Wings Over Atreia: First impressions of the assault

With the launch of Aion's long-anticipated expansion, Assault on Balaurea, NCsoft has laid out a spread of goodies, from tasty little morsels of fluff to meatier content fare. What all did this free expansion bring to the plate? Solo instances, pets, ground assault PvP in new zones, higher-level materials and crafting, and new travel methods are just a few of the goodies that awaited Daeva when they first logged in last Tuesday.

Hungry Daevas have had almost a full week to either nibble at or just plain dive into the buffet of new offerings in the world of Atreia. Even with a glitch (seriously, is there something in the MMO rulebook that says a launch cannot go off without a hitch?), a number of Daevas have been scarfing up everything they can get their wings on. The release even brought back many old faces, who stopped in to sample the new goodies.

So how did all this taste? Grab a napkin and munch your way through the cut to savor the new flavor of Aion for yourself.

Attempting my first taste of the new expansion was foiled; I got part-way through my update only to encounter error 72 -- the patch notes were missing. Huh? Did someone use them to paper-train his daggie? Thankfully, with a little bit of searching on the official forums, I was able to download the missing files and finally make it into the game. Then I nibbled a little here and gorged myself there while partaking in the various new treats Aion had to offer.

New Zones

Simply put, the lands are beautiful. While I traveled mostly within Inggison, I was able to venture through part of Gelkmaros as well (a trip that was ended by a giant world boss, who was completely invisible to both me and my combat log). Exploring -- seeing new scenery, even stumbling into new and hungry mobs -- is by far one of my favorite parts of gaming, and the new areas do not disappoint. Unfortunately, peeking about in relative solitude was not a possibility, as every player who had been bumping against that level-50 ceiling was now spreading his wings with new-found freedom.

So here's a question for you... how many level 50s does it take to kill an excura? From the mob descending on the mobs, you'd think the answer was anywhere between 30 and 60. Reminiscent of launch day for the company's other title, Lineage II, in which the starting zone was literally carpeted with players, a flood of Daeva washed over the land and began competing for quest mobs. Sadly, kill-stealing appears easier to do and is on the rise. Another disappointment is that the new zones are only available to levels 50 and higher, including all the new materials. Quite a few expert essencetappers saw their hopes of making their fortunes dashed because their adventure level was too low to take advantage of their skills.

Four more group instances were also introduced with the expansion. Again, the lower levels are left out as these new instances are only available for those level 52 and up, except for the Chantra Dredgion, which starts at level 51.

Solo instances

While the new zones are available only to those of the highest levels, the new solo instances accommodate a wider range. Three different instances were introduced for both races: Haramel (levels 18-22); Kromede's Trial (37-44); and Taloc's Hollow (51-55). Although I cannot run the lower two, I have slashed my way through Taloc's Hollow and thoroughly enjoyed it. Being buffed up to deity proportions and taking on masses of mobs is always exhilarating. Not having to roll against anyone for loot drops was a bonus!

Folks have praised the instances fairly unanimously for being a fun alternative and easy XP. Just be prepared to spend a good deal of time in the instance (solo does not equal short). I am personally looking forward to making alts to experience all the instances, though I am sad to have "missed" content on my main simply by virtue of having played her for so long. I will be actually annoyed if I missed getting titles because of this!

Pets

Now, don't be thinking pets have been a fluff-fest just for the chicks; plenty of strapping beefcakes, veritably dripping in plate armor, have been caught snuggling their newest companions. Granted, the praise emote uses "snuggles" as a standard, but the fact remains -- pet ownership is not divided among gender lines. Strolling through any part of Atreia will uncover numerous Daeva conducting business, fighting, making deliveries, or even just chilling out with their new companions alongside them. While waiting to nab that dreaded azure sapphire at a spawn (curse you, expert essencetapping quest!), I sat on a stool and played the guitar for my little floppy-eared kangabunny, officially known as a red eye larail. I have to say, the first time I saw my little larail sprout wings and glide along with me, I squealed with surprise and delight. Conversely, I was stricken with pangs of guilt the first time I drew my weapons and watched as my little pet cowered in fear.

