £40 for it, you won’t regret it because it is worth it. It is better played with friends but if you don’t have any, it’s not the end of the world.
Rating: 7 ridiculously large swords out of 10
Path of Exile is a hardcore game. If you don’t want to play in a party, you’ll have to be careful about how you build your characters. This game is fantastic and it is free!
Rating: 8 exploding zombies out of 10