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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aion CB4: My Thoughts Part I

Okay, Beginning the post that was promised. It's quite a lot, so you might want to go make yourself a sandwich and a drink. Or two.

Character Creation

Let's start at the beginning. After logging in and selecting a server, you start with character creation. You have two choices: Elyos, the angelic looking half of this once unified race, or the demonic looking breed known as the Asmodians. Now, people sit there and cringe at an MMO that only offers two races, but hold up, kids! You can make your new feather look however you want. Fancy a Wolverine look alike? You got it. Batting for an elf or dwarf? Do it. Orc? Make it happen. Into felines? They've got a mugshot for that too. Hell, if you want to look a little like Shrek's bride, you can. The customization is really impressive. You can make a midget, or go for a more youthful, childlike appearance, all the way up to massive amazon
women and big beefy meat shields. Seriously? Seriously.

I should really show you some screenshots of the character creation, but since I was absorbed with all of the features, I didn't take any. So instead watch this video (one of many) from Youtube. One day I'll sit down and teach myself how to make a decent fraps video, but I'm a real novice! Five years of worki
ng in film doesn't qualify me as 'talented' in home videos or fraps. Though I took a few minutes of footage during the beta, the clips a little too short. But less about my lack of video editing talent, more Aion beta review!

On the beta server, I actually started off on a high population server and made a few characters, but decided not to risk having a laggy experience with a stressed server and overpopulation, so I switched to a low population server called Nezekem (at least I think that's how it's spelled). During the beta, NCSoft warned us to play on only one server, but did I listen? Nooo. Switching caused my characters to delete on the previous server. Oops! My bad. But I am not stressing about a repeat of this in the retail release because I read somewhere that they will offer free server transfers once a month.

I am not a professional MMO scorekeeper, just a player. In last weekend's beta I leveled a level 1
7 assassin, a level 12 Chanter, and level 10 Templar - all Asmodian. I thought the XP::time ratio kept a good pace for the first 17 levels, and you aren't overwhelmed a laundry list of quests at the get go. Sure, you have your typical gather quests and kill quests. But all of the starting quests are designed to help you adjust to your character's abilities and how to interact with the environment.

Cut Scenes
There are cut scenes in some quests, but these were quick and to the point, so it wasn't a snore fest. For the reading impaired (which sadly I was in Wow - thank you Questhelper and Carbonite) these short video cuts show you what you want to look for in your quest, or who in some cases. Aion also uses these cut scenes to tell your story of ascension. And while it's not a secret that you ascend and earn a pair of wings in this game, I'm not going to talk about how it's done - a little mystery to a pivotal change in any story is a good thing.

Locate feature in quest log

A terrific feature that I instantly fell in love with in the quest log is the 'Locate' feature. The NPC's associated with your current task will show in the quest as a link (yeah, as in weblink). You clicky clicky, and you have the option to locate your target person, or the types of mobs if it's a kill quest. Aion then pops open your map and marks the spot. Wham, done. For the questing impaired, this is the koolaid in your water.

The quest story was quite good, and while I am told that you begin with a case of amnesia, that wasn't glaringly obvious throughout the beginning questline, or maybe I interpreted it differently. I know the first couple of quests, my questgivers are asking what happened to me, am I all right? But I thought my character was another Joe Schmoe who quickly learned through various interactions and premonitions that I was meant for bigger designs. I didn't start the Elyos side, so maybe it's a more prevalent theme there? I'll let you know next round of closed beta. I mostly enjoyed the fact that as you complete and accept quests, your character is actually engaging in a conversation with the NPC, and not just clicking and accepting a summarized 1 page task right away. To the impatient and voluntarily illiterate, this might get on your nerves. The clicking-through of the stories sort of encourages quest reading, and I like that. (At least, the first time around.)

The game is very linear in the beginning, and there is only one starting area to begin your character. You start at point A, make it to point B, then C. This gets old when you level 3 characters in a row. I actually tried to level a fourth character (mage), but my attention span didn't make it past level 3. I kind of missed the expansive Wow world where I could jump to different starting areas, but on the flip side of that - too many options when you first start a game can be overwhelming. So, for you altaholics, make sure you have the stomach for redundancy. It is a lot of fun running around in such a beautiful landscape and checking out all the critters and creatures you come across, just be careful of deep water. I don't know why swimming isn't available, but my mind tries to convince me that it's damaging to our wings (or wing-capable bodies). Or maybe our makeup will run? Anyway..

To group with a buddy, just /invite buddy and you form a group. Caution! You might want to make sure you and your mates are in the same 'channel'. This was a confusing factor for my boyfriend and myself since we have never played a game with this feature.

So there I was, lads, standing in my skivvy's on a hillside in Aldelle Basin. I group up with my man, and wait for him to meet up with me. Shouldn't take long, right? Within a minute or two, we're complaining at eachother to stop screwing around and hurry up so we can start questing together. "Go stand by the lamppost." He says to me. I wave my fist at him "I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR FIVE MINUTES." Huffing, puffing... Is this a bug? I relog, meanwhile he's off killing little critters, and I start turning shades of purple, growing jealous and a little resentful that I was the sucker who volunteered to relog... It turns out, I was in channel 3, and he was in channel 1.

Okay enough melodrama. But really, the idea for these channels is to reduce the lag you often find in overpopulated areas. Simply switch to a different channel and you will reload into the same bat place and same bat time, but a lot less players around, so you can go about getting your work done. It would have been nice to have some kind of pop up warning that explained this upfront.

