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Bill Murphy: Will A:IR Reignite AAA MMORPG Development?

By William Murphy on November 09, 2017 | Columns | Comments

Will A:IR Reignite AAA MMORPG Development?

A:IR, or Ascend: Infinite Realm, was just fully revealed ahead of G-STAR 2017. Being made by Bluehole Studio (TERA) and brought west by Kakao Games (Black Desert), it looks to have everything an MMORPG fan desires. RVR combat, complex crafting, housing, customizable airships, pets, deep classes, a massive world, player-made quests, and so forth. Could it be that the first big AAA MMORPG to hit the West in years will come out of South Korea?

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Now, there are two worries I have with the limited info we are privy too – it certainly seems like Bluehole hasn’t learned that gender locked classes are a bad thing in the West. Each of the five classes seems to be locked to male or female. Hopefully that sort of thing can somehow be remedied, even if in the same way Black Desert has made counterparts over the years.

Secondly, the trailer footage is gorgeous, but clearly shows that FPS drops significantly in the larger battles. Optimization’s got to be priority. We’ve seen other MMOs all but sunk due to performance issues. And one whose goal is to have massive RVR battles and air warfare? Yeah, it’d better hold steady around 30FPS or above at all times. It’s Unreal Engine 3, something Bluehole is highly familiar with, so they should be able to make it work, considering TERA runs like a dream.

Now, let’s talk about what’s in the trailer: a massive world, customizable airships, action-based combat (?), customizable pets, in-depth looking housing and crafting, gliders, mechs, dragons, jetpacks, siege weapons, BAMs (Big Ass Monsters), aerial bosses, changing seasons, fishing, boats, platforming, puzzles, mini games like barrel roll races, flight ring trials, stagecoaches, Popori (TERA’s awesome bear/dog/cat people), animal husbandry, farming, public events like city sieges, magic, guns, cannons, rockets, more mechs, barrel rolls, destructible environments, boarding parties… am I missing anything?

No joke, this looks like the biggest MMORPG announced in years that didn’t have a Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign. It’s as though Bluehole played and loved Final Fantasy and Magitek, then decided to make it have a baby with TERA, ArcheAge, and Black Desert. I don’t know how the reproductive logistics will work, but I do know that I like what I’m seeing.

And while there has been some controversy over BDO’s monetization in the past, I feel like they’re one of the few who try to do right with the B2P model and optional microtransactions. I’m expecting AIR will follow a similar model. Maybe a $30 buy in, with optional bonus subscription, and tons of cosmetic sales. We’ll have to wait and see what Kakao has planned there.

I’m also concerned that AIR seems to be trying to do EVERYTHING at once. But we know the game’s been in development for several years, and that a Closed Beta for the West is due in the first half of 2018. So they’ve clearly come far enough along to have plenty of systems in place. The press release even touts player-made quests, which has me really intrigued. I’ve always liked the idea of people saying “I need such and such, go kill these to get it for me.” – as a means of limitless content, alongside a wider in-game narrative, I’m all for it.

AIR seems to be blending the theme park with the sandbox, with dungeons and the like highlighted in the trailer, but we still don’t know much about the story. I’m also anxious to learn how RVR will work, and if Bluehole is smart enough to make sure PVP can be an optional thing. The game will do fantastic in the west if PVP isn’t arbitrarily forced for progression or endgame.

And as always, I hope some form of elder game Alternate Advancement is planned. Nothing worse than finding a game you enjoy playing, and then hitting a content and progression wall that makes you want to cry.

There’s a whole lot left to learn about Ascent: Infinite Empire, and our own Joseph Bradford will be in Korea next week to get hands on the title and ask the devs a ton of questions. So if you’ve got some Q’s you want answered, put them in the comments here and we’ll make sure Mr. B takes a list with him.

Now, don’t lie – aren’t you at least a little big excited to see what comes from AIR?

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.