Wings Over Atreia: And 2.6 came to pass...

Not as heralded as its companions that came before, Aion's patch 2.6 hit North American servers this past Wednesday. But just because it wasn't cool enough for its own name (like Assault on Balaurea or even Empyrean Calling) doesn't mean it is without some goodies of its own. Granted, the patch isn't an Atreia-shattering deluge of content, but as I have stated previously, adding small chunks of content more frequently is better for keeping players interested and engaged in the game. And besides, 2.6 is one step closer to 3.0!

This patch introduced a solo version of the Empyrean Crucible for your crucible-insignia-hording pleasure, a new auto-group feature, some UI changes, a new pet, skill tweaks, and other assorted tidbits. This past weekend I experienced as many aspects of the new patch as I could in order to bring you a peek at life after the patch.

Is Stormwing really easier to beat? Can you really get platinum medals from the pet? How challenging is the Challenge? For the answers to these and more, join me past the break.

To answer that first burning question -- yes, Virginia, there is a... oh wait, sorry. *ahem* Yes, Stormwing is easier to kill; groups are in fact slaying the dragon without even resorting to the loci resurrection method. Great news for everyone (except the soon-to-be-paupers Soul Healers).

A... challenge?

Arguably one of the top additions to Aion in this patch is the introduction of the Crucible Challenge, a solo version of the Empyrean Crucible. The title is a bit of a misnomer, however, as the "Challenge" is actually deceptively easy. Squishy melee (read: Assassin) seems to be the only class that has a harder time of it. Lower levels may also struggle a bit more.

In all, the instance is a quick and easy way to increase your cache of crucible insignia. And despite some rumors to the contrary, you can still get insignias with a kamikaze death run in the group version. Not that any of us would actually ever do that...

Crucible insignias are not the only reason to devote a few minutes a day to the Challenge, however; in the bonus stage, Daevas will have the chance to get their wings on some of the most coveted godstones, such as blind, paralyze, and silence. It is also the only way to obtain the special pet food needed to feed the new pet: the Runaway Poppy. Other than not being a cruel, heartless meany, why feed this particular pet? Because he can poop pretty plats!

Run run run run runaway

OK, OK, so the poppy doesn't actually poop the plats; like the other pets, it actually gives you a gift -- wrapped with a pretty bow and all. And yes, it is true that this gift can contain a platinum medal. Unfortunately, that gift is rare. The good news is that you will not go broke trying to feed this pet until it is full on some expensive vendor food. Instead, it will give you a present each time it is fed, up to 40 presents. The bad news is that you can only get the food (one piece at a time) from the reward chest after successfully completing the bonus round of stage 2 in the Crucible Challenge. So you have 40 chances in a minimum of 40 days to receive a medal.

Poppy snacks come in three varieties: regular, tasty, and nutritious. Each variety offers a different level gift bundle (lesser, regular, and greater, respectively) and each bundle has a random gift. Although rare, the best bet for a medal is most likely from a nutritious snack. Oddly, although poppy's page on the Aion wiki states that rewards include elemental stones and manastones besides the medals, the reward chart does not have any manastones listed. If anyone gets one, please let us know! My first reward: five greater elemental stones.

So how do you adopt one of these possible plat machines? Buy the egg from the vendor in Marchutan Priory (Asmodian) or Kaisinel Academy (Elyos) for 2,010 crucible insignia. And as it turns out, it will not be a one time purchase; if you desire to keep getting gifts after the poppy refuses to eat after 40 feedings, you have to get a new (hungrier) one. And as Daevas cannot own two of the same pet at the same time, you must visit the pet mender and surrender your pet before hatching the new egg. I suppose I shall have to refrain from naming these critters else I may be unable to part with them!

Group, group, baby

Another prominent addition is the new auto group feature. Using this, a Daeva can actually queue up for three separate instances in a Dredgion-style manner. The instances available for the auto group feature are: Nochsana Training Camp, Fire Temple, Steel Rake, Dark Poeta, Upper and Lower Udas Temples, and Empyrean Crucible. Unlike the Dredgion, however, in order to queue up you have to actually visit the entrance of the instance and speak with the NPC or object located there. You can then head out and continue on with whatever else you were doing.

