Mo money mo problems

Path of Exile is an ARPG in which everyone’s either a criminal, an undead or a spider. It’s basically 18th Century Australia: The Game. It is also one of the best games of its kind I have ever played.

Because of the hats, obviously

It all comes down to a simple and elegant design decision - there is no money. It makes perfect sense narratively, because the island's inhabitants are too busy mauling each other to establish a formal currency. There is a form of early post-barter economy proto-currency, though, in the form of orb and parchment pieces. These let you patch together scrolls that identify equipment and gems that enhance or alter its properties.

But there is no money. And you wouldn't believe the difference that makes.

Way back in 1997, when I first played Diablo, the town square in Tristram was covered in gold coins. Deckard Cain used to drown in piles of hard-earned cash I would never spend, unique items I would never use and potions I would never drink. Because that is How We Do Things.

In Torchlight, I had a box chock-full of precious stones that give special properties to equipment. I've spent an ungodly amount of time collecting them, prying them out of weapons and armor, combining them to make them more powerful, caring about them and naming them. I only ever used the few that matched my playing style, natch.

Encouraging that magpie mentality is partly what ARPGs are about. Collecting Shiny Stuff, replacing it with Shinier Stuff, daydreaming about the Shiniest Stuff. They nudge and prod that filthy hoarder that lives in each and every one of us, whether we like it or not. I don't. I've always felt weighed down by this obsessive need to GRAB EVERYTHING. It just got in the way of actually playing the game. It’s tedious and I don't like it. But I can't help it. I'm weak.

There is this weird, strenuous conversation that happens between different parts of my brain when I play these games. It goes a bit like this:

Rational Ketchua: You're a wizard. You don't need that shield. You're never gonna use it, fer fucksake.
Impulsive Ketchua: But I can sell it for 20 gold bullions. Let's take it.
Rational Ketchua: But you don't need them, you dingy fuck. There is nothing worth buying at the store.
Impulsive Ketchua: There might be. You can’t see the future. Let's take it.
Rational Ketchua: No, there won't be, there never is. Everyone knows that the best equipment comes from the bellies of monsters.
Impulsive Ketchua: Still, though, it's money. You can't have too much money, can you?

So, by doing away with cash, Path of Exile has given me something I've yearned for in ARPGs ever since I started playing them - flow. No more inventory management, no more incessant trips back to the town to sell shit. It feels so fluid, so natural. You go out of the safety of the settlement to get shit done. You get said shit done. You don't go back because your purse is filled with stuff you can sell for coins you don't need. You go back once your work is done. Maybe you stuff a few polearms into your back pocket, just to replenish your scroll supply.

But there is nothing standing in the way of beating the shit out of critters anymore. With Path of Exile, the ARPG finally feels like play, and not fucking work.


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