Things Games I Played These Past Two Years Did That I Liked: Matured 2018 & 2019 Gold Ed. (Taking Pre-Orders Now!)

Tala Moana, fellow community member! Yikes, 2018 was a really long year for me. Without getting too personal, and in no particular order, I visited my oldest friend on the literal other side of the world, bounced around Europe several times, quit my job, and moved countries. As one might expect, I didn’t have much time for playing games – but here’s what I have been playing anyway. I also started writing this in… September 2018? Now it’s November 2019 and good grief where did the time go? Oh right, it was spent on Path of Exile. Before we get to that, special congratulations to..!

Overwatch For Finally Shitting The Bed

In November 2018, a video was put up by a noted streamer and former Overwatch League player Seagull

In brief, his argument is that OW is no longer fun and that it’s become a chore to play. I found myself agreeing with him, but the stick that finally broke my back was when they added Ashe to the roster.

Ashe, in theory, should have been a welcome addition. She was not, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. Also, it was doubly pathetic that her appearance just happened to coincide with Red Dead Redemption 2’s release. I uninstalled the game in the New Year of 2019 prior to Baptiste and haven’t regretted it since.

I have little to no sympathy for what has happened and will happen to Blizzard and its franchises. Going into the various reasons why would take too much time, but the short version is Blizzard has hemorrhaged talent in recent years on top of its questionable-at-best business decisions (and not just regarding China). They did it to themselves – it ain’t the playerbase’s fault.

Yakuza 0 For Being Amazing And Definitely GOTY 2018

This game got me through the latter months of 2018. At the time I had just sold off my desktop computer, bought a relatively nice Dell XPS laptop, and needed something to try it out on. A friend had bought me Yakuza 0 so I gave it a whirl.

You ever miss the days of weird quirky JRPGs and wonder where those types of games disappeared to? Turns out they didn’t. It’s the Yakuza series, which isn’t so much a game, it’s about two dozen different games within one overarching “game”. My personal favorite? The telephone club’s quick time event.

I put in 72 hours, sorta finished the Real Estate stuff, but I don’t think that accounts for even half of the game’s total content. Though it might drag a little in parts, I was thoroughly entertained. The main event, however, looms.

Path of Exile For – Holy Shit Just Play Path of Exile Would You?

What if I told you that there exists in the world a spiritual successor to both Final Fantasy X and Diablo II? What if I told you it didn’t have any math in the water minigames, had a better trading interface, and an altogether better story than either of the above? What if I told you this thing had major updates every three months that substantially increased its endgame longevity each time? And what if I told you that this thing is completely free to play?

Do not disregard Path of Exile just because it’s F2P. It is more than that, if you’ll allow me to explain as someone with… uhh…

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Look, I’ve played my fair share of seasons of Diablo 3, okay? I ain’t gonna boot it back up and type in /playtime to find out how much it was – it’s probably embarrassing. Still, I can firmly say that game utterly failed to be a proper sequel to its predecessor (and I destroyed my physical copy of Diablo 2 in university to stop myself from ruining my education). Is Diablo 3 enjoyable to play? Sure, but it quickly gets to a point where it’s brainless. Most seasons resulted in high-tier play revolving around three or four particular builds that have a high enough DPS and survivability to be able to run endgame content worth a damn. The seasonal cosmetic rewards were fine but it was never enough to keep coming back. At best, D3 is just a podcast/play while skyping a friend game – without that it is utterly interminable. Believe me, I tried to do it without anything else to distract me and I hated it. Grind up to level 70, and just piano key numbers 1 to 4 on your keyboard while listening to literally anything other than the game until you’ve had your fill – that’s Diablo 3. Yes the colors are pretty, but that simply wasn’t enough for me. Plus, I couldn’t even really tell you what happened in Diablo 3’s plot beyond “Diablo’s back, baby!” and everything after Act 2 feeling like a rushed disappointment.

So what does any of this have to do with Path of Exile?