Why use auto group? Besides a chance at avoiding LFG spam, players who use this feature will actually receive a buff called Victory's Pledge once they get into the group. This buff has three slightly ascending levels depending on which instance you join, culminating with Attack +25, Magic Boost +125, HP +680, Healing Boost +50.

There are two ways to use this feature. You can choose new group entry or quick group entry. When choosing a new group, you will form up by pulling together others from the queue (while supposedly ensuring a balance, such as including a cleric). Once the group is completed, the instance offer will pop and the entire group will be teleported to the beginning of their instance. For the quick group, often the quickest way into a group, a Daeva will be placed in a group that has already started the dungeon. This option however, does have limitations: There are time limits imposed on how far into an instance a group can be when a new member is added to prevent joining groups that have progressed too far. These limits are five minutes for FT, 10 minutes for NTC, both Udas temples, and the Crucible, and 20 minutes for DP and SR.

The one aspect I find worrisome is that the ability to invite or remove players is limited. I already have problems with this inability to remove troublesome players in Dredge; why would I want to add that problem to my other instances?

Get yer festivals on

True to form, NCsoft is offering some special events along with the release of the patch. While the Lag Fest -- er, I mean Scorching Heat -- event is (thankfully) over, two new ones are scheduled. From August 3rd through the 17th, Aion will have the Best Days Festival, and from the 17th until the 31st is the Summer Vacation Event.

The Best Days Festival has quests that scale to the level of the character, yet offer the same rewards -- vanity clothing. Each repeat of the quest yields gift that will contain either a sailor suit or matching hat costume item. Unfortunately, the permanent version of these gifts is rare; most rewards will be temporary, lasting either one or seven days.

The Summer Vacation Event encourages Daevas to return to their humble human origins for a break form the stress of being a Daeva. Players can also collect coupons for beachwear and for vacation spending money. There will be three quests available, but two will only be accessible through purchase with these coupons.

About dang time!!!

So there are a few changes rolled out that fall into the category of "What TOOK you so long?!" The crown goes to the change in the Brigadier Indratu campaign quest for Elyos. Most of us fell prey to the horror that was turning in the second-to-last quest only to be instantly teleported to the Abyss Gate for the final quest. Then you could either just sit there until you found a group to finish it with you (must have port!) or you left and had to fight your way though the entire Nute Warrens (after they nerfed Spirit masters' ability to summon inside the Warrens). Now players can decline to go to the Abyss Gate when talking to Perento and save that port for another time. Lemme hear a Hallelujah!

Although not as long-lived of a frustration, the bug in the Empyrean Crucible that caused some monsters to drop out of combat and reset was fixed. Nothing chapped Daevas more than getting to the end of a difficult boss only to have to start over.

Other fixes include the legion warehouse; members who were given the permission to deposit items will now be able to, as well as those with the ability to deposit -- but not withdraw -- kinah will no longer be able to withdraw kinah.

Odd -n- ends

Besides the larger items, other little tidbits were introduced. The following is just a sampling of some little things I have noticed. Some are (aptly) odd.

One, when preparing to use a teleporter or air line, the map will now not only show you all possible flight destinations for the region, but when you mouse-over a specific destination it will show what destinations that teleporter will offer. Not a major inclusion, but nice perhaps for someone who is new and hasn't traveled much yet.

Another inclusion is the addition of your personal status bar to the group window. If you use the top-aligned HUD than it is particularly annoying to have your status placed directly under... your status! At first, I thought this was extremely redundant until I realized that the whole reason I hated the bottom-aligned HUD was because my status bar was not with the rest of the group (hence not watching my own health well). Now those who prefer this HUD option can see all group members together and those who don't can turn the feature off through the options tab.

The camera click sound made when taking a screenshot gets old very quickly, but at least you know when it actually takes instead of watching your chat bar for a message (helpful when the HUD is turned off for the shot).

Obviously there is more to patch 2.6 than I can add in one article, so jump on in and experience it for yourself! Also, join me next week as we take an in-depth look at the Crucible Challenge.

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.