Grinding Gear Games struggling with a free-to-play hack’n’slash that intends to revolutionize the genre.
Derived from the emblazoned category of western role-playing games, that of the Action RPG is probably the most diverse and ramified sub-genre of the videogame sector, whose representatives, while maintaining contact points with the main strand, present more or less significant divergences on the fronts of combat system, character control system and camera management. Among these many nuances, that of “point and click” is one of the most famous and appreciated in the PC gaming scene, above all thanks to the success of Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo series which has laid its foundations. After the publication in 2000 of the second chapter of the series, universally appreciated as its best exponent, Blizzard has focused on other shores with the strategic series Warcraft and Starcraft, leaving other developers to dictate the rules of the genre. Last year the Californian software house has returned to say its with Diablo III but, despite the generally positive reception received, there have been few criticisms of the perceived “simplification” of the gameplay, in addition to a lack of novelty for the genre . The completely opposite direction was taken by the independent studio Grinding Gear Games which, with its Path of Exile, officially published last October 23 after several months of Beta, offers a complex and stratified online Action RPG, distributed as Free-to-Play with the support of micro-transactions, and characterized by the introduction of unprecedented mechanics for the development of the character, the management of weapons and objects as well as the underlying economy itself.
THREE ATTRIBUTES, SEVEN CLASSES
The first characteristic of Path of Exile is the character progression system, based on three main attributes – Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence – and six playable classes, each unique expression of a single attribute like the Marauder, the Ranger and the Witch or combinations between two of these, such as the Templar (Strength and Intelligence), the Duelist (Strength and Dexterity) and the Shadow (Dexterity and Intelligence).
Each class starts from specific points of the huge tree of passive skills: arranged along intricate paths, these allow you to deepen the basic skills of your character, regardless of the initial class and rewarding the dedication to a certain path with the release of important Keystone. These skills radically alter the playing style of our character, transforming the normal damage inflicted in fire damage or the ability to sacrifice their health to use skills when there are no more mana points. Furthermore, by completing a specific mission, we will unlock access to the Descendant, a new class with high potential for customization. The pattern is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy X Sphere and should guarantee a wide variety of character characterization: but the limited number of allocable skill points (120, divided into 100 by character levels and 20 by skill books obtained as a reward for the quests ) does not allow you to fully enjoy the vast potential of this evolutionary system if you do not create many characters and bring them all to the highest level. The steep curve that separates the player from the level cap, combined with the impossibility of recovering and reallocating the points already spent if not using rare and expensive tomes, make the exploration of the tree of the skills of Path of Exile a far from experience that rewarding.
Another peculiar feature of the game of Grinding Gear Games concerns the management and evolution of weapons and armor. Resuming again from an exponent of the Final Fantasy series, the seventh chapter, Path of Exile proposes a set of gems linked to the three basic attributes, which are embedded in the appropriate grafts present on the various pieces of equipment so as to interact with the same skills.
Each equipped gem will grow with the experience accumulated by the player, thus increasing its effectiveness. The active abilities available include not only the classic single and area attacks (AoE), but also different types of aura (which offer both damage bonus and element defense) and totems, which are real allied creatures that, depending on the reference skills, can help the player healing him, causing enemies or attacking them. Supporting gems, on the other hand, are capable of radically altering the functioning of active abilities, modifying their type of damage or adding a variety of additional effects such as lower casting costs, blinding victims or more attacks for every evocation. One of the main objectives of those who want to build a powerful equipment is therefore the search for weapons and armor with the greatest number of spaces for gems and, above all, that these refer to the attributes suitable for the purpose. The items, from this point of view, follow the classic scheme that gives variable bonuses depending on the level of rarity of the objects found.
To further challenge the orthodoxy of the item system, we find the presence of augmenting stones, real upgrades capable of altering any feature of the equipment, with even the possibility to copy its graphic appearance and apply it to other objects . These stones, given the rarity and the fundamental importance for the creation and management of the equipment, have been transformed by the developers in the main currency of the game, obtainable both as a drop from the monsters and as a counterpart from the vendors in exchange for objects that do not they serve or we do not want anymore.
Eliminating the classic money-based economic system in favor of an alternative version of barter was undoubtedly a farsighted choice of Grinding Gear Games, which in this way suppressed any form of gold selling in the bud (quite common in free games and RPGs) online). However, this new feature has not been implemented in the best way: the lack of a clear conversion scheme within the game makes it difficult to approach this economic system, which also presents other “minor” problems, such as the scarce availability of parchments for identification of magical objects and for teleportation.
If it is true that Grinding Gear Games has paid great attention to the creation of the character growth system, everything else is not treated in the same way.
Despite the numerous updates published and the considerable improvement in the course of development, the graphics engine presents obvious problems to the lighting system and textures, especially in underground settings, where one has the sensation of walking on cold metal floors rather than bare rock. In addition to the limitations of the proprietary engine, the derivative design of settings and characters has failed to break the hearts of hack’n’slash lovers.
Although they are quite characterized by being integrated with the reference setting, the NPCs present in the outposts do not show a personality such as to be anything more than simple quest boards with arms and legs. Although it is a problem common to most of the action RPG on the market, it does not mean that it is not reasonable to expect an evolution in this respect. Even the bestiary leaves something to be desired, characterized by an abuse of the same models of monsters in more levels, with the only color (and statistics) to represent the different degrees of danger. Another relevant detail overlooked by the developers is the plot, divided into three acts and reduced to a mere obstacle course to be completed as soon as possible, so you can unlock the higher difficulty levels and get to the end game (particular game instances directly connected to the maps already played). In addition to including more powerful enemies, these instances also have a higher drop rate. The lore is not very well characterized, while the dialogues are long and biting. A last parenthesis we dedicate to the cash shop that, in line with the promises of the developer, does not present elements that confer concrete advantages in-game, but exclusively aesthetic and secondary accessories, such as slots for additional characters, pet, animations and graphic effects alternative weapons and skills.
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