If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands who have been enticed to try the free-to-play hack ‘n’ slash Path of Exile during its open beta, you might find yourself stumped before the game even begins… at the character class select screen!
Sure, all the lore-heavy descriptions sound intriguing enough, but actually choosing a class could be a big commitment.
The wrong decision could end in dozens of wasted gameplay hours! Luckily, this overview was designed to help you pick the profession that’ll best suit your digital deathdealing playstyle.
Class differences: The basics
Note: See the interactive Path of Exile passive skill tree for reference throughout this article.
The first and most important thing you need to know about character creation in Path of Exile is that every class has access to the same passive and active skills. In other words, no matter who you pick, you can (in theory) create whatever type of build you’d like. Of course, you might wonder what the point of choosing a class is at all, which brings us to the second most important point: your class dictates which skills are easiest to acquire.
You see, while any class could access bow-based passive abilities, the dexterity-centric Ranger begins her leveling process extremely close to the bow ability nodes. For anyone choosing the Ranger (and to a lesser extent, the Duelist and the Shadow), getting bow bonuses will be possible by level 6, if not sooner. By contrast, a Templar (whose home is in the exact opposite corner of the ability tree) would need to spend at least eighteen skill points to reach his first archery ability!
In other words, while you can certainly create an arrow-slinging Templar if you want, you’ll be “wasting” at least twelve skill points just to get him into the appropriate part of the passive skill tree. You’ll also be disadvantaged by the fact that early-game skill gem rewards will, by default, be strength and intelligence aligned… not particularly useful for an archer! That said, skill gems can be traded easily, so if you’re determined to create a bow-wielding Scotsman, it’s possible – just difficult.
Ranger: Dexterity aligned
The Ranger spawns with 30 dexterity, 14 intelligence, and 14 strength in the southeast skill area.
Relying on high accuracy, fast rate of attack, and devastating critical hits, the Ranger is closest to abilities relating to penetrating weapons such as swords, claws, daggers, and (of course) bows. While she has some access to wands, shields, and axes, the Ranger is all but cut off from blunt instruments like clubs, maces, and staves.
- Evasion: A large number of dexterity nodes means Rangers will infrequently be hit by enemy attacks, completely bypassing HP loss and related status effects.
- Attack/Movement speed: Rangers have early access to a large number of passives that boost attacks speed, as well as some of the only movement speed perks in the game.
- Accuracy: Benefiting from tons of dexterity nodes and other precision passives, the Ranger’s attacks will almost always hit, ensuring your mana is never wasted.
- Tanking: Without access to heavy armor, energy shields, or significant health buffs, the Ranger’s a glass cannon. Sure, she’ll dodge most attacks, but when she doesn’t, she’ll be toast.
- Two-handed weapons: If you’re interested in laying down the smack with gigantic, skull-crushing mauls, the Ranger is probably your worst possible choice.
- Necromancy: While the Ranger can certainly dabble in the dark arts, her access to minion-boosting passives is terrible. You can have pets, but they’ll be very weak.
Marauder: Strength aligned
The Marauder spawns with 30 strength, 14 intelligence, and 14 dexterity in the southwest skill area.
Channeling brute strength and powerful, wide-sweeping blows, the Marauder prefers heavy-hitting melee weapons like swords, maces, axes, and staves. He’s capable of dealing out death with other simple-to-use weapons, but not particularly adept at using bows, claws, or wands.
- Damage: Since strength inherently boosts melee damage, Marauders can dish out huge amounts of pain with every swing of their clubs… assuming they hit.
- Tanking: With tons of nearby life-boosting passives, as well as the natural HP granted from strength, the Marauder can withstand even the toughest punishment easily.
- Stunning: Marauders have early access to passive abilities that make it easier to stun enemies and keep them dazed and disoriented for prolonged periods of time.
- Dodging: Without evasion or a lot of energy shield, the Marauder will be taking every blow aimed at him. He’s got a hefty HP pool, and he’ll need every point of it.
- Ranged combat: Musclebound guys are great at swinging swords, but not so skilled and slinging spells or arrows. Expect to get frustrated with hit-and-run enemy types.
- Speed: Compounding the first two issues, Marauders don’t naturally have the movement or attack speed to deal with faster annoyances, relying instead on durability.
Witch: Intelligence aligned
The Witch spawns with 30 intelligence, 14 strength, and 14 dexterity in the north skill area.
