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Paragus Rants

Rants, reviews, and interviews from an MMO veteran and guild leader.

Author: Paragus1

Aion's Issues

Posted by Paragus1 Thursday October 29 2009 at 1:49PM
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Aion's Issues

This will probably be my last write up regarding Aion.  If you have been following my previous articles, I have detailed my play experience with the game by focusing on the 1-10 experience, 10-25 early Abyss, and the 25 and beyond.  This will be my last word on Aion for the time being because some of the game's issues have forced most of my guild to step back from the game.

Now I am not one to make "I quit" posts typically, but all thing considered, I believe my assessment of the game in previous articles has be pretty fair and objective.  So what I would like to do here today is talk about some of the aspects of Aion that ultimately ended up turning us sour in a constructive and informative way.


The Grind

It seems you can't read anywhere about Aion without reading about the grind, and this blog has been no exception to that.  That being said, it has to be mentioned because this is probably the first of several pitfalls that is going to be cause people to throw in the towel.

This is a graph that fairly accurately plots the experience points curve in Aion at each level that was made by a member of the community here.  As you can see by the graph, right around level 35 the amount of exp needed literally makes the graph look literally like a wall.  Often times when you read on various forums about people saying the grind is fine, make sure you put it into the context of what level they have made it to. Now to be fair, the amount of exp needed by itself is not necessarily the problem as you start to enter your 40's, but the way in which questing starts to play far less of a role.

When I hit level 42, I quickly completed all of the new quests and looked down at my 60 million exp bar to see only about 10-15% of it had been filled, leaving the remaining 50 million to be obtained by pure mob grind.  Now I am well aware of an upcoming patch slated to increase the quest exp and mob exp, but I think the problem goes a bit deeper than that.  There is a real lack of quest content that becomes painfully obvious at the higher levels.  Quest content is very good at masking grind in other games, so the lack of it in Aion at this level range really only adds to the pain and tedium.

The best comparison I can make is for those who played Age of Conan at release and hit the wall around level 50 where the quest content dried up almost instantly forcing people into grinding cannibal caves for levels to get through the gap.  This problem only gets compounded more however as the exp needed to level continues to grow exponentially, but the amount of content does not.  This only helps feed the bot epidemic and will undoubted crush the will of non-hardcore players as they reach the higher levels.

One final note on the grind that really bothers me is that Aion seems to punish grouping.  As a ranger, I found in most cases I was able to solo grind far more efficiently than in a group killing elites a few levels higher than me.  I would highly recommend adjusting the experience modifier for grouping to make it more appealing to group.  So with all the above factored in, players struggling with the progression in the game are going to start to ask if it's worth enduring for the sake of PvP.  Let's take a look...

 

PvP

I like to break the PvP elements in Aion into pretty much 3 different categories.  First you have your rift PvP into enemy territory, then the fortress fights, and finally your small scale encounters that occur in the Abyss.

 

1) Rift PvP

A week or so ago, my guild got a group together to through a rift into the Asmodian level 30+ area to go cause some trouble.  I think it was a real telling moment to me personally when it became glaringly clear that at least half of the people we were killing in this zone were bots.  When attacked, bots would simply stand there or continue to attack their mob, and when killed they would run the same exact route back to the same spot literally upwards of 10 times.  Each time they would take the same exact route, to the same exact spot, and not even stopping or deviating when getting attacked.  Granted killing the bots was a good source of Abyss points, but the fun of the PvP leaves something to be desired when a PvE mob offers more resistance.  Again in all fairness, there were probably 50% real people mixed in who had guilds, who would react to being attacked, and change tactics after being killed or spotting us.

In this regard, I really have to say that NCSoft's bot detection team or tools, or whatever they are spinning as is either completely worthless, or they think their customers are stupid.  Who the hell is in charge of the bot spotting team, Stevie Wonder?  Anyone with a working pair of eyes can see dozens of bots infesting the level 30+ area on both sides.  They are so blatantly operating out in the open that there is no way possible anyone could NOT see them.  Frankly when I read NCSoft press releases about how they have tools in place, it's insulting to my intelligence.

