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Path of Exile is a Free to Play action RPG with a large amount of customization and playstyles. The developers have stated that they will never add "Pay-to-Win" features to the in-game store and generally the store contains cosmetic micro-transactions as well as some very useful account upgrades. It's not uncommon to see Path of Exile be cited as an example of Free-to-Play "done right".
The gameplay is similar to other arpgs although it can be a little slow to start. Builds are often very involved and can include several unique items that play off one another to create powerful effects. There are three sub-classes for each of the main classes along with a massive passive tree that allows players to tune builds to their liking.
For the majority of players trading is facilitated by looking for items on a third party indexer called poe.trade. Once an item a player wants is found, they can whisper the seller (usually by clicking a link on the search page which auto-copies a message that can be pasted in the game client) to see if a trade can be made. Sometimes this process is quick and easy, other times it is extremely frustrating. The developers have been teasing about improvements to this system for some time, but at the moment any concrete information is absent.
To have items appear on poe.trade a player can purchase a premium stash from the in game store and then elect to have the contents of that stash tab be public which will allow indexers to see the items as well as any prices the owner may have set on those items. It is also possible to list items for sale without premium stash tabs, this can be done using a third party application: either Acquisition or Procurement. These tools can look through the items in your stash tabs and then auto-generate text to either be pasted in, or automatically posted to a sale thread on the forums. The sale thread will then be read by the indexer sites mentioned previously.
It's also possible to trade via trade chat or by trying to buy/sell things on the forums, but doing this is incredibly difficult and time consuming and not recommended. New players will also almost certainly be taken advantage of in either of those places immediately.
It's totally viable to play the entire game without trading at all. Many players do this, some use the newly added SSF (solo self found) feature which has a separate ladder and makes it impossible for the player to group or trade with others. Players can opt out of SSF mode at anytime, thought hey will be removed from the SSF ladder.