Path of Exile 2 wants you to take a methodical approach to ARPGs

By Diego Nicolás Argüello, Contributor
The original Path of Exile has iterated on a decade-old foundation with dozens of seasonal updates over the years, but its roots have definitely started to show their age in recent times. It’s been an interesting action-RPG to watch grow and prosper—the developers focused mostly on adding new mechanics and features on top of the game itself rather than fundamentally changing its core.

More than a decade ago, Path of Exile directly rivaled Diablo 3, pitting the old-school roots of the genre against the originator's more streamlined approach. Now, the free-to-play sequel is jousting with Diablo 4, as well as an array of similar games that have come out recently. The stakes are high, and it’s clear that developer Grinding Gear Games has been taking lessons from both its peers and its own legacy.

From the get-go, Path of Exile 2 iterates on the gritty visuals of its predecessor with improved detail and action across the board. The new campaign is set years after the events of the first game, taking you back to the world of Wraeclast once more. Featuring co-op with up to six players, you’ll tackle six campaign acts, fighting hundreds of monsters along the way. You can also expect 12 character classes to pick from, a new skill gem system to further customize your build, and another expansive endgame that will be similar to the current Atlas of Worlds in the original Path of Exile.

During a hands-on demo at Summer Game Fest, we were able to tackle the beginning of the game: plunging into a dungeon, defeating a few bosses, and getting a feel for the substantial changes to the combat style. The difference in presentation is apparent from the moment you select your character, as an in-game cinematic with strong voice acting takes you into the moment before the execution of a group of exiles.
Path Of Exile 2 Wants You To Take A Methodical Approach To Arpgs Witch
The demo had four classes available—Warrior, Duelist, Sorceress, and Monk—and I picked the last of those, which is one of the new ones added in the sequel. After my selection, there's another short cutscene as the exile of your choosing escapes and ends up on a shore nearby. It's similar to the introduction of the first game, where you battle undead enemies up to a mini-boss before entering a town. After this point, however, the experience diverges significantly from its predecessor.

Path of Exile draws major influence from the classic Diablo experience, which set the standard for APRGs. In essence, it doesn't take long for your character to toughen up and plunge through enemies with ease. As the demo went on, however, enemies grew in size and became harder to deal with, forcing me to consider my attacks and use the newly added dodge roll to avoid enemy assaults.

It might sound cliché to repeat what’s now become a catch-all term, but it’s hard not to compare the combat with Soulslike games like Elden Ring. Your character has much more elaborate animations which make the speed of play more methodical and considered. Foes do too, so figuring out the proper timing to avoid upcoming attacks becomes key to survival. With a melee-focused class like the Monk, I was constantly blitzing in and out of danger to deal with enemy groups.
Path Of Exile 2 Wants You To Take A Methodical Approach To Arpgs Gameplay
In case you’re wondering, yes, this is even more apparent during boss fights. While I only tackled a few encounters with these powerful foes, dodging was paramount. I quickly entered into the rhythm-game zone of waiting for a boss to attack to time a dodge and retaliate before the next, learning the patterns to make it out alive.

Aside from the greater detail that permeates the whole experience, there are impressive environmental touches everywhere you look. When entering a cave to hunt a worm-type monster, it appeared shortly after entering, sliding across the inner bowels of the cavern. It was a surprising and striking sight that set the tone way before I fully entered its lair. It also helps that your character can get covered in mud and acid (to name a few examples), changing their appearance momentarily and adding to your sense of immersion.

The game's environments in general embrace this obsessive detail whenever possible, and it can look quite gritty at times. Though Path of Exile 2 is clearly going for a more modern aesthetic, it doesn't trade off the macabre ambiance of the first game. Even rudimentary enemies like wolves looked intimidating, not to mention the screaming forest hags and childish foes crawling on all fours.

The sequel retains many elements that experienced players will find familiar, such as inventory management and the ever-daunting passive skill tree. Amid the quality-of-life additions that I was able to see in the demo, the new checkpoints really stood out. Whenever you're exploring an open area, you're likely to stumble upon a totem of sorts that will replenish your health and mana. As the name implies, you're able to return there if you die while exploring its corresponding area. The trade-off is that enemies will respawn once you do—another Soulslike touch—which is definitely worth bearing in mind.

Path of Exile 2 is bound to be a challenging experience, and I can't help but wonder how the combat will feel toward the mid-to-late game, once you've gotten to a point where you have plenty of skill gems to use and a few dozen passive skills in the bag to round out your build. Even in the early stages of the demo, it's clear that the inclusion of the dodge roll mechanic has had a fundamental ripple effect in the way encounters work. If the later stages of the campaign can keep up with it, the result will definitely stand out in the ARPG space.

Path of Exile 2 will release on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and S at a later date, with a beta available toward the end of 2024. You can find it right here at the Epic Games Store.

For more on Summer Game Fest, check out our full recap of the live presentation here. We also have rundowns for the rest of the festivities, including the PC Gaming Show, the Future Games Show, and Guerilla Collective.