Wings Over Atreia: Much ado about housing

Wings Over Atreia
Although Wings over Atreia has covered Aion's housing before, both in anticipation and right after release, I still encounter some lingering questions and misconceptions regarding this new feature. This point was really brought out during Justin's Leaderboard poll about who had better housing, Aion or EverQuest II. While I laud anything that brings attention to one of my favorite features, and I do realize that the Leaderboard articles are made for a bit of fun, I had some concerns about that specific pair up. However, despite its disadvantages and underdog status, Aion held its own pretty well. Go team Daeva!

To be honest, I admit I was a bit surprised (and pleased) by the fervor with which some fans defended the newcomer to the housing market. Daevas have really embraced this gameplay alternative to hunting and gathering -- just take a look at the bidding wars for prime housing or the recent decorating contest. Aion's housing might be totally new, but it's off to a pretty good to start and will keep getting better.

Aion screenshot
The match-up

One concern with the unbalanced match-up between Aion and EQII housing is that it unfairly paints Aion in a less appealing light than deserved. To pit a heavyweight champion with years of training against a gangly pre-teen would hardly be a fair fight, would it? The same is true for trying to objectively compare EQII's housing system to Aion's. A better comparison might be when the heavyweight launched, not after all the training. Look at two of the best features in EQII housing -- the ability to resize items and move items along the z axis. True, Aion is missing those, but so was EQII in the beginning. Who's to say that said features won't appear in Aion as well?

EQII has also had years to accumulate a massive array of various housing items. And I do mean years! Compare that to Aion; the game has a multitude of items already and 3.0 has only been out six weeks! While there are items to purchase from NPCs, most of them player-crafted; if pickings seemed really sparse in the beginning it's because it took a little bit for crafters to actually level up to create all the goods (seeing as the crafting profession was introduced the same time as the housing). One look on the broker tells you a different story now; it is filled with page after page of rugs, beds, lamps, pictures, cabinets, chairs, couches, candles, windows, and more.

One similarity is that both games reward you with some housing items for completing quests and that some items can be purchased from the cash shop. Of course, Aion's offerings are more limited for the moment, but numerous items have already been added in such a short time and more are undoubtedly on their way.

Aion screenshot
Does size matter?

In either game, housing item limits depend on house size, so obviously having bigger means more opportunity for creativity. EverQuest II definitely wins for having more base item slots in houses. But lest we forget, it was quite a while before that game introduced housing item limit expanders, both the cash shop variety and a player-made one. So who's to say that Aion won't follow suit and offer similar expanders after a time? With the popularity of housing, it would be a profitable venture I am certain. (Do you think if I hint at it enough, they will come?) That's one main motivation to get a larger house right there: more space. Another is living in the open world.

An aspect of Aion housing that appears to be misunderstood is the whole instanced vs. open world housing debate. Unlike EQII, which forces you into instanced housing no matter what the size or where, Aion actually has both kinds: an instanced version available to all Daevas over level 20 as well as limited open-world houses. The instanced condo in Aion is free to get and upkeep; the lack of real or game funds will not prevent anyone from getting a place to call their own. The other game? All houses must be purchased and upkeep paid. There is a small chance that someone can win a rent-free house from EQII's LON card game, but other than that the only rent-free housing must be purchased from the cash shop.

Open world housing is considered by some -- myself included -- to be the best type of housing. Just imagine stepping out your front door, hunting a few mobs or players, gathering some stuff for crafting, then stepping right back in where it's nice and cozy and safe. Besides the housing zones (which are actually equal to other zones and include mobs and gatherables), there is select housing in other game zones such as Heiron and Beluslan. These homes are in very high demand, and not just because of the invulnerability bubble immediately surrounding them! Unfortunately, one of the trade-offs for having open-world housing is the limited availability of houses. After all, once you run out of room, you run out of room. Who really wants to see favorite hunting grounds littered with more houses than foliage?

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Disappearing act

I have clarified this before, but I wanted to emphasize it again because I still run into people who have a few misconceptions about temporary furniture. This one aspect seems to press some kind of panic button in people. Yes, it is true that some items have timers, especially themed things in the BlackCloud Marketplace. All of the storage units I have seen have also been temporary. But the majority of furniture is quite permanent! Permanent as in decorate-with-confidence-that-your-perfect-look-will-not-simply-disappear. All timers are also displayed so it will never be a surprise. An important note is that when your temporary storage disappears, all of your items return automatically to your inventory -- nothing is lost.

Unique characteristics

Even though Aion's housing is still in its infancy, there are some unique features that set it apart from others, even the housing grown-ups.

While I love the fact that you can leave game in EQII and never lose any of your houses or possessions (or even have to pay any past upkeep!), that is a luxury that open-world housing systems cannot enjoy. It wouldn't be fair to have people leave game forever yet the limited houses remain permanently unavailable to the current players. For that reason, the ability to lose your house by not keeping up with maintenance costs is actually a good thing. This is not the unique part of the system, however. Aion, unlike other games, allows players to buy and sell property via auction. This actually gives property resale value. You certainly don't see that anywhere else!

Other unique and fun features include plants that give you and friends items when you tend them, a personal Shugo butler with customizable scripting, and special buff bonuses for each level of house if you log out there. The ability to use the portal in your home to visit the homes of friends no matter where they live is also quite handy. This is less immersive than running there and knocking maybe, but still handy.

Oh, and + 10 to Aion for the ability to sit in chairs and lay on beds! Aion also allows you to place warehouse managers and general good merchants right in your personal home.

Of course there are still disadvantages. Sadly, you can't visit and tour the homes of any friends of the opposing faction in Aion. Boo! Just think of all the creativity you miss! And speaking of creativity...

Aion screenshot
And the winners are...

I applaud NCsoft for sponsoring a decorating contest. Of course, those who love housing and decorating need little encouragement to do so, but by highlighting creativity and showcasing different ideas, it promotes housing. The winners for this (hopefully first of many) contest were announced this past week. The first place winners for each server were: Machinator in Tiamat; Reiyana on Israphel; Awara on Siel; and Jazamax on Kahrun. Each won two 60-day storage cabinets and had their homes featured on the site. Second place and third place winners also had their homes showcased. Congratulations to all of the winners! And to all of you, keep on decorating. I know I'd love to see all of them.

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.