Wings Over Atreia: Endgame = end of game?

It happens. All good things must come to an end... except (hopefully) your favorite MMORPG. After all, the whole idea of the MMO is to keep going endlessly, right? To supposedly ever-evolve -- there is no final "win" that concludes the story as in single-player RPGs. However, what do you do when you hit the level cap and have "been there and done that" with everything in game? I guess that's the disadvantage of not having a sandbox; as much I love the graphics and my friends in NCsoft's Aion, there really is just a finite list of things to do.

Now before anyone gets up-in-arms or sneers "I told you so," no, I am not quitting and I haven't given up on the game. I still enjoy it. It just so happens that my mind zeroed in on the topic this week as I logged in over the course a few days and just stared at my screen, wondering what I wanted to do. While I was feeling under the weather a bit (which dampened my endurance and enthusiasm to complete any major dungeons), I started wondering about what there actually is to do in Aion after you reach and sit at maximum level for a while.

For me, the two things that keep me interested in my virtual worlds are the community and friends that I find in game as well as exploring and experiencing new things. One involves the company providing regular content updates; the other allows for player-created content. But once there is nothing left to explore or experience, friends can drift away... so what does that leave? Pondering this subject and watching the community around me actually brought up some expected -- and some not quite expected -- answers.

Join me past the cut to look at different ways Daevas spend their time in Atreia and how they keep their interest sparked.

The most obvious answer to keeping the endgame from becoming the end of the game for players is to continually add more through updates. By updates, I don't mean just large expansions; little snippets are great, they just need to come at a regular pace so that the content remains engaging. Personally, I'd rather see smaller additions more frequently then wait an entire year for new content.

Now, I by no means have a short attention span, but once anyone feels like s/he has experienced everything in a game a hundred times, s/he can't be faulted for starting to feel the pull to explore newer and greener pastures. That's why updates with new content are so vital -- and I don't mean just a new recipe here or a new emote there. Sure, events give you a momentary flicker of something new, but it is a small spark that is extremely short-lived. What games need are slow burning embers that last and last. And last. Basically, routine builds familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt; when we are on auto-pilot in a game and no longer actually experiencing it, our hearts and minds are already shutting off, and then it is not long before our wallets follow suit.

However, even with the best possible schedule, updates can't happen daily. So in between updates (or in the absence of them), players are left to their own devices. And some interesting devices they are.

Goals

The most common activities of endgamers revolve around meeting goals. One friend just got his last piece of eternal Stormwing gear. This is the top PvE equipment in the game, and acquiring a full set is a long and arduous road. His new goal? Now he has set his sights on an eternal crafted headpiece. Other friends are focused on gearing themselves with full PvP gear and are dutifully plugging away at harvesting AP.

I am not sure if I marvel at or admire in some way the people who can log in and dive into an instance night after night after night in their quest for certain rewards. Personally, I can only take so much at a time. I know some players who did Beshmundir Temple twice a day during the December reactivation event with lowered instance timers, and daily otherwise. I also know a couple who did Dark Poeta daily for months to get gear (although I also know a certain sorcerer who got the rare tome on his first -- and only -- run!), to the point they become almost ill just to hear that name.

Goals aren't always about equipping gear; some people take to collecting skins to spice up their outfits with a little variety. See, we need variety! Trying to acquire certain skins can certainly take a good amount of time, either through collecting tokens, running instances, or just scrounging up the kinah to buy them off of someone else. Unfortunately, unless you are one who likes to change your look constantly, this goal has a finite end as well.

Personally, I found creating new challenges to be fun and interesting, such as taking on Udas Temple solo. Unfortunately, you will reach a point when you meet all your goals and have conquered your challenges. Then what?

Alts

One thing you can do is is go back and peruse the content you missed thanks to the ease with which lower-level toons blast through the game now. With the exception of the solo instances Haramel and Kromede's Trial (Taloc's Hollow can be run at max level) or the opposing faction's lands, you can wander your little max-level self around the world to see what there is to see that you missed the first time around. However, if you want to visit these places, you will need to create an alt or five.

People often make alts to experience the game from a slightly different angle. However, in a game like Aion where the content is pretty much identical no matter what you play, there is little new and refreshing about making another class. Sure you may enjoy it more, or you may get a kick out of soloing things you couldn't touch before, but over time even that newness wears off. The other option is to move to a different server and try your hand at the opposing faction. While the classes won't offer much in the way of newness, the lands, the questlines, and other stuff (even clothes) are new and worth experiencing.

Patrols

Speaking of rifting... now you see it, now you don't. By "variety," I don't mean turning features on and off. Such is the case with rifting: One week we have defensive buffs, another week we don't, as new "events" roll around messing with this mechanic. That's not adding new content -- it's taunting your players with a guessing game preying on their vulnerability. A number of players focus on rifting as a way to enjoy variety. After all, isn't each new fight a new experience since we are matching wits against players instead of pre-pathed AI? Well... not exactly. Once you have patrolled enough -- especially at the higher levels -- you seem to see the same folks over and over again. Perhaps the situation changes slightly, but even this area is not immune to becoming repetitive and dull. While I love patrolling, I can't take it daily for hours on end. I need other things as well.

Self-amusement

Careful where your thoughts go here, because we are talking about creating your own content in game. In all, players can find ways to entertain themselves for a time, but that really only lasts so long. If updates are slow in coming or are so minute that the content is experienced in the blink of an eye, the patience of all but the most die-hard and fanatical players' will be taxed. As I fly about Atreia, I notice some of the creative ways players add spark to their game time.

The most obvious entry in this category is roleplay. Although Aion is seriously lacking in tools, this hasn't stopped a number of Daevas from participating in this pastime. They create stories, hold events, and experience the game in a different way to keep themselves interested.

One of the few tools for roleplayers is emotes, even though the emote system is not ideally executed (another plug for turning off forced auto emotes!). Not only that, but the emotes themselves can be a source of entertainment; I have seen players get creative even with these! One friend spontaneously created a game in which he would aim at another player and toss a paper airplane until he could hit said player in the head. It definitely made for an amusing time, although such amusements are naturally short-lived.

I almost shudder to mention this one, as if doing so lends some sort of credibility to their actions: Some people become trolls just to find excitement in their game and lives. They seem to have nothing better to do than bait people in the LFG channel and revel in their responses. Perhaps these are the ones the community wishes would go ahead and move along.

As I see it, games have two options: frequent and in-depth updates or the inclusion of more tools for player-generated content. These options are not mutually exclusive, either. However, if both of these are ignored, players will eventually grow bored and take their business elsewhere, something that no Daeva wants to see. A PvP world that is empty of opponents is a sad, sad world indeed.

So what are your endgame plans? What are you doing with your time now that you've reached your top level (whether it be max-level or lower for rifting), and what do you have planned if you haven't? What is keeping your interest in game? Share with us in the comments below.

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 mj@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.