Path of Exile Review: A Girl and Her Skeleton Army

Sat Jul 9 2022

I had played through Path of Exile recently (May 2022) as the Witch, so I decided to write a review.

About Me

About the Game & Story

The player character is a criminal exiled from the fictional region of Oriath. The Witch specifically is implied to have been exiled for practicing forbidden magic. She, like other class characters, is boarded onto a ship to Wraeclast. However, the ship is wrecked during transit. The chosen class character survives and is washed ashore.

I had noticed whoever writes the story and the characters has gotten noticeably better since the first versions of the game. It was hard to write about the town NPCs and characters of Path of Exile. Generally, for a hack and slash action RPG, many story elements are disregarded for the game mechanics. This isn’t a major downside for the game.

In the early versions of Path of Exile, there was Act 1 to 3 and higher difficulty repeats. Now, the New Game+ difficulties have been retired. The new content is Act 4 to 10. From there, the story aspects such as scenario conveyance and characterizations has much improved. The newer character have a lot more personality and are memorable. Some of the original characters have also been revisited. An example is Nessa’s story. She was an NPC from Act 1 that I had only known as someone to sell items to. In a new chapter of the game, she curses and rages at me to save her from the sea god that has turned her into a mermaid.

I enjoyed the unique setting and unusual cultures (possibly inspired by the native people of New Zealand). Act 2 had led up to a powerful, ancient civilization, but later, the game retreads into the common ground of classical European fantasy by returning to Oriath. I would’ve liked the story more if it had not done so. The game would also be cooler if the final boss was unique and did not resemble Diablo (from the Diablo series) or similar portrayals of the devil. Though I have to admit such balances of novelty and familiarity are what comprises mass market appeal.

“Hello, Father Balder.”
“Your OC’s name is Sin? Where can I find your DeviantArt gallery?”

Act 5 had faintly reminded me of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry because of the character design of the bosses and the concept of people “worshipping a demon as a god”.

Favorite monsters:

The Grind and the Microtransactions

The first concerns I had about the game was the grind and player economy. The developer studio’s name: Grinding Gear Games. Conceptually, free-to-play games have the financial incentive to strangle the player out of resources or equipment to encourage microtransaction purchases. So the rumors of “it’s not that bad” are understandably taken with a grain of salt.

The grind is there. It does not manifest for a playthrough of the game (from Act 1 to 10). It manifests at least for the post-game, and from what I can tell, for theorycrafting and custom build development. In the latter case, it is for YouTubers, streamers, guide writers, the derivative content creators who make money off Google AdSense or Patreon donations. As I observed, the microtransactions are cosmetics only. However, this is the first game where microtransactions have caused me frame rate drops.

When my Witch returns to town from the battlefield, what greets her isn’t quite the warm flame of the campfire. It is the edgy fire demon wings of another player who has purchased microtransactions. Had I not shared the same instance of town as this or similar players, my frame rate would be higher than 60. I can’t portray this as the standard playing experience, so here are the hardware specs.

This is an aging mid-range PC from the mid-2010s with a higher tier graphics card than CPU. The game had crashed on me often, but stability has improved since I upgraded the RAM module and Steam Proton.

The Witch on Sentinel League

Level: 71

Playtime: 1 day 14 hours 39 minutes

Maximum Number of Minions:

Total: 10 persistent minions, 64 total

This character equips the Vaal version of the Raise Skeleton.Normally, a maximum of 8 skeletons can be summoned. After the player has killed enough monsters, a second spell will be available to raise a skeleton army. Unlike other types of minions, Skeletons and Phantasms last for a period of time (roughly 30 seconds) before despawning.

Because I have played the game following a guide, my perspective is not based on in-depth character building. The Passive Skill tree, however, is an interesting design. Boosting the stats of a character isn’t simply adding points to a field, but a graph traversal problem.

As this is a first character on a league, I can not piggyback on equipment I had found previously. But I had no issues following and slightly deviating from a “league starter build”.

The build is rated 4/5 for tankiness and playability, 0/5 for cost, but 1/5 for killing bosses and completing maps. I wasn’t certain what 1/5 meant for killing bosses, but she can kill bosses on her own during my playthrough. She doesn’t suffer the same problem as the Necromancer from Diablo II; if his army is wiped out by the boss, he must exit the boss rom to raise another army. Bosses in Path of Exile tend to summon minions to their aid. Even if that is not the case, “Necromancers” in Path of Exile can desecrate the earth to uncover usable corpses from the ground. So the reasons behind her low ratings have yet to be demonstrated in a playing experience that largely omits the post-game. Additionally, because the build can be played with cheap equipment, I have not delved into the variety of items and currencies the player can acquire.

Game Items and (Lack of) Expense

To introduce the game items, the game currency is not an integer representing value. The game currency comprises of crafting materials known as Orbs. The player right-clicks an Orb to apply its effects on an item. For example, applying a Jeweler’s Orb to a helmet will re-roll the number of sockets on the helmet.

Almost all items in Path of Exile have sockets in order to house a Skill Gem that grants an active or passive ability to be used in combat. Skill Gems are generally colored red, blue, or green which correlates to strength, intelligence, or dexterity stat requirements. A skill gem must be placed in a socket of the same color, and the Chromatic Orb configures the colors of sockets.

The primary expenses of this build was configuring the sockets of items. Because there are only three possible colors, the chances of getting what I want was (1/3)^n where n is the number of sockets present on an item. A wand for instance has a maximum of three sockets; an intelligent spellcaster will have a 1/27 chance of configuring a wand to have three blue sockets. So the results of this playthrough was a large stash of unused currency.

“Girl, with that treasure chest and that money, we are going to hit up Vegas. Literally.”
“Or we can sit at this bench.”


21 deaths on the character as of July 9th, 2022. Noteworthy ones are as followed:

1-2. Act 2 to normal mobs, killer special attack: vine snares + exploding pinecones

  1. Act 2 Final Boss, strong overhead attack was a 1-hit kill

  2. Act 3 Final Boss— there was a special ability that made my health decrease no matter what I did. Only after I looked up his fight on the wiki did I find out I had to take cover in his bubble.

5-7. Arcanite Mines—a bad combination of a frame rate drop, straying too far from a moving light source, and then getting eaten by the shadows.

  1. Act 5 Boss— a high-damage, very accurate channeled laser beam spell roasted my Witch like an ant under a magnifying glass. I will have to do a lot better to get out of the way.

  2. Act 10 Final Boss— one hit kill from an unseen move during a frame rate drop.

10-12. I jumped right into the post game to see what its like. Map boss reused from previous sections of the game was fought in a tiny arena (smaller area than the canonical fight).

If I had been more careful and replayed the game with the same mindset as I would with a hardcore character, I think the Act 5 boss in the Chamber of Innocence would have still killed me.

Ending Remarks

Path of Exile is a fine game to play if the subgenre of RPGs is not a deterrent in itself. The game has a superb user interface and user experience that does not overtly inconvenience the player. Although it is a multiplayer game with a player economy, competitions and races, it remains a solid game for a story-focused playthrough. For that purpose, the game does not demand a high time investment. However, playing in a public party or with a speedrunner friend would not be ideal as most player will bulldoze through the game.

If this game wasn’t always-online, I may have played it as much as I did Torchlight II or classic Diablo II.

  1. this means I had preferred to finish an action RPG as a character without grinding for more power; to effectively retire the character after the playthrough so he or she is not at risk of dying and I do not lose access to items stored on that character; completing a game at a lower level or with common, generic equipment is preferrable to doing so with a strong character with powerful gear.↩︎