More Aion Thoughts From China Live

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I got the chance to explore a little bit more in Aion last night. As I was playing a few thoughts kept popping up in my mind. Since many of you were interested in my impressions, I thought I’d post them here until I write another “impressions” post. I have to say though, because I feel it’s important, I had no interest in Aion whatsoever until I tried it. I’m very surprised with how much fun I’ve had. Before this, the game I’d had the most fun questing in was WoW, hands down. For better or worse, Aion matches that experience. Here we go…

-> Without a doubt, WoW fans will call copycat on this one.

By level six on the Asmodyian side, you’ll most likely encounter a quest that has you killing restless undead whose burlap sack headwear bears an uncanny resemblence to those in WoW. Likewise, the glowy yellow bugs a reminiscient of those in Zangarmarsh. Combining that with the similar UI and the playstyle similarities, WoW fans may brush the game off. Forgot to screenshot, sorry.

-> Aion makes you feel rich… but you’re not.

By level six, I have over 2,000 kinah. Since there’s no breakdown (correct me if I’m wrong) of money into different types, you wind up with a lot of it. Where some games reward you with 50 copper for an early quest, NPCs here will reward you with 900 kinah early on. There’s a lot of money sinks though, so it evens out. Still, it leads me to wonder about the cash rewards later in the game. Little known fact: the Asmodyian faction leader is the Monopoly man.

-> No news here: grinding is there but worthwhile.

There’s been a lot of talk about how NCSoft is westernizing the game. The common understanding is that this means they’re reducing the grind. Still, I hope they leave it as a viable form of advancement. Right now, you can choose to either quest, grind, or a mix of both and all three options are worth the time you put in. I like having the option to turn off for a while and still get something done. The experience actually reminds me a lot of the Final Fantasy SRPG series, where you’d have to level up to prepare for boss fights. To me, that’s a good thing. Apart from XP, grinding will also net you vendor trash which is suprisingly lucrative. I made over 1k just from killing mobs between two quest hubs.

Grind also acts as a separating factor. WoW streamlined MMOs and in doing so they changed player’s expectations. Grinding will filter out people from getting to the endgame. While I’m not in support breaking down a game into casual vs. hardcore, I do think there’s value in making people earn max level. It gives the everyday player something to aspire to.

-> Legion (guild) banners are just cool.

Appears automatically after joining a legion

Appears automatically after joining a legion -- click to enlarge

I got myself into a legion last night and was surprised to see a new armor piece appear on my character. This is what trophies in WAR should have been.  Mythic, please take this example and use it in your game. Along with that though…

-> /Who search sucks.

No ability to search by legion tag? Poor. Demanding proper capitalization? Worse. This made it a chore to find members of the legion I was interested in because I couldn’t just search for “warmongers.” I had to go to the aionsource forums, locate members posts, search for their character names, and then move on to contacting them. And, beware people who have fun with capitals. “Cryptic” is not the same thing as “cryptic”.

-> I’m a little conflicted in how I feel about questing.

The polish in the questing experience is great. You can tell they cared about the quality of their questing experience and the mini cut-scenes (fly overs of your quest area usually) are really neat. Still, the quest text tends to be lengthy. Usually, I wouldn’t mind this since I’m among those who enjoy reading why I’m being asked to do something. Yet, since I know it will ultimately come down to kill, collect, or deliver, I find myself tempted to just skip it.

That’s about it for now. I’m really interested to dig into this game a little bit more now that I have a group of other English speakers to play with. I’ll put together another impressions post once I get my wings.

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Weighing Out Payment Models

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I don’t know about you but I’m getting tired of the $15 a month subscription fee. It’s archaic and out dated in today’s gaming market. Thankfully, it seems to be on the way out, what with Blizzard even talking about getting rid of it (that will be the day).

But what are our options if we get rid of it? Micro-transactions, for one. Paid expansions for another. And then, there’s my personal favorite, the Eastern model.

Microtransactions are viable but not ideal. There’s too much temptation to offer “exclusives” to members that pay more. I’m all for allowing people additional customization and other perks, so long as the original game is flush with content. In other words, you should have a complete robust game before microtransactions come into the mix and, even then, the player should never feel pressured to pay. Microtransactions only work when they don’t negatively impact the game of free players.

