Path of Exile: Tips for New Players

I recently picked up Path of Exile on PS4 again, and I gotta say I'm really enjoying my time with it.

But this wasn't always the case. In fact I tried and quit PoE at least 3 times before it finally clicked with me. I've been thinking recently about why I was so turned off by it the first few times, and what has made the difference for me this time. Obviously there was something about the game I liked (I almost never pick games back up that I drop), so what held me back?

It was many separate things, as it turns out. And in order to help you get into what is honestly one of the best designed games I've ever played, I wanted to distill my experience and knowledge into some tips for players just getting started.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I think it'll help if you're on the fence or early into the game and not sure what to do.

If possible, play on console

The only major difference between PC and console, besides integration with PSN/Xbox Live, is the control interface. The PC version is point and click, while the console version obviously uses a controller. I can't begin to tell you how much more intuitive and relaxing the game became when I tried it on console for the first time.

This is similar to what a lot of people said when they tried Diablo III for console. It just feels better. Point and click is a very fatiguing way to play a game, as your body is tense for basically the entire duration of gameplay, hands and fingers needing to exert a lot of energy to get things done. Controllers are almost always more ergonomic, allowing your hands and fingers to rest when not in use.

If you're under the age of 25 that probably won't mean anything to you. If you're over the age of 25 you're probably going “Oh sweet Jesus that sounds amazing.” Trust me. It's just better.

Pick the class and build you want

The leveling system in Path of Exile is an absolute marvel of game design. For those familiar with Final Fantasy, Grinding Gears has essentially managed to take the Materia system (FF7) and the Sphere Grid system (FFX) and combined them in a way that works pretty damn well. Armor and weapons have pseudo-randomly selected numbers of “slots,” which may or may not be linked to each other. These slots accept skill gems (i.e. materia) which give your character access to abilities and spells. Theses skills can be augmented with support gems that can do things like make your skill hit multiple targets, inflict poison, be more accurate, etc.

As you level and complete quests, you gain passive skill points. These can be spent on a massive board of nodes called the “Passive Skill Tree” (i.e. the sphere grid) to make your character really take shape, not just in terms of raw stats and power, but in terms of how they play.

The Passive Skill Tree

The first time you view it you will almost certainly be both awed and overwhelmed. Figuring out where to go and how to spend your points can be stressful, and was hands down the reason I stopped playing the first time. I got really in my own head about making an “optimal” build, which I eventually realized I could never do because the game rewards playing it multiple times as you discover all the ways the various systems interlock.

Don't stress about this tree too much.

It's important, no doubt. But it's also not 100% permanent. The game gives you refund points as you play, and late game you can buy more using rare currency (we'll get to that in a minute). GG also gives full skill point refunds from time to time (usually coinciding with a major patch). Which means you have two completely valid options.

  1. Make up your own build as you play.
  2. Look up a build to play online (preferably somethings new-player friendly).

There's some amazing resources for PoE if you search “Path of Exile Builds” on DuckDuckGo, including full build and progression guides so that you don't have to worry about which nodes, skills, and armor pieces to keep. It's honestly fairly straight forward to find a build that sounds cool, follow the build, and just play the game from start to finish. This is 100% valid if you're stressed about making the “wrong” investment of points and just want to smash some undead.

But I'd also urge you to consider making your own build. It really adds to the level of immersion and investment you have in your character when you decide what direction you want your branch of the tree to go. You'll never get nearly enough points to unlock every node on the tree, or even every node on your own side of the tree (every character starts in a different location), so let go of the desire to make a “perfect” build and just have fun!

Play your first character in Standard League

People are going to get really upset with me for this one, but I don't care. I truly believe that playing the newest league as a first time player is a mistake.

For those unfamiliar with what Leagues are (and who have never used Diablo III's “seasons” system), think of Leagues as a kind of “clean slate” for returning players to use every few months. Your new character is separated from your standard league ones, meaning you don't have access to the endless stream of loot and currency you've collected in your shared item storage, and have to start over. Your league character is converted to a “standard” character at the end of the league (usually right before a new league season begins every few months).

The problem (which is not a problem for veteran players) is that leagues also add new mechanics and systems to the game. Usually this takes the form of a new NPC that gives you quests and has you do things for their specific mini-game. This usually involves unique and novel ways to generate dungeons, alternative loot progression, and so on.

It's a great way to make the game feel fresh for veteran players. But it's also extremely overwhelming and confusing for new players.

