A visit to Aion

Back before launch I played in the beta of Aion. At the time I didn’t find the experience compelling enough to pay full price for the client at launch (and, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t it come out somewhere around the same time as Warhammer, which I did get at launch?) but I always meant to check the game out when I could get a good deal on it.

During the big holiday sale, Steam offered Aion for $10, so I finally took the plunge. I have to say after all I’d heard (or not heard) about Aion since it launched, my expectations were pretty low.

The first (potential) challenge facing new Aion players is NCSoft’s byzantine support system. After installing I found I couldn’t log in. Their knowledge base had no answers and while I did open a support ticket, in an attempt to get faster help I headed to the official forums. I got some ideas there but when I tried to post a message I was told I couldn’t post unless I linked my forum account with a character name. Well since I couldn’t log in, I didn’t have any character names, ergo I couldn’t ask for help on the forums.

This is a small thing but generally speaking I’ve had terrible luck with NCSoft’s account management. In my support ticket I included a ton of information, including my ISP, my router name and model, the name of my anti-virus program and the information that I had turned it off as well as shutting down my firewall for testing. The next day I got a response (so points for timeliness) and the first questions they asked me were who my ISP was, had I tried turning off my anti-virus, etc, etc. It’s so frustrating when it becomes clear that support people can’t take the time to read your support request.

Anyway, this is a blog post about Aion, isn’t it? Sorry for the sidetrack.

It turns out the problem was with their servers or something. (A tracert to their authorization servers was dying about 15 hops down the line from me.) Since then I’ve had no problems.

I’d been playing my pet-using mage in Rift and having fun with it so I decided to go Mage in Aion too. I’d go with the Spiritmaster class when I hit 10. Aion’s leveling progression has you as a base class for the first 9 levels, then at level 10 you “ascend” and get your wings (literally) and pick a final class.

Levels 1-9 were familiar to me from the beta; that’s the problem with tightly scripted quest lines that have to be run through on more than one character. However they were a bit more challenging and interesting (at least towards the end) when there weren’t crowds of people doing them.

I’d forgotten how lovely the art style of Aion is (well to me at least). Screenshots can’t capture the whole experience; animals make some really interesting sounds too. And sometimes silly ones, like the patter of their feet. This is very much an Eastern game. When a mob notices you, there’s a Metal-Gear like “plink!” sound accompanied by a ! over the mob’s head.

That said, the gameplay in these levels really isn’t anything special. It isn’t bad, just very familiar. The one interesting mechanic are spell chains; cast Ice Spell 1 followed by Ice Spell 2 and get a bonus effect. Unfortunately this happens automatically. When you case Ice Spell 1 the icon then changes to that of Ice Spell 2. There’s no way to cast Ice Spell 1 twice in a row and then Ice Spell 2 (unless there’s a setting somewhere). If part 2 of a chain is off cool-down, that’s what’ll fire.

I’d been playing Rift before I jumped into Aion, and ironically enough, Rift felt more polished than Aion did, just in tiny details. Aion was a bit laggy and I saw other players rubber-banding around a few times. Jumping feels clunky. You can get hung up on the terrain pretty easily when you’re just trying to jump over a small obstacle. There’re places with invisible walls between an object and a geometry wall (for instance when trying to hug the wall of a canyon, if there’s a tree growing a few feet from the wall, you can’t go between the tree and the canyon wall) and some sloppy combat feedback at times (if a mob is slowed by a spell, when it dies you get feedback that its speed has returned to normal). None of these are deal breakers but they just seem like issues that should’ve been ironed out in the time since release.

Finally at level 9 I Ascended and remembered why I hadn’t played Aion at launch. After a semi-epic battle at the end of the 1-9 quest chains you get your wings and…become an errand boy. You’ll spend the next hour or so running around the Sanctum (or whatever the other side’s main city is called) doing FedEx quests which are, I suspect, intended to force you to learn how to get around the city. In general the city is too big and too empty. I find myself jumping from one end to the other and having nothing at all to do in the middle except run through it. I was already frustrated by this when I noticed something that wasn’t in beta: a teleport system to jump you across the city. If you play, find it and use it!

Just to give you a feel for how Eastern and grind-happy the game is, there’s one quest to take an item from 1 NPC to another that can be repeated 100 times for some special reward. I did it 3 times and never wanted to look at these NPCs again.

