Should I Play PoE?
Path of Exile's core gameplay is simple: kill things, get loot, become stronger, kill bigger and scarier things. But that's sort of like saying a Mario game is about jumping - it's the core around which the rest of the game is built, but it provides a scaffolding for all sorts of other gameplay.
In broader terms, PoE is an action RPG, divided between fairly fast-paced combat and more thoughtful character building. Almost everything in the game, from zones to items, is procedurally generated, meaning it tends to have a lot of replayability (particularly in light of the great customization depth - see below).
Most builds will engage in combat using one of a few primary skills. Typically, you'll alternate between trash mobs (weak enemies easily mowed down by your abilities) and bosses (which are stronger and land anywhere between "a slight speed bump" and "a major end-game challenge for your build"). Depending on your build, you might play a melee attacker using a weapon attack, a ranged attacker using projectiles fired from a bow or wand, or a spellcaster using spells from a distance. Most of the central gameplay is aimed at killing enemies as quickly as possible in order to get the most possible item drops - this is mostly about the "twitch" skills of aiming skills properly, dodging enemy abilities, and efficiently pathing around the area to clear out most or all of its enemies.
For character customization, PoE has an extremely deep skill tree of, as of this writing, 1325 nodes, all of which are theoretically accessible to every character (although most characters are only interested in a fraction of these). Moreover, it has a list of hundreds of "unique" items, many of which break the normal rules of the game in various ways and as a result enable builds not normally possible.
You'd Probably Like PoE If...
- You like playing around with extremely deep and complex mechanics. These can be ignored if you don't like them for the most part by following someone else's builds, but if you're the sort that wants to ignore them, there are probably better games for you. If you do like deep mechanics, however, PoE's are fairly consistent and understandable once you've learned the game's lingo, and the number of possible mechanical combinations in the game is pants-on-head insane. In other words, if every time you see a patch note in some other game, you go "hmm, I wonder if...", PoE is probably the game for you.
- You enjoy a relatively low-energy character grind. PoE has some very challenging content, but it can easily be played semi-casually with moderate time investment. Much of it is fairly relaxing and cathartic mass murder, and it doesn't take extreme skill to see most or all of PoE's content. PoE is certainly not a full-on casual game of the mobile-game sort, but neither is it the sort of massive investment typical of, say, an MMORPG like World of Warcraft.
- You enjoy other ARPGs, particularly Diablo II. PoE was designed as an explicit spiritual successor to Diablo II, and many of its mechanics are built on ideas that did (or didn't) work in Diablo's history.
- You enjoy games with no practical "ceiling" on your character's power. Only the most psychotically-devoted of PoE's players are going to get the absolute best gear available, and the combination of random generation and frequent content updates mean that even the very best gear is often outclassed after a new update. You could play PoE for twenty hours a day and still improve your character in each one for a very long time. (Though you certainly do not have to do so.)
- You like a relatively dark, pessimistic, adult tone. PoE's world flavor is intentionally hostile, tragic, and rated R.
PoE Probably Isn't For You If...
- You really hate "grinding". ARPGs as a genre are pretty much designed around it, and if you're not the sort who likes to get into a routine with a game, it's not just PoE you probably want to avoid.
- You're not prepared to make at least some effort to learn its "language". The cost of PoE's extremely deep potential for character customization, well-implemented though it is, is a fair amount of lingo that you'll need to know to understand what certain items or skills will do. You'll want, for example, to know the difference between a "Spell" and a "Skill", or between a "Damage over Time" effect and an "Ailment". This guide will introduce you to these terms, for the most part, but if your response is "ugh, I have to learn stuff for a game?" - well, that's basically what PoE is about.
- You want a relatively "friendly" or "happy" game. PoE...isn't that. It's inspired by a game called Diablo, for pete's sake. Expect plenty of gore and some genuinely unpleasant NPCs.