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Wings Over Atreia: In praise of double XP

Jef Reahard

In honor of yet another NCSoft double experience weekend, I had originally planned on composing a sonnet. Maybe a haiku or something in iambic pentameter praising the merits of increased experience gain. Alas, I've been too busy gobbling it up and spreading it amongst my Atreian alt army, so this column will have to do.

Aion is a curious game, one in which my interest/exasperation level fluctuates wildly from one week to the next. Almost invariably during one of my down periods, there's NCSoft beckoning to me from a darkened street corner, flashing a bag of double XP and making me an offer I can't refuse. Or can I?

No, no I can't refuse, and yes that was a cheap gimmick to get you to hit the jump. Chalk it up to the mischievous euphoria of double XP and I promise it won't happen again. In any event, this past weekend I got half a level on my sorcerer, two levels on my spiritmaster, and three on my little baby chanter, in addition to a handful of alchemy crafting dings.

The question of the day is why this carrot chasing matters, particularly to a player like me. I originally came to MMORPGs because of their virtual world tendencies. I started with Ultima Online, moved to Anarchy Online while laughing at the poor sods treadmilling their lives away in EverGrind before finally graduating to the sandbox of Star Wars Galaxies and enjoying the heck out of it until its well-documented implosion. Since then I've bounced around to every pay-to-play title in existence, quietly lamenting the rise of the themepark and the associated stonings of virtual world enthusiasts who don't care for Second Life.

Yet here I am playing (perhaps even addicted to) Aion, a quintessential theme park grinder. Do I like the game? That depends on what day you ask, what character I'm playing, and what zone he's currently calling home. Aion's early levels are an absolute blast. Even though I've run through Poeta and Verteron nigh on twenty times at this point, I still enjoy the quest chains, the atmosphere, and especially on weekends like this, the rapid fire dings. Levels 20-30 are similarly enjoyable. Though the pace slows noticeably, there are more and larger zones to explore, rifting fun to be had, and spiffy new abilities for your avatar. Levels 35-40 are a chore, even with a group of reliable friends I find myself dreading the day my Chanter hits his mid thirties because, honestly, that will probably be the last time I see him. Over 40 and I'm basically not looking to log in unless double XP is on, which is probably why my sorcerer has hovered around 41 for the better part of six weeks.

A burned out 38 is just as quit as a bored 50, as further subscription revenue will not be forthcoming from either.

Clearly I'm not alone in this regard; many of you have commented in previous columns about Aion's grind, and barely a day goes by without someone raising the grind-related white flag on the official forums or Aion Source. The question I have for NCSoft is a simple one: why? Why are you putting on these regular double XP weekends when you could easily flip the switch and make it permanent? Why are you refusing to acknowledge the fact that Atreia appeals to many Western players but for the hellacious mid to high level grind? What have you got to lose by making increased XP gain a permanent feature of the game?

Yes, there's not much to do at end game, so you run the risk of people blowing through the levels, getting bored, and quitting. How is that any different than having them quit in their 30s? A burned-out 38 is just as quit as a bored 50, as further subscription revenue will not be forthcoming from either.

Anyhow, regardless of what NCSoft chooses to do (or not do) about the game's grind, the fact remains that parts of Aion are extremely enjoyable. It's just a shame that you have to hit a huge brick wall as you near the end. It's also disheartening that NCSoft has announced an upcoming level cap raise (currently slated for 55), ostensibly to give grinding fans some more numbers to watch and additional time on the treadmill. It says here they should take a page out of Funcom's play book and expand laterally (you know, with more content instead of more levels) rather than vertically.

In any event, I'll keep being patient with Aion, as there is a lot to love about the game world, the rifting PvP, and the slickly streamlined combat. That said, it'd be nice if grind fans and grind devs would simply go away, or at the very least migrate to a game that is expressly designed with their mentality in mind. At the end of the day, double XP should really be renamed double-edged sword XP, as it does make the game's ludicrous high level grind more palatable, but it also completely destroys any will to get to end game when it is turned off.

Look! Up in the air! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a snarky Daeva! Join Jef Reahard every Monday for news and views from the world of Aion. Whether he's soaring over the battlefield or hunkered down in the trenches, Jef is your combat correspondent in the world of Atreia.

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