Getting your level on
Probably the most significant (and welcome!) change over the past year was the breaking down of the leveling barrier. In the beginning, NCsoft threw us a leveling curve-ball; while quests would initially guide Daevas throughout Atreia and urge them along the level curve, the quests would abruptly abandon bewildered Daeva around level 41. A few new quests would then open up post level 45, but in the meantime, the only thing available for players to advance by was mind-numbing mob grinding -- not a pleasant prospect. In fact, a number gave up in frustration, either giving the game a break or perpetually rolling alts to avoid "flat-face" from slamming into that brick wall.
Those who are hesitating to rejoin Atreia due to this, lay those fears aside -- the release of 1.9 effectively broke down that wall by introducing not only new quests in those barren upper levels, but also XP-rich repeatable quests in all level ranges. While repeatable drop quests also give good experience, per time investment, the kill quests are by far the better deal. Just grab some friends and make a day of slaughtering everything in your path, then be rewarded richly for it. A new daily quest feature was also introduced, allowing Daevas to do specific tasks each day to earn tokens which could be turned in for gear and other goodies.
The most recent expansion, Assault on Balaurea, made even more strides in the XP realm -- quest givers in Balaurea literally shower you with both XP and kinah. It took just two days for some dedicated (crazy?) folks to get from level 51 to 55 (I say 51 because a huge percentage of level 50 players needed only to hit a single mob or pay soul healing to ding). To illustrate how much is being doled out, it takes over 271 million XP to advance from level 54 to 55.
Another helpful change that came in the newest expansion was the addition of quest icons to the map. Any available quests are now marked and easy to find. Since quests consistently give more XP than simple mob-grinding, knowing where to find every possible quest up-front takes the guesswork out of the equation. Daeva no longer have to waste time wandering all over, hoping to stumble across a yummy XP cookie -- I mean quest. Finding them now is the easy part; deciding where to start is the hard part! Too bad NCsoft hasn't increased the size of the quest journal. Hint, hint.
I see red people
As the months progressed, a mounting frustration of many players was the lack of compatriots to group with and enemies to contend with. After the initial population explosion at release, numbers thinned out, making both forming groups and finding targets more difficult. NCsoft addressed this by merging servers, a move seen as good, bad, and ugly. On one hand, players appreciated having more people to to group with; on the other, there was also more competition (and kill-stealing) within each faction. Participation in the Abyss increased, as did rifting into enemy territory. It was suddenly possible to be faced with a sea of red at fortress sieges, making warfare more exciting.
Just as rifting was given new life after the merge -- so much so that less-experienced Daevas were being pinned down inside villages, unable to continue their PvE gaming -- the release of 2.0 effectively killed it. The latest expansion introduced a special buff to Daevas on their home turf: Any attacking player would have a 40% reduction in damage in Heiron and Beluslan, and an 80% reduction in Eltnen and Morheim. With penalties like these, even the most dedicated gankers have lost heart; there is more peace in the land.
I want kinah, lots and lots of kinah...
In a game where gear and consumables make a huge difference, making money is a high priority. Sadly, most crafting professions are only money-sinks for the average Daeva, and eking out a living in the wilds of Atreia had been difficult for most prior to 2.0. Luckily, kinah is now more readily available; as mentioned earlier, quest givers in Balaurea are showering Daevas with more kinah. Monetary rewards have increased in lower levels as well. While NCsoft claims that drop rates have been increased, the only area this has been noticeable in has been essencetapping -- rare materials are being harvested at a significantly higher rate than before. Until I get a gold weapon drop from Trioran, however, I will remain skeptical that gear drops have increased!
To boldly go where no Daeva has gone before
Everyone gets bored seeing the same old thing day-in and day-out -- having the new land of Balaurea to explore breathed new life into the game for high-level characters who have seen everything there was to see many times over. Familiar haunts were quickly abandoned by Daevas level 50+ as they flocked to Inggison and Gelkmaros. The land is beautiful, the quests are plentiful, and the new group instances are challenging.
Lest you think that only the highest levels benefited from new content, take note of the new solo instances for the lower level ranges: Haremel for levels 18-22 and Kromede's trial for levels 37-44. These solo instances have many Daevas watching their lock-out timers so they can plunge themselves into their own personal quest and loot run (trust me, as queen of the lousy roll, not having to roll means I finally have a chance at loot!) the moment it's available.
Tions and elrocos and kitters, oh my!
Probably the most significant boost in the fun-yet-slightly-frivolous category was the addition of pets. As simple companions, pack mules, gift-givers, or even alarms, the new pets introduced in Assault on Balaurea brought a new dimension to Aion. The popularity of this feature is obvious -- try taking 20 steps through any city or fortress without having to step around some furry little critter. The fact that some pets were exclusive to retail boxes of the expansion or available only from the NCsoft Store (both for real cash) did not detour a significant number of Daevas who simply wanted the new pets.
Sweatin' the small stuff
While major content is certainly the backbone of a successful game, players have quite an affinity for the little things. In fact, it is often the small, seemingly irrelevant things that amuse and keep a player logged in when he doesn't feel like grinding. Any game that overlooks the small details finds itself lacking in population as players simply log out when bored. Within seconds of logging back in to Aion after server maintenance on Daeva's Day, I walked through a veritable cloud of flower petals in Sanctum as Daevas wantonly scattered them about using their new emote. Emotes, special dyes, transformation candies, special outfits -- all of these are little extras that players like to receive and enjoy. You can't walk anywhere without hearing someone playing the violin or watching some ab-conscious Daeva does push-ups. This fluff offers players another connection to the game.
Another extra that players have come to expect from games is events. Sadly, Aion does not have a good track record for successful and engaging live events; just mention the St. Patty's Day event and watch the reaction. Reward items that are available to only one character per account as well as bound items that cannot be traded through the account warehouse are just a couple of the gripes players have with previous events. Currently, to celebrate the launch of Assault on Balaurea, a new event -- Scorching Heat -- is underway. However, as discussing that event is a column in itself, we will delve into it in-depth in the next installment of Wings Over Atreia.
In all, while any player of Aion will admit the game is not perfect (as no game is), it is still enjoyable, with new content, new features, and an easier level curve. Here's looking ahead to another year! Happy Daeva's Day!