Saturday, January 11, 2014

Path of RNG

I have been playing a bit of Path of Exile lately. I have apparently racked up over 100 hours, far more than I ever intended to, but a few hundred shy of my Diablo III playtime. I bring that up because there is (for some bizarre reason) a lot of competition between Path of Exile and Diablo III, despite being vastly different games. While they may both be listed as Action RPGs, the similarities between the two stop abruptly there.

First of all, Path of Exile is a very decent game, especially for something that is free. However, that doesn't mean I don't have some major criticism of it, but I will get to that later. One of the grape-vine comments you will hear, especially with regards to "why it is so much better than Diablo III", is that it is a complex game, with a much deeper ability system and has meaningful consequences to how you build your character. For the most part, the game does have an interesting skill tree and ability gems that can combine, support and rely on each other that does create some interesting offensive/defensive combinations. However, that is as far as I would take the point of view. Skill trees have always been a naivety trap in games, fooling people into thinking they have meaningful choices when, really, they do not. Admittedly PoE's passive skill tree is an impressive design, but it is still capable of restricting game play more than you would think. The illusion of choice, when you are still technically limited by your level/class/stats, is as much of a barrier to game play mechanics as traditional point/level restriction systems.

The skill gem system is also unique. While it borrows some basic ideas from Diablo II's rune system, it is a much more intricate beast, capable of changing how you think, build and play. You could turn a spell you would otherwise use for mobility into a damage dealing rapid fire nuke, provided you synergise the right gems together. With the right combination of abilities and gems you can have an immensely powerful and useful arsenal at your disposal. Getting gems as quest rewards or as drops can be problematic at first, especially when you realise you don't want to or cant use a skill anymore. Leveling gems is dangerous as their str/int/dex requirements are not based on your current base stats. Replacing gear with crucial base stats can completely disable abilities from being used as they don't downgrade to their lower level versions. It is a harsh newbie trap, but one that you will never repeat again. Additionally, gem use is controlled by a system of gem slot colours and links in main pieces of gear. It is a system I have grown to despise. Not so much the system itself, but the 'crafting' of gear to attain colours and links has been the most frustrating thing in gaming for me for a long, long time.

To explain as simply as possible: crafting isn't crafting. Everything involved in upgrading gear is based on randomness and therefore luck. While you have some incredibly MINOR control over this luck with orbs that can increase item quality, it will cost you and is not guaranteed. Despite the spawn of random mobs with the chance of dropping random gear that will have random stats controlled by random item quality, the random number of gems, colours and links on that gear that are compatible with your build result in a situation where finding straight upgrades becomes impossible. Realistically, you will need to make some modification to a non-ideal piece of gear, usually a white item with the correct number of slots and possibility of rolling colours. You will likely save hours worth of crafting materials for such a venture, spending all of it in an attempt to make an item compatible. You throw all your resources at this item, and end up with ...

... absolute fuck all. 40 chromatic (gem slot colour changing) and 10 fusing orbs (fuse links between gem slots) later and you have nothing to show. Basically the dice-roll did not favour you. Even if you did get the colours/fusings, you were still susceptible to the RNG of item stats, usually with very finite rerolls. While you could go and farm some more materials, by the time you have them you would probably have found something else anyway. It may not be as good as what you were intending to craft, but it was better than the thing you were using. This process happened over and over for me to the point where I was using gear 30 levels lower than I should have. From what I hear, this experience is normal for most players. In my opinion, it is an incredibly asinine and outdated method of upgrading gear, coming from a time where RNG systems were favourable over more difficult to implement upgrade systems. Such a system, where you spend ever increasing amounts of resources to upgrade your gear should really be designed instead. RNG being RNG aside, when you consider that so much power (i.e. ability combinations) can be granted from the simple click of a button, rewarding players with progress for being lucky instead of resourceful, committed or patient is a very big problem.

10 x fusing failure - fml...
Overall, Path of Exile's systems can initially be seen as complex, but once you wrap your head around how things work and get seated properly, the intricacy falls away. This is not a bad thing, it is just important that people do not confuse complexity with greatness, nor argue that a game is better or more skillful because of complexity. Complexity is a hurdle, nothing more. Perhaps for more casual gamers, blissfully ignorant amongst the confusion and marvelling at the sheer overwhelming (initial) complexity of a game, the desire to pick favourites is more prevalent. A "I have no idea what I am doing, but it seems complex and therefore I am playing a better, more complex game. GG-lol" mentality. I am not sure.

Nevertheless, I played the game for over 100 hours, during which I managed to get myself a level 75 Marauder. Leveling further seems to be rather inefficient so it is likely I will park him there until Act 4 comes out. While his gear is particularly awful, I would like to think the 'build' I am running is rather strong. It is a build I have devised myself, taking no heed to the idea of copying an existing one from somewhere. I figure if you don't have a grasp on what you are doing, an understanding of the abilities and mechanics you are putting on your toolbar, you won't know how to use a pre-made build anyway. After much effort I have managed to maintain a balance between tankiness, damage and speed that I am comfortable with. While I still think Path of Exile is an incredibly clunky ARPG game, I have at least managed to get my Marauder leaping around the battlefield with some manner of efficiency. The combat can have its moments, feeling rather satisfying when you outmaneuver a large horde of dangerous enemies. Spectral Throw is a fun ability to use and Heavy Strike a strong offensive and defensive tool. Overall, without doing too much research, I feel I did a pretty good job for a first Path of Exile character. Whether or not I will make another one remains to be seen.

Recommend watching in 1080p.

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