Path of Exile II raises the dead — we go hands on with the new Witch class

When your game starts with every character you might pick being hung from the neck in the gallows, and everyone you don’t pick having their neck snapped after a quick drop and a short stop, you are making one heck of a statement. That’s precisely what Path of Exile II aims to do – make a statement.

We’ve seen a few trailers and hands-on experiences with Path of Exile 2, showcasing the classes as they are revealed. At Summer Games Fest we got our first look at the witch. If you’ve played an ARPG with a pet class, you’ve got a good idea of how the witch plays in practice, albeit with a twist.

As I made my way into town, I was asked to try to stop some creature called The Devourer. To handle whatever that might be, I’d need to level up a bit. Heading out of town I had plenty of bloated, shambling corpses to serve precisely that purpose.

Using my basic attack I was immediately impressed with the animations that Grinding Gear Games has put into every action. My chaos bolt looked like it could have been motion captured to be front and center in a big budget action flick – it’s that good, and just one example of many. Seriously, these animations are stellar.

Slowly, as my levels grew, so did my power. When I found my first gem, I saw one of the big fundamental changes to the system for returning Path of Exile players. In nearly any ARPG, when you find a piece of gear you like, you are stuck hoping that it just happens to have the sockets you want, in the colors or affixes you want, and with the stats you need. It’s a lot to juggle, and it leads to what can only be described as an excessive amount of unnecessary grinding. Here, the gear and sockets are separated. This means you can equip and grow your armor and weapons more frequently, instead of being locked into a particular piece just because it has the skill affixes you want.

One of the things I appreciated about the skill system was the voiceover. Not only did the voiceover explain how to use the special attack I was considering, it also explained how NOT to use it. In fact, it showed a short video that explained that using the skill against a single foe would be a waste compared to my basic attack, thus using precious mana I’d otherwise be able to use elsewhere. I sincerely hope the team continues down this path as it helps alleviate the shock of seeing the constellation-like skill system stretch out before you as a new player.

Eventually I leveled up and picked up a Celebrant Scepter, giving me a small skeletal warrior minion army. They’d converge on any foes I encountered, ruthlessly and mindlessly attacking my enemies. When they’d slay a creature, the gem I found took effect. Simply called “Unearth”, this gem caused the remnants of whatever I just killed to crawl out, assemble itself into some sort of bone amalgamation resembling a scorpion, and fight for me as well. With my disgusting bone army, I was suddenly highly effective. From barely scraping by to being nearly unstoppable. Through the use of uncut gems, I could further refine my bone-based army. Perhaps I wanted skeletons that use a bow and arrow, or maybe I’d prefer they use a sword and shield to keep me alive. Maybe I’d prefer if my skeletons lobbed explosives at my foes. Just like the seemingly-endless skill tree, the gems are equally as expansive, even at this early stage.

Switching things up, I thought I’d quickly try the Monk as I’d not had the chance to give them a spin. Very much like the Monk class in the Diablo series, these fighters are quarterstaff-swinging death machines. Combined with elemental damage, I was able to strike to stun a foe, electrocute it and everyone near it, re-stun it, and then obliterate it with a flurry of rapid strikes. Path of Exile II is all about offering deep, deep customization, and with just a few clicks I was able to switch from a fire monk to a lightning monk to an ice monk, and a mix of all three.

Now, normally I’d have mentioned first thing that I was playing on a controller. I’m normally a mouse and keyboard devotee when it comes to ARPGs. Surprisingly, the team has done a great job making Path of Exile II remarkably accessible with a Razer PC controller. A huge improvement over the implementation on the previous title, there is a “stickiness” to the menus that operates closely enough to a mouse as to be comfortable. I never had trouble with affixing a gem to an object, picking skills, or anything else that would otherwise require a bit more precision. Is it my preferred way to play? Absolutely not. Will it work? It turns out it will – quite well.

It was time we solved this town’s problems by killing The Devourer. The levels are pretty straightforward this early into the game, so I delved into the nearby hole and soon found myself face to face with the beast. A massive worm-like creature, this thing could swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful. It flailed around, whipping its grotesque body around as its insectoid prehensile pincers reached for me. With my witch I was able to use my skeletal army to keep it at bay, at least ‘till it decided to change tactics on me.

Midway through the fight, The Devourer began to dive through the ground, exposing more of its massive body. I could see the head in one place, a loop of the body in another, and the tail in the third. The tail whipped around, smashing the ground like a club, splintering my bone army rapidly. No matter where I turned, something wicked awaited me. Some artful dodging, and a whole lot of raised and re-raised corpses later, The Devourer devoured his last, spraying a vast array of loot and gems for me to parse and grow my slate of characters. Heading back to town to collect my reward, I was advised that…well, there’s always another quest on the horizon, isn’t there? But we’ll have to wait at least a little longer to see where that thread leads…

Path of Exile II enters Early Access in 2024 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox X/S.

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!

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