For me, ARPGs have always served as a kind of calming junk food that allowed me to sink into my chair and spend countless hours mindlessly grinding away with little threat of ever breaking a sweat. This was definitely true of the original Path of Exile, which I’ve been known to actually fall asleep playing while raiding dusty crypts and forgotten dungeons – it just has a soothing effect on me in its pleasant repetition. Which is why I was shocked when I recently sat down with the folks at Grinding Gear Games to try out the Druid class in Path of Exile 2 and found myself wholly engaged by its new dynamic and action-packed combat system. With a renewed focus on putting players in thrilling battles that require careful consideration and adaptation, I think I may have finally found my next ARPG junk-food indulgence.
I enjoyed the original Path of Exile’s much more straightforward “click to do DPS” combat back in 2017, but this sequel made its predecessor look shoddy and overly simplistic by comparison. Instead of just spamming the same ability over and over again until everything dies, Path of Exile 2 asks you to think about how each of your abilities can work together to apply status effects, synergize with one another, and overcome specific combat obstacles like nigh endless waves of goblins charging at you, or a giant beast that doesn’t seem to flinch at even the strongest of attacks.
Path of Exile 2 Druid Slideshow
This new philosophy became obvious when I played as the recently revealed Druid class, which focuses on Intelligence and Strength to create a hybrid between magic and raw power. In human form, I’d focus on spells and trickery to apply status effects and set myself up for the imminent rampage of my bear form, then as a bear I’d lay waste to everything in sight by managing a rage counter and triggering a bunch of powerful AoE attacks. I could still try doing things the good ol’ fashioned way by rushing in and spamming the same abilities – Path of Exile 2 isn’t a fan of implementing cooldowns after all, so there’s nothing stopping me – but doing so isn’t just boring, but ineffective compared to the much more satisfying alternative.
But the ability to augment my skills so they’d trigger automatically under specific conditions allowed me to take my buildcrafting to a whole new level. For example, since I always wanted to cast my lightning ability alongside my volcanic eruption, I linked them together so they’d always cast at the same time, then could do the same with my ability to summon wolves by setting it up to cast automatically when I stunned the enemy as a bear. This kind of extremely precise tuning allowed me to turn my bear warrior into exactly the kind of rampaging DPS monster I’d always wanted to be, and that’s just dang impressive! I can’t even begin to imagine the cocktails of destruction that will be put together when the min-maxing ARPG community gets their hands on this thing.
“After just an hour with an only partially powered up Druid, I felt as though I’d only scratched the surface.”
After just an hour with an only partially powered up Druid, I felt as though I’d only scratched the surface with tons of ways to customize how my skills worked with one another and create automations for triggering them, and I can only imagine how delightfully chunky buildcrafting will be. It’s impressive that at no point in my time with it did I ever feel like I could just turn my brain off and blow through the levels. Quite the opposite: this ARPG felt a lot more like a proper action game, complete with cooldown-free dodge rolls, than any of its genre peers – and all without sacrificing an ounce of its complex RPG systems.
Also, when you’re in town, you can roll around as a bear and it’s amazing. Need I say more? I can’t wait to push this wonderfully furry guy to the limits when Path of Exile 2 enters early access next year.