There is no question about it: The Aion of today is much different than than the Aion of yesteryear. Heck, it's not the same game as last week! Yup folks, with each successive patch and update that NCsoft rolls out, the game we love (or love to hate, as the case may be) gets progressively easier. Patch 1.9 saw the addition of repeatable quests to ease the leveling curve; 2.0 brought more quests and higher kinah rewards from them; and Wednesday's 2.1 increased drop rates to astronomical levels. All good news, right?
Personally, I am leery of this seeming accelerated trend towards installing an easy button in the game, and I think that there are some serious repercussions to over-simplifying. Now, don't get me wrong -- I am all for lightening the load and eradicating flawed designs that have a fun factor of zero (hot heart of magic, anyone?), but at what point does making the game a bit easier go too far? While the game certainly shouldn't be a job in itself, do we really need to cater to the instant-gratification crowd by dumbing it down completely? I firmly believe in the old adage "you appreciate what you have to work for," and I think that spoon-feeding players is a bad idea that is going to come back and nip NCsoft in the... ankle.
Glide past the cut to explore for yourself the new easy buttons within Atreia.
Yes, I really believe that Aion is starting to slip down a dangerous slope of making the game too easy, thereby risking losing its appeal to many players. Before you tar and defeather me, hear me out. I agree that the game can't be so difficult from the start that new players have no hope of advancing and competing. I also know that to retain players, a game needs to offer something for players to work for; admit it, it really is human nature to work towards some goal. That isn't just in business or life; it follows us to our gaming. Many people play themepark MMOs to chase down a carrot and have some sense of pride in grabbing it, only to move on to the next carrot. If you just toss the carrots to the players, they are going to get bored and move on to something that is more of a challenge.
So how much easier is Aion now? Enough so that veterans are shaking their heads at how easy the new folks have it. And how is the new ease detrimental to the game? Let's take a look.
A prime example of the over-simplifying that the game is experiencing involves the iconic speed boots. Officially named Guardian Commando's shoes, these boots are sought after by every Elyos Daeva, who know that to be without them is to be a slow-moving target. Getting your speed boots was a right of passage that all Daevas experience and could commiserate about. Unlike other areas and instances that you can take or leave by choice, the process of getting these boots truly brought players together because everyone had to do it, and you needed help.
And getting these boots was no easy task. Although the quest is available the moment you turn level 37, many Daevas wouldn't be lucky enough to have them for a few levels. Not only did you have to find the shoe component, but you had to get into a group and fight your way around KHQ collecting 100 molars. One hundred molars times six group members -- you are talking about a decent time commitment. Arduous? Maybe a bit, but here is really the first place you started having to depend on group mechanics while hunting. You met people who would shape more of your game as you continued to advance and create contacts who would help you through later stages of the game. Trust me, solo sieging doesn't work out too well against the enemy force!
So, what does it take to get the boots now? Well, you still have to find the shoe component (if you can't find the box, then you need a drop); however, the molar requirement has been dropped to 50. Fifty, you say?! Wow, youngins just don't know how good they've got it, do they? But wait, that's not all! Not only is the requirement halved, but a nifty survey when you hit level 37 grants you 25 molars.
Easy button? Oh, you betcha. Worth it? I am not so sure.
On the campaign trail
Again, an easy button has been installed that lets you circumvent working with a group. In this case, it involves campaign quests. Imagine my surprise when I start prepping myself on my alt to take a team deep into Kaiden Headquarters to continue with my Eltnen campaign quests. I am all set to start gathering when a friend stops me. Guess what? To get the orders for Keeper of the Kaiden Key, you needn't delve deep into KHQ and slaughter tough mobs and at all -- you can just walk to the entrance and loot a box. The named boss to kill to finish it? Well, you can still go in and kill him, but NCsoft has added a new one at the entrance that completes the same thing. Same with the campaigns in Verteron -- the named is standing at the entrance to the garrison. Another surprise was being teleported right to the abyss gate I needed to close instead of needing to fight my way there as in the past.
