After four years and seven free expansions, Path of Exile is still like the free-to-play action-RPG version of a owning a vintage sports car. From the unforgiving combat to the piles and piles of randomly generated loot to the encouraged repetition, there is plenty to admire for those of us who remember the Diablo 2 era fondly. But in light of how far the genre has come, playing more than 85 hours of Path of Exile for this review also reminded me how high-maintenance and cumbersome it can be. In many ways, it’s a reminder of why genre conventions should change over time.
Path of Exile’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness is its sprawling, intricate, oftentimes unwieldy skill system. By allocating points into a web with hundreds and hundreds of passive bonuses, you can achieve very fine control over a character’s damage capabilities and survival potential. The best of these are special nodes that completely change your playstyle, like giving you 50 percent more health but causing spells to cost health instead of mana.