Of course, pets were also a bit of a sore spot with many veteran players; the only way to receive the exclusive pets was to buy the retail box of the expansion. Not surprisingly, a number of players did exactly that just for those pet codes! Surely NCsoft was banking on this, but here's to hoping the company still rewards its long-term customers with something, instead of forcing vets to pay for a free expansion. In another deft financial move, NCsoft put the coveted signal pets up for sale at the NCsoft Store, along with two cuddly companion pets and a fortune pet. Personally, I am hoping that some signal pets will become available in the world as drops soon. However, with my luck, the only egg I will get is the scrambled one with my breakfast.

PvP

Perhaps the one aspect that has seen the most amount of change is PvP. In the beginning days of Assault on Balaurea, Reshanta saw a marked decrease in population as a large portion of Daeva flocked to the new zones. While some sighed with relief thinking they could now maneuver in peace in the Abyss, others lamented the ghost-town feel and loss of PvP. Initially, fortresses were virtually ignored by factions as the push was on in the "ground Abyss."

Three different solo instances were introduced for both races: Haramel (levels 18-22); Kromede's Trial (37-44); and Taloc's Hollow (51-55).

For any who have not yet had the chance to participate in a fortress siege in Inggison or Gelkmaros, know that having to assault on foot will definitely take some getting used to. Hopefully turnover will be faster; the Balaur quickly retook the fort we captured on the first night. Although this prevented us from capping our own side -- and subsequently getting the chance to invade the opposition -- I found it refreshing. If forts are uncontested, players become complacent and PvP suffers.

Putting some real urgency into our play was the collective groan heard when the server broadcast the announcement that the Asmodians had taken their second fort and opened the rift into Silentera Canyon right as we were also fighting to take our second. Of course, black wings immediately poured into Inggison and thwarted our efforts.

Rifting also took a hit with the expansion. Due to new penalties imposed on rifters (hefty damage reduction), many have abandoned this form of PvP. Good news? Bad news? It depends on which side of the ganking you happen to fall.

Though I cannot experience this for myself, I have heard that the original Dredgion battles have taken a turn for the worse; the teams have become very unbalanced since a large majority of those who participated hit level 51 within moments of launch and were forced to move on. By unbalanced, I mean there are fewer preset teams and the PUGs have been an often disastrous hodgepodge of classes (e.g., four clerics, a tank, and a ranger against a team with no heals).

Fluff 'n' stuffs

Among the meatier content additions to the game are a number of tasty little bites of fluff. While none of these is a game-altering mechanic (with the possible exception of the windstreams), they are things that elevate my enjoyment of Aion.

Upon launching the game, players are treated to a variety of new -- and sometimes animated -- log-in screens. The artwork is great, and having something different to see is refreshing. I am hoping that we get to experience that dragon and the floating Leviathan thing somewhere in-game! The character select screen has also been updated.

While technically it is a mechanic, I added the new windstreams in this category (as stuffs) simply for their fun value. It took a few tries to get the geyser travel right, and missing a windstream could mean plummeting to your death. Take care when using alternative travel!

This next bit actually took me a few days to notice, but I very much appreciate that you can place 15 items up for sale on the broker now. My next goal is seeing whether I can bribe a Shugo into forgoing the broker fees completely.

Another pleasing addition -- new wing animations. Gliding looks more real, from wings folding back in a dive, to wobbling when you are knocked off balance by a draft or getting too close to someone/something, to the minute fluttering of the feathers as the wind streams past.

Praise pet is not the only new emote to be introduced. You can now drop down and give me 20, admire yourself in a mirror, or even play the guitar or violin for your fellow Daevas. You don't have to be a roleplayer to enjoy this fluff. Conversely, there is a bit of fluff I'd like to see removed from game: triggered emotes seem to have increased. For example, how many of you have typed out the most random sentence beginning with "I" and had your Daeva spring into the air in victory celebration? I mean, I know that there are complaints about the "me" generation, but this is overkill! Please, NCsoft, if I really wanted her jumping around all the time, I'd hit the space bar! Tone down the auto-emotes, I beg of you.

In all, I have been been very happy with the new expansion; new places to explore and experience, instead of a repetitive mind-numbing grind, pique my interest more than most anything else. Hopefully, NCsoft will continue to add both bite-size morsels and full, hearty meals. What about you? What parts do you like best? Share in the comments!

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This article was originally published on Massively.