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In a feature article, Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Adam Smith praises Path of Exile as the finest action-RPG currently on the market. And while I think he could have gone a bit deeper into the game's mechanics, his heart is in the right place and the article does manage to convey the game's atmosphere rather well. A snippet:
Path of Exile is a particularly strange entry in the genre. It begins with your character shipwrecked, washed up on a beach, and assaulted by the reanimated corpses of the drowned. You’d think that’d be quite the wake-up call but you can grab a piece of driftwood, tighten the knot on your loincloth, and lazily biff the bloated bligters ’til they fall down for good.
You are, the plot regularly reminds you, an exile in the worst place imaginable, and it certainly looks the part. Anyone who thought Diablo III might be a little too bright and cheery might well find the opening sections of PoE a little too grim and dreary. The beach makes Blackpool’s pungent sands seem appealing and if the lumps of dead flesh attacking aren’t bleak enough for you, a crab-thing will kick sand into your eyes for good measure.
It’s Holidays From Hell with a necromantic twist. Even the weather seems determined to make you glum rather than afraid; no sky-splitting storms to speak of the gods’ wrath, but rather a thin drizzle as if the gods have fallen to sleep and are drooling on the pillow.
‘Glum’ is the word I’d use to describe the first steps on the Path of Exile. It gets brighter though and the moment I fell for the game was mid-way through the first act when a journey through dank caves brought me out to a cliff-top ledge. The next section is beautiful, all the more so for being concealed behind that initial miasmatic veil down on the beach. Birds nest up on the cliffs – the kind of jolly seaside birds that would rather eat leftover chips than your eyes – and there is life and light rather than the constant stream of hungry dead.
I could take you through the entire game like this. As it unfolds, the layers of the world peel back and there are ominous moments, chaotic moments, grotesque moments, and all sorts of other encounters and locations. Push through the opening and you’ll find a surprising amount of variation on the overall grimdark theme, but all of the horrors and haunts are little more than backdrop for the main feast, and that’s the great machine that is the loot system.