If you build it, they will come. Grinding Gear Games built PoE, and I… fell in love? It was a confusing relationship at first. Here’s how I think most relationships with PoE develop:

  • First 10-20 hours: Wow this campaign is stupid hard after Act 5. Why do I keep dying so quickly? Why is global chat calling me terrible (Editor’s note: Global says FAR worse things than this – feel free to mute it). I linked a support gem on my witch’s arc spell, I should be doing great. What sort of crazy person plays this game on hardcore?
  • 20-100 hours: Alright let’s go with Oro’s flicker strike build. Oh god I think I might throw up. This labyrinth thing is no joke. I really don’t like these spikes and blades. Wait, why did I just die?
  • 100-200 hours: Alright my resists are capped. I’ve saved up and traded for my first corrupted six-link. This guide I’m following this league is solid. I can’t really afford gear that’s more than a few chaos orbs but I can make it to tier 10 maps easy and the endgame bosses are now in my sights. Wait, why did I just die?
  • 200-500 hours: Alright here’s my custom loot filter so I can actually see drops worth a damn, and here’s Path of Building on my desktop. Wait, why did I just die?

Now hold on a second, you read earlier that I compared this to Final Fantasy X – what’s all that about? An often remarked-upon point of derision for PoE is its somewhat impenetrable system of progression. In short, two main things can be leveled – your character and your skill gems. Unlike in other ARPGs, where you’d usually spend points on strength, intelligence, dexterity, etc. after leveling up, PoE works differently. When you ding, your character gets rewarded with a single point to spend on your passive skill tree which looks like this.

This is an example of a max level 100 passive skill layout
This is an example of a max level 100 passive skill layout

Feel free to interact with the actual thing in a web browser and mouse over a few things to get an idea what the passive tree does.

Each one of those nodes is a thing you can spend a passive skill point on and depending on which of the seven classes you start from, you start at a different position in the tree (in FFX, everyone was on the sphere grid but in different spots and with enough time you could have everyone learn every spell and skill).

I should stress that unlike FFX you are not trying to fill out all the nodes – that would:

a) be impossible, because you simply don’t earn enough passive points to even get remotely close, and even if it was then,

b) would probably result in a character that would have 1 health that would also probably self-combust immediately

The purpose of the passive tree is for you to plot a route along it that most suits what sort of character you’re going for. A lot of these passives aren’t just basic things like +10 to intelligence. Rather, most of the major keystone passives (and even some of the notables) will fundamentally alter your character’s playstyle. Generally speaking, your passive investment will then dictate what gear you ultimately decide to wear on your character. Your gear (weapons, armor, boots, jewelry – but no pants, strangely) has sockets, and can have up to six of them, and what do you do with sockets…?

Why you put skill gems in them, silly! PoE’s other principal system of progression are the absurd number of skill gems available. Generally, they also fall into two main camps. The first is active skills, which you cast (e.g. Fireball), the other is support skills, which you compliment your active skills with (e.g. Added Fire Damage) but if you thought the passive tree was complicated, I’d ask you to remain seated for a moment.

Alright let’s be real stupid and do a simple three-link gem setup. Take the Flame Dash skill gem, which is a blink-like spell that leaves a trail of flame as it moves us across terrain. Let’s add the Spell Totem Support gem to it. What does that do? Well, instead of us directly casting the spell and moving our character, we summon a usually stationary totem from the ground that casts the spell instead. Cool, I guess? Now let’s add Multiple Totems Support to that. Congratulations, you now have at least three totems instead of one, and your three totem pets are all flame dashing around through enemy mobs like absurd bumper cars. (Editor’s note: please avoid making a spell totem build that uses movements skills, it will be very dumb but if you want to see what it looks like, fine here’s a video).

Did I mention that the number of linked skill gems can go up to six? What you’re seeing here isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

If the above is clear, then hopefully you have an idea of why I think PoE is such a worthy successor to Diablo II’s system of skill syncing. Do you pine for glass cannon javazons or enchantress sorcs of old? Do you want to make something just like a whirlwind barb that takes probably a half hour to kill endgame bosses but will never die? Do you want to fill the screen with poisonous exploding skeletons and let them do the work while you go and make coffee? All this and more awaits you in Path of Exile.

As for the campaign of PoE? It’s fine. It’s easy enough to just breeze past the story, but if you want to take notice you’re basically dealing with the past and current transgressions of power-mad thaumaturgists who for hundreds of years have been siphoning their power from a divinely-created beast that happens to be a mountain and then you come along and not only kill these asshats who should’ve been executed many times over but also deal with the beast itself. Whoops! Turns out that beast was actually keeping the Old Gods asleep – now go and clear up that mess.

