Potions on my belt, a sword in my hand, dungeon-crawling on my mind.
I noted early last year that I would be in no position to give any sort of qualitative observations regarding whether Diablo 3 is good or bad, and I'm still not. I have a rig that is more than capable of playing the game now, but I can't say that I've been all that interested in picking up a copy. Still, just because I haven't played D3 doesn't mean that I loathe the style or genre it helped solidify, far from it. I daresay in fact that I'm more happy to play an action or "western" style RPG over a so-called JRPG any day of the week. This is what lead me to finally take the plunge and try Path of Exile.
Path of Exile just recently came out of a closed beta and has entered into an open one -- and yes, I'm aware that I did a little complaining about betas last week, but as far as I can tell there's actually a point to this one and they are hoping to progress to beyond a beta build on a set schedule -- and aside from being heavily influenced by the Diablo series as a whole also has the distinction of being completely free-to-play.
I know that those three words set off alarm bells in the minds of a lot of people, but believe it or not, so far at least Path of Exile's developers Grinding Gear Games have made quite good with their promise. While there are microtransactions, they are only for purely cosmetic things like pets, different looking spell effects, things of that sort. You can't buy a +500 Greatsword of Shitkicking and plow your way through the entire game, which is always a plus in my books.
The way that the game is put together is also quite different from the norm. Take items for example: anything you can find comes in one of four rarities: common, magic, rare, and unique. The thing is though, is that with the right items you can bring a common item all the way to a rare one, and rework nearly every aspect of the item into something else that may or may not suit you better. It's a very interesting system, and what's more is that there's also no gold in this game, rather, everything trades for things like scrolls that identify the properties of magical items, or orbs that can give items new properties or change existing ones. Skills are no longer something gained by levelling up, although there is a massive skill tree. Rather, things like cleave and fireball are now attached to gems that you socket into your weapons and armour. The gems themselves can level up, but aren't stuck in the slot you put them in.
The aforementioned skill tree though, is where the game really does shine. This monster of a grid supports everything from basic attribute buffs to things that completely change the way that attributes work, like forgoing mana completely by having everything cast from hit points, or turning all evasion points on a piece of armour into armour points. That's really only scratching the surface though, and while each class certainly has things that they'll want to get, with enough levels and points you can meander about the grid as much as you want. This means that characters are going to be quite dynamic, and builds can be tailored to best suit playstyles of individuals.
The system may not be for everyone, certainly. Personally I find it refreshing that you don't have to grind for gold or wait until a certainly level to get a skill (although admittedly there is now some luck involved in finding the skills right for you, but that's what trading is for, after all). I haven't played very much so far, I'm still in act one, but what I have played has been impressive and very reminiscent of the glory days of Diablo.
Basically, if you like dungeon crawlers, then I'd recommend taking a look at Path of Exile. At worst you'll temporarily lose a bit of harddrive space and a little time, and at best you'll find a new world to gleefully send your hours off into the abyss for.