Once again, a main vehicle for grouping up with others has been removed. Sure, it is easier and quicker to complete the quest now, but at what price? If you haven't had the chance to work within groups often, how are you going to know how all the classes interact when it counts, when you must have groups for higher-level instances and PvP? Trust me, no one wants to group up with someone who has a name for being incompetent. You might be shooting yourself in the foot if you take the easy way out.
We're in the money, we're in the money...
With the release of 2.0 and increased quest rewards, a level 20 had more than twice the kinah lining his pockets as a level 40 did prior -- before then, lucky was the Daeva who could scrimp up the 1.5 million to get all of his level 40 skill books. Now, with 2.1, so much kinah and loot is dropping off mobs that people can't clear enough space in their cubes to fit it all. Just how much have the drop rates improved? Prior to the patch, I was the envy of my legion for my uber loot from Taloc's Hollow -- three greens and two whites. When I ran through it again the day the patch was released, I received: one stigma; six whites; four greens; two green fluxes; 2 blue fluxes; 3 green manastones, and one blue. In total, I netted over three million in kinah, not even counting the enchantment stones from disenchanting. While initial reaction to this latest change was exuberance by most (who doesn't want more loot and kinah?), the reality of the effects on the economy are a bit more sobering.
Here's an example: A rare gold master flux was going for a minimum of 400k kinah as the servers shut down on Wednesday for the 2.1 update. Once the servers were up, before the end of that night, these same fluxes were going for 35k, as the four that were once available now exploded to over five pages' worth on the broker! There are so many golds and blues on the broker that prices are dropping like a plucked qooqoo. Enchantment stones are overflowing as well. At what point is the economy destroyed?
It used to be you congratulated someone when he got a drop, be it white (cash!) or the ever-elusive gold. Now, you'd lose your voice if you tried it. And honestly, how special is fabled gear if everyone is fully decked out in it? It isn't -- it becomes the new average. What is left to work for if everyone is totally decked out in top gear? Without a carrot to chase, people are going to lose interest. After all, this is a linear game that depends on continuing forward; there must be a "forward" to continue on to!
Button, button, who's got the button?
Of course, amid all of the easy buttons being installed in game, there are a couple of notable exceptions where they have been removed or are simply missing. One exception to the easy button trend is that Spirit Masters had their summon group member skill nerfed, preventing them from summoning to any area with elites. This means that if your compatriot wants to join you in KHQ or deep in Indratu, he has to run through. And what are the chances he will make it alive without training your group when he arrives? Why change this mechanic? This is an unnecessary annoyance that just makes grouping that much more difficult.
And of course, the one difficulty that needs to be addressed, hasn't been -- namely, the insane RNG of crafting. I am all for having the chance of failing the difficult tasks of expert quests and the hot heart of magic, but upwards of 30 times and beyond? That is simply unreasonable. For both of these, there should be a limit on how many times you can fail before you can turn in your non-procced items and get the procced version. Say, five times. While people want to work for their carrot, they also have to be able to eat it at some point! As soon as it is deemed unreachable, you have lost their interest.
Raging against the easy button is not just about sadistic old-timers who want to see the youngsters struggle through some of the same milestones while leveling; dumbing-down the game to the point that players leave out of boredom is detrimental, as is over-simplifying and making grouping avoidable until the highest levels. Admittedly, I do not want to see the game be so difficult that people can't reach any goals and instead leave out of frustration, either. Hasn't anyone heard of a happy medium? (No, that's not when you take a fortune-teller out to a bar.) While I don't propose to know the magical secret combination, I believe that simplifying by removing the need to group through much of the game and tossing kinah around until it floods Atreia are not steps in the right direction -- those are extreme measures. And on any bell-curve, the ends have the least population.
What do you think about the newest changes and the trend towards an easier game? Is the game too easy, too difficult, or just right? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.