I wasn't thrilled with some of the quest items drop rates. Unique items are ones that only drop for you. Then there are some quests that allow you and your group to loot at the same time. There are more quests in the game with unique items than there are group lootable items, and that makes the game a little grindy. The more people in the party, the more killing you have to do to get the collections complete. There are 3 looting options available: Round robin (Wow's group loot), Free for all, and Leader loot (master looter for you wowheads). Another thing is I never found a zoom option for the minimap, but I didn't look very hard. This was probably more annoying to my boyfriend (herein Gheist) and my good friend Bock, than it was for me. It was kind of annoying to see my friends go off to one corner of a field, and I'm hollaring at them to come back, only to turn my camera view and see that they're really not that far away after all.

More about Classes
Actually, now that I think about it, I will talk about the pivotal point in the storyline: Your Ascension. The one thing I will say is this: After 10 levels, you ascend - and along with your wings, you get to choose to specialize your character in a sub-class.
  • Warriors become Templars (tanks) or Gladiators (dps)
  • Mages become Sorcerer's (Glass cannon ranged dps) or Spirit Masters (Elemental Summoner/DoT dpser)
  • Priests choose between Cleric (wtf heals) or Chanters (wtf buffs and melee dps)
  • Scouts emerge as either Assassin's (melee dps) or Rangers (ranged dps).

In Wow terms, Templar is your Protection spec'ed tank, Gladiator is your retribution / fury / arms / enhance dps, Sorc = Mage, Spirit Master is a combination of shaman and warlock, Assassin is your rogue, Ranger is your hunter, and Chanter is like your paladin, only... cooler.

Don't make this mistake. In the beta, I failed to read the quest responses carefully, so when I thought I was clicking to learn more about Chanters, instead what I was clicking was the response "Hell yeah I'm going to be a Chanter. Screw that Cleric career." and ended up with a chanter instead of what I wanted to play: a cleric. Moral of the story: There is no confirmation about your class, so make sure you read your responses before you fire off a mouse click. However, I saw in the Aion Armory that there is a class change quest. So, you might have the option to switch, but I'm sure that's going to cost you a lot of kinah.


Wait, kinah? Yeah, that's the currency of Aion. Instead of gold, silver, copper - it's just one flat kinah. The exchange rate in beta was a bit.. high for American standards. At level 10, some quests available to you have a 3,000 kinah reward. So if you're not familiar with currency ratings, and you're not so hot on math, you might feel a little uncomfortable figuring out what's a reasonable cost for something in game. Hell, even if you're pretty proficient with numbers, this will come as a temporary shocker. Have you ever seen Wow award 3,000 g for a quest turn in? yeah.. didn't think so. If you saw a canned drink in a vending machine going for 300 here in the states, you probably wouldn't buy it.

Bind Stones, Return, Flight Paths...
Since we're talking about money matters, here are some things you need to know. When you die in Aion, you lose a small amount of experience which can be regained by seeking the aid of a soul healer, who will gladly take your kinah and give you a little soul back. Now, I don't have a problem with this. Back in my mudding days, when you died, you lost levels, you lost your items, all the money you carried, you even lost your memories of friends (thus your friends list). The thing that does bug me in Aion is that when you enter a new zone and want to bind to a Returning stone, it costs you kinah. A Returning stone (note: i forget it's official name - maybe bind stone?) is the point at which you can 'hearth/recall/gate' back to every 20 minutes, and it also serves as your respawn point if you release after a death.

There are flight paths in the game that take you from zone to zone. The flight itself is beautiful. But these (no surprise) cost kinah as well. As does teleporting, which is available at the capitol cities, and other places I'm sure. The higher level the zone, the more expensive. I didn't like this because it discourages exploration, and I have to admit I'm a junky for those thrilling "am I gonna survive this?!$#@" runs through uncharted territory. So if you're like me, you are going to want to save up you kinah, sell as much junk as possible, and buckle down because chances are high that during your exploring you're going to trip over a virtual rock, sprain your virtual ankle, and get eaten by a virtual monster. In Aion, you're gonna pay for the soul sickness anyway, right? I just feel it is a little restrictive in that regard. I don't like to be discouraged from doing those things, and it's feels a little like a penalty.

Speaking of zones, there are two types: Fly and No Fly zones. Now, in a no-fly zone you can glide off of mountains and hills and jump cliffs... you just can't properly bust out your wings and take off. The reasoning behind this is because there is not a strong enough presence of aether in the area. But it kind of makes sense since you're still learning your ropes, and mastering new skills.

I have to admit, when I first got my wings, and got into a fly zone, I felt a little ripped off at the one minute flight timer, and the two minutes cooldown when you use up your flight time. I voiced this opinion on the betaboards, and instead of being flamed, I was reminded that this is, after all, the beginning stages of the game, and duration, speed, and style of wings improve as you play the game. This did comfort me, thanks guys. :)

But I still have a gripe about flying. And that is harvesting in mid-air. I'd love to see the timer paused when gathering. I've attached a screenshot of my assassin getting some aether. Let me start off by explaining that when you have something to gather, the node generally has three hits. (you can harvest it up to 3 times before it despawns.) Note the Pass/Fail system used in gathering. At low levels, you have a higher chance to fail. It also seems to take a long time. While it gets better with time and higher skill, it sure is a pain in the ass! Maybe this is another case of growing pains, but it sucked to find an aether node, fly up to it, get 2 hits off of it, glide down because you're fly timer is out, and then wait 2 minutes before you can finish harvesting that node. Am I greedy? No, but I might be a little obsessive compulsive. I like to call it 'thorough'. Keeping a straight face here.

Okay, so I've mentioned a bunch of stuff so far, but I'm no where near done.
Hmm, well actually I might be about half way....

More of my review later!
Please feel free to comment or email any questions or opinions :)