The genre of massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG, has been a mainstay in gaming for quite some time now since its surge in mainstream popularity back in the early and mid 2000s. While the days of just about every game being developed are copies of that model are now mostly past, just about every online RPG that comes out these days, including Path of Exile, are being called MMORPGs. However, that genre name does not fit this game very well. In fact, some dedicated Path of Exile players would even say that they detest having the game labeled as an MMORPG.
Grinding Gear Games, the developers of Path of Exile, specifically state that the game is not an MMORPG, but an online action RPG. It does have similarities with World of Warcraft and its numerous so-called clones and derivatives in that the game is played online on persistent servers where thousands of players can play together in. However, much of what constitutes a traditional MMORPG are absent in Path of Exile.
Perhaps the dominance of Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft is mostly to blame for this unfortunate designation, but it just goes to show how online gaming has changed compared to most people's stereotypical perception of it. At the very least, we can understand that all MMOs are online games, but not all online games are MMOs. However, the differences between MMORPGs and Path of Exile don't stop there.
When Grinding Gear Games first started with their plans to create an online role-playing game, they already knew that the MMORPG market is already saturated and there is only room for a few MMORPGs to rule it, not to mention that making one is a Herculean task that requires what is arguably the most amount of time, energy, money, and manpower in the whole of game development. It's not that they were lazy, but they want to make something different. Thus, Path of Exile came to be from that decision. PoE items, skills, and a lot of other features were amazingly created.
The most important difference between Path of Exile and MMORPGs is the prodigious use of instances. You enter an instance when you move on to a PvE area. This means that you are in that area either alone or with your party in that particular instance of the map and no one else is with you. This means you won't have to complain about having your kills and Path of Exile items dropped by monsters stolen by other players. The added benefit of this is that everyone can play in the same server, so there are more chances for friends to play with each other in Path of Exile, whereas they may end up being in different servers when playing some other MMORPG.
Towns also run on instances, so the game doesn't slow down to a crawl whenever there are plenty of people in the game since those people can be split into different instances. If two players from different instances want to meet up, they can just do so without doing much else as they'll just be able to see each other in town once they start communicating and join the same party. This also means that whenever the server population is relatively low on a particular day, there are still players in town, but just fewer instances running concurrently. This means that you won't ever have to see a ghost town like with MMORPGs when there aren't a lot of players at the moment.
There are also many other differences like how combat and other gameplay elements work in this game. It's perhaps the best example of an online action role-playing game available today, and it's free to play as well. So next time, think again before you call Path of Exile an MMORPG.