The game has a LOT of ways to power up your character throughout the game, and figuring these systems out is a major part of playing the game. Adding another layer of complexity on top of that is unnecessary for someone just starting out.

Believe me, you'll be happier if you play through the game once on standard.

Do the side quests and explore

If you ever watch someone stream PoE, you'll likely see them running around the map like a crazed buffalo, smashing things, ignoring almost everything they drop, and not exploring everything.

This is not your cross to bear, new player.

While the end-game of PoE can become this mad rush of “clear x maps in an hour for optimal loot gain,” early on you are heavily incentivized and rewarded for exploring every nook and cranny of a map. There are optional areas to find, npcs to unlock, and side quests to complete.

And you should absolutely complete the side quests.

Side quests give you big rewards, including passive skill points or refund points. They can also give you items that are hard to find through loot drops. They also come with fully voiced NPC lines that are usually quite well done in terms of writing and voice acting. A lot of people don't care about the story of PoE, but honestly I've found it pretty interesting. So take the time to listen to the NPCs and soak in the atmosphere, if nothing else.

Use NS filters

There are too many damn items in this game.

I don't mean this in the sense that, if you look up items online you'll be overwhelmed. I mean that if you just boot up the game and play, your screen will be covered with way too much loot, even early on.

At first this isn't a problem. As a brand new character it's probably best to vacuum up as many items as possible to get upgrades and currency.

But by Act II you're going to run into a problem where you're constantly portaling back to town to sell, and also getting frustrated by all the crap cluttering your screen.

Enter NS filters. Originally a mod for Path of Exile, it has essentially been adopted as a de facto feature of the game (it's included in the console versions of the game by default). What it does is remove item drops from displaying once you've outleveled them/once they are no longer a major concern for you. It also highlights items of high value in an arguably better way than the default view by making them bigger and color coding them to stand out more.

On PC, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page for installation instructions.

On console, go to Options > Filter, and set it to “NS – Regular.” Boom. You just made your game experience more enjoyable.

On that note, at some point you're going to get fed up with even rare and magical drops. Don't feel obligated to pick something up just because it's shiny. As your character's build crystalizes and you get more familiar with what equipment best works with your build, you're going to start passing on rare items because they don't sell for a lot and you don't need them.

This is a normal part of game progression. When it happens, celebrate. You've hit a milestone.

As you get deeper in game progression, you'll eventually hit a point where even Regular filtering leaves too much on-screen. At this point I recommend you go to NeverSink Filter's documentation and read what things each level of filtration remove. Consider bumping up to semi-strict, or even strict. End-game you'll probably want at least strict, if not very strict, to help reduce the amount of time you spend sifting through loot looking for the upgrade you need. The specifics of each one are fairly involved and best understood by reading the documentation.

Read a guide on currency

Currency is the one piece of game design I've not fully come around to, which is a minor nitpick but an important one.

Basically there is no gold or money in PoE. Every NPC essentially uses the bartering system. When you sell items you don't want, you'll get shards of consumables, like town portal scrolls or scrolls of wisdom (used to identify rare items). Get enough of these shards and you'll get a full version of that item. Some higher level drops can be sold for higher level pieces of currency, like Chromatic Orbs and Jeweler's Orbs. If you buy from an NPC they'll set prices like “3x Orb of Alteration.”

This is extremely confusing at first and really obfuscates the value of each item and orb. Early game it doesn't matter, but eventually you'll get into a situation where you want to buy from an NPC or a player and you'll have to start working out the relative value of everything.

Just read a guide. Don't torture yourself by trying to do the algebra on your own. This is a decent one.

In general you can mostly ignore currency and just play, though pay attention to how NS filter color codes everything as it'll give you clues as to how much everything is worth.

One thing I feel honor-bound to mention though is the “Mirror of Kalandra.” This is an uber-rare item that most players will never see drop for them. It can be used to make an exact copy of any rare item.

That's neat and all, but the real value is that, should you find one, and you don't mind violating the ToS and risk getting your account banned, these can sell for $250 each. Obviously there are risks involved in selling virtual items for real-world cash, but... I'd give up my PoE account for $250 in a heartbeat.

Just food for thought.


And that's it! There's certainly a ton to learn with this game, but I've found it very enjoyable since adopting these rules. I even spent some money on the game for the first time last night to increase my stash tabs. It's free-to-play, so there's not a lot to lose by giving it a try! Happy looting!