It seems like there was a bit of a drought in good action RPG's for a while there after Diablo 2, but lately it's a veritable smörgåsbord. Torchlight came out, followed by Diablo 3, and now we're swimming in them.
I'm on of the people who enjoyed Diablo 3 for a while, for what it was. I never felt like it was really a true sequel to Diablo 2, but I had fun with it for a bit. Then as I got into Inferno mode, and found that the only Monk build I could get to work was "attack speed/life steal and oh god if I stop attacking for even a second I die horribly", the appeal of the game started to wear off, and it's more glaring flaws shone through.
Torchlight 2 I felt captured the spirit of earlier Diablo games, if not the aesthetic, and I enjoyed it immensely (still playing it, actually).
Marvel Heroes is another one I'm enjoying for various reasons, but it's under NDA so I can't go into depth.
And then there's Path of Exile, the first ARPG that I feel comfortable calling a true successor to the Diablo throne. Not only does it feel like the old Diablo games, it looks like them as well. It employs the dark, gothic and gritty feel Diablo 2 had. But it's not merely a clone of the king... it's got a number of systems that are really fantastic.
For instance, no skill in the game is attached to a particular character class. You don't start with Fireball at level 1 and get a better version of Fireball when you hit level 10. All of the skills in the game, from melee moves, to spells, etc, are attached to the gems which you socket into your gear in the appropriate colored slot.
So as a Marauder (a barbarian-type class), if I find a gem with Fireball on it, I can socket it into my huge 2hand sword and now toss fireballs on top of cleaving foes with my blade. Gems level up as you use them.
On top of this, many items have "linked" gem sockets. So you can put your Fireball gem into one of them, and then if you have support gems, you can add them to the other linked sockets on the item. This might do a variety of things... cause your fireball to split into two when it hits a target, or knockback your enemy. If you have the space to socket more than one support gem attached to Fireball, it can do both.
So really your starting "class" only determines a few things... what you look like, what your starting attributes are, and where on the skill tree you start. Otherwise, you're entirely free to build your character however you want.
And speaking of the skill tree... all characters share a single skill tree. Actually, to call it a skill tree is an injustice. It's a skill galaxy map. There are over 1300 passive skills that you can choose from, as you move along the paths in whichever direction you choose. Seriously, it's crazy.
The game features Leagues, which are essentially play modes. The Default league is just regular play, but there's also a Hardcore league. However unlike Diablo 3, once your Hardcore character dies, he isn't perma-dead. Instead he's removed from the Hardcore League down to the Default League. You get to keep him and all of his stuff, but you are no longer part of the Hardcore server/economy.
Those are just the basics... they're also set up to run special Leagues that offer different challenges, goals and prizes. Definitely a neat way to spice up the game and keep things interesting.
I've been playing in the closed beta, but the game finally goes into open beta on Wednesday. Path of Exile is a free to play game, and while it's technically open "beta", they won't be doing any more character wipes after Wednesday, so you can go ahead and start your character without worrying about losing anything.
If all goes well, and the servers remain stable on Wednesday evening, I'll be playing with a group of friends on stream. The plan is to all make Hardcore characters and see who dies first. Either subscribe to the channel, follow my Twitter or remember to check the newspost here on Wednesday if you want to remember to come join us, check out the game, and place bets on which of us kicks the bucket first.