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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Co-Leader of Inquisition
(Zikel Server - Elyos)