Another problem is this:

The word “Mythrazil” is my character name floating in space. But in amongst that mass of player names and guild tags are 3 NPCs in a different shade of bluish-green (or greenish-blue?). If you know where you’re going this isn’t a problem but for a noob looking for a specific NPC this is a real PITA. Aion also uses character item shops so in some places all you’ll see is a mass of characters sitting around with sales pitches floating over their heads. Thanks to Aion’s dwindling population this isn’t as bad as it was in beta but I still dislike these schemes.

When you finally beam down to the planet to go back to adventuring, you’ll realize just how low on the Ascended totem pole you are now. Your first tasks will be to kill crustaceans and turtles and even inert blocks of rock. IIRC this was where I bailed in beta. This time out I pushed on and once you get past those first few quests things start getting a little more interesting.

One of Aion’s big hooks was the ability to fly. So far I haven’t done a lot of that so I can’t comment much on it. It’s fun though. 🙂

The last thing I wanted to talk about is the community. When you first enter an established and potentially struggling game like Aion, you tend to feel like a real stranger. There’re all kinds of vernacular and game systems that I still don’t really understand, and listening to the chat going back and forth is like listening to another language. It’s like crashing a party or something.

There’s clearly some kind of appearance armor system in play since I saw tons of different ‘styles’ of outfit. Everything from typical fantasy gear with huge glowy weapons, to characters in very mundane gear that look liked they just walked in off the set of The Sims or something. Doing all my FedEx quests in the Sanctum was made somewhat more interesting just via people watching.

One thing I haven’t noticed is a lot of spam. In fact I haven’t noticed a General channel at all (maybe its off by default) but there are Trade and LFG channels that get plenty of traffic and it seems fairly ‘orderly.’ I’ve had invitations to Duel a few times but so far no whispers to buy gold or anything like that.

All in all, my time in Aion has been pleasant. Is that damning with faint praise? The world and creatures in it are interesting even if the combat system is (so far) fairly average. I don’t think I’ll stick around long enough to get to the PvPvE stuff that kicks in at level 25, but for my $10 I’m having fun. If you can get a similar deal and feel the urge to be an MMO tourist for a week or so, I’d say go for it.

Aion beta’s nerdrage evoking policy

I resisted posting this whine, and it is a whine, but I just can’t get it out of my head.

I got into the Aion beta via a paid-subscription to Fileplanet (and getting into betas is my main reason for being a paid member there). By the end of the July 4th beta weekend, I was pretty burned out on Aion and had decided not to pre-order.

In the weeks since, I’ve been feeling the urge to play it again. Specifically to experience the combat system again. I’m not even sure why; I wanted to play more to identify what it was that was calling me back, or if this urge was even based on reality or just faulty memory.

So I was excited about this weekend’s beta event. I eagerly updated my client, logged in and got the message that my account wasn’t eligible for this beta event. A bit of research confirmed it: the Fileplanet keys (and many, many other keys) were for that 1 single weekend in July.

Nerdrage ensued. I could try to justify it (it was a pretty big download just for a couple days of play; I would’ve tried more classes had I know I just had 3 days, etc) but the real truth of the matter is, it just felt like a bait and switch. Jump through the hoops to get in, we’ll give you a taste, but now we’re going to cut you off. It felt like artificial scarcity designed to try to increase demand. It felt sleazy, like a tactic that crystal meth dealer who hangs out down on the corner would use.

My assumption is that their plan is something like this:

Give a bunch of people a very short beta access, then cut them off. Wait a few weeks for the satisfaction levels to settle, then open beta again, but deny most of the people access, unless they pre-order.

A marketing-driven scheme to psychologically manipulate the audience into pre-ordering. It has nothing to do with beta-testing. But to be honest, over that July weekend I was just playing for free, not really testing. So on some level we’re even.

But I come out of the situation pretty angry at NCSoft and Aion, feeling the urge to say something childish like “I hope the company goes bankrupt!” but of course that isn’t really true — it isn’t the worker bees coding the AI and creating the art that made this decision, and I wouldn’t want to see such a tragic outcome for them. But whatever marketing person came up with this plan…his or her head on a pike? That I’d like to see (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes psychological marketing tactics backfire, I guess. And I bet a lot of people did turn around and pre-order so as to get into this beta event.

Aion verdict — no preorder (for now)

This morning I jumped back into the Aion beta, and after an hour or so, logged out. I’ve decided not to do a pre-order at this time. Which is odd because yesterday afternoon I almost did pre-order. I’m glad I slept on it. Here’s why:

First, the level 10 experience has been a *bit* of a disappointment. I have Ascended. I am now an immortal, ageless being with angel-like wings, dwelling in a city in the heavens. Great tasks await me. One of the first? Go kill some over-grown snails.

