Those of you who have written Grinding Gear Games' Path of Exile off as a simple Diablo clone might want to reconsider that position, and there's no better way to do so than to check out our new beta-based preview and the bevy of screenshots we've just uploaded to our image gallery. On the skill system:
Speaking of skills, that's another area where Path of Exile is unique. Active skills only appear on gems (which you find as you play the game), and then you have to socket them into your equipment to use them. That means when you look for equipment, you have to pay attention to the sockets in the items as well as the stats, to make sure that you can support all of the skills you want to use. Plus, along with skill gems, there are also support gems, which improve any skills gems that they're connected to on an item. For example, one support gem adds cold damage to skills, and so it's worthwhile to find equipment with as many sockets as possible so you can add cold damage to as many of your skills as possible. Sockets are color-coded for different skills (dexterity skills are green, strength skills are red, and intelligence skills are blue), and skill gems gain experience as you do (to a maximum level of 7), adding to the complexity.
There are also a host of passive skills in the game, arranged on a grand board that looks like the craziest game ever invented. Your class determines your starting position on the board, but then you're free to move in any direction you want. I primarily played a ranger in the game, and a lot of the skill nodes in my part of the board were for dexterity bonuses and bow bonuses. There are also some special nodes that give new abilities, like a knockback effect on critical strikes and a piercing effect on arrows. As sort of a wild guess (I tried counting but then quickly gave up), I'd say that there are well over 500 nodes on the board, and so it's a good idea to take a close look at it when you start your character, and then plan out some routes to take.