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 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.
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 ranged 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, 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:
The Witch (Intelligence starting area, top center)
"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."
Naturally associated with casters, thanks to her start in the Intelligence section of the tree. Her Ascendancy classes are:
- The Necromancer, who focuses on minion-based bonuses.
- The Elementalist, who gets bonuses to Cold, Fire, and Lightning effects and to her elemental Golem minions.
- The Occultist, who focuses on Curses and Cold and Chaos Damage over Time.
The Shadow (Intelligence / Dexterity starting area, top right)
"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."
Can aim for the Intelligence side and go for spells, or the Dexterity side and go for (usually ranged) attacks. His Ascendancy classes are
- The Assassin, who focuses on Critical Strikes and Poison.
- The Trickster, who gets defensive and utility bonuses around dealing Damage over Time and mixing Evasion and Energy Shield defenses.
- The Saboteur, who uses skills attached to Traps and Mines.
The Ranger (Dexterity starting area, bottom right)
"You can't own a life. Not a deer's, not a rabbit's, and not mine."
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:
- The Deadeye, who gets lots of Projectile-related bonuses.
- The Raider, a fast-moving general-purpose attacker.
- The Pathfinder, who gets bonuses related to Flasks, PoE's equivalent to other RPGs' consumable Potions.
The Duelist (Dexterity / Strength starting area, bottom center)
"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."
Usually associated with aggressive melee builds, and has easy access to most of the tree's weapon-type-specific clusters. His Ascendancy classes are:
- The Gladiator, who focuses on Blocking and applying Bleed effects to enemies.
- The Champion, who gets defensive and party-utility-related bonuses.
- The Slayer, who focuses on two-handed weapons and boss-killing bonuses.
The Marauder (Strength starting area, bottom left)
"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."
Usually used for melee builds or totem- or fire-based casters. His Ascendancy classes are:
- The Chieftain, who gets bonuses related to using Totems that use skilles for him and to converting Physical damage into Fire damage.
- The Juggernaut, who focuses on consistency and defense.
- The Berserker, who gets offensive and speed-related bonuses at the cost of fragility.
The Templar (Strength / Intelligence starting area, top left)
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.
Typically used for durable casters or support builds. His Ascendancy classes are:
- The Hierophant, who gets bonuses to Totems that use skills for him and Brand skills that he can attach to enemies to deal damage.
- The Guardian, who can play a pure support role or run a specialized minion build from the front lines.
- The Inquisitor, who gets bonuses to critical-strike related builds using elemental damage and Consecrated Ground.
The Scion (Strength / Dexterity / Intelligence starting area, center)
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.
Available only after completing most of the first third of the game. Can be used for a variety of different builds, since she begins in the middle of the tree. Unlike the other classes, Scions only get one Ascendancy choice:
- The Ascendant, who can pick and choose portions from 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, I've included a Guided Build for each of the 18 Ascendancies available to a new player. 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 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. The main page contains an indexed list of all of them, so that you can browse for one that suits you.