Paid expansions are an interesting idea but hold the potential to be as expensive, if not moreso, than the normal payment model. Guild Wars proved that it can be done effectively but their expansions were true, full blown, content upgrades. In other words, real expansions and not just moderate patches like what you see emerging in games like Final Fantasy 11. If a game like WoW were to move to a paid expansion model, I think it’d take the FFXI form and wind up costing people more. I’m not a big fan of the paid expansion model.

Finally, we have the Eastern model. I’ve only recently had experience with this payment method and I have to say that I love it. This model involves paying by the hour and is seen widely in China and other Eastern countries. Many people seem to look down on it; however, I fail to see the issue.

To put it in perspective, I recently bought 200 hours on the Chinese version of Aion for a little under $10. Rounding up to an even 10, I’m paying roughly five cents an hour. For that price, you could buy 300 hours of gametime for the standard monthly fee we currently pay. That’s 75 hours a week and almost 11 hours a day, broke down. Great value if you ask me.

Then again, we have another rarely seen model, which is the Lifetime Subscription. I like this option in the same way that I like Guild Wars expansions. Somehow, it’s easier to swallow one bigger purchase than a monthly payment I have to budget for – even if it’s cheap. Lifetimes are valuable in that they provide the option of something to play, without the obligation of dropping a credit card number.

On the whole, I think I’m glad the monthly sub is on the way out. It’s not ideal, in any way, and, in truth, isn’t beneficial to the average player who won’t utilize the same playtime as a more hardcore player dishing out the same amount of cash. I’m not one for cash shops either but I kind of like the option to buy something neat for pennies on the dollar. And I think that’s where we’re headed. Hell, if WoW went F2P I might even come back. Yet, somehow, I think the day Blizzard makes that decision will be the day WoW is officially on the way out.

I broke…

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I cracked.

I thought I’d steer clear of it but the temptation was just… too… much.

Like the fanboy I’ve proven to myself that I am, I went out and bought Final Fantasy 11 for the Xbox 360.

Don’t roll your eyes yet. The thing that pushed me to make the buy? The full game and all of the expansions for a mere $14.99 at Gamestop. Even if the game is over 6 years old, that’s a bargain price for arguably the most successful console MMO (only lasting console MMO) ever. And it’s Final Fantasy… come on.

How is it, you wonder? Well, I really don’t know. I haven’t been able to play it yet.

I bought it about six hours ago and it’s been a pretty incredible hassle since. Initially, I figured I’d pop the game in and go except it didn’t turn out that way.

The first thing the game asks you to do is install the PlayOnline Viewer (POL for short — a bloated launcher with email capability) and register for an account. I got done with the registration fine, except I wasn’t going to be able to be home to complete the full game download/update at the moment. So, I shut everything down and went about my business. Unfortunately, when I tried to start the game later that night, I got an “Unrecognized Disc” error. As it turns out, this happens when you don’t fully exit the viewer every time. The only fix at this stage? Format the hard drive. Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

But I did it, losing out on the several Xbox Original games and saves that I’d built up. When that was done, everything seemed to go smooth. Until update time. For some strange reason, I get to about 80% of the way through the update process and get error message POL-0250 which seems to result from server side issues and router configurations. After looking into it, I set my router up with all of the ports they needed (a mere 15-63,000 of them if you’re on a console).

The result? No change. The servers are up, so that shouldn’t be it and I’m at a loss.

Quite simply, *eyeroll*. I will give this game another few attempts over tomorrow. Depending on what happens, FFXI may find itself a new home on my shelf.

Update: Well, I got it to work. The fix? Returning my router to factory settings and older firmware. So, by disabling port forwarding and re-enabling my router firewall (with no exceptions), it worked. Kind of backwards, isn’t it?

The Plan

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Since my last post, I’ve been absent. The largest part of this is that I haven’t played any MMO in a little while now. My wife and I had some extra wedding money left over, so we used it to buy an Xbox 360 (not that she really cares about it, unfortunately). I know, I’m behind the times. The upside to this is that I now have a wide variety of great and affordable games at my disposal.

