As Path of Exile 2 rears its head for the first time in a long while at ExileCon 2023, it does so in a world where the action-RPG is more popular than ever. In the decade since its predecessor launched, these top-down, loot-driven games have grown to become some of the most popular and best RPG games. Now, alongside the likes of Diablo 4, Lost Ark, and the upcoming Last Epoch, Path of Exile 2 proves that Grinding Gear Games is still pushing the genre forward in exciting new ways.
GGG shows off its new-look sequel in a live stage demo at ExileCon, its own official Path of Exile convention in Auckland, New Zealand. PCGamesN was given the chance to watch this presentation ahead of time, and I was really impressed by what I saw. We’ve seen glimpses of Path of Exile 2 previously and it looked mostly like more of the same – which is no bad thing, given that the first PoE remains perhaps the best ARPG out there – but I was blown away by the dramatic changes on show here.
Those differences start right at the top – Path of Exile 2 will now be a separate game from the first. For those of you who haven’t been following its development closely, the original plan was that PoE2 would launch as an expansion to the first game, with players able to play both campaigns in the same client and a shared endgame.
Now, the two games will be entirely separate – PoE1 will continue on, and the pair will have their own unique mechanics, balance, endgames, and leagues. Path of Exile 2 creative director Jonathan Rogers does confirm, however, that all past and future microtransactions will carry between both games – new PoE2 cosmetics will even work in PoE1, as long as they fit on skills and items that exist in that game.
“PoE2’s scope has continued to grow and grow,” Rogers says, noting that “over 100 developers” are now on the PoE2 team, far eclipsing the size of the first game’s current team helmed by his co-founder Chris Wilson. “It’s far more than an expansion with a new campaign. It’s entirely new monsters, skills, mechanics, classes; everything you would expect from the next generation of ARPGs.”
It certainly looks like it. Our demo takes place in the game’s third act, starting out in the depths of a jungle, where we are introduced to the first new character class, the Monk. Rogers explains that “many of the new skills we were trying to design didn’t really fit thematically with the existing classes that we have.”
As such, you’ll now have two choices for each class; instead of being locked into Templar as a Strength/Intelligence character, you can be a Druid – a spellcaster with the option to turn into a bear. Dexterity starters can choose to be a spear-wielding Huntress instead of the Ranger, and Dex/Int players have a choice between the old Shadow and the new Monk. As with PoE1, quest rewards are tailored to your class and each has its own Ascendancies (PoE’s subclass equivalent), but you can take your build anywhere once you begin.
The Monk affords us a look at the overhauled Path of Exile 2 melee combat: where it was previously the most underloved set of skills in the first game, getting physical here looks amazing. Mark’s Monk flips, dashes, and dodges his way through crowds of enemies in ways that look more akin to an action movie than a traditional ARPG.
“Practically every melee skill in PoE2 has some kind of movement to it,” Rogers remarks, explaining how most skills allow players a moment to redirect them while casting with a flick of the mouse, or to turn and move during channeled attacks to stay on target. “Generally speaking, you never lose control of your character in PoE2.”
Further to this, and core to the entirety of PoE2’s combat in fact, is the new dodge roll. By pressing space, you can now roll with every character. This isn’t a panic button like Diablo 4’s evade, however. Rogers notes that “there is no cooldown, no limitation; it even has a bit of pathfinding so you don’t get stuck on things.”
The resulting effect bears closer resemblance to the likes of Elden Ring or Monster Hunter, although crucially Rogers points out that “When you dodge roll, you are not invulnerable.” However, rolling does cause projectiles and melee strikes to miss you – so, while you will have to roll completely out of area effects, “anyone swinging a sword or throwing a fireball is going to miss.”
You can also use dodge roll to “cancel out of almost any skill at any time,” something else that helps skills with long cast times or channels to feel much more viable. It also allows for clever positioning – in our demonstration, the Monk freezes an enemy with a melee skill, then rolls back to use the slow-moving Glacial Cascade, which explodes in a devastating spike at its end that shatters frozen targets for bonus damage.
A Sorceress joins the game, and we get to see the new caster weapons, which lose their useless melee stats for a “built-in, free-to-cast spell.” We’re shown Unleash, which is essentially a triple-cast for your next spell, and we also see how weapon switching works – to encourage players to actually use multiple weapon types, you can now set individual skills to use a specific weapon and have your character switch on the fly, with just a very short swap delay.
Complementing this further is a change to passive skills – now, points granted from Skill Books (which Rogers tells PCGamesN should be around 20 points in total alongside around 100 standard points) will give you two sets of points for each of your weapon slots. This means you can skill one weapon down an ice tree, and another down a lightning tree, allowing for much more versatile experimentation than the min-maxed singular focus of most current PoE builds.
You’re going to need all of these tools, too – Rogers says Path of Exile 2 features “over 100 bosses” through its campaign, each with their own unique mechanics, with at least one in every area. Watching just a couple of these in action, I’m struck by just how fun the encounters look – the first Path of Exile’s boss design was already one of the game’s strongest points, and PoE2 looks to be building on this even further.
To return to an earlier comparison, these boss fights look at times almost more like watching an Elden Ring showdown from a different perspective than a traditional ARPG encounter. With the use of the dodge roll and your enhanced ability for really precise positioning and movement, PoE2’s combat seems to be on another level even compared to its predecessor – and certainly a step up from many of Diablo 4’s non-campaign bosses, which can feel rather hit-or-miss.
With all that said, Grinding Gear Games doesn’t feel like it’s trying to “beat” Diablo 4 at its own game with Path of Exile 2. And why would it, given how beloved the first still remains among its dedicated fanbase? Instead, the team is sticking to its guns: “We don’t want to feel like we’re dumbing the game down for people, we want to make sure that all that depth is still there – it’s more important that we don’t lose the audience that we have.”
Path of Exile 2 definitely seems like a better jumping-on point for newcomers, though, and Rogers tells me that he hopes they’ll find it much more welcoming out of the gate. “We’re much better game designers now – the beginning of the game is much nicer for new players to experience,” he says.
I really hope that’s the case; while it can certainly be a little more intimidating, Path of Exile has a lot to offer even for a more casual player who isn’t looking to dig into every last mechanic and system. PoE2, meanwhile, looks to be pushing the format forward in some genuinely exciting ways. Over the course of the demo, my general curiosity rapidly blossomed into a desperate need to try it for myself.
All of this makes the final news from Rogers sting just a tad. The Path of Exile 2 closed beta will begin on Friday June 7, 2024, he confirms. “We’re incredibly excited to near the finish line,” he says, “but we are not quite there yet. We’re determined not to rush this, and make sure we get it right.” It’s going to be an agonizing year waiting, but I’m now firmly of the belief that it’ll be well worth it.
For now, we’ll have to settle for the upcoming Path of Exile 3.22 league, then. Alternatively, take a look through the best games like Diablo for even more loot-grinding fun, or browse the best free PC games, where you’ll find plenty of great ways to spend your time.