Since its release, Korean-born MMO Aion has undergone a profound transformation as developers hone gameplay to suit the needs of a North American audience. NCsoft's Sean Neil tells us how the upcoming 2.5 update will further refine the Aion experience.
Aion is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that's been striving to please its players since the North American servers first opened in September of 2009. Players flocked to the graphically stunning title, discovering a Korean-made MMO that tasted of a more western-influenced game. The game favoured questing and story development over the grind, something many Korean imports fail to do.
But Aion isn't your average Korean import, given a shoddy English translation and sent on its merry way. NCsoft has a full North American development team that springs to life as new updates arrive, making sure the content and changes will be well-received by the US audience.
Even with such a strong focus on North America, the game has needed more than its fair share of tweaking. Over the course of several major patches the development team has changed the game dramatically, all in response to their player's needs and wants.
"In total we've gone through and increased the experience; we've increased the drop rates; we've increased the crafting system in the game - the basic core systems for the players," says Sean Neil, Aion's associate producer.
Not all of the changes have been well received. Version update 2.0 brought changes to the game's rifting system, which allows player from Aion's two opposing factions to encounter one another, which were not well received by the players, to put it mildly.
Neil says the negative response was a call to action for the team.
"Our immediate reaction was to poll the players, find out what they wanted, and we put in place a change to that system at the end of last year," Neil explains. "And then we actively polled the players after that to ask them what they thought about the changes we were making."
The players responded, and more changes will be coming shortly in a smaller update. Then, with experience point gain balanced, item drop rates increased, and the game as a whole more polished to player specifications, NCsoft will unleash fresh content and new play mechanics in update 2.5 later this year.
The update brings with it plenty of new content for high level players to enjoy. Two new instances will challenge players' skills to their fullest. Araka is an instance in which players of either faction attempt to cut off the supply lines of their common enemy, the Balaur. Both the Asmodians and the Elyos will also be able to prove their worth in the Academy Bootcamp, which pits them against a series of 10 progressively difficult battles for a chance at fame and fortune.
The game's Legion (guild) system is being tweaked to help prepare player groups for the challenges ahead. The Legion level cap is being increased from three to five, with more titles to help organize Legion ranks more efficiently. Legions will gain more warehouse space, and longer, sexier cloaks to show off each players' allegiance.
There's a pet mood system, enhancing the in-game companion system introduced in Aion's 2.0 Assault on Balaurea update. Each player class will gain access to new skills and powers. There's an interactive world map on the way, allowing players to make annotations and set routes. The character creation system is opening up more, giving players more options in crafting their in-game avatar. More crafting formulas will be added to the game, keeping those characters well-equipped and looking good.
The two biggest changes coming in 2.5, however, are the Group Guide system and the Superior Graphics Engine setup option.
The Superior Graphics Engine option is just what it sounds like. Players with high end machines will be able to enjoy a visually enhanced world of Aion, while players with computers on the lower end of the hardware spectrum will be able to play the same as they always have.
"The already beautiful game will be ridiculously gorgeous, " Neil says. "It's almost spooky how real they're trying to make the game look."
The Group Guide system is much like the mentoring system already present in many other MMO titles. It's a system that allows lower level players to get assistance in their quest from characters of a much higher level.
"You can play along with your friends even if they've been playing the game for six months and you haven't played at all," Neil explains. Friends will be able to help out their friends, Legion members can help their mates level alts. Even strangers will be compelled to help out low level characters, thanks to daily quests that reward players for spending time with the newbs.
"We want to give them items. We want to give them coins. We want to give them a system that makes them want to be those big brothers and big sisters."
The entire list of changes coming in 2.5 can been seen over at Aion's PowerWiki. Note that the patch notes are based on the Korean version of the game, and not everything listed in the notes will make it to North America.
"It's really about letting the players create their own experience, from their Legions to the way their character looks to the way they interact with the world around them," says Neil of Aion's update 2.5.
The update is currently on the public test realm of the Korean version of Aion, and the US NCsoft team is hard at work localising the content for North American audiences. While Neil was hesitant to nail down a release date, he did say he was confident it would be out in 2011.
"We want to get this out to our players as soon as we possibly can in the best possible form we can."