So, for the last little bit, I’ve been enjoying the likes of Oblivion, Fallout 3, and even the likes of Sonic: Unleashed (nostaliga, what can I say?). I’ve even dove into the Xbox Live Marketplace and picked up a couple of Xbox originals (Fable and GTA: San Andreas) and Uno from the arcade selection, which is surprisingly addictive.

Oblivion is, by far, my favorite. Yet, for all of its RPG-goodness, it’s not quite the same as a good MMO. The problem is, I don’t know if I’m ready to put the Xbox in the #2 place this soon after buying it. My plan, then, is to mix up my playtime for the rest of the summer.

I hate to say it but I really don’t want to go back to LotRO right now. It’s a good game but it doesn’t have that “hook” to keep me interested. After spending the first 23 levels doing much the same (how many monster types did I fight again? Five?) it’s just taken on a feeling of bleh for me.

I even considered returning to WoW. Thankfully, I resisted that urge. I honestly believe that it would be an exercise in exasperation. It’s my old flare. My first MMO love. Yet, we’ve parted ways and I know that if I come back now, I’ll only find everything is still the same. And as slow to progress as ever.

Now I find myself left with a couple of options that I plan to move forward on. First, I’m going to spend more time playing the Chinese version of Aion. They have some really exciting things coming up the fence that have my interested (ie, patch 1.5 but, being honest and all, I’ve experience very little of patch 1.0+ having missed the preview weekends, so I have a lot to check out) and I honestly think that it’ll be the next game to give me that wow-like hook. A second home, so to speak.

The issue at the moment, however, is that with so few English speakers playing and no guild, it can make you feel a little lonesome. I’ve heard there’s lots of English-speaking guilds, however, so I’d imagine that this is only temporary. And it doesn’t detract from the questing at all.

Secondly, I’m going to tinker around in other games. I’m downloading Guild Wars: Nightfall right now to play around with. I tried the first one and liked it but that happened to coincide with when I found WoW and you can imagine what happened then. I’m also considering Final Fantasy 11 for my console but I’ve heard a lot of things that make me hesitant, so I’m not sure if I’ll follow through on that one yet.

Anyways, no. Contrary to popular belief I’m not dead. The wife hasn’t butchered me or made me into little Raegn sausages. She did, however, think it was funny when I told her people think my handle is pronounced Raegan since I’m devoutly anti-political publically. Go figure. It’s all good. I don’t have to be a silent G.

Don’t be alarmed…

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A preparatory post was put up by accident earlier this morning. At this time, Fires of War is safe and sound.

Gon’ Get Married or Gone Honeymoonin’!

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Hi Everyone,

The time has come! Tomorrow is my wedding day and for some strange reason my fiance still sees fit to take the big walk with me. The chain is being attached to her ball come the morn (yes, I’m the ball) and we’ll be whisked away to Disney World for the week after.

As much as I hate to be away and hold onto my Aion, Vanguard, and DDO comments for so long, Mickey’s calling and I can’t ignore the ring.

I’ve been pumped full of adrenaline since this morning. The funny thing is, I’m not nervous about marrying her or having cold feet. For some reason, after the rehearsal I haven’t been able to shake this tickly feeling in my stomach. I’m scared and excited and can’t wait to be someone’s husband.

One funny thing happened this morning during our baptism (neither of us had it done before but each had always wanted to, so this made the perfect opportunity). Here’s how it goes. You’re in a pool in the front of the hall. The pastor puts his hand in front of your face and another behind your back. When he says the word, you bend your knees and lean back into the water.

Yeah, except I guess I suck at leaning because I went back too far and almost pulled the poor guy over. I got myself up, thankfully but not without a little embarrassment. Yeah. I suck at leaning.

Anyways, I’m off to the jewelry shop to pick up Mrs. Raegn’s ring and then off to spend the evening with my dad. Wish me luck on getting to sleep!

Early Aion Impressions

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Over the past couple of days, I’ve been playing about in China’s Aion open beta. I haven’t made it too far in yet but I’ve been able to form some initial impressions I thought might be worth sharing. I won’t be talking to much about grinding because the Americanized version presumably won’t have it.