Huh? Now I said in my last post that I don’t mind “Kill 10 rats” quests, but when that phrase is taken literally, I do mind it. The critters I was sent to kill were about a foot high and looked about as threatening as your average garden snail. And why did I have to kill them? Because they’ve been eating too many scallops.

I can stomach (barely) doing this kind of ultra-trivial, non-heroic quest at level 1, but not after I spent a day getting to level 10 (granted it wouldn’t take a day to do it if I wasn’t a lore-reader).  To be fair, there’s a rebel faction of people I have to kill 10 of, and that’s fine. And there are lots of quests available and I haven’t checked them all out. But the one that happened to be at the top of my journal was kill 10 snail-like critters that I forget the name of.

This wasn’t really the reason for me deciding not to pre-order. It was just the factor that snapped me out of my ‘crush’ on the game and helped me to see it more objectively. It’s a pretty, polished game (with great music) but there are other pretty, polished games out there that don’t require me to throw down $50 just to get started playing. And we all know that MMO clients drop in price, often to $0, pretty quickly. I do intend to try Aion, but probably not at launch.

Second factor: Timing. The Champions Online open beta starts in August, with a launch of September 1st, I do believe. Aion is launching on September 22nd. Aion is a fantasy-based MMO in a sea of fantasy-based MMOs, whereas Champions is a Superhero MMO, and the only other (mainstream, at least) one of those we have is City of Heroes. The general buzz I’m getting on CO is that it’s a lot of fun, so I’m looking forward to trying the beta of that, and hope to find myself playing at launch. Which means Aion will launch during the free month of Champions Online, which creates quite a conflict, given my limited play time.

Third: Player stores. I mentioned these yesterday, and between then and now they’ve already gotten much, much worse. This is a personal peeve of mine — I just can’t stand the things. I’m going to wait and hope they get removed.

Fourth: The holiday rush of single-player games. I don’t only play MMOs — I love me some console games, too. And there’s a bunch coming out this fall that I’m interested in, starting in early October. So this kind of feeds into timing, too.

Fifth: Levels 1-9. It was fun doing these once, but I did every available quest in order to get to level 10. OK, it’s possible I missed 1 or 2, but the area isn’t big enough for there to be any substantial quest chains hidden. As an altaholic, that means for every alt I want to test out, I have to do the same exact quests again. I can see that becoming a real drag.

So for now at least, I’m not going to pre-order Aion. Hopefully I’ll get into future beta weekends and be able to level up my Gladiator a bit more and see more of the world, and if that happens I might change my mind. We’ll see.

First look at Aion: Better late than never edition

So I finally got into an Aion beta session, compliments of File Planet. I’d heard a lot of good things about the game and was looking forward to trying it out myself.

I rolled a fighter, my basic ‘go-to’ class for testing new games. I chose Elyos because I’d heard their side of the world was prettier. Character creation was pretty good. You can either pick from a selection of pre-sets, or customize your character via sliders. I did both, really. Used pre-sets then tweaked them.

So many people have covered the game that I’m just going to highlight some things that made an impression (for good or ill) on me. To lay the foundations of what Aion is, I’ll refer you to Tipa (A first look at Aion: The Tower of Eternity, Aion: The User Interface) & Stargrace (Aion Beta Impressions, Aion Beta Weekend – Round II).

So very briefly, I agree with the general consensus. The game feels like a pretty typical Korean game, but polished much, much more than most of the F2P games. It’s also very pretty, and yet runs quite smoothly on my good-but-not-great hardware.

My highest level character is now level 10. I wanted to get to 10 so I could see how the game changes when you “ascend.” I played the beta of Age of Conan and never got past level 20 and ended up wasting money that way. My understanding was that Aion changes at level 10 once you get your wings, so I wanted to see how much it changes. I’ve *just* made 10 so don’t really have a feel for the changes yet.

BTW, a quick word about beta-testing. When I’m selected for a beta, I try to be a good tester, trying to replicate bugs, playing in ways to try to break the game so I can report faults, and so on. When a publisher starts giving away beta keys in contests or (in my case) through a paid service (File Planet) all bets are off and I’m just playing the game as a demo to see if I’m interested in it enough to purchase.

So assuming you’ve read Tipa and Stargrace (or someone else) and have the basic idea of what the game is like, here’s my list of things I liked and didn’t like. We’ll start with the bad stuff first.

Things that bugged me:

Personal Shops: This is a mainstay of Korean games. A player can turn his or her character into a ‘stall’ to sell goods out of their inventory. This is fine in theory, but in practice what happens is you get areas that are just *blanketed* with personal shops. It isn’t so bad in the beta yet, but it will be after launch, I’m sure, if nothing changes. I really hope this system gets replaced with a centralized broker.

