Saturday, April 3, 2010

Aion retrospective: Six months (and change)



You'll have to forgive us if we're a tad bit tardy with our six-month Aion retrospective. Traditionally we like to get these look-backs out on, or just before, the actual anniversary date, but in Aion's case, we were hoping to be able to drop a bit of information (like, say, a release date) for the 1.9 patch motherlode that NCSoft is poised to unleash on the North American servers.

Alas, deadlines being what they are, the actual six month anniversary came and went and we don't have the earth-shattering news we were hoping for. That said, there have been a few noteworthy tweaks made during the game's initial run, and we've collected them for you after the cut.

Aion played a relatively conservative hand over its first six months, foregoing huge patches and ginormous gameplay changes in favor of bug fixes, optimization, and small-scale class balancing tweaks. The big news was more about the goings on outside of the game, both in the form of account issues and visions of the future.

Of bots and bans

Nearly everyone agrees that one of Aion'smajor problems during the early part of its life was the number of kinah-seller bots. Many of us can recall adding five to ten names (if you can call CcchsjkerhhtWTFlol a name) to our ignore list each time we logged into the game during those first few weeks. As a result,NCSoft lowered the ban hammer on an epic scale, and, while the bot problem has not been completely eradicated, there are noticeably fewer farmers spamming the chat channels. As an additional anti-spam measure, chat channels were restricted to players level ten and higher, as was the whisper/private messaging mechanic and the character search function.

In addition to mass account bannings, a thirty minute AFK timer was also instituted, which cut down on the number of spammer store fronts. Login problems caused by private stores during the title's busy post-launch rush were also alleviated in the process.

Changes aren't permanent, but change is

On the gameplay front, several changes were made to the fortress siege mechanics. Among the most notable were vulnerability timer reductions from two hours to a half hour, general performance tweaks, and additional contribution medal rewards. Additionally, the first six months saw many tweaks to class skills and balance. An exhaustive list of each change is beyond the scope of this article, but a few of the more noteworthy nudges were given to Spiritmasters in the form of magic accuracy boosts, two additional skills, and the ability for their pets to fly. Other classes received love as well, including the Cleric (a buff to the thunderbolt skill) and the Templar (a hate boost for a stigma taunting skill). Smaller, but still noticeable gameplay changes included spell cast range increases, lowered defenses (but raised hit points) on elite mobs, stigma shard cost reductions, and functionality for checking your instance cool down timers.

The biggest gameplay change has, thus far, been semi-permanent. In early 2010, NCSoft began offering double experience weekends on all servers, which resulted in players flooding back to the game on specified weekends and gorging themselves on a forty-eight hour diet of grind-friendly mobs and repeatable quests. Clearly the developers have noticed the player demand for an easier leveling curve, and it will be interesting to see if they take it further (as they've hinted at for upcoming patches) or leave well enough alone and continue the bonus weekends.

Future perfect

No doubt the biggest attention-grabber ofAion's initial six months took place outside of the game itself.

While not a change per se (at least not yet), no doubt the biggest attention-grabber of Aion's initial six months took place outside of the game itself. The title's future potential was showcased in the radicalVisions trailer, and, even though it didn't do anything for current gameplay, it did re-kindle much of the launch period enthusiasm for the game when it debuted in November 2009.

Similarly, NCSoft's plans for the forthcoming 1.9 patch showcased a bit of a directional change for the title in the form of lessened travel and death expenses, signs of an easing leveling curve, and new quest content and group-building tools. Finally, in a move sure to please even the most jaded Atreian cynic, NCSoft just announced a makeover and major functionality upgrade for the much-reviled official forums. Mark April 5 on your calendars for the move to the widely adopted vBulletin forum software.

Endgame

Aion's first six months were relatively quiet when measured against the painful teething of other 2009 MMORPG releases. While there were a fair number of tweaks and balances, major revamps were nowhere to be found, in part because of the smooth nature of the game's launch, and also becauseNCSoft still has a few biscuits in the oven. Stay tuned to Massively for up to the minute Aion news as well as our weekly look at all things Atreia.

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