ExileCon 2019: MassivelyOP’s hands-on with Path of Exile 2

This is better?

Ever since Path of Exile 2 was revealed at ExileCon 2019, the hype has been real. Seven brand-new story Acts? Improved skill gem system? Shapeshifting?! I want, I want! The only really downer of the whole thing is the fact we will have to wait at least a year, or even more, to be able to play this. Well, to play it in its entirety at least: There were gaming stations set up at the con allowing players 45 minutes of glorious Path of Exile 2 playtime. (No, you couldn’t sneak longer as it shut your game down when the time was up! Yes, I tried. You know I tried!)

Was 45 minutes worth it? I had a great first experience with this hands on — better, in fact, than my experience with PoE the first time around. Was it enough? Oh, heavens no. It was just a taste that left me craving more. I was barely able to scratch the surface of the new aspects. But plenty was also familiar, adding onto the best parts of PoE. Here’s a quick glance at my quick playthrough.

A new kind of Exile

Let’s start with starting. As I logged in to play, I learned that this time around I wasn’t being banished to Wraeclast; I was strung on the gallows waiting to be hung for my crimes. What crimes? As with the original, each time you highlight a class you get a little spiel of dialogue to give the class some flavor. Only Witch, Marauder, and Ranger were available for the demo, so I picked my new favorite class, Ranger (you did see that Beast Master Ascendancy, right?), and cut loose. If you haven’t seen how the intro moves between hanging to adventuring, I am not going to spoil it. I’ll just say I thought it was pretty cool.

Next up, you wash up on a beach. Sounds pretty standard, right? Well, no. Yes, you get your weapon and gem right away after crawling back onto land, but that is where the similarity appears to end. Instead of a tiny little beach, this new intro area was significantly larger with more areas to explore. I really appreciated this as I didn’t feel railroaded along a quick linear path to the town gate. I also really enjoyed discovering the new fantastical mobs that I faced. And that first cave boss — be ready for a jump scare when you meet it.

Roving as a Ranger

Once I reached the encampment, I tried to ignore as much of the story as I could by skipping dialogue and just grabbing quests, buying a support gem or two, and heading out — not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t want to soak in too many story spoilers.

As I explored, I found plenty of mobs to engage in and loot stashes to plunder, giving me plenty of items to sell or equip. It took a while before I finally realized what some of the environment details were. But I loved that the delicious darkness of the original was still abounding here; the atmosphere is one of the best things! I also found the new ballistas really fun. I hadn’t tried any totem builds before, so I looked forward to socketing the shrapnel ballista gem, and I wasn’t disappointed. It is satisfying to watch those ballistas barrage the werewolves into oblivion.

The fights were more difficult than I remember any beginning fights in PoE. I didn’t originally get deeply not the game until Perandus League, so I can’t say how that measures against the earlier years, but it feels like players won’t be as surprised by more intense mechanics later on. Movement was so important — if I didn’t hustle out of the way, I was toast. And that boss fight! Yikes! I know I was struggling with keeping on the move in later acts, but this had me hopping from the very first fight I was sent out for. (And the death counter fed many times that fight.)

So happy with skills

I’ll admit, one of my biggest turn-offs in PoE has been the skill system. Some people live for this stuff, and I’m glad they get to play with what they love, but I am not personally a fan of constantly fussing over my builds, and at times it just wasn’t worth it to take the time to manage which items got which support and deciding what to sacrifice. And then finding gear you really wanted and then having to reshuffle everything? That also stresses me. I really didn’t like it to the point I often wouldn’t bother. And that doesn’t bode well for battle.

But PoE 2 is different. From the very first moment I socketed a skill gem, I was in love with the ease of the new system. I am telling you, I was giddy about it! Then when I looted a better bow and just tossed it in the equipment slot without another thought, I was sold. Forever. It is going to be hard to go back to the original way. No more reshuffling gems between items, sacrificing your build to rearrange everything if this better item doesn’t have the same slot configuration (or spending forever and tons of currencies to try and change those sockets!). You can see also all your skill gems at a glance on a single page and move the skill gem and its accompanying supports to another item in just one click.

With this, I found I was using my different skills more, and was able to just buy more support gems to fill sockets on my skills.  I can see builds will utilize more than just a main attack now and add some variety into the mix. And that is something I really like! Fighting was much more fun — and I wasn’t even on a Witch!

No, 45 minutes definitely wasn’t enough time. If it were possible, I might have spent the entire con working up to check out that Beast Master ascendancy. I really look forward to the day we can play PoE 2 for real.

Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Grinding Gear paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at the ExileCon event. Grinding Gear has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event.
What if your world changed every three months? What would you do differently? Path of Exile does, and MOP’s MJ Guthrie explores and experiences each new incarnation in Wandering Wraeclast. Join us biweekly for a look into each new challenge league and world expansion — and see whether MJ can finally reach the end of one world before it ends!
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