For the past two weeks, I have been spending my time in Path of Exile. As many readers know, I’m a huge fan of the indie action RPG and have thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. As I looked at ways to make the closed beta more engaging for those that are not yet in, I turned to streaming and stumbled upon a wonderful group of guys that already have a decent following. Zyx, Primality, Zancu, and Norm850 have been rocking hardcore PoE for a while now and allowed me to join their little group of ruffians. Only a few minutes in, and the community welcomed me and the team folded me right in as one of their own. Our future plans for the stream consist of survival for now, but possibly longer marathon streams, as well as a few additional surprises, so stay tuned.

Each night you can watch the stream at 9:30 EST here. Most nights we will have beta keys to give away, and next Wednesday we will have at least five additional keys to drop on the viewers of the stream at random times throughout the night. Each evening is about two to three hours long, and we spread out keys we obtain on our own or have been donated from fans. If you have a passing interest in action RPGs and want to give the game a good once over, there is no better way to find out than by jumping on the stream any night and chatting it up. We try to answer all questions as we play.

With that out of the way, I wanted to explain a bit about the game itself, and discuss the hardcore aspects. I explained a bit about the end game mechanics that Grinding Gear Games is working on here, and gave a high level preview of the title here, but there is still a ton of information to cover. Since my last article at the start of the year, a new class has been introduced. The Shadow is a dex/int hybrid character that can excel with claws easier than other classes. The skill tree has seen more refinements, and while still daunting when you start, it is much easier to plot a path to essential skills. The website has also seen a huge amount of work allowing you to view your characters, gear, stash and skill tree, as well as plan it out, through PathofExile.com. All of this comes at the low, low price of free, once the game goes open beta later this year. Alternatively, you can support the game for $10 and get in right now.

The big question on everyone’s minds is how it compares to Diablo III. While Blizzard made some mistakes with D3 recently, the game is not bad. If it had been published under any other name it would draw much less hate. The issue was that after twelve years, people set bars that were impossible to reach, not to mention that the endgame content in the title is minimal. Even with its problems, the game is a great example of what an action RPG should play like: Fast, fluid and violent.

Path of Exile is more akin to Diablo I than to anything else. The game is dark, plodding (in a good way) and much more about survival than destruction. Granted, you do slay a billion baddies on the way, but the variety is so wide and many of the maps are built to allow to you be swarmed so easily, that most of your time is spent in targeting the most difficult enemies first while you try to survive the rest. PoE is not a “rush to endgame” type of dungeon crawl. Instead time is best spent leveling, crafting (kind of), working out skill tree builds, and improving your gems. It all feels like Diablo 1.5. I won’t say one is better than the other, as each will appeal to a different type of player, but I can say that Path of Exile is a little less casual friendly than Diablo III.

Grinding Gear Games has been consistently thinking outside of the box to put a unique spin on the tried and true systems that are common throughout the genre, and this is just as true with Hardcore. As we worked our way through groups of monsters last night, I never felt like I was going to die. I’m good at dungeon crawls, and I was only level seven. Then it happened. I got careless, stood in the fire while talking to some guys, and boom, Rippeden the Witch was dead. But I re-spawned in town and thought that something went wrong.

Of course it didn’t, it was one of the features of Path of Exile. Upon defeat in Hardcore, you are sent to the regular game with all gear on you and all experience and skill points gained. You just pick it up in the non-hardcore mode. I have to re-roll a character to join my Hardcore crew again, but if I get attached to a character, I don’t get punished if I still want to play it, even if I am stuck on softcore.

GGG also handles ladder races, which challenge players to be the first to make it to checkpoints in hardcore over a three hour period. Usually this occurs on a weekend, and the players are rewarded with rare or exclusive loot. The team is invested in the game, financially as much as emotionally, and they know the community is what will make it a success or failure. As an indie developer, they aren’t expected to make a perfect game, but something incredibly unique and fun. From my experience, they are pretty close to hitting both nails right on the head.

Stop by tonight, or any night, starting at 9:30 EST for a chance to win some keys and hang out with the team as we try to make our way through hardcore. We hope to have some additional surprises in the coming weeks, and we will always take the time to answer questions on the stream and show you aspects of the game you would like to know more about.

The link to the stream is:

http://www.twitch.tv/zyx_exile

Feel free to follow me on Twitter where I’ll update any time we are streaming outside of the scheduled nightly stream. There may be giveaways through there as well.