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Path of Exile 2 beats Diablo 4 to the punch with WASD movement

Path of Exile 2 WASD movement is confirmed for the ARPG in the PoE2 Mercenary reveal, with the much-requested feature yet to hit Diablo 4.

Path of Exile 2 adds WASD movement - The Mercenary fires a shotgun-like crossbow salvo at Ursea, the Matron, a large demon wielding giant scissors.

The Path of Exile 2 Mercenary is one of its most unique classes yet, and it’s seen developer Grinding Gear Games relent on a decade-long absence from its ARPG. The free Steam game will see the addition of WASD movement in Path of Exile 2, bringing the much-requested alternate control scheme to Diablo 4’s biggest rival. While Blizzard has suggested it’s working on the feature, we’ve seen no official confirmation of when we might see it, giving PoE2 a chance to nudge ahead in the accessibility race.

WASD movement is one of the most requested additions to both games, giving players direct control over their character rather than the traditional click-to-move approach. In Path of Exile 2, the long-awaited sequel to one of the best RPG games on PC, you’ll have the choice to switch on the fly between both options, rather than having to turn to controller support for the ability to control your character’s movement directly. It’s a feature we’ve also been hoping to see in Diablo 4, and Blizzard has suggested it’s in the works, but there’s yet to be any official news.

The tipping point, it seems, is the Mercenary class, which GGG says “fully embraces” design lessons from shooters and feels almost like a Remnant 2 character as a result. With instant-firing crossbows that replicate sniper rifles, shotguns, and assault rifles and have to be reloaded, ammo skills such as armor piercing or incendiary rounds, and attachments such as grenade launchers, the Mercenary is unlike anything Path of Exile has seen before.

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PCGamesN spoke to game director Jonathan Rogers ahead of the reveal, and I asked whether the addition of WASD movement was always on the table or a feature introduced specifically for the Mercenary. He says it’s a consideration the team has “been talking about for ages,” but it was testing the Mercenary and calculating “the stuff we would have to do to actually make it feel good like a shooter feels” that swung the balance.

Rogers emphasizes that this system goes beyond just the Mercenary, however. “The thing that really convinced me that we really had to do this was that I tried it on a melee character as well,” he tells me, “and it felt really awesome – and that was like, we should just go full hog here, have both of these control schemes supported for all classes and embrace it fully.”

You’ll have the ability to switch on the fly between the two control schemes if you choose, although Rogers says he doesn’t expect most players to use this feature unless they’re weapon-swapping between two builds using the new Path of Exile 2 combat system. Your keybinds will be saved separately for both playstyles, too, so you’ll be able to have different layouts for each if you prefer.

Path of Exile 2 Mercenary gameplay reveal - A character fires a crossbow into an onrushing group of monsters.

I ask how the team is handling all the keybinds now required between movement, skills, flasks, and potential weapon swapping and attachments. “It is a bit annoying because we are actually running out of buttons, mostly for all the UI screens you can open,” Rogers admits with a laugh, “but I haven’t found it to be particularly onerous as far as actually playing goes – I was a little concerned that it’d feel bad, but it actually ends up feeling fine.”

Another key benefit to the new control scheme, he notes, is that it frees up your left click, which many players map to ‘force move’ to ensure they don’t get stuck on enemy groups, for use with another skill. That change helps the Mercenary’s playstyle lean even more into the shooter feel with you using the WASD keys to move and left-click to fire.

Sadly, the new movement scheme is a PoE2 exclusive, meaning we won’t see WASD movement come to the original Path of Exile despite that game’s continued existence alongside its sequel. This is for “one good reason,” Rogers tells me. “The amount of animations you need to make this work is extreme, and the Path of Exile 1 rigs are very old.” A shame, perhaps, but an understandable decision.

Path of Exile 2 Mercenary - The new class fights giant creature Ursea, the Matron.

The good news is that if you can’t wait for PoE 2, the Path of Exile Affliction league begins Friday December 8, 2023, and it’s looking great. Alternatively, there are more of the best games like Diablo that are well worth your time, and we’ve rounded up the best free Steam games if you’re looking for something new that won’t break the bank.

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