Relying more frequently on magic than on physical weapons, the Witch gravitates towards wands, daggers, and staves when necessary. She’s capable of picking up a mace or claw, sure… but don’t expect the Witch to dual wield swords or axes anytime soon.
- Spell customization: With instant access to passives that increase spell range, duration, and damage, the Witch can make any invocation significantly more deadly.
- Mana battery: Intelligence fuels mana pools, meaning Witches won’t be running out of steam like other classes do. In addition, they can easily boost mana regeneration.
- Minion mastery: Want to remake your Diablo 2 Necromancer in Path of Exile? The Witch can quickly augment her undead army’s size, durability, and deadliness.
- Dual wielding: Witches don’t have the innate skills needed to hold heavy weaponry, not to mention two weapons at once! Whatever you do, don’t dual-equip her.
- Extended survivability: Energy shields are great for deflecting damage at a distance, but once they’ve been depleted, the Witch is defenseless for a few seconds.
- Poison and chaos: Another drawback of energy shields is that poison/chaos damage bypass them completely. Against certain acidic foes, you’ll lose hit points very quickly.
Duelist: Dexterity/Strength aligned
The Duelist spawns with 22 strength, 22 dexterity, and 14 intelligence in the southern skill area.
Swift and strong, the Duelist’s more than comfortable with swords or axes in hand. He’s also capable with maces and bows, but don’t expect him to enjoy using wands, staves, or claws.
As a hybrid class, the Duelist shares many of the strengths/weaknesses of its neighboring classes (Ranger/Marauder). Contrarily, the Duelist is naturally terrible at everything related to its unaligned attribute (intelligence).
- Dual wielding: If charging into battle with two ferocious weapons is your style, pick the Duelist. He has the natural agility to ensure his hits land, as well as the brute strength to inflict major pain when they do. The Duelist spawns close to several key dual wielding ability nodes.
- Brain drain: The opposite of the Witch, Duelists have almost no access to spell modifiers or increased mana pools. They have to rely on conservative magic use and heavy mana leech in order to sustain skill use throughout a fight.
Templar: Strength/Intelligence aligned
The Templar spawns with 22 strength, 22 intelligence, and 14 dexterity in the northwest skill area.
Balancing physical and magical forces, Templar can wreak havoc with maces, scepters, and staves. If desired, they can branch out to swords and wands… but not pointy stuff like bows or daggers.
As a hybrid class, the Templar shares many of the strengths/weaknesses of its neighboring classes (Marauder/Witch). Contrarily, the Templar is naturally terrible at everything related to its unaligned attribute (dexterity).
- Collateral damage: Having access to sweeping/slamming, strength-based abilities in addition to powerful elemental magic, the Templar is an expert at clearing out swarms of enemies, usually by wading into the thick of them and unleashing a barrage of high-mana attacks.
- Near miss: Of course, when it comes to striking a particular enemy, the Templar’s lack of dexterity shows. His attacks are laborious and low on accuracy – not a hinderance against large groups, but a detriment when it comes to efficiently finishing a single target.
Shadow: Intelligence/Dexterity aligned
The Shadow spawns with 22 intelligence, 22 dexterity, and 14 strength in the northeast skill area.
Relying heavily on
hit stab-and-run tactics as well as critical strikes, the Shadow is partial to claws and daggers. He also spawns close to the only trap-related passives in the ability tree. Whatever you do, don’t give the Shadow a “real” weapon.
As a hybrid class, the Shadow shares many of the strengths/weaknesses of its neighboring classes (Witch/Ranger). Contrarily, the Shadow is naturally terrible at everything related to its unaligned attribute (strength).
- Explosive finish: Easily capable of boosting both the frequency and severity of critical strikes, Shadows can also benefit from critical-specific triggers like poison or knockback. Their base attacks won’t do much damage, but when a crit rolls, prepare to be impressed.
- Tissue paper: Spawning far and away from nodes for additional hit points, life regen, and resistances, the Shadow is not well suited for direct confrontation. Once his middling energy shield is down, a single lucky attack is usually enough to empty his (normally) evasion-protected life pool.
A final note on class selection
As stated in the introduction, it’s technically possible to build any class for (almost) any purpose. So when it comes down to it, feel free to pick the class you most enjoy looking at and listening to. If you like the idea of a mysterious, sword-swinging Witch or an agile, claw-wielding Marauder, make it happen. You’ll have to spend a lot more passive points up front to get your character in the ballpark of your desired abilities, but once you pass level 30 or so, the initial handicap will be a distant memory masked by how badass your character is.