 

2) Fortress Battles

I think most people can agree that the fortress fights make up one of the key elements of the PvP aspect of Aion.  In my last article, I touched on the fact that crashing seemed to be somewhat of an issue during some of the sieges.  Since then, I have had the chance to participate in many more sieges to see how much of an issue the crashing really is.  I can say with all honesty in almost every siege I have been in since then, the game crashed at some point during the sieges, except for one where the Asmos never showed up to defend and I had all of the character models turned off (Shift + F12).

This is a major problem for me on so many levels.  First of all my PC is pretty serious, and judging by all the posts on forums and conversations with most of my guild, people having this issue are a pretty sizable portion of the playerbase.  This is pretty much game-breaking because the fortress battles are the only way to get medals, and medals are needed to get the top PvP reward gear, so crashing during sieges pretty much makes is close to impossible for you to get the medals needed to pursue the endgame gear.  With the game being out so long overseas, and 4-5 rounds of betas in NA, I am somewhat confused how the game went live without anyone knowing about this being picked up, let alone not being hotfixed.  It's even sillier when someone in the community posts a fix on the forums before your professional coders can do it.

Another issue is a flaw in the overall fortress system in general that also Warhammer Online suffered from, a lack of incentive to defend a fortress.  Medals are not given for a successful defense, and enemy fortress guards are actually a better source of Abyss points than most other mobs and players.  Killing a handful of guards seems to net more AP than running the instance you get access to for holding the fort.  So when you think about it, you are somewhat better off not defending because you will be granted a better source of AP, and a chance to earn medals when you go after it again later (assuming you don't crash).

 

3) Small Scale PvP

Small scale PvP overall remains one of the game stronger suits to me personally.  The only zerging that really goes from what I have seen so far is during the fortress fights, which is completely understandable.  The rest of the time people tend to roam around solo or in small groups making for some pretty fun encounters.  A smaller group of players who play smart is capable of beating a larger group if the right tactics are used along with the right crowd control.

I think if there is anything I would change, I would make other players worth more experience points.  Although it wasn't in the game originally, the amount of exp given for killing a player is so small that they pretty much may as well not give you any at all.  One other aspect is the fact that low level players give virtually no AP, but at the same time your enemy's level is hidden.  This can be annoying when you opt to chase someone for quite a long distance only to be rewarded with 1 AP.  Had you known the person's level you may have been inclined to not even bother chasing them extensively.  I also understand the benefit though of hiding levels, so it's a double-edged sword I suppose.


Summary

The way I see it is that players will need to start asking themselves this question: Is it worth enduring a steep and tedious grind that becomes exceedingly light in content for PvP that has 2 of out 3 aspects not meeting expectations?

The prospect of increasing exp sounds good in theory, but there is no mention of any much needed quest content.  NCsoft's word is losing a tremendous amount of value to players due to their inability to find the bots that every player with a pair of working eyes can see on a daily basis.  I can understand that many players may be willing to hang in there a bit longer given the game's polish and small scale PvP, but at this point I have to say the answer to that question is "no" from me personally, but to each their own.

 

Paragus
Co-Leader of Inquisition
www.inqguild.com

 

Aion: Post Launch Impressions

Posted by Paragus1 Friday October 9 2009 at 10:34AM
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Aion: Post Launch Impressions

It has been about a few weeks since the NA launch of Aion, so I wanted to take some time to update my impressions. In these first few weeks I have been exposed to a variety of gameplay experiences in the game, so I am going to talk about a few aspects of the game that have struck me as either being well done, or needing improvement.

 

Looking for Gold Channel

I used to to think LFG was about finding groups, but in Aion is seems to be more about finding gold.  There is a serious gold spammer epidemic that has rendered this channel pretty much unusable.  On any given day, this chat channel is literally flooded and spammed by gold sellers, that you can't even read anything.

I find it very hard to believe, despite the rhetoric from NCSoft, that there is a serious ongoing effort to target and ban the accounts of gold spammers.  In fact it's downright absurd.  You might think that given the number of servers they have running, that they could afford to have one GM on each one who can spot and ban these people.  The money generated from the banning of these accounts and spammers rebuying them should easily justify the price of paying someone to monitor it.

