Path of Exile for Xbox One beta preview: How well does this popular RPG play out on console?

Announced in March, 2017, Path of Exile is finally making the leap to console, starting with the Xbox One and Xbox One X.

On Xbox One X, Path of Exile will enjoy enhanced visuals and a 4K resolution, and having seen the game running on Xbox One X myself at E3 2017, those of you who jump into the 4K version are in for a real treat. But that's not to say the Xbox One version doesn't look stunning, too.

But what is Path of Exile exactly, and how does it handle on Xbox One thus far? Here's our closed beta preview as we head towards the game's launch somewhere before the end of 2017.

Sign up for Path of Exile's Xbox beta

The path of the exile

At its most basic level, Path of Exile is a Diablo competitor, and an action RPG with an isometric viewpoint, piles of loot, a class-based structure, and heavy (heavy) horror themes.

Path of Exile emerged as an indie project back when Diablo III initially launched. Blizzard was facing a fair amount of criticism from long-time fans of Diablo II, who claimed the third installment was a little too fluffy and cuddly looking. Not only that, but Blizzard had baked a real money auction house into the game, allowing Diablo gamers to pay with real world currency to buy in-game items. The system not only proved controversial but also unworkable, as Blizzard was reluctant to place too much of an emphasis on it, lest it impact gameplay too much. Eventually, the system was scrapped entirely and is now a distant memory.

Still, it was in the midst of that backlash that Path of Exile was conceived. In that sense, Path of Exile attempts to recreate the dark, and sometimes depraved atmosphere of Diablo II by turning up its horror themes and imagery up to 11.

Path of Exile is pure horror, with twisted, eldritch monsters I'd sooner expect from Silent Hill, mature narrative themes, and a punishingly dark atmosphere that can be surprisingly creepy when played at night.

Path of Exile sets the standard for the 'free to play' business model, with micro payments that don't screw the player and zero RNG loot crates in sight.

Path of Exile's traps and puzzles actually kill you, rather than tickle you. At least at lower levels, combat seems to be more tactical than a full on loot fest (especially in a group), and as a connected game, you see other players running around, which makes the game world feel more alive.

Did I mention that it's also free to play, with a company-wide policy of zero pay-to-win mechanics? The game is funded entirely with cosmetic DLC skins, effects, and other items, that have no effect on your character's power. It's somehow insane that Grinding Gear Games has managed to pull this off without impacting the game's quality, which not only looks like the product of a larger, "big budget" studio but also has rock solid gameplay and ridiculous amounts of content and depth. Path of Exile sets the standard for the free-to-play business model, with micro payments that don't screw the player and zero RNG loot crates in sight.

Path of depth and complexity

Save from an incredibly brief tutorial, Path of Exile doesn't offer any form of hand-holding to the player. Like your character, you're dropped into an alien world and expected to survive, rusty dagger in hand.

Balancing accessibility with rewarding complexity is difficult to get right, but since Path of Exile is an established title, there are piles and piles of information out there on how to build up your characters, and how to overcome some of the game's nuances and features. As a relative newcomer to the game, I'm currently working through this build from Vulpix0r, which allows you to turn the "Shadow" class into a curse-flinging drain tank. But wait, isn't the Shadow more of a "rogue" type character? Well, it's complicated.

While there are six characters to choose from in Path of Exile — the templar, the marauder, the shadow, the witch, the duelist, and the ranger — none are pigeonholed into any specific role, owing to the way Path of Exile handles character progression.

Borrowing the "Materia" system from Final Fantasy VII and the sphere grid system from Final Fantasy X, Path of Exile allows players to completely and utterly customize their heroes as they see fit, socketing skill gems of any type, into any class. There are some restrictions, of course, which is what gives Path of Exile its depth. Some armor has statistical requirements, such as strength, dexterity, and intellect. Some abilities are also modified by certain stats more than others — if you're making a dexterity Shadow, you should use the skills and passive abilities to complement that gear.

Path of Exile's progression is more about making smart choices, rather than random ones. Each class starts at a different position on the game's gargantuan passive skill tree, making certain abilities more difficult (but not impossible) to reach for certain classes. Well-versed players could supplement any weaknesses with other gems, unique weapons found on the game's various horrific monsters, and by leveraging other items. But ultimately, it's all about how you want to play, and the console version retains that experience with pride.

Beta gameplay

Path of Exile is in closed beta right now, and while there are a few bugs and issues here and there, it's a surprisingly well-polished experience that I've already found myself losing hours to. Ever played a game where it's 1 AM, and you're kinda like, "just one more quest?" That's Path of Exile.

Ever played a game where it's 1 AM, and you're kinda like, "just one more quest..." That's Path of Exile.

Many console gamers picking up Path of Exile when it launches in the near future will, most likely, be coming in from Diablo III. Path of Exile is 1080p at 60 frames per second (FPS) on Xbox One, and that runs all the way up to 4K 60 FPS on Xbox One X, with visual enhancements to boot. It also has tremendous lighting effects, visual detail, and spell animations, making the game as pleasant on the eyes as it is on the controller.

Some of the differences between Path of Exile and Diablo may frustrate fans of the latter game at first if they aren't improved for the game's full launch. For example, Path of Exile's loot management is quite awkward on console and has no auto-sort option, forcing you into menus far more often than Diablo III does. You'll be hearing your character say "too much clutter," very often, as your inventory rapidly fills up. Path of Exile is less about looting everything and more about leaving the junk behind.

Even in beta, Path of Exile is already trending upwards on my list of favorite Xbox One games of all time.

"Too much clutter" could also be taken as a negative inditement of the game's UI, which takes up far too much screen real estate. A UI scaling option would be a welcome addition.

By and large, though, Path of Exile's console gameplay is rock solid and represents the game well, which has produced a passionate community on PC.

Combining abilities, you can throw icy spears to shatter enemies into piles of icy glass, slice zombies in half with giant swords, bolster your area-of-effect skills and lay waste to entire hoards of slimy monsters squirming out of the depths.

There are dozens and dozens of areas to explore, piles of unique and procedurally-generated bosses to battle, and a twisted narrative to uncover, should you seek it. Even in beta, Path of Exile is already trending upwards on my list of favorite Xbox One games of all time.

Final thoughts

Path of Exile is one of this year's most exciting additions to Xbox One, and will likely remain a bit of a sleeper hit — unfairly — due to negative connotations of what free to play often represents. Hopefully, Path of Exile can prove definitively that free to play need never mean pay to win.

You can sign up for Path of Exile's closed beta right here. Grinding Gear Games will no doubt let more users in as appropriate, scaling up its technology to handle the load.

Does Path of Exile survive the transition to console? It's a definitive, confident 'yes.'

As a free-to-play title, Path of Exile is a total no-brainer, whether you're a fan of Diablo or a newcomer to the genre. You and up to three friends will be able to charge into the dark world of Wraeclast, and lay waste to crazed cultists, demonic entities, and evil empires that maintain a fascist grip over the nation's beleaguered inhabitants. Life in Path of Exile is dire and short-lived, as the land teems with crazed monsters and ancient evil that permeates all walks of life.

Path of Exile needs to be on your radar, even if you're not a fan of the genre. It's a game that will never cost you a penny unless you want to support the developers directly. And, hey, you won't have to convince your friends to shell out their hard-earned cash if you're looking for co-op pals.

Does Path of Exile survive the transition to console? It's a definitive, confident "yes."

Path of Exile is available now on PC, and will launch in full on Xbox One and Xbox One X before the end of 2017.

Sign up for Path of Exile's Xbox beta

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!