If you ever found Path of Exile too daunting, good news: the sequel looks great, has tons of new exiles, and a gear system that's much friendlier to new players.
Path of Exile 2 starts on a medieval gibbet, with a new cast of exiles standing trial for an unseen crime. Which exile you choose is the one who breaks free, escaping over the castle walls and finding themselves washed up on the shores of the Riverbank.
I started as the Witch offensive spellcaster, meaning meant my skills largely focused on magic strength, spellcasting speed and elemental magic. The skill tree is a lot easier to parse than the original game, with clear paths for focusing on individual skills. It's simple to apply earned points as your character levelled up, too.
This accessibility extended to the armour and inventory system — gem sockets are now split into their own menu, meaning that players can easily focus on building out a balanced gear set by splitting their gems and powers evenly across their equipped armour. The demo also went out of its way to explain choices and abilities of armour and any equipped gems.
Outside of the improved inventory and menu systems, Path of Exile 2 still strongly resembles the original game, with rare changes to combat, exploration or functionality. This was a sticking point discussed by Grinding Gear Games throughout ExileCon, with technical director Jonathan Rogers making clear in a presentation that one of the aims of Path of Exile 2 is to fix the remaining problems with Path of Exile that are essentially baked into the code of the game.
Rogers also made clear that accessibility would be one of the guiding principles of Path of Exile 2, and now having experienced the overhauled system for myself, I can say that it's largely succeeded in streamlining the inventory system and reducing the overall confusion associated with the original. Path of Exile 2 was far less intimidating, and levelling up felt genuinely rewarding.
The updated visuals also stood out as a great change, with the worlds I explored feeling far more alive and exciting than the original game. With Path of Exile's latest expansion looking to overhaul these visuals completely, updating the franchise's graphics to the modern era is a clear priority for development.
Path of Exile 2's visuals popped. My protagonist, the witch, had silky, flowing hair. Her robes fluttered and floated as I ran. Waters rushed passed in a flurry of foam, and grass shimmered in the wind. It's a world that feels alive, shedding the uncanny blockiness that I often felt while traversing the opening worlds of the original. Path of Exile 2 feels like a modern game, and the visuals finally feel like they're up to modern standards.
As for the story, I felt I was far more engaged with the story of Path of Exile 2 than I was with the original. While the set up remains the same, and I do worry that the sequel isn't doing enough differently to encourage people to take the leap to a whole new game, the plight of the exiles felt more dire, and the opening missions, more exciting.
Once I overcame the undead hordes on the Riverbank and broke into the first hub world of Clearfell, I was sent on a task to defeat a boss located in a gorgeous forest landscape. Of course, it was also filled with werewolves, bloaters and imps — not to mention the horrid Tree of Souls, draped with dead bodies — but it was still beautiful and teemed with life.
The forest paths were scattered with enemies and rare loot, and allowed me to level up my character quickly as I broke through the hordes of monsters in my way. By the time I encountered higher level monsters, I felt well equipped to handle them.
As in Path of Exile, you spend a lot of your time dodging enemies, healing, replenishing mana and collecting loot, but here, even the combat feels meatier and visually more impressive.
While Path of Exile 2 still closely resembles the original game, it does feel like a significant leap from a game that's still beholden to an engine and visuals from 2013. The new inventory system works smoothly and is great for newer players, or those looking to balance their build, and the new story kicks off in very intriguing style. I had 45 minutes with the demo, which is only a fraction of the thousands of hours that Path of Exile 2 is likely to entail, but even that was enough to pique my interest.
Full disclosure: This writer attended ExileCon as a guest of Grinding Gear Games.