Classes & Attributes
Path of Exile has seven Classes, although only six are available to someone just starting out (the seventh is unlocked by playing about a third of the way through the story on any character). These classes in turn are associated with one of PoE's three main Attributes (Strength, Dexterity, or Intelligence), with a mix of two of them, or (in the case of the seventh unlockable class) with all three.
Each of the starting six classes also has three sub-classes, called Ascendancies, that grant very powerful bonuses. Your choice of class initially matters relatively little in and of itself, because all seven classes share the same passive tree, but your Ascendancy choices matter a lot and are usually one of the first considerations in creating a build. Counting Ascendancies, PoE effectively has nineteen subclasses.
Each of the main attributes is associated with a color, a type of equipment, certain classes of weapons, an element, and certain types of skills. That doesn't mean that these associations are absolute, but they're a good rule of thumb when first starting out. Note, however, that there are exceptions to almost all of these - it is entirely possible to build against these broad trends.
Don't worry if you don't know what all the terms listed here are, most of them will be introduced shortly in the sections to follow.
The attributes are:
- Strength: associated with red, Armour equipment, maces and axes, fire damage, and melee attack skills. The Strength-associated classes can be found at the lower-left section of the passive tree, and most of the "roads" in that section of the tree give Strength. In addition to enabling you to wear various equipment, skills, etc, Strength also grants minor bonuses to Life and Melee Physical Damage, helping you perform in Melee combat.
- Dexterity: associated with green, Evasion equipment, bows and rapiers, cold damage, and projectile attack skills. The Dexterity-associated classes can be found at the lower-right section of the passive tree, and most of the 'roads" in that section of the tree give Dexterity. In addition to enabling you to wear various equipment, skills, etc., Dexterity also grants minor bonuses to Evasion and Accuracy, making you more likely to hit with Attacks and less likely to be hit by them.
- Intelligence: associated with blue, Energy Shield equipment, wands, lightning damage, and spells. The Intelligence-associated classes can be found in the upper section of the passive tree, and most of the "roads" in that section of the tree give Intelligence. In addition to enabling you to wear various equipment, skills, etc., Intelligence also grants minor bonuses to Mana and Energy Shield, allowing you to cast more and potentially build a bit of a secondary health pool.
Again, these rules are not hard and fast! There are, for example, plenty of Intelligence-based skills that deal Cold damage, even though Cold damage is nominally associated with Dexterity.
When you create your character, you'll have to pick one of Path of Exile's classes. You won't pick your Ascendancy (subclass) until later in the game. Note that Path of Exile's characters do not have gender options, so if you care about that aspect of a class choice, you'll need to pick a particular class: the Witch, Ranger, and Scion are female, and the Shadow, Duelist, Marauder, and Templar are male.
Starting from the top of the tree and working our way clockwise, the seven classes available, their associated stats, their starting point on the tree, and the Ascendancy subclasses they contain, are:
They were right to fear me. If only they had listened to their cowardice. Had they not taken my home with fire, I would not have taken their children.
Found at the top of the tree, in the pure Intelligence region. Naturally associated with casters. Her Ascendancy classes are:
Necromancers focus on bonuses to Minions for solo play and gain useful auras for party play.
Elementalists get bonuses to Fire, Lightning, and Cold damage and to related effects like Freeze, Shock, and Ignite Ailments.
Occultists focus on Damage Over Time, Curses (debuffs applied to enemies), and Energy Shield (a secondary 'life' pool).
A 'simple job', I was told. Silence a big mouth. Get a big payout. And no one was going to be the wiser. Tidy. Except for one loose end. Me.
Found at the top-right of the tree, between the Intelligence and Dexterity sections. Can aim for the Intelligence side and go for spells, or the Dexterity side and go for (usually ranged) attacks. His Ascendancy classes are:
Assassins focus on Critical Strikes and Poisons.
Tricksters focus on Damage Over Time and defensive bonuses, especially around mixed Evasion/Energy Shield builds.
Saboteurs focus on using skills, usually Spells, attached to Traps or Mines.
You can't own a life. Not a deer's, not a rabbit's, and not mine.
