Diablo 3 vs. Path of Exile, Which Game is the Right One For You?
There is often a lot of emotion around game comparisons for games that are very similar at their core and this is even more profound when the games are in a relatively small genre like the AoS/MOBA (LoL vs. DotA2 vs. HoN is the prime example of this emotiveness) genre or indeed the loot-based action RPG genre. In this article I wont be bashing the big guy or call the small guy a clone of the big guy, instead I really want to give an honest analysis of the features and gameplay in these two games so that players can find the one that’s right for them.
Note: this article is a transcript from the video embedded below. If you prefer to watch and listen then please check it out!
On that note I’d just like to mention that I am very fond of both Diablo 3 and Path of Exile and I play them both frequently, just look at my channel for evidence. I get vastly different forms of enjoyment out of either game despite them being in the same genre. However, neither game is for everyone, some may prefer what Path of Exile offers and others may better enjoy Diablo 3, there are even people that will find they don’t enjoy either, despite their best attempts to do so.
So let’s begin our analysis with a brief overview of the games. Diablo 3, as it’s name suggests is the third title in the popular franchise by developers Blizzard Entertainment. The Diablo series has a long history and a large base of hardcore fans who feel that the games have defined their genre, the loot based action role playing games. Diablo 3 costs around the standard price for a AAA PC title, which is $60 in Aussieland.
Path of Exile is an indie game created and personally funded by New Zealand based developers Grinding Gear Games headed by Chris Wilson. Chris has said with Path of Exile they are making the game they want to play. As heavy Diablo 2 players it’s easy to see that Path of Exile draws a lot of inspiration from the blizzard title but there are a number of elements inspired by games in other genres such as Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 10. Path of Exile is currently in closed beta and requires a supporter pack key, which can be purchased for $10. However, on January 23rd the game will enter open beta and will become free to play. From this point on all profits will come from cosmetic microtransactions. Both Diablo 3 and Path of Exile feature multiple classes, a wide range of skills, hordes of monsters to slay and huge amounts of loot – as is tradition.
COMBAT FLUIDITY AND DEPTH
My next point of comparison will be the fluidity and depth of combat. Combat is a huge part of action RPGs, it’s simply what you will spend most of your time doing in game. You slay minion after minion and boss after boss in the pursuit of perfecting your character.
Diablo 3 features and extremely well polished combat system that feels awesome to play. Almost every ability is smooth to execute and feels satisfying. Your enemies explode and the environment crumbles around you and even from level 1 you feel like a Demigod in battle. Depth in Diablo 3’s combat comes from how and when you use your skills and the mechanics of certain difficult enemies, usually champions and elites in the higher difficulties. You have to be aware of things like arcane lasers, molten trails, enemies that wall you in and ones that reflect a percentage of your damage back at you. Overall, Diablo 3 is a very satisfying game to play when it comes to combat.
Path of Exile features a combat system that starts out slow and awkward but that improves dramatically with your character as they increase their attack speed, move speed and range of abilities. Many players will be turned off by how slow combat feels for the first couple of hours but the ones that stick around will be rewarded with a very deep and satisfying combat system. Enemies in path of exile are about on par with Diablo 3 in terms of depth, certain ones will feature dangerous affixes and different base types of enemies will have different ways of killing you. However, the variety and synergies offered in the character skillset in path of exile are phenomenal. What starts out as a basic lightning arrow ability can eventually shoot arrows in an arc dictated by the distance of the cursor from your character. These arrows can then fork out from their initial targets to hit other targets. You can even modify the ability even further to consume life instead of mana. Alternatively you can leave it as a single lightning arrow but give it the ability to pierce through enemies instead whilst also penetrating their lightning resistances.
If I had to sum up the combat comparison in one sentence I would say Diablo 3 features a smooth enjoyable combat experience while Path of Exile features one with a large amount of depth.
ITEMIZATION, ECONOMY AND TRADING
As I have mentioned earlier gear is a huge part of these games and although you acquire a lot of your gear through combat trading with other players is also a big part of the experience. As such, my next point of comparison are the itemisation, the economy and the trading systems.
Both games feature a similar gear tier system that begins with basic non-magic items and moves into magic, rare and then legendary or unique items. There are a wide array of available stats and affixes available depending on the gear type and it’s rarity. In Diablo 3 the usefulness of these affixes depend largely on your class and the most popular ones are typically the mainstat for your class, vitality, resistances, critical hit chance and damage and attack speed. This has a restrictive effect on gearing as everyone is typically after the same gear, regardless of their builds except in very niche circumstances. In path of exile certain stats are still valued highly such as damage modifiers and resistances but the usefulness of most of the other stats depends largely on your build rather than on your class. While life may be very valuable to a blood magic Templar another Templar may find it useless as they are using a skill called Chaos Inoculation, which sets their maximum life to 1 and instead provides them with bonus energy shield. This means the gear in path of exile is much more varied but that it is also much harder to understand as a novice player.
The economy and trading system in either game are a huge point of differentiation and it’s one that you will notice almost right away.
Diablo 3 features a monetary system based on gold, which can be bought and sold through a real money auction house. This allows players with limited time to play the chance to buy some gold and jump right into higher level content. Trading of gear for gold is primarily done through the gold auction house, which is completely anonymous. This system is extremely convenient and allows for easy communication of the value of certain types of gear. However, the anonymous nature of the auction houses can leave you feeling quite distanced from the rest of the player base.
