IT'S HERE!!11! OMZG *cue altered cheer emote*

The wait is over. Yes folks, Aion 2.5 Empyrean Calling has finally arrived on the North American servers. And just as they did when 2.0 (Assault on Balaurea) launched, Daevas have been flocking back to check out a shiny new Atreia. My friends list is lighting up with names I haven't seen in... well, longer than I can actually recall!

Only the second Aion update to warrant an actual name, this patch certainly brings some new goodies to the table. While not as extensive as its predecessor, it still offers substance enough for Daevas to really sink their teeth into. But after so much anticipation, did it live up to expectations? Does the fact that I have lost track of my week since last Wednesday say anything? From the new instances to the mentoring system, there is certainly more to do in-game, especially for those who have made it to level cap and endgame.

But don't just take my word for it! In honor of the release, NCsoft is offering another reactivation celebration: For 10 days (beginning at 11:00 a.m. EDT on Friday, June 3rd and running until the same time on Monday, June 13th) any player with an Aion account can log in and experience the changes for herself.

Can't wait until the 3rd for a taste? Barrel roll past the cut to check out my first impressions of Empyrean Calling.
Even though I was able to get a taste on the PTS (I didn't manage to level high enough to see the newest content), my true 2.5 experience didn't occur until I logged in on the 25th with most of the rest of the playerbase. The first thing most folks notice when logging into game is the graphics (assuming they turned advanced graphics on). The graphics are gorgeous, with the gentle waves rolling across the water and brighter, more vibrant colors all around. Some Daevas obviously took advantage of the fee cosmetic surgery ticket offered as once familiar faces took on a whole new look. But looks aren't everything, and NCsoft didn't stop there. With so many things to touch on, I'll save the best for... first:

Heigh ho, heigh ho, off to new instances I go...

OK, raise your hand if you have a character 50+ and didn't swarm one of the new instances on Wednesday? Anyone? Bueller? I thought so. The 25th saw less trolling in LFG as requests for Empyrean Crucible and Esoterrace runs scrolled by endlessly; like most other Daevas, I hooked up with friends and eagerly dived into the two new places.

If you haven't experienced these two instances yet, I would suggest going to Esoterrace first. I did the opposite, which upon reflection made the new fort instance more of a let-down than it needed to be. Don't get me wrong -- Esoterrace was beautiful and great to explore, with new mobs and some added story content, but after the thrill of the Crucible, it seemed too tame and predictable. So to get the most out of it, try the fort instance first.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I have to say that the Empyrean Crucible is a blast! Just having a real challenge in game again is wonderful (not counting the change to Stormwing)! On our first run through we only made it to stage 7 round 2, but we had a great time. Strategy means a lot here, and even with hints, guides, and walk-throughs, you have to be on your toes. One false step can really cripple the team. Selfishness has no place here; teamwork is paramount.

Another great benefit of the Crucible is that like AP gear, the rewards are not at the mercy of the [insert frustrating adjective here] RNG gods. Each run earns you Crucible Insignia, so if you put in the time, you will eventually earn the reward. Rewards include armor and weapons comparable with Beshmundir Temple sets, vanity clothing, and pets. Daevas who always land on the wrong side of the RNG of drops (assuming your group gets drops at all!) can now reliably obtain eternal grade gear. Sure, it will take a while, but it's guaranteed.

Mentor you I will, yeeesss

I have to admit, after experiencing the mentor system on the first day, I was ready to write quite the scathing little blurb on it. My quest was not about actually helping some low Daeva as much as it was getting a reward for conning one into helping me with my quest. You could mentor, do your little task for a few minutes, then leave the youngling high and dry. My first thought was to encourage the lower levels to hold the highbies ransom: "Sure, I can do this task with you, after you help me with something first." I even thought of getting myself an alt and hiring myself out to complete dailies. Pimp my level, eh? However, on the second day I actually got a quest that was geared specifically toward helping someone complete a campaign quest. That was more like it!

There are definitely some advantages to mentoring. Previously, Daevas who wanted to group with or help lower-level friends couldn't because doing so would destroy both XP and drops. Now, this may not be so bad when just trying desperately to get a quest done, but it did take something away from the experience. Now, the mentee will get her drops along with additional XP when mentored, and Daevas whose only reward previously was knowing that they helped another will also receive tangible rewards. Tokens for completing mentoring quests can be turned in for armor, weapons, titles, wings, eternal accessories, a charm to increase drop rates, and even pets. Quests are given as both dailies and weeklies, with each mid-level zone offering three different weekly quests. This means you can rack up quite a few tokens pretty quickly.

