Wings Over Atreia: The Xeno experience

You'll have to forgive me for being somewhat surprised as I sit down to write this week's column. I guess given the general grindiness of Aion's high levels plus the weekly quota of "you sucks" that I get in ye olde inbox for daring to write about the game have conspired to make me a little bit gun shy when it comes to actually having fun in the world of Atreia. Oh, and let's not forget about NCsoft's refusal to answer tough questions (or any questions, for that matter) that your intrepid journalist has about Aion.

All that negativity aside, there must something to the whole yin/yang concept, as an otherwise detestable week yielded what has been one of the most enjoyable in-game experiences to date. It was such a blast, in fact, that I'm compelled to recount at least a little bit of my group's harrowing run through the gauntlet colloquially known as the Xeno quest.

What is the Xeno quest, you're probably wondering? Well if you're a middle-aged (i.e. over 40) Elyos you probably already know, but if not, the short version is that it's a lengthy quest chain that culminates in a fairly spiffy gold weapon. As you would expect, the tasks required to obtain it are numerous and arduous, but when coupled with a good group and a bit of luck, a fun time can be had by all.

Fly past the cut to find out how.

The first step in the process is to head to the library in Sanctum. There you'll find an affable NPC by the name of Xenophon who will give you a series of quests beginning with A Disturbing Report. The majority of these quests are "go here/kill 10 of these" type tasks, and advancing the chain to the good parts will probably take you and your group the better part of a couple of hours. Grouping here is a necessity, not only because many mobs you'll encounter are big nasties, but also to maintain your sanity during the tedious trek to and from the objectives.

Honestly, I'd never have made it through the Xeno quest with a pickup group; not only is a skilled (and familiar) group essential but, assuming you're all friends, Ventrilo shenanigans usually livens up the considerable grind. My particular party strung the quest line out over a couple of nights, but taken back to back, the whole ordeal can easily last upwards of six or seven hours depending on group competence and random PvP roadblocks.

For our purposes we'll skip ahead to the fun stuff, namely the quest called [Spy/Group] A Suspicious Box which, as you might have guessed, is a spy quest that sends you rifting into the heart of Asmodian territory. One of the great annoyances of Aion rifting is the fact that you're constantly waiting for the portals to spawn. There's nothing more infuriating than gathering a good group and making plans to invade Asmodae, then having to cool your heels for a couple of hours because the silly rift hasn't popped. Knowing this, we plopped an alt down in front of the Xeno rift (right outside the Lepharist Poison Research Center in Heiron) and periodically checked to see if it was up.

Once we managed to get through, we found ourselves unceremoniously dumped amidst the snow-swept hills of Belusian. If you're like me and have virtually no experience with the Asmo side of the game beyond the occasional rifting excursion into Morheim, you'll be in for a treat here, as the landscape around the Xeno rift is quite beautiful, and starkly different from anything on the Elyos half of the world. Unfortunately we didn't have a ton of time to admire the view as we were quickly set upon by the hordes of elite Lepharist mobs that surrounded the rift. After cutting a swath of destruction away from the portal and finding a safe spot to catch our breath, we decided to call it a night and continue with our quest the following evening.

The next night, things got hairy in a hurry. Upon logging in at our presumed safe spot, we found ourselves face-to-face with a couple of Asmodian players, one of whom was a level 50 Chanter in gold gear, which, for the uninitiated, means that my group of low-40s couldn't even dent his health bar, much less kill him. We managed to send his Sorcerer pal back to the rez pad, but several of us fell to the Chanter before he tired of chasing those of us left alive around the elite areas of Belusian. After skulking about and rezzing one another (presumably because our antagonist found better things to do), we continued on to talk to an NPC known as Lethe, who directed us to acquire five Entry Permits which drop off of the elite Scholar mobs found scattered throughout the area.

Waiting for us, like some perfectly scripted scene out of a particularly kick-ass Western film, was a line of Asmodian players blocking the entrance to the dungeon.

XP was pretty good here as we mowed down mob after mob, and, probably due to the fact that the area is rather dangerous courtesy of the high concentration of elites, we managed to get everyone their drops without any further Asmodian player interference. The respite was short-lived, however, as after turning our permits over to Lethe, our radar lit up with big red dots.

The battle was quickly joined as a group of Asmo players descended upon us in a furious cacophony of blades and spells. Several of the attackers were higher level and well-geared, and just as the tide of the battle seemed to be turning against us, another group of Elyos (no doubt intending to run their own Xeno instance) arrived and lent their assistance.

The resulting battle was a ton of fun, and if more of Aion's PvP resembled these types of breathless, running skirmishes where something is actually at stake (in this case, the huge inconvenience of losing our kisk and having to re-enter the Xeno rift), I daresay the game wouldn't have as much trouble retaining players. Working together and improvising with a second group was an exhilirating experience that showcased Aion's PvPvE potential, and is indescribably more fun than zerging at a fortress siege or hammering on a single fort general for forty-five straight minutes.

We fought the Asmos in, around, and over the stone courtyards and bridges that dot the landscape near the Xeno instance, finally driving them off as their Cleric fell to our focus fire. We hurried to dispatch the quest boss as originally directed by Lethe, and once he succumbed to our combined onslaught, we headed across the rickety wooden bridge and up to the entrance to the Xeno instance proper. Waiting for us, like some perfectly scripted scene out of a particularly kick-ass Western film, was a line of Asmodian players blocking the entrance to the dungeon. It's moments like these that I rue NCsoft's decision to encrypt cross-faction chat, as I can only imagine how awesome it would have been to engage in a bit of mano-a-mano smack talk. As it was, we charged, they died (actually a couple of them force-logged), and we hurtled ahead into the darkness of our private (and well-earned) dungeon.

I wish I could tell you the rest of the Xeno instance was that much fun, but in reality it went like all dungeons go with a particularly effective group: cautious pulls, practiced PvE strategy, and an ultimately successful run that netted everyone a ton of XP and the golden class-specific weapon of their choice. Ultimately, it was a great night in a game that has sorely lacked them in recent weeks, at least for me personally. If there were some way to bottle this particular experience and pour it liberally over the rest of the game, Aion might get around to being fun all the time rather than in spurts.

Until next week, keep the blue side up.

Look! Up in the air! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a snarky Daeva! Join Jef Reahard every Monday for news and views from the world of Aion. Whether he's soaring over the battlefield or hunkered down in the trenches, Jef is your combat correspondent in the world of Atreia.
This article was originally published on Massively.