Aside from the rampant gold spamming, the LFG channel needs to be broken down into level ranges.  It makes no sense that people in their late 30s and 40s have to sift through level 25's trying to find a group.  This could also work to the advantage of forcing a gold spammer to level up as a deterrent if they want to spam mid and higher level players.


The Abyss

Now that the game has released in North America, I have had a chance to spend a lot of time in the Abyss experiencing PvP and some of the various mechanics surrounding it.  There has been a lot of discussion over whether or not the wings are just a gimmick or if they really add anything to the table.  I have to say that after spending quite a bit of time in the Abyss since release and doing some PvP, I am starting to lean more towards this feature adding an element to PvP combat that is not found in the competition.

There is the obvious element of flying and fighting in the air, but I think that doesn't fully explain it.  It's not so much the fact that you can fly to me, as much as it is the environment that is possible because of the flight element.  In games like WAR and even DAOC, the standard battlefield was typically a flat plain or maybe a mountainous area where battles would unfold.  In Aion with the element of flight, battles are able to take place is the very surreal looking environment of the Abyss with its floating islands, comets, upside-down ruins, and other interesting locales.

I have had some interesting fight situations that just would not be possible in some of the other traditional RvR MMOs out there.  Me and a friend had a chase underneath a floating continent weaving and bobbing through stalactites.  I have had fights where me and my opponent were hopping from island to island blasting each other, and recently a large fight with one side holding the ground against an aerial force.  Of course I have to mention one incident where a bunch of people, including some of my guildmates, were completely obliterated when a stray comet plowed through a crowd of people fighting near an artifact.

Speaking of artifacts, Inquisition decided to have a small guild event to go test the waters on taking an artifact on the bottom floor of the Abyss where thing were lower level.  Taking the artifact was a pretty simple task overall, and reminded us as being on par with some of the smaller battle objectives in WAR in terms of difficulty.  The artifact was protected by a group of NPC's of the opposing faction with an elite boss.  While we brought 2 groups being uncertain on how hard it would be, one solid group of players would have been an adequate force.  Once the boss goes down, a broadcast message told everyone we had taken it, and our guilds emblem was stamped on the site and displayed on the map.  There is however no message to let you know when your artifact is under attack by the enemy faction.

Finally, I had the chance to get involved in my first fortress siege in the lower Abyss.  The amount of people involved was pretty massive and I have to say it even made my high end PC start to lose some frames.  One issue I experienced along with many others was crashing during the attack.  This is one area where I think some improvement is needed, but to be fair I have to say the game handled itself better than WAR at this stage in terms of performance.

The door to the keep took quite some time to bring down, but I did not see anyone there really utilizing the siege weaponry which would have undoubted sped the process up.  The keep guardian in Aion makes the Warhammer and DAOC keep lords look like a wimp in terms of appearance and difficulty to kill.  In Warhammer the keep lords usually seem to buckle within a minute of the room being breached, in Aion it takes far longer and actually gives the other team a chance to turn the battle in the final room since the fight is so long.

That chance to turn the battle is exactly what the Asmos in this fight successfully did.  The layout of this particular keep had a large opening in the courtyard that dropped you literally on top of the boss inside.  While we were busy trying to bring the big guy to his knees, the enemy capitalized on us not defending the courtyard and turned the boss room into a bloodbath.  Death from above was an ocean of Asmos pouring into the room from above like a faucet of red names.  The fight was pretty impressive with people flying all over the place killing each other, while an angry Balaur boss went on a rampage.  All in all it was pretty fun with the exception of the crashing.  Hopefully they will improve that aspect for the large fights, but thankfully most of the abyss fighting outside the keeps has been small scale and very reminiscent of DAOC.

 

The Grind

This has been one of the hot topics regarding Aion, and I have read a ton of threads from people making various claims about grinding as it relates to Aion.  Before we go any further and people jump down my throat, apparently everyone interprets what grinding is differently.  Just so we are all on the same page, my definition of grinding is having to kill mobs repeatedly without any related quest in order to gain experience points.

