Aion: Assault on Balaurea will bring a level cap increase, functional in-game pets, new instances to explore and more to NCsoft's massively multiplayer online role-playing game, but before it comes out, NCsoft hopes to lure old players back with update 1.9.
Assault on Balaurea is the new name of Aion update 2.0, an expansion pack-sized chunk of content in which the forces of Asmodae and Elysea bring the fight to the home world of the invading Balaur. The update will add in eight new instanced areas and some massive new zones, while increasing the level cap to level 55, giving the top tier players a bit further to reach.
The update also introduces a series of in-game pets that will aid characters in crafting, store the player's items, and sound an alarm when trouble is near, as well as the ability to post screenshots directly to Twitter through the in-game user interface.
An impressive list of new features, but what use are new features if no one is around to play them? That's the issue NCsoft is working on in update 1.9, due out on test servers tomorrow, with a full rollout expected on June 2.
According to Aion's North American lead producer Chris Hager, many early Aion adopters have already fled the coop.
"A lot of our players have already left for a couple of reasons. The game feels too grindy, there's not enough time to play, and costs (for in-game services) are too high."
I last spoke to Hager back in March, when update 1.9 was first bandied about. Back then he told me that 1.9 was all about changing player perceptions. Now he tells us it's a two-pronged update.
"The 1.9 update fixes the road to the new content," Hager explains. "It paves the dirt road of levels 1-50, improving the play experience so when 2.0 comes out players will really want to explore the new instances, new skills and such. 1.9 will fix the issues and 2.0 will bring the new content."
Fixing coming in 1.9 include a pair of new solo instances at level 18 and 37, giving players somewhere to level that doesn't involve difficult group questing. Those who stick to group questing will find a lowered difficulty plus higher experience rewards smoothing out the experience considerably, particularly for players in the level 15-20 range.
I stopped playing at level 18, frustrated with my own lack of progress, so 1.9 should definitely strike a chord with me.
As it does with Hager, who regularly plays the game as an anonymous player, eavesdropping on the community and making note of the common complaints he hears.
"I as a player an excited to play this content, not just as a producer," Hager says.
Hopefully that excitement will rub off on those players that cut their Aion flights short.