Once upon a time, an MMORPG that had reached its fourth anniversary would be bundled with five mediocre and mismatched expansions, and at least one game breaking patch. But the good old days of 56K modems have vanished, Windows 98 is now defunct, and we march on with the altogether more civilized and prudent vision of incremental and overhauling add-ons through patches.
Aion 4.0 has just hit US shores, after much anticipation, bringing with it an entire harem of content and updates, culminating in the NCSoft MMORPG's most populated era since launch. “We’ve had players asking about the launch of Aion 4.0: Dark Betrayal since last year,” said Richard Zinser, Chief Operating Officer of NCSOFT West. “The number of people coming to our website searching for Aion 4.0 is similar to the traffic we had at Aion’s launch. We’re keeping the fans happy, and Aion 4.0 was at the forefront of their asks.”
So with Scroll of Resurrection clutched firmly within hand, it seems as though the land of Daevas is going through something of a golden age right now. Dark Betrayal is a culmination of efforts, and for veterans that have only briefly dipped their toes in since launch, Aion is an entirely more complete, more solid, and more enjoyable adventure than ever before.
I can count myself as one of the many green angel-winged MMOers out there. I rolled Asmodian in 2009, and promptly forgot about my spiky fringed avatar in a hand full of weeks. The grind heavy, race-to-the-top nature of Aion just didn't do it for me. Linear paths and even linear zones sealed the deal, and I would only return two years later to gauge the game's temperature and see if it had recovered from its queasy malady of launch.
And luckily it did. NCSoft's MMO is one of those rare cases of an adventure getting better and better with age, and with a touch of developer intervention. Returning last year, I found a game which seemed much more complete, and did an altogether better job of explaining itself. The PvP, the end game, and the entire experience felt more mature and spellbinding and much better than its initial 2009 incarnation.
But even with that said, I didn't remain with the Elyos and I spurned ascension for a little longer. Because for all that the expansion Assault on Balaurea and previous patches added, I still found the game somewhat restrictive and for lack of a better word: dated.
So with a certain amount of trepidation I strapped on my Daeva wings once more, and headed into Aion 4.0.
First and foremost, the most standout change is the addition of two new playable classes: the Gunslinger and the Songweaver. I am happy to report that the former allows you to essentially become Paul Bettany in the film Legion. Like a wisecracking, beretta toting angel, there is nothing quite like "popping a cap" in varied wildlife; and, for the most part, this class is an absolute joy to play, with combat feeling fast and frenetic, and ability to feel like an "ultimate badass" bestowed at the point of creation and even more "badass" upon ascension and receiving a cannon.
The Songweaver then is a little more cutesy, with a harp as a weapon and less action-movie tendencies, but interesting nonetheless. Using a range of support and damage tunes it’s an interesting class to play and also a step out of the ordinary for Aions ensembled cast.
And it seems as though combat has seen something of an overhaul, or had a degree of tweaking. Before I remembered long-fought battles, draining power shards, and chaining attacks with a delirious sense of boredom - my experiences in 4.0 were much different with opponents falling thick and fast.
Along with the newly added Fast Track Servers (which bestows permanent double experience) the trials and tribulations of grinding a character to the top have received something of a gear change. While Aion is not easy, things move at a better pace, with hundreds of quests available to stave off boredom or a sense of static grind. Couple this along with a frenetic combat system, two new, and interesting classes, and there is a lot here to pique the interest of long-lost veterans.
It seems as though NCSoft have taken very deliberate steps to move Aion along from the usual tedium of character grind, into the altogether more interesting aspects of endgame PvP. Rather than letting players settle somewhere near the bottom and give out before the cap, the developers have curtailed some of their more sadistic habits and allowed newcomers to join in the factional fun.
But there are changes and tweaks for those players that have been with Aion for the long haul. The level cap has moved from 60 to 65, bringing in a whole host of skills, as well as allowing for the creation of three new zones: Katalam, Danaria, and Idian Depths.
While these changes are part and parcel of the MMO expansion, they do breathe a much needed life into Aion, giving players something else to aim for, taking focus from the PvP for a number of hours, as well as bestowing some particular inspired and beautiful new areas.
Other tweaks are incremental but will undoubtedly receive praise and controversy in equal measure. Arrows need no longer be bought, leveling the proverbial playing field between classes and removing the ranger as the only role that needs a regent to use their weapons. Also, Abyss Points gained from killing players have been increased reducing yet more of the game’s grind.
Aion 4.0 is absolutely massive, and for players new and old is a great success. It reinvents the early game, whilst refining and adding to level cap destination. Exploring the content will take weeks, if not months, and exhausting it all will take even longer.
I think that I might finally accept that offer of ascension and take up residence in Sanctuary after all.
Adam Tingle / Adam Tingle is a columnist and general man-about-town for MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and FPSGuru.com. He enjoys toilet humour, EverQuest-themed nostalgia, and pointing out he's British: bother him at @adamtingle