Wings Over Atreia
Perhaps it was a specific alignment of the planets. Possibly it was a special convergence of random unrelated events. Or maybe it's just from poking around old haunts while livestreaming, discussing upcoming launches with friends, or reporting on different aspects of games. Whatever the reason, my mind has been been thinking about Aion in relation to other games quite a bit over the last couple of weeks. I have had many occasions to mull over the features and ponder what makes NCsoft's game the place to be in the face of so many other possibilities.

So why Aion? In the face of a major launch and a plethora of free-to-play offerings, why should Daevas choose to remain or begin adventures in the world of Atreia? Well, you could just say different strokes for different folks and all that, but it's more than that. Aion also has a few unique cards stacked in its favor. In all, I say the game has quite a healthy life still ahead of it. Here's why.

Aion screenshot
Now, before people start accusing me of wearing blinders with my rose-colored glasses, let me say that I already know people are leaving the game. It happens. It's an ebb and flow, a natural occurrence. I watched as a number of friends wandered away before 3.0, only to see some come back with renewed interest after the expansion. I have also watched as more have already been-there/done-that'd the expansion to death and have now lost interest. But that doesn't mean that everyone is leaving or that the game is even remotely dying. Sure, some folks move on, but there are also many new ones joining in and experiencing the game for the first time. So let's focus on why Atreia is still going strong.

Three... two... one... launch!

We've been down this road before. Late last year, a little game from BioWare came out amid grand declarations by the masses that all other games would fail in its shadow. I stood my ground (in a flame retardant suit, mind you) and countered that such declarations were incorrect; I said Aion would endure. And here we are, halfway into the next year, and the world of Atreia is more vibrant than ever. Aion certainly weathered that launch well, grew, and even thrived. So why would I be concerned about another launch? Did you just say, "What launch?"

In case you missed it, we are poised on the brink of a launch that has been anticipated for many years: The Secret World opens its doors to the world tomorrow. Some folks have already been navigating the dark alleys of conspiracies over the weekend. Yet I haven't noticed a marked drop in population. Why? Because TSW and Aion are different worlds that can coexist quite nicely.

Aion screenshotDifferent strokes

The most obvious reason that the two titles can coexist is that they are completely different worlds -- and I don't mean Atreia vs. Earth. The two games are on opposite ends of the spectrum and aren't competing for the same market; people who prefer the playstyle of Aion won't really be tempted away by offerings of The Secret World. To be quite honest, Aion actually has a broader appeal than TSW, which is aimed at more of a niche audience.

In a nutshell, it's just a matter of preference, like chocolate vs. vanilla. You could categorize the difference as themepark vs. sandbox. NCsoft's game holds to the standard class structure and has obvious tangible progression that can be measured by levels; Funcom's, on the other hand, has neither class restrictions nor levels to measure accomplishment by. The former has set skills with little choice, while the latter makes you choose each bit as you go. I'll be the first to admit that sometimes too many choices can be crippling when I want to just log in and play (I am insanely decisionally challenged).

Quests are another area where they differ. Aion has quests that are thoroughly laid out with objectives marked on the map, whereas TSW has many quests that involve solving puzzles and deciphering clues just to move ahead. In fact, I have heard this very feature is one some folks dislike the most. Let's face it: Sometimes people want to just sit back and relax when they log into an MMO, letting their minds switch into a lower gear while they unwind; they just don't feel like studying things intensely as if working a second job. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, either -- it's just a playstyle.

In spite of these fundamental differences, there is still crossover between the games. Both have PvP, for example, but it's all the other aspects that set the games apart from one another. In fact, the games are so different that gamers could easily play both to meet their gaming needs.

I can fly, I can fly...

What's one of the most unique cards Aion has in its deck? If you don't have the Peter Pan song floating through your head yet, let me get you started: I can fly! The answer really is short and sweet: flight. Sure, it's limited at times, but dagnabbit, I CAN FLY! More times than I care to admit, I still try to spread my wings and glide while poking around other games. (It never works, by the way -- for the real thing, I have to get back in Aion!)

Aion screenshotTruly Free, the ace up the sleeve

Why else might some people skip newly launching games in favor of Aion? Well, to be blunt, I know some folks are no longer interested in the subscription model. I don't personally have anything against paying to support a game I play regularly (in fact, I believe folks really should!), and I have no qualms with paying subs, but part of the world has moved on to the free-to-play model and isn't looking back. It's the whole preference thing again.

But even among F2P models, Aion has the advantage. I have said it many times in streams, in Wings over Atreia, and just about everywhere else (I think I even mentioned it in church!): Aion has the best free-to-play model out there. It does. And that point was really driven home when when I tried my hand at one of my old games again, Age of Conan. Basically, people can have the entire game of Aion for free -- no strings, no barriers, no catches. It was a bit shocking to check out AoC again and find myself so restricted. It really put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm to check things out, and in some cases, the model totally prevented me from doing so. I mean, restrictions are fine if you are only popping in to look around, but they severely cramp any serious gaming.

NCsoft's Truly Free approach benefits everyone by boosting the population. It draws new folks in, giving the game's features a chance to hook them into staying. It also allows folks the chance to hop back at any time to check out their favorite winged personas and be hooked right back into playing. The ability to try it risk free or return at any time gives Aion a leg up on some of the competition. Sub-based models ask us to weigh whether it's really worth it to re-up, thereby passing up any chance to get us to reconnect.

Some people still erroneously believe that going free-to-play is an admission of hemorrhaging revenue and impending death. Don't you believe it! When players didn't think twice about adding extra accounts to introduce spies into opposing factions, why would they blink at shelling out some dough in the BlackCloud Marketplace to get items to boost their gaming experience? And what about players who'd spend hours and hours, even days, working toward getting a single fluff item from an event? How many wouldn't take the easy route and grab it from the store instead? No, free-to-play doesn't automatically spell doom. In Aion's case, it's been rejuvenating.

Here to stay

So even in the face of impending launches in an already broad field of gaming choices, Aion isn't going anywhere. New games are always going to be coming out, but that doesn't necessarily spell doom-and-gloom for older games. Sometimes older games have more going for them. They may simply cater to different markets or provide a better deal. Or they may just be where we have made our permanent home.

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.