Path of Exile features no monetary system whatsoever. Instead trading is done through a 100% player to player barter system. There are items known as currency items and their value is relative to their usefulness in game as crafting materials. The most common and least valuable currency items are identify and town portal scrolls and the most valuable is the Mirror of Kalandra, which allows you to duplicate any item. Other currency includes orbs that allow you to turn a white item into a magic one and orbs that allow you to reforge the sockets on any piece of gear. As with any barter economy coincidence of wants is a huge part of trading, both parties in a trade need to have something the other one wants and this limits the amount of economic activity occurring overall. The lack of a price list also means that the value of certain items is mostly determined on an individual basis. It’s nowhere near as convienient as the Diablo 3 system though it certainly has it’s charms and means that you interact with the community a lot more.
BUILDS AND CUSTOMIZATION
A bid draw for any role playing game is creating your own personal avatar and making them as distinctive as possible. As such, my next point of comparison is how well you can customize your character in either game.
In Diablo 3 customization begins with class selection, continues with non permanent skill choices and ends with gear selection. As mentioned earlier the gearing system in Diablo 3 means that most characters will be wearing varying degrees of the same gear. Dyes are available but as they aren’t currently able to be used on legendary items many characters end up looking the same in the late game. Overall customization is very limited in Diablo 3, however it is something that I expect will improve over time.
In Path of Exile customization of your character is likely one of the main draws for many players. Customisation options will become even more varied once the game enters open beta since the developers will rely on the sale of cosmetic improvements to be able to feed themselves. However, even before this happens there is a lot of choice in how your character looks and functions in Path of Exile. You start off with a class choice which dictates only some core starting stats and your location on the massive skill tree, or SkillDrasil as it is affectionately known by the player base. From this point onwards you are free to take your character in any direction you like. if you feel like making your witch into a 2handed axe wielding fighter then you are completely free to do so. The classes are less defined than the ones in Diablo 3 as a result of this system but it means you have a lot more freedom of customisation. You also have a lot of freedom over your choice and modification of skills as well. As mentioned earlier you change the way a skill works dramatically and this is thanks to the skills essentially being items that you socket into your gear. Depending on what gems you socket together you can make your skills perform however you like them to.
END GAME CONTENT & EVENTS aka STUFF TO DO
Since the basis of this genre of games is levelling, finding gear and progressing your character satisfying end game content can be quite the design challenge for developers. The current end game for both games is fairly similar, increasing difficulties for you to gear for in Diablo 3’s monster power system and Path of Exiles map system. Key differences here lie in the variety of maps offered in path of exile and the uber bosses offered in Diablo 3’s infernal machine system. For players that like to very gradually improve their near perfect characters both of these systems are reasonably satisfying though I expect both games will have see some improvements in the future.
Sadly, this is where it ends for Diablo 3 in the ‘stuff to do’ category. Path of Exile picks up the reigns here with a rudimentary but enjoyable 1v1 and 3v3 PvP system and with the awesomely satisfying league events. As Path of Exile features a league system the developers are able to run timed events for players to participate in without affecting the main game. These events include timed Hardcore races and even the massively fun open world PvP cutthroat events. There are even turbo hardcore race leagues where monsters move and attack faster. These leagues feature minor currency awards, which can be taken back to the default league but mainly they simply provide more things for you to do. The fact that Diablo 3 doesn’t have a similar system completely baffles me.
DIFFICULTY AND ACCESSIBILITY
My final point of comparison for Diablo 3 and Path of Exile should hopefully cement your decision about which game is right for you. There is a lot of debate about whether this genre of games should be about being difficult or whether they should be about coming up with efficient builds but to this I say why not both?
Diablo 3 features a fairly linear difficulty curve. You can fairly safely take a character from normal mode to the start of inferno without any backtracking or farming for levels. In the past you would hit a wall in your progression at the beginning of inferno but after a series of balance changes and with better gear becoming cheaper it’s pretty easy to go straight from Hell mode into inferno progression with only the gold you made while levelling. From this point onwards the difficulty scales exponentially with the monster power system though at a certain point it stops being difficult and instead becomes time consuming as the health of enemies far out scales their damage output. Dying is not really much of a problem in softcore mode as the only penalty is repair costs.
Path of Exile’s difficulty comes in two forms, it’s complexity and in the actual content. It’s generally accepted that you will screw up your first character and that you will hit a wall in one of the later difficulties where you can no longer progress. At this point your best option is to take what you have learned about what makes an effective build and to start again. Since there is an experience penalty on death in every difficulty but normal brute forcing your way through content isn’t very viable. This all means that the difficulty curve in Path of Exile can feel quite bumpy, you may have a viable end game build but you also need a a viable build to level with, and the same goes for the opposite.
In terms of accessibility Diablo 3 has it’s points of complexity but is generally the easier of the two to understand. Defensive stats all pretty much do the same thing and as long as you have enough of them you only really need to focus on increasing your damage. path of Exile is a lot more complex and there are a lot more mechanics to understand if you want to successfully craft anything but a cookie cutter build. This complexity can be a turn off for players that are mainly looking for a relaxing way to spend the evenings while it can be a huge draw for hardcore theory-crafters.
Hopefully by this point most of know which game is right for you, although both games appear similar on the surface they are definitely suited to different player bases. Alternatively, you might find yourself like me, unable to do anything but enjoy both of them for the different experiences they offer.