If I don’t emerge for a few weeks, does that make the game aptly named?

My teen years were filled to the brim with the obligatory angst and unrequited amorous desire. Time and time again I’d decide on the basis of one interaction that I’d found my soul mate. Confirmation bias would only affirm this belief. Then I’d find out she was into someone else and repeat the process all over. In all my time at high school, only one of my great loves ever gave back: Diablo 2.

I sunk hours into that game night by night. I was exceedingly more studious about it than French, without a doubt (c’est vrai). It took years of my life, until the expansion pack came out and that took the rest. I played the campaign again and again, trying out all of the characters, teaming up with friends late into school nights to crawl dungeons, hopeful for rare or unique treasures. It was a blast and, as with most games, way more fun before we got into any of that min/maxing shit.

After a conversation with some brunch ambushing friends (they keep turning up randomly at spots my girlfriend and I drop into), I remembered that Diablo 2‘s spiritual successor (which surprisingly wasn’t Diablo 3) existed. Path of Exile. It’s a hack and slash RPG made by an independent NZ game studio. It’s totally free to play, with optional micro-transactions that’re only cosmetic. Say you want a little dragon that walks behind you (but doesn’t influence the game state at all?) or your armour to glow bright pink? That can happen for a tiny fee, but none of this play to win shit.

Path of Exile has a monstrous amount of depth, even ignoring the “for a free to play game” addendum. It’s a mash up of game mechanics that’ve worked in the past, smooshed into an intuitive yet complex amalgam. You choose a character, which is basically picking a character skin and being placed at a certain point on the passive skills tree (which is basically the junction system from Final Fantasy X). So you’d have your Marauder (Strength), Ranger (Dexterity) and Witch (Intelligence), then hybrid classes that bridge the gaps. You can follow the passive tree any way you want, offering huge flexibility. Active skills are conferred by gems, that gain experience as you do. All items have coloured sockets that will hold corresponding gem colours. Sometimes sockets will link, allowing you to slot in support gems, that buff the active gems in the same item. It sounds very complicated, but makes a ton of sense as you play.

When you do start playing, it’s a shit ton of fun. Being made in New Zealand, the voice actors all have NZ accents (though varying in severity). Elements of Maori culture have been incorporated, which feels wicked to see represented onscreen. The game can be both serious and goofy as fuck. The character I put together, a summoner, runs around using necrotic magic. She raises zombies and skeletons. There’s a spell that summons Nic Cage as Ghost Rider style floating flaming heads and another that animates weapons to fight for me. A typical battle involves a couple of undead bros flanked by flying flaming heads and hovering dirks, clubs and polearms battering down my foes. I’m sure the game will get a lot harder soon, but for now it’s a riot.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotta go. In the spirit of Diablo 2, I’m gonna raise some hell.

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