Aion has a grind.  Yes, yes, I know the classic "All MMOs are and have grinds!" line, but it is my opinion that the grind in Aion can legitimately be perceived by some as steep once you start to level into your 30's.  Of course this statement is subjective, and depending on your prior MMO experiences your opinion may vary.  Someone from Lineage 2 might not find it bad, but someone who is used to WoW and some more modern traditional style MMOs might be in for a bit of discomfort in this area.  I survived old school EQ1 and FFXI in terms of grind just to give a little perspective on where I am coming from.  A lot of players are probably going to have to come to terms with the fact that most people won't be reaching max level in Aion as quickly as they did in some other MMOs.

Up until level 25, I think the grind was not particularly rough until maybe level 24.  After 25, the Abyss opens up as a new area for quests, campaigns, a dungeon instance, and exposure to increased mob exp. In the 30's, the amount of quests and the experience they yield starts to fall a bit short in terms of being able to quest your way through levels.  Combine this with the fact that the amount of exp needed to reach the next level starts to increase dramatically in the level 35+ range.  As an example, leveling from 36-37 required just under 20 Million EXP, the next level going from 37-38 jumps up to 26 Million EXP.  At 37, killing a 39 Abyss non-elite mob solo (which yields more exp than non-abyss mobs) nets in roughly 23,000-25,000 exp a kill.  As a ranger I can kill probably 2 per minute, equally around 500k exp in 10 mins, or roughly just under 3 Million per hour, or 8-9 hours to get 26 Million Exp to level via pure mob grinding.

All of this is based on the premise of course that not a single quest is completed, and you are soloing and not grouping for elites (which has the potential to be faster depending on the group and location).  Whether or not questing is faster than grinding all depends on what is available to you at a given level.  Some of the juicy campagin quests give upwards of 2+ Million Exp, while your average quest can net you anywhere between 400-800k.  Regardless of which is faster, you will not have enough quests to level purely from questing as other MMOs, and you will be forced to grind at some point to clear the remaining exp needed.  The fact is some of the quests just flat out don't give enough exp to satisfy a lot of players, but upcoming changes look to change that.  Depending on your prior MMO experiences this could be perceived as normal or a major turn-off, but there is definitely something to be said for grouping and doing elites in an instance or hard area.  Just to give an idea of how it ends up looking later, rumor has it that you will need 86 Million exp to go from level 49-50.

 

Instances

I have also had the chance to do a variety of PvE instances in the first few weeks.  All of them seem to have quests to kill the final boss for a blue item of some sort.  Some of them require you to get keys to enter them, some can be entered if you control castles in the Abyss.  Most of them provide a decent source of exp and come with some degree of lockout timer.  In terms of loot, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise when it comes to taking down some of the bosses.

This brings me to one pretty annoying point regarding boss mobs.  In all of the instances ran and bosses killed, probably more than half the time the bosses dropped nothing of any real value with a few blues being seen rarely.  This is something I think a lot of players might find somewhat annoying, myself included.  Killing the final boss of a dungeon and finding nothing but a small amount of gold is going to be received like a slap in the face for many players.  Hell at least give us a random green or something, but only finding 500 gold or a common crafting mat off of a level 37 boss is complete ass.

 

Final Thoughts

Aion remains to be a solid and polished product, but not without it issues.  Depending on your MMO tastes, some people may be turned off by the fact that max level is difficult to achieve, while others may enjoy that.  As players start hitting the mid 30's and hitting the leveling quicksand, I can see some people being turned off to the game.  The issue of bots and gold spammers is something NC Soft really needs to crack down on in a big way.  Despite all of the flowery language by the devs, I have yet to see any reduction at all in these activities.

On the other hand, if you can get past the brutal leveling curve, there is a very interesting RvR experience.  Aside from the occasional crash in the fortress fights, Abyss RvR so far seems to be small scale and reminiscent of DAOC in many ways with roaming groups outside of the big sieges.  The PvP I have seen at this stage does not seem to be ruined with excessive crowd control like the competition, and the rewards seem viable.  Whether the end game actually works is something we probably won't know until a large portion of the population reaches higher level, and that seems like it may take more time than some may have anticipated.

