Path Of Exile 2 Hands-On: Unironically A Diablo Killer

For years, Path of Exile has eluded me. I’ve always looked at it as the graduate program for Diablo majors, but every time I’ve tried to jump in, I quickly get overwhelmed and give up. My friends are PoE fanatics, and try as they might to bring me into the fold, I just can’t ever seem to break through the learning curve. There’s too many spreadsheets to manage, too many currencies to learn, and too many years of expansions stacked on top of each other for me to ever really figure out what’s going on.


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The Path of Exile 2 reveal at ExileCon last month came at the perfect time. My love affair with Diablo 4 ended much more quickly than I expected, and I don’t see myself returning to Sanctuary anytime soon – at least not until some of its major endgame issues get addressed. Path of Exile 2 will be the jumping-on point I’ve been waiting for for nearly a decade, and after getting some hands-on time with it at PAX West last weekend, I might be more excited for this game than even the most die-hard PoE players.

Related: Path Of Exile Vs. Diablo 4: Which Game Is Better?

At PAX, developer Grinding Gear Games was showing off a few of the playable classes, as well as the most-recently revealed class, the Druid. I got a chance to chat with director Jonathan Rogers and watch the expert demo the game before going hands-on myself, and I was immediately impressed by how deep the skill system goes, and how expressively those skills can be used in combat.

Path of Exile is known for its mix-and-match class building system that allows you to slot any skills you want into your character’s gear to create the ultimate custom class, but overtime that system has become pretty cumbersome. PoE2 streamlines the skill system by separating it from gear slots entirely, instead giving you a separate skill tree where you can slot in your skills and customize them as you please. The depth comes not only from the sheer variety of skills at your disposal, but also the way they can be combined together. The skills themselves have slots, which means skills can be slotted within skills that change, enhance, or add new functions to them. I wish I could say it isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but the complexity is the point.

Here’s an example: one of the Druid skills allows you to slam into the ground to deal AOE damage. You can slot a skill within that skill that adds an AOE to burst that stuns enemies. A separate skill interacts with that one by giving the Druid a stack of Enrage whenever it stuns enemies, so the next time you use the slam, it slams the ground twice instead of just once.

Taking this sequence a step further: the Druid can also conjure a volcano that spews fireballs, and when he slams near it, the number of fireballs that come out of it will double. Now, if you slam the ground near a group, stun them with the AOE burst to gain a stack of enrage, then conjure the volcano and double slam it, you can instantly make the volcano unload an unbelievable amount of fireballs all at once. By tailoring your build to a specific outcome and using your abilities thoughtfully in the perfect sequence, you can increase your damage output significantly. After spending a few hundred hours with Diablo 4’s fairly rigid skill tree, this system felt like a huge breath of fresh air.

Rogers says minmaxers will still end up breaking out the spreadsheets to get the most DPS possible, but PoE2 is being developed with the mentality that it should be approachable enough for new players to get the hang of, and open-ended enough that players will be able to experiment with their builds and find a playstyle that feels right for them. It still has that massive spider web of passive abilities that PoE is known for, but the skill system is meant to make buildcrafting easier without losing any depth.

Path of Exile 2’s beta is nearly a year away and the game isn’t expected to launch before 2025, so there’s plenty of time for Diablo 4 to make some big changes and win me back. But this early look at the game has already set an incredibly high bar, and I can’t wait to see all the ways the sequel has changed to help onboard overwhelmed players like me.

Next: Path Of Exile 2 Preview – Ruthless With Souls

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