Hands On Preview Yields Surprise
The MMORPG market has always been a fierce one. For almost as long as MMORPGs have been around, everyone and their brother have been trying to get a piece of that pie. With the landscape of that market recently changing pretty drastically, people are now scrambling to not only get into the fray, but also figure out how to make an MMO work with today’s audience. Several games in recent years which should have been huge hits, well, haven’t been. A lot of developers are taking the web-based approach. Almost everyone has given up on subscriptions. One thing hasn’t changed though: there are still more MMORPGs in development than you can shake a stick at. I was recently given the opportunity to sit down with the developers behind The Aurora World for a tour of the game and to get some information about their upcoming MMO, so let’s see what it brings to the table.
Majinn (Pet) System
One of the most impressive systems demonstrated for me was the Majinn system. I know, pets, nothing new there, but these are more than just pets. They’ve basically rolled the ‘cosmetic, just for show silly little pet’ system from some games together with the ‘combat pet that helps you fight and levels up alongside you’ system from others and tossed in a dash of ‘you wanted a mount too, right?’ and mixed it all together to form the Majinns. Every Majinn has three forms. Take the panda pet my one demo character had: a cute cuddly little baby panda which waddled around behind me and really served no purpose other than looking cute while doing random somersaults. His second mode was more along the lines of a kung-fu monk panda (I know what you’re thinking, I was as well) which walked around on his hind legs and helped out in combat. His third mode was a giant armored and spiked panda back on all four legs with a saddle and he functioned in the traditional mount capacity.
You aren’t limited to just one Majinn either. The character I was using had five Majinn slots. I had the panda, a shadow wolf looking beast, two different dragons and some form of giant fierce looking cat monstrosity if I remember correctly. The Majinns are meant to almost feel like a complete second character. They have skills and talents and such to pick as they level up. They’re extremely customizable, not just from the skills and talents either. There are five elements they can be associated with as well. So we could both have the same panda pet, but mine could be a ‘metal’ panda and be more defensive in nature while yours is a ‘fire’ panda and be more offensive. Add on top of that, the different ways we’ve likely taken their skills and talents as they’ve leveled up and you basically have two completely different entities even though they started off exactly identical.
There is said to be a large number of different Majinns in the game to find and choose from. You can get them as drops from mobs and bosses, as quest rewards and Event prizes, etc. Some are extremely rare while others are fairly common. They also come in a wide assortment of starting levels as well. This will make it slightly less annoying finding new Majinns once you get into the higher levels. Since they have to be leveled up, being level fifty and finding a level one pet would be aggravating. But finding a level thirty one, not quite as much.
Another thing the folks behind The Aurora World really take a lot of pride in is the Events system. Events mean different things in different games, and really isn’t much of a new concept in the realm of MMOs. In The Aurora World, Events come in many different shapes and sizes.
I was given a chance to participate in one of the most popular Events run in the game. It’s called ‘Marathon’ and if you’ve ever played Mario Kart you’ll feel right at home. Yes, that Mario Kart… The one with all of the characters from the assorted Mario games driving around shooting turtle shells at each other as they try to be the first one to cross the finish line. Marathon employs the same basic concept. Participants start in one of four starting areas. When the race begins you take off down the track, picking up assorted power-ups along the way. You can hold up to three at a time, and they do all the different things you’d expect them to do really: there’s a ‘slow’ which will slow down the targeted opponent. One of the coolest ones I witnessed (as it was used on me unfortunately) was ‘Blind’ which turns the targeted opponent’s screen solid black for a short period of time. Not a huge deal if you happen to be on a straightaway at the time, but it still prevents you from seeing the racers around you and targeting them. There are also defensive power-ups. There are some that speed you up, or make you invulnerable to attacks for a short period, etc. Another thing you can grab out of the power-up crates is an item called a ‘Destiny Key’. The Destiny Keys allow you to take short cuts. These short cuts, there are three on the map if I remember correctly, basically offer a straight path through what would have normally been a longer, curved section.
