Back in 2012, a small development company out of New Zealand named Grinding Gear Games released a beta for a new action role-playing game that was said to be in the vein of Diablo 2. With Diablo 2 often referred to as the greatest ARPG of all-time, the statement wasn’t given much consideration outside of core ARPG fanatics. Yet, over the past several years, Grinding Gear Games has slowly and steadily built a truly exceptional ARPG. Even more impressive, they’ve done it by offering the game for free with micro transactions only supporting cosmetic items in the game.
As someone who has supported the game on PC since its beta, and built multiple characters over the course of many hours of play, I was hugely excited when the game was announced for the Xbox One. ARPGs are one of my favorite genres and I’ve also put several hundred hours of time into Diablo 3 on both PC and Xbox (where I actually preferred the Xbox version). I dove in to Path of Exile on the Xbox over the weekend, and wanted to share my thoughts on how it compares to the PC. For awareness, all beta progress is being wiped prior to official release thus I’ve only spent a few hours with the Xbox version purely for this comparison.
Grinding Gear Games goal with the Xbox version is build parity with the PC. As such, you begin with the familiar choice from one of six classes followed by waking up on the shore of Wraeclast – the fictional world where Path of Exile takes place. Everything felt instantly recognizable all the way down to the fonts used on items, and it took me very little time to be playing as if I just created a new character on my PC. One aspect that stuck out to me near immediately however, is the UI. While you have a few UI customization options such as turning off quest tracking and the mini-map, there are no options for resizing or placement which would be ideal. Right now, I feel as though the UI elements are too large and can distract from the action on the screen at times.
Upon playing I expected my initial focus to be solely on the controls. However, what first jumped out to me is how smoothly the game runs. Quite frankly, it looks fantastic with all of the fine detail in the environments I’m used to on my PC showing through. The lighting in particular is spectacular with excellent shadowing and environmental accents. If you’ve played Path of Exile previously, you understand how important this is given the title’s focus on grim and somber settings at times. What’s imperative though, is the gameplay needing to feel fluid. This is critical to ARPGs and I’m happy to report that at no point using my ranger, with many enemies rushing at me, did I feel even the slightest hiccup in framerate. I’m not sure if the beta is running at a locked 60fps, but it certainly feels as though it is. Even better, for future Xbox One X owners, GGG has already confirmed the title will be updated to 4K/60fps on the platform.
Of course the largest discussion when an ARPG port hits consoles revolves around the transition from keyboard and mouse to controller. I’m pleased to report that the game plays extremely well with a controller and I’ve had zero issues with targeting or inventory management. That said, it goes without saying that inventory management and skill tree navigation are absolutely more efficient with a mouse. I’d also imagine that specific character builds would lose some of the accuracy that a mouse would offer when there are tens of enemies on the screen at once. However, as someone who mostly plays games with a controller, I still prefer the character movement itself via thumbstick. And as you would expect, all potions, and up to 8 skills, are instantly accessible via the bumpers, triggers, and dpad. I’ve had no issue activating any skills or items, but as always, this will come down to personal preference. Purely from a technical implementation perspective, GGG has done an admirable job with the controller gameplay and I believe console players will generally have no issues.
As noted, with Grinding Gear Games aiming for parity with the PC, there aren’t too many other design differences to speak of. The map and location tracking, the massive skill tree, character statistics, and inventory screens are nearly identical and I found them very easy to navigate. The latest expansion, Fall of Oriath, represents the largest expansion for the title since initial release and all of the content to date, including the expansion, will be present in the Xbox version as well. Lastly, future updates will be delivered at the same time as PC with the only caveat being the Xbox certification process which may add a week or two.
I would typically write more on the core mechanics of the title but with Path of Exile being extremely deep, if you’re new to the title you’re better off using some of the resources that have been developed over the course of the past few years. The game has unique design methodologies around character building, item customization, and skill implementation (thus theory crafting and min/maxing) and if you want to get the most out of the title, I would highly suggest learning the nuances of it. One series that’s excellent for beginners can be found here, published by Engineering Eternity:
Grinding Gear Games is an excellent developer and Path of Exile has grown into an exceptional title. If you’re a fan of ARPGs, I would highly recommend giving it a shot if you haven’t already. Thankfully, Xbox owners can now get in on the action and lose very little in the transition. I’ll certainly be diving in head first again come full release.