Path of Exile 2 Hands-On: Unironically a Diablo killer | GAME3A

Path of Exile 2 Hands-On: Unironically a Diablo killer

For years, Path of Exile has passed me by. I always viewed it as the graduate program for Diablo experts, but every time I tried to get into it, I qui...

Phil Hayton Sept 10, 2023
Path of Exile 2 Hands-On: Unironically a Diablo killer

For years, Path of Exile has passed me by. I always viewed it as the graduate program for Diablo experts, but every time I tried to get into it, I quickly became overwhelmed and gave up. My friends are passionate PoE fans and make every effort to involve me, but I just can't seem to overcome the learning curve. There are too many tables to manage, too many currencies to learn, and too many years of expansions piling up, making it difficult for me to ever truly grasp what's going on.

The unveiling of Path of Exile 2 at ExileCon last month came at just the right time. My love affair with Diablo 4 ended much sooner than expected, and I don't see myself returning to Sanctuary anytime soon - at least not until some of the major endgame issues are addressed. Path of Exile 2 will be the entry point I've been waiting for almost a decade, and after being able to play it myself at PAX West last weekend, I might be even more excited for this game than the most dedicated PoE players.

At PAX, the developer Grinding Gear Games showcased some of the playable classes, including the recently revealed class, the Druid. I had the opportunity to speak with the director, Jonathan Rogers, and watch him expertly demonstrate the game before I got to try it myself. I was immediately impressed by the depth of the skill system and how expressive these skills can be in combat.

Path of Exile is known for its mix-and-match class system, which allows you to slot any abilities into your character's equipment, creating the ultimate personalized class. However, over time, this system has become quite cumbersome. PoE2 simplifies the skill system by completely separating it from equipment slots and instead providing a separate skill tree where you can slot and customize your skills as you please. The depth doesn't just come from the variety of available skills, but also from the way they can be combined. Skills themselves have slots, which means skills can be slotted into other skills, altering, enhancing, or adding new functionalities to them. I wish I could say it's not as complicated as it sounds, but the complexity is intentional.

Here's an example: One of the Druid's abilities allows you to slam the ground and deal area damage. You can slot a skill into this ability that adds additional area damage and stuns enemies. A separate skill interacts with this by granting the Druid a stack of Fury every time he stuns enemies. This results in the next time you use the slam, the ground shakes twice instead of just once.

If we take this sequence one step further: The Druid can also summon a volcano that spews fireballs, and when he slams the ground near it, the number of ejected fireballs doubles. Now, if you shake the ground near a group, stun them with area damage to gain a stack of Fury, then summon the volcano and shake it twice, you can unleash an incredible amount of fireballs from the volcano all at once. By tailoring your character build towards a specific outcome and strategically using your skills in the perfect order, you can significantly increase your damage output. After several hundred hours with Diablo 4's rather rigid skill tree, this system felt like a great refreshment.

Rogers states that min-maxers will still use spreadsheets to achieve the highest possible DPS, but PoE2 is being developed with the mindset that it should be accessible enough for new players to get into while also being open enough for players to experiment with their builds and find a playstyle that feels right for them. It still has that huge spiderweb of passive skills that PoE is known for, but the skill system is designed to make build creation easier without sacrificing depth.

The beta of Path of Exile 2 is still almost a year away, and the game is not expected to be released before 2025, so there is still plenty of time for Diablo 4 to make some major changes and win me back. However, this early glimpse of the game has already set an incredibly high bar, and I can't wait to see all the ways the sequel has evolved to make it easier for overwhelmed players like myself to get into it.