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Path of Exile has plenty of differences from past games to keep players interested. First off, it is being marketed as a free-to-play online rpg and not just a dungeon crawler. You will log-in and select a character just like an MMO (or even Diablo 3) and enter a selected world. Think Guild Wars 1 here. The towns are populated by players but when you take to battling in the wilds, you are placed inside an instanced version of that map. Only you and your party can access this instance. That leaves plenty of monsters to kill for yourself if you wish to play solo. You won't have the problem of someone kill-tagging your quest target. As for the populated towns, a few of them feel a bit small to be player hubs but they are designed to move players out quickly. You'll find your quest givers and shop keeps but once that is done, you'll have nothing else to do but ship out and kill. Unless you are waiting for a friend, filling up your stash, or standing idly to show off your gear, there is little reason to chill in town. The online aspect of Path of Exile brings this genre into a new area where gathering people to play is more of a visual experience instead of just chatting in a lobby or setting a game to public and hoping.
Path will feature six classes to play. You can choose from the Witch, Marauder, Templar, Ranger, Duelist, and an unannounced class yet to be shown. Each has its own primary attributes and style of play but don't expect your simple cut-and-dry Diablo classes here. Grinding Gear has plenty of game mechanics put in place to make each class as customizable as you want. Think of the classes as starting attributes and then a near free slate to make what you want. This is possible due to the skill and gem systems. You don't have skill trees in Path of Exile. Instead you are given a gigantic Passive Skill Tree to plan out your character's growth. With every level you can dump a skill point into one of the notches on the tree and gain a passive skill such as +10 to intelligence or +6% increased health. If you click on that last link, you'll be taken to the game's website and an interactive version of the Passive Skill Tree. You can see just how huge it is with plenty of ways you can grow your character. A melee-focused Witch perhaps? I think so!
And then we head over to Player Attack for a relatively brief piece that covers some of the same territory:
Some items have multiple sockets in which you could place gems. Early in the game this typically just means one item can hold more than one skill gem, offering access to more skills or just letting you level up a gem before using it. Once you venture further into the game you'll start finding items with linked sockets and gems that don't directly provide you with a new skill. These are support sockets and support gems that can modify the way the linked skill functions.
Put a Fireball gem in the first socket of an item and add a Multiple Projectiles support gem in a linked socket and instead of firing off one Fireball you're now firing two! Add an Increased Splash Radius to an Ice Nova skill and it hits a larger area. Give your warrior's Cleave some extra oomph with an Overpower gem.