First, Aion is very reminiscent of World of Warcraft. The stylized and colorful environment the Asmodian’s start off in reminds me a lot of Zangarmarsh, sans the giant fungi.

There’s a wide variety of imaginative mobs to fight. One of the problems I had with LotRO was that it felt limited because you spent so much time fighting the same wolves and wights… even when you changed zones. Like WoW, Aion doesn’t suffer from this. There are no lore limitations and you can tell that the world designers let their artistic sides loose to create some neat wildlife models.

I rolled a Mage to begin and, unsurprisingly, the class starts off almost identically to the WoW mage with a firebolt skill as the primary attack. Shortly after, you gain a frostbolt type attack. Unlike WoW, you also start off with a root on a longish cooldown.

Since I’m still virtually at the start, it’s hard to say whether or not these comparisons will pan out over time. However, the echoes of warcraft I’ve picked up on only serve to make a better game. Aion may well have taken another cue from WoW by taking what works and building upon it. WoW was a great game in a lot of ways, so I don’t really mind if Aion draws on it.

Second, unlike many bloggers, I’m not drooling over the graphics. Character models are great, they’re on par with LotRO and far surpass WoW, but that’s about it. Environmentally, the game may be a half-step ahead of World of Warcraft but that still leaves it behind a lot of its competitors.

What it lacks in textural detail, it makes up for in style. I don’t think you need ultra-high graphics to make a beautiful game. What you need is artistic design and Aion drives that point home. The environments I’ve played through have been so well realized, that I only took a glancing notice of the “flattened grass” terrain I was running on. Adding to this, if I turn AA off, I can set the graphics to their highest settings and still get 30+ FPS in most places while on my laptop. To put that in perspective, I’m running at 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 3GB DDR2 RAM, and an nVidia 8600GTM 512MB. In short, even an older rig can play this game well and still have it look good.

I have to say too, water in this game is beautiful. It doesn’t suffer from texture quality issues. One of the early quests has you running through a small lake picking flowers. When you come to the lake for the first time, you see that a giant tree grows in the center, glowing with a blue ambiance which lights up the water below. Combined with the reflections of the local greenery and roaming wildlife, it’s like you’re running around through a neon sign.

Third, PvE doesn’t seem to be as lacking as I had worried. Now, it IS the same old thing; however, the game has enough flair to make it interesting rather than mundane. So far. Quest givers tend to talk to you a little bit and give you a good amount of context. Occassionally, you’ll even get a little cutscene that will show you the area you’re heading into or a target mob. Though I couldn’t put my finger right on it, questing in Aion reminded me a lot of playing an older Final Fantasy game. The asian character models may have had a little to do with that though 😉

Going in, Aion seems like it could be a PvE game. If you had no idea that RvR was going to be a part of it, I think a new player could certainly enter in and get the same PvE satisfaction from levelling that first handful of times that they could get with WoW.

Finally, money has a defined importance. Again, I see this as a good thing. I hated how money was virtually worthless in WAR. In Aion, you’re shelling out for a lot of stuff, even going as far as to charge a stipend to bind yourself to a local obelisk (like setting your recall location). However, money doesn’t seem hard to come by. It cost me 100K (k=kinah, their “gold”) to bind. At that point (level 4) I had done enough quests and sold enough to have 1300k already and the potential to receive another 730k from a quest I’d just received. Vendoring mob trash has thus far been a great money maker.

There is one other note I’d like to bring up, in the Chinese version, there is grinding. I know, shocking. It’s not bad though, mostly. Actually, I found it quicker to xp by killing quickly respawning mobs than to complete quests. Most likely, we won’t have such grinding in the American Aion however, so I won’t talk much more about it in the future.

It’s been fun so far. I’ve moved from “bitten and shy” to “cautiously optimistic.” I’ll be honest, there’s a lot that I’m liking so far but I know from experience that a lot can change once you get twenty or thirty levels in. I’m trying to skip the honeymoon here and see the horse for it’s big teeth.

Whatd’ya say, Mr. Ed, shall we log back in?

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