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Wings Over Atreia: Conquering the level grind

MJ Guthrie

So what's a girl like you doing in a grind like this?

I can't tell you how many times a variation of this line has been lobbed my way regarding Aion. Hi everyone! I'm MJ and I have taken the Aion torch from Jef as he has moved over to cover EQII. I am looking forward to soaring through the Aionosphere with you.

If you haven't heard about the loudest gripe ringing out over Atreia, please let me know what rock you've been hiding under lately so I can join you; even people who can't distinguish Aion from linguine seem to have this answer down pat! OK, all together now -- THE GRIND. We all know it, we all live it, and some have lost their remaining scraps of sanity due to it. Those who made it to level 35 still have the brick prints on their foreheads from slamming into that wall. Those who braved to 40+? Well, their foreheads are a bit squishy from repeated slamming.

But no more! I am here to tell you that Aion has effectively taken a stick of dynamite to that wall by implementing the new repeatable quests. In fact, this noted anti-grinder was eagerly diving into them, in a dizzying comma of "just a few more." Earlier, we told you about a guide available for the "who" and the "where," but I am going to share the "why" and the "how," with tips to best maximize these juicy treasures of experience-hoarding goodness. Revel again in the feeling of progress!

Don't believe me? Glide past the cut to see how you, too, can thumb your nose at the charred remains of the leveling brick wall.

All games are grind of some sort; there is no escaping it. One of the greatest problems comes when people no longer see any progress. Yes, there may be some awesome shiny waiting for you at the end of a long, arduous journey, but human behaviorists will tell you that some far-off reward in the distance doesn't cut it. You need to set small goals and see actual progress in order to be motivated to reach a larger, long-term goal. Basically, you can only hold the little carrot out so long before people conclude it is unreachable and give up -- or die of starvation. So give them a nibble here and there to keep their mouths watering and energy up.

This is where Aion previously failed. People enjoy the early levels not just because progression is faster, but because there is noticeable progression. When you hit higher levels, you begin to feel you have a better chance of winning the lottery in Kazakhstan than seeing that bubble on your XP bar fill up. How disheartening. Other aspects of the game that were once enjoyable are soon forgotten as the drudgery and desperation of leveling settles in. When people lose hope of progress, they lose enjoyment of the game. Lose that, and the game loses its player base. Luckily, NCsoft has finally made some progress here.

When 1.9 first rolled along with the promise of new quests, I was optimistic. Then, as I approached all the new blue arrows cluttering my screen, I found that they were mostly repeatable. At this point, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Figures, they'd say many new quests, but count ONE quest that you can do 10 times as 'many'!" With very few exceptions, the initial quest and its accompanying reward is acceptable, but the subsequent offerings are not. So, like many, I do only the first, then move along before I am lulled into a coma of sheer boredom. Grumbling about the lazy devs, I left.

Boy, did I misjudge this time. And am I ever glad I took a second look!

Heiron -- or heroin?

Taking a second look, I peruse one new repeatable quest and notice it wants me to gather five little crystals and bring them back for... what's this? Two million experience? Definitely an improvement in reward -- one yummy little bite of carrot. Willing to do any quest once, I snap it up, slip on over, stab a few earth spirits in the back, and bring back those crystals. Pleased at slapping more than a sliver of blue on that experience bar, I happen to glance at the second offering of the quest. Almost 1.9 million XP you say? Blinking, then rubbing my eyes, I check again.

The quest still offered the reward -- I wasn't actually sleeping at my desk and dreaming. I quickly snag it and run back to kill more spirits. So the stones I needed didn't drop off every mob, and I had to kill seven instead of five. Sprinting back, I dump them in the quest-giver's lap, then head out for another run. Each run took less than 10 minutes, and despite the fact I refused to ever grind before and avoided all drudgery, I could not go to bed until all of these quests were completed. Addiction seems too mild a word for this. Giddy and driven, I pressed on while smiling! In all, for less than 90 minutes of work, I sat with nearly 20 million experience points filling up a good share of my bar -- from one quest.

In Heiron, the two areas I focused on were Changarnerk's campsite and Jeiaparan Village. However, each little quest hub has its own version of repeatable quests. Wherever you are currently poking about, check them out. And don't be afraid to go back and do some at the last hub -- they have rewards awesome enough that I dropped down and revisited Arbalou's Haven and the little outpost outside of the Lepharist Research Center after I advanced past them.

Once you pick your spot, make sure you have room in your quest log; the quickest rewards come from doing as many as possible in the shortest amount of time. You still get the reward experience of course, but your time investment is cut way down, and it makes it even more pleasing to feel you are beating the system that has chained you down for so long.

Come on... you know you wanna try it...

Once you have a good thing going, why wouldn't you want to get your friends hooked up? Not only that, but these quests actually go better if you don't solo. The key is to not even consider experience from the mobs -- just roll in, wipe the area, grab what you need, and return to rake in that experience. Sound too easy? It really is. Each of the two types of repeatable quests has a slightly different M.O. for yielding the best reward vs. effort ratio.

Kill quests: Here is where you can rake in so much XP that your head will swim. Honestly, I went from 45 to 48 in just a couple days using these. Grab yourself a group of friends and just wipe the mobs out. Each person gets credit for the kill. The key is speed here -- the faster you clear them, the faster you can turn in, and the faster you can greedily gobble up the rewards. Even better, grab as many as you can from one area and plow through, turning in multiples at one time. Best news? It's so quick, your return may not even be refreshed before you have to get back and turn in! I swear you, too, will get a high watching 10 million experience points flood your bar with blue for only 20 minutes of work.

Drop Quests: Now these can't go as fast by their very nature, because each member of the party has to collect the same drops, and they are only one per mob -- when they drop. On most mobs the drop rate is around 90% (estimated from personal experience), but there are some snakes outside of the campsite that you'd think could give up one scale off their long bodies with more regularity, but don't. For these, grab no more than a friend or two so you tear through the mobs quickly and everyone can get the drops needed.

One sad result of this is that group availability for certain instances and story-furthering campaign quests seems to have diminished as people gorge themselves on experience-producing repeatable quests. Also, other, regular quests that bring more of the world of Aion to life get set aside and even abandoned as people out-level them too quickly to complete. However, don't be so quick to disregard these -- some of the juiciest experience yields are only unlocked after you complete another quest or chain. For instance, "Cursed Argonauts" can only be acquired after you finish the "Know Your Anubites" quest chain.

I am looking forward to checking out all the hotspots in Elten on an alt. But for now, my dealers in Heiron won't talk to me anymore and my supply has dried up, and I am feeling some definite withdrawals. I do hear Theobomos has a fresh stash...

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