Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Final Fantasy 9 and 10 + Diablo = Pure perfection?

Recently I have found myself enthralled with a game that has just recently been thrown into open beta, a little game called Path of Exile, created by an indie game developer called Grinding Gear Games.  The game is completely free to play and can be download at their site.

Currently, the game holds six different classes; The Witch, Templar, Marauder, Ranger, Shadow, and Duelist.  The game play's much like Diablo.  Your character is born into a world filled with monsters of all kinds, and you blatantly kill every living thing you see, or else it will kill you.  As you progress through the game you will find many items dropped by the baddies that you've killed, leveling up and gaining news skills all the while.

But this is where things get interesting.  There are two skill mechanics in this game.  The "Passive Skill Tree" and "Skill Gems", and these two things are what separates this game from any other before it.

For those of you who have played Final Fantasy X, you will find that the passive skill tree looks an awful lot like the sphere grid.  I personally love the sphere grid from Final Fantasy X, it put in a whole new game mechanic and allowed for endless possibilities.  Your characters could essentially become any class that they wanted to.  Tidus wants to be a black mage?  If you work hard enough, that dream could come a reality.  The same applies to Path of Exile, except far more in depth than that of Final Fantasy (and that's saying something, because FFX's sphere grid was pretty freaking complex), the thing is massive, containing of 1,350 different skills.

What would a game like this be without a naked demon girl?
For those of you not entirely familiar with the sphere grid in FFX, it's something like this.  Picture a large spiderweb, with various sphere's placed around it.  Each corner of the sphere grid has a different character, each character with their own unique class.  Every level allows you to choose a sphere in which you would like to unlock, every sphere with its own unique abilities.  Some would give you added strength, health points, evasion, what have you.  Others would give you a skill in which your character could use in battle.  As you progress through the grid, you are faced with many choices, many crossroads, one way may have more strength spheres placed throughout it, perhaps an ability that allows your character to deal massive damage.  The other might lead you down and evasive path, giving your character added dodging abilities, perhaps a move that buffs your speed for a turn or two.  The choice in which road you took was completely up to you and what you preferred.  As the game further progressed, you might be faced with an option to enter another characters area of the sphere grid.  While normally a thief is simply a thief, it allowed you to become a thief-wizard, if that is what you had decided on.

The exact same applies to Path of Exile, but on a much, much, larger scale.  Of the six classes, each one starts in a different area of the grid, and from there, you will immediately be faced with a choice on which route you'd like to take your character.  For example, I am currently playing as a Witch.  Right of the bat I am struck between whether I want to focus on magic attack, or on the amount of mana I have and how quickly it regenerates.  Perhaps you want to combine these two?  That's perfectly fine, however, it means that you will progress less into the grid if you do that, and the further your progress, the better rewards you may receive.

Eventually you will find yourself on the edge of another classes part of the sphere grid.  At that point you have to choose whether or not you want to combine your classes, or if you want to perfect the class in which you chose to begin with.  Unlike Final Fantasy X, you will find that you can put a skill point into any given sphere that you are touching, allowing you to take multiple pathways at once.

In retrospect, this allows for infinite possibilities.  Are you a Marauder who has the dream of one day also mastering fire magic.  It is completely possible, but it may take some time.  How about an archer who wants to learn to heal?  Go for it!  Dream, and be whatever class you want to be.

A very zoomed out view of the passive skill tree.
It takes class customization to a whole new level, and it's safe to say that no two characters will be exactly the same.  If you want to see this thing and all its glory, you can find it here.  Try not to get lost, the amount of possibilities is literally never-ending, and I myself have spent hours just trying to decide on exactly what path I want to take.

The next unique area that we need to cover is the Skill Gem system, which is somewhat reminiscent of Final Fantasy 9's skill system (with some slight differences).  As if the passive skill tree wasn't enough, Grinding Gear Games goes one step further, allowing you to make a truly unique character.  As you progress through the game, you will begin to realize that  all armor and weapons have a socket of some sort in them.  The sockets come in three different colors; blue, red, and green.  Much unlike Diablo, these sockets are used for the skills that you will use on the battlefield.  Each class gets their own "type" of skills.  Blue is intelligence based, red is power based, and green is dexterity based.  Any class can use any skill, the only thing that limits them from using various skills is:

1.  The type of weapon you use.

2.  Your stats themselves.

For example, Witches start with a higher amount of intelligence than the rest of the classes, and their section of the passive skill tree is filled with additional intelligence boosts.  Some skills may take x amount of power in order to use them, in which case a Witch may not start out with the required amount of power it takes, but if that witch were to stumble across a power boost in the skill tree, then she could use that ability.

Another interesting feature that the developers added is that as your character levels up and gains experience, so do the skills that they are wearing.  In other words, the experience you gain to level up your character, also goes into leveling up your skills as you progress.  The sockets that your armor and weapons hold can limit the skills that you use.  For example, lets say that you found an extremely powerful sword that was twice as strong as the one you currently use, but the one you currently use holds a red socket with your favorite skill placed in it.  The new sword that you just obtained does not have a red socket.  At this point you have to find a new red socket to place the skill in, whether it be a socket on a different part of your armor, or whether you have to get rid of a second skill in order to keep the one you love so much.  It truly adds a whole new gameplay mechanic, and one that I have never witnessed in all my years gaming.

As the game progresses even further, you may begin to see armor or weapons with connected sockets.  These connected sockets can be used to house support skill gems, and help buff the skill it is connected to.  For example, you may use the skill fireball which does 5-10 fire damage, but now you've suddenly found a support skill gem that says gives any skill in a connecting socket 5-7 ice damage.  If you were to add this support gem to a socket connect to your fireball technique, then your fireball would now deal 5-10 fire damage and 5-7 ice damage.  It may not make an ounce of sense, but I'll be damned if it isn't an awesome game mechanic!

The bloodier the better!
Now many of you may be thinking "This all sounds great, but did you say that it's a free to play?"  Yes, this is true.  And while I am well aware that this may entail a "pay to win" type of game play, Grinding Gear studios has assured us that, that is not the case.  While yes, they do have an online shop in which you can pay real in order achieve some special effects, they aren't effects that will make you stronger.  They are simply visual effects, or a pet that follows you around, nothing that makes and character stronger than another, for the only way for that to happen is to play the game yourself, and earn everything through some good old fashion hours of playing!

If you guys are anything like me, then you may get sick of "there is only one way to build your character, and if you build him any other way then he's screwed" method of MMO's.  While I realize that some games are trying to get rid of these methods, there is no doubt in my mind that Path of Exile has done the best job yet.  If you are a Diablo or Torchlight fan, then go ahead and give the game a shot, I'm certain you'll love it!  If you're a big fan of creativity and unique games, then this is one that you should definitely try out.  Hell, even if you like Final Fantasy games, then I'd give it a shot.

There are a lot of other interesting features that I didn't cover in this article, and really, there isn't much of an excuse to not try it.  The game is completely free, and you've got nothing to lose!  Head over to and snag the game for yourself and see just what it's all about!

I'll see you guys on the battlefield!

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