And the best news? To join the order to begin mentoring others, you don't have to leave your other organization; you can continue to do daily PvP or PvE quests for those tokens.

Sweating the small stuff

However, it's not all about the big things. While some will always rant that the little things are a waste of developers' time, I disagree; every little bit of polish that helps streamline the game and make things run more smoothly is a plus. With that in mind, the following are just a few little changes that I noted right away, things that may not have a huge impact but are good just the same.

One minor tweak is that one simple word was changed on the instance cool down list. Previously, when you did /checkentry, the wait time was listed as "unavailable" when you did not have a lockout. Now, the devs have appropriately changed that to "none." While it's obviously not a major feature, it does remove some confusion both for new people and those who are rounding off a multi-hour gaming session. Trust me, it is harder to understand things after 30+ hours of no sleep!

Legion cloaks and capes are seriously cool. 'Nuff said!

And then came motions. Daevas can get a taste of the new motions by doing a simple quest (two clicks and you're done) to receive a one-day trial of the ninja movement. Once you buy and learn a motion, you can open your character tab and personalize your run, jump, idle, and rest animations. The main disappointment is that there are only two motions available -- levitate and ninja. Levitate is totally misnamed; it should be dubbed (as one Daeva pointed out) Iron Man boosters. Skater would also fit better. Ninja isn't too bad, except that it appears that the cool flip while standing idle is only available for male characters. BAH!

In order to enjoy the new pet system, every ascended Daeva can now get a quest that rewards him with a pet after clicking two NPCs standing near to each other. Rich and poor alike, every Daeva can now have his own little pink ribbit.

The map. The map not only looks cooler (it is topographical now instead of cartoonish) but also has new functions including a very detailed map filter and zoom feature. The one feature to rule them all? Showing the location of current rifts in the zone, of course! No longer must people spam LFG looking for available rifts; now, just press M and you will find the bright blue swirls showing you exactly where you need to be to infiltrate enemy lands!

Some animations also got a bit of updating, such as falling and flight. The fall animation is great! When you jump off something high, you no longer flail around like a spazmeister; instead, you literally dive down. Flying, however, is not improved. I thought it was great fun to watch my little Asmodian do barrel rolls randomly in the middle of flight -- for about 15 minutes. Then it became annoying and distracting. I would certainly appreciate an option to turn this off or make the barrel roll some key-binding like jump is. As much as it was enjoyable the first time, it is now on my list of "please let me turn this off!" along with the auto emotes.

Speaking of which, I can report that auto emotes have a few changes as well. Oddly enough, the silliness of the pompoms was better than the new fist pump for /cheer. Unfortunately, you are still forced into auto emotes, with their silly animations and text, at inopportune times. Which brings me to my next topic...

Still MIA

Sadly, some things are still missing *cough*housing*cough* from Aion. While some are a large undertaking (see previous coughing fit), I cannot understand why some things are still not present in game. For instance -- let me turn off auto emotes! Floating near the top of my wish list, this may seem like such a little thing, but is a huge annoyance. I swear it will improve game satisfaction if the devs just implement an "off" feature.

Two other examples involves pets. First, the pet minder who hatches pet eggs displays the option to personalize your pet with color. However, though taunting us with the option, this feature is still grayed out and inaccessible. Second, many pets note they prefer a special treat of aether powder biscuits or aether crystal biscuits. However, as of now there still aren't any biscuits anywhere in-game. I think it is particularly evil to state there is a feature yet it's not actually there.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera

While this isn't an exhaustive list (the powers that be may set upon me with hot pokers should I add too many more words to this), I hope this gives you a brief glimpse of Aion's latest patch. I personally found it worthwhile and feel it definitely invigorated the players and gave the game a needed boost. There are more options for things to do and things to work for as well as better mechanics for doing said things with friends. What are your opinions of the newest patch? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

There's also still time to email your crazy experiences of Aion intruding into your real life for inclusion in an upcoming feature! Complete the phrase "You know you have played Aion too much when..." and send it off to mj@massively.com.

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.
MV Guide: May 30 - June 5, 2011