Ah, it was just the grammar police. Yes, I know that technically it should be the 25th, but that really doesn't have the catchy ring to it. And who doesn't want a catchy title? Luckily, I was let off with just a warning this time. So back to our topic at hand!
This past week, before Aion's public test server reopened its doors to the masses, Massively had the opportunity to explore patch 2.5 right at NCsoft's PR offices in San Francisco (*cries for having moved to the East Coast*) -- diving into the new content, enjoying the graphical upgrades, and even asking a few questions about what's still to come.
Our very own Bree Royce donned some leather, grabbed a bow, and descended upon the new instances -- Esoterrace and Empyrean Crucible -- to get a taste and share some hints about these new fights. Catch a windstream past the break to check out her impressions as well as some other interesting tidbits about what is in store for Daevas in Aion's upcoming patch, Empyrean Calling.
The first steps into Atreia elicited the comment, "Screenshots do not do it justice." The beauty is obvious; the world is more vibrant, with richer colors. Even the water graphics are improved. Bree was impressed with the beauty of the game. To see it, be sure to go into Graphic Options and select High Quality for Graphics Engine (the default will leave you wondering what the fuss is about).
But the tour wasn't just for sight-seeing. Instead, our intrepid explorer got a crash-course in level 50+ Ranger-ness (including a warning to not hit return in the middle of the battle, as even the devs had no idea where she might be bound, simply saying, "it's probably not somewhere good"!) before the group dived into the two new instances. Joining her for the battle, mayhem, and general tomfoolery were: Sean Orlikowski, Game Guide Writer; Adam Christensen, Producer, and Scott Hannus, Game Guide Lead. Even before battles began, she demonstrated nerves of steel; after all, I know I would have been pretty nervous grouping with the devs! However, that does give me an idea... I mean, how many Daevas have had a passing thought of meeting (if not burning desire to meet) a dev across the battlefield? Can you imagine the intensity the PvP would take on if there were a "Hunt a Dev Day"? I think I will suggest that for the next GM-sponsored event!
Empyrean Crucible: The first instance ventured into was the Empyrean Crucible (previously referred to as Academy Bootcamp); with its 10 stages of five rounds each, clearing this instance typically takes an average group two hours. It is a trial of endurance.
What can a Daeva expect once inside the Crucible? An ever-changing environment, minigames in between some stages offering unique rewards, and adds. A whole lot of adds. While you can pause at some points (it auto-pauses after the fifth round), some rounds will start while others are still going, depending on how fast -- or more specifically, slow -- you are killing.
As always, Wings Over Atreia tries to provide some hints to help fellow Daevas. The first is this: It is important to note that resurrection spells do not work inside the Crucible. If you die, you are ported into the ready room and can only rejoin the battle if you grabbed a worthiness ticket (or 10) from the boxes before fighting. If you do not have one, or have already used what you had, you must wait until the end of stage three or stage six when new tickets will spawn in the ready room. These will allow you back in -- assuming your companions can last that long without you!
The second hint is specifically about "the big pooping root" (this was a direct quote from Sean!). While you are attacking this giant root as it flies about the room, be sure to not kill him too fast! If you do, he will stop dropping the little pooplings (again, not my words!); kill these pooplings and gather up the loot.
Each stage gets progressively harder; if you feel bored in the beginning, do not despair -- it starts getting more interesting in the fourth stage. Then, in the fifth stage, you start facing off against different bosses from throughout Atreia, such as Brass Eyed Grogget, Takun and Gorjira, and even that giant barrel-riding Shulak in Steel Rake. Near the end, you will be introduced to a well-known Atreian celebrity (keep reading to learn which!). However, the bosses are variable, and different trips into the Crucible could yield different foes. You also have the opportunity to fight your skill trainers and the stigma master. And to keep you on your toes, the final boss utilizes different elemental abilities depending on which of his four faces he is showing.
A new mechanic being introduced to the game has close ties to the Crucible -- conditioning. With items collected mostly from this instance, Daevas can imbue certain weapons and armor with temporary attributes. This is an added incentive for people who already have high-level gear. Another piece of (fluff) gear found in this instance is the collection of rare yet popular spirit hats.
While currently you can only enter this instance if you're grouped, the final exciting tidbit is that NCsoft is adding a solo Empyrean Crucible in the 2.6 patch.
Esoterrace: This instance-formally-known-as-Araka is basically your typical hack-and-slash dungeon that also adds depth to the lore of Atreia. Esoterrace is the dredgion refueling station (here's hoping it's not like BP). Just like they can in Udas Temple, Daevas can earn Abyss Points simply by killing the mobs within this instance. Also available from loot chests are rewards of AP items such as relics and crowns as well as platinum medals. As standard fare, bosses will have a chance to drop PvE armor.
To access this instance, the faction a Daeva belongs to needs only to own one of the two fortresses in its Balaurea zone; the entry point will be within the fortress.