When you Ascend you get this very spiritual vibe from the game, that you’re going to this mystical place, and as soon as you arrive here’s what you see (click for full size):


Name filters: I’ve seen a high percentage of names that annoy me. EasyHo and CMyTits and the like. We need some kind of name filtering in here. And if I were running the game I wouldn’t let names start or end in X. I’m so sick of XDethNiteX and the like (I made these up but in each case they’re similar to something I saw).

Class choice at 10: Running one guy up to level 10 was fun, but I’m not looking forward to doing it again and again as I try various ‘final classes’ to pick the one I want to play. My prediction is that within 6 months of release they’ll let you create a level 10 character once you’ve run at least one character through levels 1-9.

Things I like but that might bug others:

Resting: In order to regain health at any kind of reasonable pace, you have to rest. That is, sit down on the ground. And of course you’re vulnerable like that, so it suits you best to find a safe place to do it. This is a tiny bit old school, but I kind of like it.

Kill Ten Rats: Lots of ‘Kill 10 Lizards” and “Bring me 10 Lizard Tails” type quests, which I know the blogging community wants abolished for all time. These feel comfortable and easy to me, and I don’t mind them. YMMV.

Things I like:

Lore, Quest Text and Dictionary: Yes, I am one of those people who reads the text quest. When you do, certain words will be highlighted. Clicking on one of these words pops up a ‘dictionary window’ with more info, and in some cases, a “Locate” button which will throw a waypoint onto your map. Even if you’re not looking for someone, it’s a great way to remind the player who is doing what and why in terms of lore. There’s also some semi-hidden lore, like a FedEx quest that has you delivering the book, but if you stop to read the book it’s a folktale that helps make sense of why certain characters are doing what they’re doing.

Here’s a dictionary example:


Map Overlay: Hitting M brings up a traditional map window, but hitting N brings up an overlaid map. This is something you see often in single player console RPGs, but it’s a nice addition to the MMO space.

Can you see the map overlaid on the world in this screenshot? The green dot with a yellow arrowhead is my location.


Sell all Misc: When you’re talking to a vendor to sell your vendor trash, there’s a “Sell all Misc” button that’ll deposit all vendor trash into the shopping cart. Armor, weapons, crafting materials, quest items…anything with any kind of use is ignored. It’s just the gray loot stuff that gets turned into coin with 1 handy click.

‘Gambling’ upgrades: Weapons and armor have ‘manastone slots’ and you’ll often find manastones to put in this slots. They’ll add some buff to the item. +10 HP or +12 Accuracy, that kind of thing. Adding 1 stone is always a sure thing. But if the gear has 2 or more slots, there’s a risk when adding additional stones. If the insertion fails, all the stones get destroyed. So you have to decide if you want to risk it. There’s an item that sells for 1000 coins that’ll break down a piece of gear into Enchantment Stones, which can also be added to a piece of gear, and the same applies here. Making a sword into a +1 sword is pretty safe, but if you want to re-enchant it to +2, you risk failing and wiping out the existing +1 enchantment. How far you take the enchanting is up to you (I’m sure there are some kind of limits) but it costs a lot to break down gear and I assume every level of enchantment has a greater possibility of risk.

Shared Bank: I only know this from a loading screen tip, but somewhere there’s a Warehouse and your warehouse is shared between all characters on an account. Not unique to Aion, but still good news.

Things I didn’t understand:

Inventory: Instead of an backpack, your inventory space is called a Cube. When you see an NPC who offers to upgrade your cube, he’s offering to give you more inventory space.

Power Shards: You equip these and…they do nothing. Because equipping them is only step 1. Step 2 is activating them (I believe B activates them). Once activated they’ll give you an attack buff (and make your weapon all glowy), but be warned, you burn through them FAST. I believe every attack uses up a Power Shard. I know the one time I used them I had 5 equipped and by the end of 1 fight they were all gone.

Well, this has gone on long enough. I’ve spent most of the day playing (and 1-10 are completely solo friendly, btw) and I’ve enjoyed myself quite a bit. I still need to discover more about what goes on at higher levels. I ran into an NPC that offers gear for some kind of trophies you get from PvP, and said NPC claimed that was the best gear a person could get. If that’s true and the main focus of the game at higher levels is PVP, I’ll pass. We’ll see though.

Also, haven’t really touched crafting, aside from harvesting various items. The harvesting side of things is similar to WoW or EQ2. Double click a node, and maybe get some materials, and maybe get a skill-up.