Wings Over Atreia: Fulfilling the need for speed with Aion 3.1

Wings Over Atreia
It's all in the numbers: 1.9, 2.0, 2.6, 2.7, and of course, 3.0. No, these aren't digits hidden in a mathematician's fortune cookie; they are all popular patches in Aion. In the case of a few of them, they wore big-patch pants and got their own name. Two of those were even heralded as expansions. So what about the latest update to hit Aion's North American servers? Is 3.1 a lucky number?

I know, I know. Usually I am regaling you with facts about upcoming patches far in advance and drooling over things to come. This time, however, the patch kind of sneaked up on me. I swear I didn't fall asleep at the launchpad; this patch just wasn't as hyped as its predecessors. But less hype does not equal lack of goodies. Just like 2.7, which followed Empyrean Calling, 3.1 might not have a spiffy name besides its numeric moniker, but it does have some spiffy stuff. Enough stuff, in fact, that I'll have to spend more than one week sharing the goodness. Today, Wings Over Atreia's inaugural look at 3.1 focuses on that first change that caught my eye and even made me do a double-take: the Fast-Track server.

Aion screenshot
Life in the fast lane

Remember when you loaded into one of the PvP-free lower zones and found it crawling with so many Daevas that you couldn't take two steps without tripping over someone, let alone get anything done? Back then you used the "Go to Channel" function to load into another (hopefully less-crowded) instance of the zone. Well, take that feature and flip it! If the land seems a bit too sparse for finding a group for your leveling needs, you can now join with Daevas from all other servers on the new Fast-Track server. Oh, but there is much more to this new feature than just that. Think fast, safe, PvP-free leveling.

If you thought leveling was way easier before (and trust me, it really was), you are going to start sleeping through the process now. The new Fast-Track server is designed for precisely that: fast leveling. Not only is there a much broader available pool of Daevas to group with, but XP for both hunting and gathering is permanently doubled. I think I just found a good use for all those Berdin's Amulets I have been hoarding...

But wait, that's not all! This one's for all those who couldn't complete tasks because of repeated heavy interference by enemies. It's even for those who just whined and complained about the presence of PvP in a PvPvE game. And it's for people who just want to gather in peace. For all who wanted the option to level without having PvP forced upon them, this change is for you! The second biggest feature of this new server (or first, depending on your priorities) is the fact that rifts don't exist, giving Daevas an environment devoid of PvP to explore, complete quests, and dive into dungeons. Now folks can literally choose to experience Aion completely PvP-free up to the level 50.

Aion screenshotYes, but...

Now before you pack your bags and try to move permanently to the new express-XP server, understand that it is not a permanent, stand-alone, full service server. Think of it as a drive-through. You do get a faster, safer leveling experience, but it comes at a cost. I've already mentioned that Fast-Track is only for characters up to level 50. But that restriction is not the half of it; this leveling server was not meant to replace home servers but rather just to provide an alternative XP experience. The Fast-Track server has a multitude of other restrictions.

For one, only the under-50 zones are available. That means no Balaurea, no capital cities, and no Abyss. Experience cannot be gained past level 50 in these areas, so there is no getting to max level without venturing into the PvP-enabled regions. Other restrictions: you can't send any mail, although you can read it; there is no trade (except for the short time allowed on certain items when grouping); you can't teleport to your house; and you cannot block anyone or add anyone to your friends list. Another thing missing from the speed-leveling server is mentoring. If you want to do those quests and get the boost from power leveling, you must remain on your home server. Also, if you want to sell all that new loot you are gathering or buy new gear, you have to head back home since there is no broker and personal stores do not work.

What you can do is play through the content of Ishalgen, Altgard, Morheim, and Beluslan in Asmodae and Poeta, Verteron, Eltnen, and Heiron in Elysea. You can join groups, alliances, or leagues even if you are currently a member of one on the standard server. You can also bind to an obelisk or kisk without losing your bind on the standard server. Most of the dungeon instances of the eight zones are available on the Fast-Track server, with the exception of Dark Poeta.

Beam me over, Scotty

If this all sounds too good to be true, whether it be for the IV-drip of XP, the anticipated added population, or the ability to dodge PvP, then head on over and check the server out. Just go to "Go to Channel" on your menu bar and then select Fast-Track Server. Be sure you use this function while you're in one of the zones supported by the server or it won't work. You will then appear in the same exact spot in the new zone as the one you switched from. You can easily move back to your home server at any time using the same function except choosing Standard Server instead. You can move between servers at will as long as you meet the requirements, so even die-hard Daevas can escape to a PvP-free zone to finish up a particularly troubling task they just can't get past due to enemy presence.

Aion screenshot
Good, bad, or ugly?

Now for the hard question: Is this move good for Aion over all or bad? I admit, I didn't actually see this change coming, especially given the strong emphasis of the game on PvP. But not anticipating it doesn't make it bad. And just being in a patch does not mean it's good.

I know the folks who wanted Aion to morph into a purely PvE game will be quite happy and feel as if they've won. However, I think they might be missing the point. Not only does this new feature give players a bit more freedom and choice in their gaming experience, but the change actually seems geared toward rushing folks to the new areas of Balaurea andend game on the regular servers -- toward PvP. You simply cannot experience the two major expansions without encountering PvP.

Also, I can't help but think this move is pointing to the fact that even more content is coming sooner rather than later. NCsoft has often added bonuses into the game to help folks get to the newest content quicker. The company knows that pretty much everyone wants to see the cool new goodies, but since expansions lock new lands behind a level curtain, many folks have to wait a long time before they can experience it. Now, that wait can be significantly shorter.

Aion screenshotMy concern is actually that the population of the home servers will dwindle in these areas served by the Fast-Track server. Will everyone abandon the standard areas and make it even harder for folks who want to level up the old-fashioned way -- always glancing over their shoulder? Those who like PvP will undoubtedly enjoy the fact that with the implementation of the new server, all rifting buffs have been removed from the standard ones (which makes perfect sense since PvP is now 100% player choice at these levels), but will there be any targets available when rifting? Will there still be the thrill of succeeding even in the face of enemy opposition? And what, pray-tell, will people be like in PvP when they reach it at level 51 without ever having experienced it before? That's not exactly a group I feel confident being in.

I personally hope that people utilize the server, but not exclusively. I am not the biggest fan of PvP. I have had days when I just didn't want to be bothered by it, and I've had my share of quests I couldn't complete as I wanted to because of red-names killing me. But I would truly hate to see the standard servers die off at these lower levels. Sometimes I do like to rift and feel that rush that comes from evading the enemy or participating in an epic fight. I enjoy running to the aid of my fellow compatriots. Losing this would lose a huge part of what makes Aion, Aion.

My hope is that the new server gives more folks a chance to be hooked into the game and not chased away by PvP at the lower levels but without sacrificing the game itself. The entire mythos of Aion is bound in the conflict between the races... it would be sad to lose this history. There are PvP games and there are PvE games, but I'd hate to see Aion lose its distinct PvPvE combination.

What do you think about this new feature? Are you ecstatic and now willing to play more and bring all your friends, or do you think it spells doom for the game you love? Or maybe your thoughts are like mine -- somewhere in the middle. Share your opinions in the comments below and then join me next week as we check out more 3.1.

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.