So, you’re trying to decide which dungeon crawling RPG to pick up next and you come to the inevitable standoff between Blizzard and “that other guy”. It should be a no brainer, I mean – Blizzard brought you Diablo 2 (and the LoD expansion). Heck, when has Blizzard ever let you down? But you are reading this article, after all, so you must have your reservations. Allow me to influence your decision towards a game that will bring you the most enjoyment.
Now before I get carried away, I will say that I have played and will continue to play the entire Diablo series, and so far have loved each game and their respective expansions. Until fairly recently, I didn’t know of any alternative dungeon crawler that even came close to being as good as Diablo… and then there was Path of Exile. Instead of going on a rant about how amazing Path of Exile (PoE) is, let me break down the key differences between PoE and D3 and let you make your own informed decision.
Path of Exile has a built-in advantage in terms of how “Accessible” it is because, compared to Diablo 3’s current $40 price tag, free looks pretty good. Of course, when it comes down to it, $40 isn’t that much for a great game these days, and when Blizzard releases its next Diablo title I’m sure I will spend twice that on it.
While Path of Exile is free, it is actually quite in-depth when it comes to the sheer amount of customization options available very early on in the game. Once you make a selection in the passive skill tree, it is permanent, save for a few hard-to-obtain reroll items that allow you to refund one or two points. You never get a full skill tree reroll. Just looking at the passive skill tree for the first time had me overwhelmed, and caused me to take a break from playing the game to read up on it. I didn’t have an issue with doing a little research, but then again I am pretty familiar with the RPG scene to begin with – newer more casual players may not enjoy it quite as much.
As with other Blizzard games, Diablo III aimed to be as accessible to as many people as possible, and they did a great job of it yet again. In Diablo, each class has a set handful of different ability choices, all of which can be rerolled easily if the player doesn’t like their original choice. Characters have their own gear types, so you know by default what kind of gear is good for your character – you can’t equip it if it isn’t. In terms of “pick up and play” value, these are all very good things.
It isn’t difficult to see which developer has a larger budget to work with. Diablo 3’s graphics are awesome. Everything from your character and spell effects, down to that stray leaf on the ground look fantastic – and I would expect nothing less from Blizzard.
Path of Exile doesn’t quite measure up to today’s standards in terms of graphics. On the other hand, its early 2000’s graphics will feel very nostalgic to fans of Diablo 2 and the LoD expansion.
Winner: Diablo 3
Gameplay and Features
When it comes to controls, Diablo III feels like a Blizzard game should. Everything is smooth, polished, and responsive. Path of Exile is pretty good too, but I have to mention one problem that has come up for me once or twice. Pathing. Something about how the PoE servers register targeting occasionally has me running circles around my enemy (literally) instead of attacking it. All I have to do is attack again and the issue is fixed – but I have never had that issue in Diablo III.
I already touched on how Diablo III handles skills in the “Accessibility” section so I will just fill in the gaps. Much like Diablo II, there is a skill tree where you pick what skills you want as you level up. Nothing new here really – Blizzard went with the “If it aint broke don’t fix it” theory.
Path of Exile did something I wasn’t expecting – they deviated from the norm. In PoE, rather than having a skill tree, you find skill gems, which you have to socket into your items in order to use. Your individual skill gems level up as you use them and can be interchanged between gear with no penalty. But that is just scratching the surface of how gems work. Aside from the main skill gems, there are support gems which modify the main skill – even the gems have gems! Taric would be proud.
Path of Exile surprised me again the first time I tried to sell items to an NPC. Rather than the NPC awarding you a set amount of gold for the item you are trying to sell, they will offer you various things from portal scrolls to crafting materials. The entire game works this way even with other players. There is no currency – it is a barter system. I thought this was a refreshing change from the standard RPG formula and hope to see other RPGs give this system a try in the future.
Diablo III stuck with a more traditional RPG currency system, which is fine, but where they really went wrong is the real money auction house (RMAH). When I first heard about the RMAH, I thought to myself “Awesome! I can play games and make money!”, but it didn’t really pan out that way. What the RMAH did successfully do is flood the market with cheap, overpowered items, removing the need for anyone with $10 to play the game at all. For people who take the time to farm for their own items, there is no real reward.
Winner : Path of Exile
As I mentioned before, Blizzard’s goal with Diablo III was to reach as many people as possible – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to difficulty Diablo leans heavily towards the casual gamer. After the first play through, difficulty scales up mostly in how long it takes to kill things, not necessarily in how dangerous those things are. You can safely build to only deal damage in Diablo III.
Path of Exile is more tailored to veteran players, and is significantly more challenging. As difficulty scales up, monsters deal more damage and have larger health pools, forcing you to find a balance between offence and defence to progress.
The only time the tables turn is when it comes to “Hardcore” characters. Diablo III has the traditional Hardcore mode where, if your character dies, you lose your character. Path of Exile also has a “Hardcore” mode where, if your character dies, you get migrated to a standard league character and retain all of your items. Personally I like the idea of the challenge without the threat of losing everything you have done, but this technically isn’t “Hardcore”.
Winner: Path of Exile
Path of Exile does pull ahead yet again in a few areas – builds and events. Diablo III sadly has a “one build to rule them all” for each class. Enough people have played with the available skills and item sets and found unmistakably overpowered builds that you would be silly not to use. Path of Exile has an almost endless amount of viable builds and variations of builds. PoE also continues to have events like races, where players create new characters and try to level up for a set time period – whoever hits the highest level in that set time wins, and gets a prize.
When it comes to replay value, both Diablo III and Path of Exile are, at their very core, dungeon crawlers. For fans of this type of game, the constant grind after the initial storyline is familiar and enjoyable. But it is a giant grindfest none the less on both parts. Path of Exile does a better job at masking the grind with more options and thus has better replay value.
Winner: Path of Exile
All in all, I think Path of Exile is the game that Diablo III should have been – and it is continuing to get attention from its developers, with rumors of more content to be released soon. Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Ben is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PCGR. He writes much of the content, manages the site, and does other editorial things that would bore you to tears.