The dark fantasy world of Wraeclast is interesting, although I’d argue the plot veers into “so everyone’s just really shitty, huh” too frequently, but there are moments and characters (their voice acting especially) that bring levity every now and again. Plus, given the origins of the studio (GGG are based out of New Zealand), there are hints of local myth and Maori legend that creep into what might otherwise be brushed off as a typical ARPG. I’d argue the story is at least several steps more compelling than “Uh oh, the bad guy’s loose… again”. Due to the game being a live service since 2013, the bosses kinda vary in quality. Recent patches have made older, early campaign fights far more compelling, but later bosses do not fuck around and require you to think and learn patterns to avoid being horribly murdered.

This game falls into that rare category of being one of those titles where getting used to its intricacies and learning the game itself is the reward, and each time you come back, it becomes something else. To go back to Diablo 3, the endgame of it was for me a dull repeat of roughly three basic loops. One loop gets cash, another loop gets materials for a recipe, and a third loop gets you chances at good gear drops – all of which you then spend to incrementally boost your character, and then you’d repeat that three-loop cycle to make numbers go up. Big whoop.

PoE’s endgame is borderline absurd with how much there is to do and how much they feed into each other. I’m not gonna say any single one is amazing – they’re sometimes not, but there’s just so much of it and so many ways to spend your time after the story is wrapped up that it’s all extremely compelling to at least give each of them a try if you get tired of doing just one. Wanna repeatedly grind through over a hundred semi-randomly generated areas based on tilesets from the campaign? Wanna hunt monsters to then make a super monster that you have to fight to then use to buff your gear? Wanna do some sort of time travel treasure hunt thing where you manipulate the layout of a temple to guarantee certain drops and make your own challenge out of it? Wanna escort a cart along a track deeper and deeper into a mine while fending off waves of enemies? Wanna craft items to then sell to other players? Wanna do Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system? Wanna just sit in your hideout that you’ve completely redesigned like a doll’s house (but on fire) and flip currency for hours with other players to make a profit? Wanna just exit the game entirely and sit in front of Path of Building and theory craft a build of your own based around some utterly obscure setup that might just be severely broken and potentially even ruin the game for other players? I’m not even making up the last one.

Much like Warframe, and unlike other games in the live service model, the monetization isn’t complete garbage. Aside from you having to actually play the game to get there, nothing in terms of content is gated from the player and all of it is accessible– even for those who never spend money at all. What PoE sells are either cosmetics (I don’t bother with these but if you really want your dual wield daggers to drip blood while your head’s burning ghostly purple flames and your spells to be transformed into magic space balls, those options are all there in spades) and mainly quality of life through stash tabs. You start with four basic ones which may feel a little limiting but if you can get over hoarding pointless quantities of garbage, you’ll realize that four tabs is very sufficient to get through to endgame. Most importantly, PoE doesn’t sell “power” though it’s arguable that the ability to trade your own items (at least listing them on public sites) is sort of behind paying for a premium stash tab (but you can still search trade sites and message players that do have a premium stash tab). If you do decide to put some money in, bear in mind that once a month there are usually sales, so wait until one crops up to buy your stash tabs.

Another small caveat to note is much like any game in this genre, the equivalent of WoW gold farmers do exist and trade can sometimes be a price-fixed nightmare. Currency is only earned in game in the form of various orbs. Why these orbs have any worth at all is because they can be spent on improving or crafting your own powerful items, which you then use to go out and kill even more powerful monsters to get better orbs and so on. While there might be slight inflation, it’s somewhat rare for currency to be hoarded by regular players.

Look, this isn’t a beginner’s guide to Path of Exile. There are plenty of resources out there to help (look up Engineering Eternity on YouTube for some excellent guides) and the Giant Bomb Duder Guild will help out too if you are struggling with gear. Rather, this is me extolling the virtues of a game I had heard about on and off over the years but never quite took the leap until 2019.

Could I have spent my time and energy on other games? Of course I could have, and in fact did play a few other titles, but none of them kept me coming back anywhere nearly as frequently as Path of Exile has, which is why it’s my GOTY 2019. Happy Holidays and don’t forget to cap your resists.