Found at the lower-right of the tree, in the Dexterity section. Associated with projectiles, particularly projectile Attacks, although melee Rangers are reasonably common as well. Tends towards fast-moving builds with an emphasis on fast trash clearing. Her Ascendancy classes are:
Deadeyes focus on Projectile-related bonuses and on clearing weak mobs extremely fast.
Raiders lack specific focus in favor of speed and general power for Attack builds.
Pathfinders focus on Flasks, PoE's equivalent of consumable potions.
He had it coming. Was I supposed to bear such insults with inaction, simply because of his high birth? That lord sang a different tune with six inches of steel in his guts.
Found at the bottom of the tree, between the Strength and Dexterity sections. Usually associated with aggressive melee builds, and has easy access to most of the tree's weapon-type-specific clusters. His Ascendancy classes are:
Gladiators focus on Blocking, applying Bleed effects to enemies, and swapping between Blood and Sand Stances depending on the situation.
Champions focus on defensive and party-utility-related bonuses and powerful bonuses related to the Impale effect for pure-Physical builds.
Slayers focus on bonuses against Unique enemies and are strong all-purpose Melee Attackers.
For three years I have lived without my family, my pride, my Way... Hear me, Ancestors! A slave stands behind you. A warrior stands before you. And Death walks at our side.
Found at the bottom-left of the tree, in the Strength section. Usually used for durable melee builds or totem- or fire-based casters. His Ascendancy classes are:
- The Chieftain, who gets bonuses related to using Totems that use skills for him and to using Fire damage (especially Physical damage converted into Fire).
- The Juggernaut, who focuses on consistency and defense.
- The Berserker, who gets offensive, speed, and Critical Strike-related bonuses at the cost of taking more damage or losing Life over time.
Chieftains focus on using Totems to cast their skills for them and on Fire damage, especially Physical damage converted into Fire damage.
Juggernauts focus on consistency and defense. They're strong for generalist Attack builds.
Berserkers focus on speed, Critical Strikes, and the Rage effect (which grants Attack-related bonuses but drains life and fades over time).
I would have died for my Templar brothers, every single one. And how do they reward my piety, my devotion? They exile me to the land of the damned. To Wraeclast.
Found at the top-left of the tree, between the Strength and Intelligence sections. Typically used for durable casters or support builds. His Ascendancy classes are:
Hierophants focus on Totems and Mana-related bonuses, either regenerating it rapidly or using it as a secondary bonus to offense and defense.
Guardians focus on utility and support bonuses for their allies, making them especially good for party play or minion-based builds.
Inquisitors focus on Critical Strike builds using Fire, Cold, or Lightning damage, and on fighting enemies on Consecrated Ground created through their skills.
To my parents, I was a raw nugget to be battered and moulded into a prize for admiration, for envy... for sale. That life died on a wedding bed in Theopolis. Today, Wraeclast offers me a new life.
Found at the center of the tree, where the different sections meet. Unavailable initially, and unlocked after completing about the first third of the main storyline. Can be used for a variety of different builds. Unlike the other classes, Scions only get one Ascendancy choice:
Ascendants can pick and choose portions of the Ascendencies of two other classes and access one of those classes' starting points on the tree.
The Limits of Class Archetypes
These general trends are, again, not set in stone! It is quite possible to make a Witch that attacks in melee or a Marauder that casts spells, and sometimes these builds can be quite strong. In fact, at one point my main character was a Marauder (Strength class) who used Blade Vortex (a Dexterity skill that is also a Spell).
These are guidelines, not rules, and are here as rules of thumb to help you learn the game and, if you choose to do so, to create your own character builds. As you gain experience with the game, builds that seem to contradict these guidelines may present themselves, and I would encourage you to try them out anyway.
Since creating a build of your own as a new player can be very difficult, this guide includes a list of newbie-friendly Guided Builds. These are not fully optimized builds, in part because freshly optimizing every build for every patch would be a prohibitive amount of work. However, they are quite viable, and they'll get you started with the game without dying horribly every couple of minutes.
They're designed to use skills available to you very early in the game (within the first act, which should not take a new player more than perhaps two hours to complete), to not require any specific gear, and to use relatively mechanically-simple skills while still offering a fair sample of the possibilities within PoE's mechanics.
You can find these builds in the "Guided Builds" section. That page contains an indexed list of the guided builds and their basic playstyles, so that you can build one that suits you.