Putting your best face forward
When describing what Aion does very well, the first and foremost feature mentioned was character customization. As Sean Orlikowski stated, "Aion is absolutely amazing with the amount you can tweak your character; you can make pretty much any kind of facial features you want. You can make amazingly beautiful characters. You can make amazingly ugly characters." To illustrate the depth of the customization, he continued by saying, "We are capable of mimicking people's faces... when 2.0 launched, we had the Wonder Girls come over from Korea and the devs were able to recreate their faces so that their characters in-game could be accurate representations."
Empyrean Calling is expanding on this by adding more customization features, from color sliders and facial expressions at creation (to allow for more anime and hyper-realistic styles) to emotions you can purchase. These emotions allow you to change your character's animations, both for movement and combat. For instance, you can attack like a ninja and levitate while you run, or vice versa. if you would like this customization, however, be sure to have deep pockets. On the test server, each emotion costs a cool 12 million kinah.
Fans' two kinah
If you don't think the community has an impact on the game, think again. You truly never know when your voice will be heard and your idea will influence the the game. If you don't believe me, just check out these following tidbits:
The pet that loots was created because of direct feedback from one of the payers here in North America. When the audience at PAX 2010 was asked what its members wanted to see in game, one player stood up and suggested a pet that could pick up loot. As quick as that, this idea began its development on the plane ride after the convention.
As promised, I also said I would reveal one of the end bosses that Daevas will encounter in the Empyrean Crucible; high-level Elyos will come face-to-face with a deadly menace from the past -- the true Crab Norris, larger than life, whose presence is a tribute to the community as a whole. If that weren't enough, the dev team has also actually named the testing guild after the over-sized dinner entree.
I can even say that yours truly was able to influence one small piece of Aion; initially, to get rid of a particular pet you would go to the pet minder and abandon it. Considering that those who enjoyed pets might find that term a bit cruel, I suggested different terminology. Although my main suggestion release was not used, the final choice of surrender is much kinder. So you truly never know when your ideas and input can turn up inside the game we all enjoy.
Inquiring minds wanna know
After the hands-on demonstration, there was some time for a few questions, so Massively took the opportunity to gain some clarification and touch on some of the rumors that have been bouncing about through the playerbase.
- For anyone who has wondered about the security measure that was implemented last December, the news it good: The new pin number system "has cut down hacked accounts by 75% -- it's been pretty effective."
- Since the release of the Visions of the Future trailer, housing has been a much-anticipated feature. Your eyes did not deceive you; the sneak peek of 3.0 at the end of the 2.5 trailer does show player housing! Housing is definitely planned for 3.0. Another bonus is the addition of crafting stations outside of Sanctum and Pandaemonium.
- With the introduction of level 55 eternal AP items, Daevas are going to be clamoring for even more platinum medals. Unfortunately, other than drops from the new instance, no new ways of obtaining platinum medals were unveiled.
- Regarding the new bundle relic exchange NPCs that will be in Inggison and Gelkmaros -- turning in bundles will be faster, but no larger reward is offered for a stack. In fact, the AP will be the same as if turning them in at Teminon Landing or Primum in Reshanta and less than if turning them in at the Core. And I'm really sorry folks -- there is no chance of major ancient crowns' becoming stackable like other AP items. I tried, though!
- You can't play Aion without hearing some whispers of a nerf coming to the practice of selling loot rights. From the horses' mouths: Selling loot rights is not a rules violation. Basically, players will not be supported if they get swindled. However, there are changes in 2.5 that will affect this by offering a different way to obtain certain loot. Chests will drop off of some bosses in Steel Rake and Fire Temple; players will roll on the chest, and what you find inside will actually depend on what class opens it -- a Chanter will get a Chanter item, a Templar will get a Templar item, etc. This ensures that the loot will be useful to someone actually in the party.
- Another common rumor circulating is that Stormwing in Beshmundir Temple will become easier to fight in order to do away with groups utilizing the loci resurrection method. The official word on this? The loci method is, and I do quote, "a creative use of in-game mechanics."
And finally, yes -- all active characters will be given a free plastic surgery ticket. A new look for a new start.NCsoft has clarified this point: Each account gets one ticket per server. Meaning only one character per server per account will get a plastic surgery ticket.
Believe it or not, the devs do play the game they work on. In fact, they appear to have quite a bit of fun doing so. In that vein, I just want to leave you with some of the entertaining quips during this hands-on experience:
- "Did I miss anyone? Is anyone not here?" "Me, the healer... nobody important."
- "Bree, kiting like a champ!"
- "Angry cats, angry flowers -- a lot of angry things here." (regarding the Empyrean Crucible).
- "If you'd spend as much time fighting as you did looting... " "Everyone knows the loot is better when you loot in combat -- it's like the golden rule of MMOs, I'm sure."
- "... so healing is a little foreign to me." (Sean, when discussing his DPS-specced Cleric).
Has Aion collided with your real life? Share those [insert catchy adjective here] experiences by completing the phrase "You know you have played Aion too much when...". Keep emailing those to email@example.com -- I look forward to showcasing you in an upcoming feature!
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.