Speaking of the map, or race course, as I stated above everyone starts in one of four starting locations. About a third of the way through the race, those four courses merge into two and then at about the two-thirds mark, those two courses merge into one. What makes this truly amazing though is the number of participants… Mario Kart maxed out at what? Sixteen? Maybe only twelve or eight? With the Marathon event in The Aurora World you can have up to TWO HUNDRED participants. So for the first third of the races, you’re in a field of fifty, then for the second third of the race, the field doubles to 100 and for the home stretch, all 200 are together in one gigantic chaotic scramble for the finish line with Blinds and Slows flying left and right.
Of course there are more ‘traditional’ events for the more bloodthirsty members of the crowd as well. One of the examples for this discussed was the ‘Nation War’ event. The Aurora World is a three faction game, which is best exemplified by the PvP side of things, and the Faction vs Faction events like Nation War. Personally I’ve always felt three factions is the only way to go in a PvP game, but I may be a bit biased in that regard. Anyway, Nation War puts up to three hundred participants in a giant arena full of control points. Your nation gets a point for every three seconds you hold each control point. The faction with the highest point total at the end wins.
The Clan (read: guild) system was described as “very important” to the overall game of The Aurora World. As is the norm in this day and age, your clan will level up as the members achieve things in the game and grow together. As your clan levels up you’ll earn a form of ‘clan money’ which can be spent on things such as clan-wide buffs and talents. A good example, and likely the most expected, of this would be the ability to buy a +10% bonus to experience for all members of the clan for a set amount of time. As the clan levels up you’ll also unlock new titles and the ability to have more and more members in the clan, etc. There are also special clan-only quests, events and dungeons you’ll need to be in a clan and have reached the appropriate level to participate in.
What’s an MMORPG without a crafting system? The Crafting in The Aurora World will take the ‘interactive’ route that a couple of titles have tried to pull off in the past. This isn’t being done just to prevent the botting problem some games have seen, but to also make it more ‘realistic’ in some manner. Basically you’ll be responding to prompts on the screen telling you to adjust different settings, for example the fire may be too cool or hot and you’ll have to adjust it up or down accordingly.
Probably the most interesting feature about the crafting is you won’t get the same items every time. In most games, if you craft fifty short swords, when you’re done, you have a stack of fifty identical short swords. In The Aurora World, each item is random to a certain degree as far as the stats go, even with a small chance to ‘bump up’ for lack of a better way to describe it. For example, if you’re attempting to craft a ‘green’ short sword, you’ll have a small chance to do exceptionally well and get a ‘blue’ short sword instead of a green one. With crafted consumables such as potions, since there isn’t a tier system, instead you’ll have a chance to get multiple of the item in one shot instead of just a single. And apparently the best items available in the game are crafted ones, which is a nice change of pace from the recent trend of placing the best gear on the raid bosses.
This is an area which instantly causes a lot of people to cringe. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like there’s much we can do to sway the shift from subscription based MMOs to the free to play with cash shop model that most games are adopting. The cash shop in The Aurora World contains pretty much only cosmetic and ‘boost’ type items. There’s no equipment there to buy at all. There are some Majinns available, and since they help in combat, I guess you could or should count them as available equipment. And if they’re better than the ones available in the game, this could be frowned upon by some of the community. The rest of the items however are more along the “boost experience gained by X% for Y hours” potions and cosmetic costumes.
One clever inclusion though is the ability to trade/auction the AK, which is the currency/points you buy with RL cash to spend in the cash shop to other players. You can basically list your AK coins on the auction house and sell them for regular old ingame gold. This is actually a good idea in my opinion because it allows players who aren’t willing to open up their wallet to still have a chance to get their hands on some of the cosmetic or special edition pets listed in the Cash Shop by spending some of the in game gold they’ve earned by playing.
Honestly I’d never even heard of The Aurora World before being tasked with taking it for a spin. When I first pulled up the website and saw the graphical style you could probably hear my sigh in the next county over. The first thought through my mind was probably something along the lines of “another Asian themed grind-fest, been there done that”. But when I was finished with the tour and my time with the game, I found myself actually intrigued by some of the systems in place. How grindy it ends up being is to be seen, but I was told a lot of the leveling will come from events rather than standing around farming and grinding. Of course we’ve all heard “oh, our game is different, it won’t be grindy” countless times over the years, so take that how you will. Overall there was enough here to make me take interest, which in and of itself is a good thing given how crowded the market is lately.