Wings Over Atreia: TORn away

Wings Over Atreia header
*suits up in full firefighters gear* Alrighty, now I am ready!

The topic for this week's Wings Over Atreia presented itself when I logged into Aion at prime-time on Thursday night and found the very odd occurrence of both an empty legion list and an empty friends list. Considering how full the latter is (plug for larger lists here), I've never seen both be completely empty simultaneously, even when I pop in during my odd super-late hours. While I saw some life over the rest of the weekend, overall numbers stayed pretty low, even during the hours of the new arena instances. To what do I attribute this? In some cases it was the usual attack of the Real Life (tm) that got ahold of people, but two extra factors contributed to the population insta-decline: the release of Skyrim and more weekend beta invites from Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Now in the case of Skyrim, it can't be helped (but maybe we can have a little spacing between the release of so many games?!). We know that once the game is played through, people will wander back to their MMOs. TOR, however, is another matter: Besides the shininess of of a new game and the fact that it is both Star Wars-based and made by BioWare, does Aion have a future of vast, empty lands to look forward to at the release of the latest OMG-it's-the-second-coming-of-games title? Some are certainly screaming doom-and-gloom, but we hear that from dissenters about nearly every little thing. Is it possible that there is room enough for both games to survive after the initial hype has passed?

*checks and readjusts all gear again* Come on and join me past the cut for some thoughts on the matter.

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Before we delve any further, please note that this article is not going to be a play-by-play comparison of game features. Go ahead and ignite those flamethrowers or burn me in effigy, but I cannot really comment on features of a game that hasn't been released yet. In my opinion, feature lists are all speculative until a game is out and proves it has what it claims. And no, checking it out beta pre-NDA lift (which I haven't done and wouldn't tell you if I did anyways!) doesn't count. I will offer a comparison at a later date, once I have actually stepped in and experienced the game myself.

Yes, I did just admit that I will be testing the waters of TOR; once the devs mentioned the combination of my two most favorite abilities, I knew I'd give it a whirl. Mmmmm... healing and stealth -- like chocolate and peanut butter, two great gaming tastes that taste great together! Not to mention that I game alongside someone who has an almost insatiable need to sample every possible game that comes by, just to see.

So now to explore the topic at hand: Will Aion experience death throes as the doom-and-gloomers gleefully shout out at every turn come mid-December?

Aion screenshotAnother one doesn't bite the dust

I fully admit that upon release of TOR, pretty much all games -- including Aion -- will see a drop in participation. It is the nature of many gamers to run off after the latest shiny and check out what's new. Many studios even make efforts to mitigate this phenomena by offering new content or their own expansions around the time of a major title's release. However, even among those who head out to try the latest game, there are many who always keep one foot planted firmly in their main game or soon return after the seductive newness wears off of the other. As for those who move on, many in that group tend to do that no matter what, always moving on to supposedly greener pixels. However, that drop in population is not necessarily permanent nor will it kill the game. In fact, I doubt it will.

Believe what you will, but I have heard from people (yes, more than a handful!) who have zero desire to try SWTOR. I have also heard plenty of others express some interest in checking it out yet have also declared that they will not let their Aion subs lapse because they plan to remain. Reasons for leaving are at times the same reasons for staying: friends, legion, aesthetics, and genre.

Aion screenshotWanderlust

Another reason for heading on over to another galaxy far, far away is that friends or legions are trying it out. I know some legions have already made the declaration that they are moving en masse into the new game. If truth be told, I am not going to miss some of those legions and counter that the overall game experience in Aion will be better for their departure. Conversely, I know legions that are staying as well as players who are content to remain in Atreia with friends.

While both games have a strong focus on faction PvP, for those who are mild to extreme Star Wars fans (or even just prefer a science fiction setting), the decision to move on is natural. On the flip side, there are gaming geeks who are not Star Wars fans or who prefer a fantasy setting. For these gamers, TOR doesn't have any particular pull other than being new. Sure, those players may also test-run the game to check out the new features and compare the games. But some people just would rather play in a particular genre or setting, and those who prefer fantasy will be sticking with Aion in the long run.

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Atreia sweet Atreia

The world of Atreia also has a few things going for it to bolster retention. One is the aesthetics -- there is no denying that Aion has some of the most beautiful graphics. Even those who do not particularly like the style concede this point. Aion also has extensive customization, which is a draw to many gamers.

There is also the fact that some people have invested a lot of time and effort into Aion and have created binds that tie them to the game. Call me crazy, but I think there are players who do not have the tendency to gamehop and prefer to remain settled where they have built themselves up. After spending so much time getting that AP for Abyss gear or running Beshmundir Temple for Stormwing gear, some have no interest in walking away and starting over.

Aion screenshotThere and back again

Overall, Aion is most likely losing population. Is that a bad thing? I propose that it may not be; besides getting rid of some griefers, which would just make the world such a better place, think of having a better chance of obtaining a great house! I have also seen more new players coming into Aion lately. NCsoft has been adding content at an increasing pace, so there are many features to look forward to.

Despite those who are already sounding the death knell, I think Aion will not only weather the release of SWTOR but improve even more as it competes for players. Personally, I'm thinking that if the release of a new game weeds the whiners and complainers out of my game, I'm all for it! I don't begrudge those who leave; after all, gaming is about having having fun, so players should move to where they have fun. While some are sure to be torn away temporarily, I have seen many times that they come right back. For me? I have enough in Atreia to keep me going for quite a long while -- goals to be met, friends to hang out with, and a house to get!!

What about you? If you play Aion now, will you be testing out the new and shiny, sticking with Aion exclusively, diving in TOR headfirst without looking back, or something different? Let me know your plans and what you think in the comments below. And speaking of leaving comments...

Aion screenshotWhat do you want to see?

On an unrelated note, I have a question for you, the readers. Now that the initial sacrifice to satisfy the Laws of Murphy has been made, I'd like to continue streaming Aion content. What would you like to see next? Do you want to take a gander at lower-level dungeons like the Fire Temple or Nochsana Training Camp, peek into solo instances like Kromede's Trial or Taloc's Hollow, tour through the lands, or watch as I rift or PvP in the Abyss and Balaurea? Take part in the poll and cast your vote to determine what content we go through together! Make your choice quickly because the poll is only up for a short time (to make it into next week's livestream line-up!). Is your choice not listed? Leave any suggestions or comments below as to what you want to see.
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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.