 

Paragus
Co-Leader of Inquisition
www.inqguild.com

(Zikel Server - Elyos)

Rant: Guild Recruit Spam

Posted by Paragus1 Friday October 2 2009 at 8:39AM
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Rant: Guild Recruit Spam

It's been a while since I've done a rant entry in here, so today I figure I would touch on something that has been driving me up a wall in the last few MMOs I have played, Guild Recruit Spam.  Chances are if you have played any MMO, you have seen these guild recruit spam messages flooding one of your chat channels.  I saw them in AoC, WAR, Darkfall, and now in Aion.  While general chat is hardly the place to have scholarly discussions and intellectual persuits, spamming people with your guild advertisement pretty much makes you about as cool as a telemarketer.

A vent server and a website?!  Holy shit!  Where do I sign up?  Maybe back in 1999 when I was raiding in the original Everquest this would have been exciting, but I don't see how this is really even worth mentioning at this point.  I'm sorry guys, but this is 2009. It is pretty much expected that if you are a real MMO guild, you are going to have a ventrilo server and a website.  That's like me trying to get people to join my swimclub by telling them I have a pool. It's just a given, isn't it?
 

Well apparently it isn't.  During my time in Darkfall, I was in a position where I was able to talk to a lot of people in a lot of various guilds for interviews and political dealings.  I was absolutely shocked at how many people are still using Teamspeak.  Compared to Ventrilo, TS sounds like you are broadcasting on some sort of shortwave radio from World War 2.  If you are really serious about building a guild with lasting appeal and a strong community, splurge the couple bucks a month for the vent server.

I also love when I see a guild recruit spammer claiming their guild is elite or hardcore.  Elite and hardcore groups of people don't take any random jabroni off the street into their ranks.  That would be like having the special forces accepting applications in a kiosk in your local shopping mall.  Let's assume for a minute that you were an amazing player with PvP skills placing you in the top percentile, what guild would you join?  The guy standing on street corner wearing gear from a garbage dumpster looking for friends, or a group of like-minded players who are on the cutting edge?

Aside from recruitment spam being one the worst ways to attract quality members, it also ranks you right up there with gold spammer as one of the most annoying people in the game.  People will always remember the name of a guild who spams the chat box because you felt the need to remind them every 3 minutes.  As a result, don't be surprised if people's reaction towards you and your crew in less than favorable.  Just remember, a gold spammer doesn't have to live among the people they are annoying, your guild will.
 

Up and coming guilds need to ask themselves what is more important; having more members just for the sake of having members, or settling for less members who are solid and likely to share your vision.  I look at guilds as more than just a bunch of people playing a game together, it's a family-like community.  A good guild will not have its lifespan limited to its duration in any given game, instead it will become a community of like-minded people who travel with each other from game to game.  I've used this model in Inquisition, and it is no coincidence that many of the strongest guilds in any MMO are typically those with long histories that span across many games.

The best way to find quality members is obvious and at the same so often overlooked.  MMOs are games based heavily on community, and if your looking to find good players you should be socializing in the game with people you meet.  Spamming chat channels is a good way to make your guild appear as cheap and catering to the lowest denominator of player.  It is far better to have a smaller roster of loyal friends who will stick with you, then a large roster full of random selfish members.

One quick antecdote to wrap this up. Back when I played World of Warcraft shortly after release, my guild at one point had over 130 members at its peak population.  We recruited everyone and anyone we could get our hands on.  I soon found at that peak population did not equal peak performance.  One day me and my co-leader decided we were going to reroll the guild on a new server, and cut the guild roster in half down to our best 60 members literally overnight.  Once we reached max level again on the new server a month later, we were able to defeat content that we could never imagine winning with our old roster.  These were the members who were friends of friends who shared our vision of the guild, many of which still play with us years later.  Consider this a page from a guild leader's handbook.

 

Paragus
Co-Leader of Inquisition
www.inqguild.com