In the game Path of Exile, the player walks through a rich world of gods and monsters, wading through the remnants of at least 3 civilizations. The world centers on the continent of Wraeclast, a dark place of runaway magic. The magic, called Thaumaturgy, is a corrupting force that creates the creatures that the player must face to move through the world.
The premise of the game is centered around The Exile, the player character, who is exiled from the island of Oriath to Wraeclast for their crimes. These crimes could be one of 7, based on character class. Those exiled are then shipped and tossed overboard off the coast of Wraeclast. The player must then pass through different areas of Wraeclast and Oraith attempting to survive.
Wraeclast is the main continent of the world. By the time the player sees it’s shores it has thousands of years of corrupting magic. Animals become aggressive and twisted. Living humans are driven to madness. The dead rise, hungry. Strewn throughout are ruins, remembrances from the previous civilisations. Some are carved stones, others journals. In the ruined city areas there is graffiti to tell us of the past.
Wraeclasts starts in the realm of legends. The first age, the time of the gods, was a time where mortals could ascend to godhood through their actions. There is little that is known truly about this time. There are a few items and ruins that survived, the little that is known tells a tale of jealous gods and the infighting that destroyed mortal lives. One of the gods, called Sin, decided that it was time to give Wraeclast back to the mortals. To that end he created a Beast, whose powers included being able to force the gods into a deep and endless slumber. The first known civilization, called the Vaal, eventually found the Beast. The last queen of the Vaal, Atziri, did something to corrupt the magic of the Beast; thus ending the Vaal Civilization. In the ruins of the Vaal another civilization rose, The Empire. The Empire, without knowing what the Vaal had done, found physical remnants of the corruption of the Beast which were known as gems. The people of the Empire spent generations inserting these gems into themselves, granting themselves immortality at a cost that none realized. Eventually the Empire would become known as the Eternal Empire. After many generations one of the Eternal Empire, Malachai, discovered the Beast. Malachai, like Atziri before him, tried to use the power of the Beast and in doing so corrupted it further. It was at this point that the corruption settled fully into Wraeclast. This caused a cataclysm that destroyed the Empire.
Oriath is an island not far off the coast of Wraeclast. It was settled by the Eternal Empire and after Malachai caused the destruction of the Empire, it formed into a theocracy and rejected the use of gems as a corrupting influence. It is from this island that the player is exiled.
The fascinating thing about this world is how detailed it is, particularly as it is a video game. Throughout the game there are little blurbs hidden that give the player a lesson in this history.
This is a world of gods and mortals, but it takes a twist. Long before the time of the player, mortals could push through and become gods. One god, called Sin, believed that mortals should not be under the thumb of immortals and so created a great Beast, who was able to put all the Gods into a deep sleep. This Beast, buried in the mountains of Wraeclast, became the source for magic like, called in this world Thaumaturgy.
The Beast is deeply important in this world. It keeps the gods at bay for the first half of the game, upon its death the player must now defeat the gods. More importantly there are a number of prominent figures mentioned throughout Wraeclasts history that tried to use the Beast to their one end. These acts corrupted the beast, which in turn created Wraeclast.
While video games like this do give historical depth to round out the game and make it more interesting, there is something unique about Path of Exile. Part of that comes from a rich history that stretches thousands of years before the player character is exiled. This history is shown through conversations with NPCs and objects that can be found without the world. In addition some of the weapons contain flavor text with quotes from a variety of people, some of which are never fully connected to the rest.
In some ways this video game is so realistic, which is something I really enjoy. It truly treats the information of the past like these are ruins that we are now discovering. The information is interesting, connected, and largely incomplete. We see a bit on how these civilizations were built and we see a lot on how they died, but we don’t always see much on the day to day. We are given the details of historical figures and quotes for figures we never hear more about. It brings the fantasy into reality.