Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Aion Beta Impressions and Details: Part 2

The tradeskill system in Aion sucks.

OK, maybe that's not entirely fair. First of all, in the early levels it is at least as good as WoW's. Except WoW's also kinda sucks.

But maybe I'm taking it too personally. Let me explain. I'll have to start from the beginning.

Here's a shot from a "vision of my future" that I got to play out as part of the ascension questline. You see yourself as powerful flying warrior, and get to wtfpwn a few other Daevas before the cutscene ends.

So there Hatch was, having just completed a questline for an imprisoned Daeva in the starting area, and dinging level 10. He got teleported to the major Asmodean hub city, known as Pandaemonium. Teleporting gets you between the major zones, while the flight paths I talked about in my last post take you from hub to hub within each zone. It's possible there is no physical geographical link between zones; it's too early for me to tell.

Anyway, I show up in Panda, and the first thing I see is a city square that is positively mobbed with players. About half of them are seated on little stools with word bubbles permanently displayed above their heads, saying things like "Buy my stuff!" and "Manastones, cheap!" These are personal stores. Any player at any time can set one up, plop their character down in a highly-trafficked area, and go afk if they wish. Other players will be able to use them like a vendor, buying whatever specific items the player put up for sale. I ended up using some of these people to gather manastones and tradeskill materials later on. But first, I wanted my wings. A questgiver gave me a little cutscene showing off the zone (these are pretty common on the main "Campaign" questline, which has a separate slot in your quest log from "standard" quests that are just there to supplement the grind), then sent me on my way to the high priest or something.

There was a cute little ceremony, and I got my wings. At first I wasn't entirely sure it worked, because you can't fly in the city and there is absolutely no tutorial on how to use your wings. This should really be remedied before release.

After the ceremony, I got to pick which of the subclasses I would be. I chose Gladiator, because on some forum I heard them described as "devastating". So clearly that's the one for me! The trainer offered me some new skills, a very nice polearm well beyond anything I could buy at my level, and a limit break (by some other name). There was no explanation of the limit break that I noticed, either. As I kept playing, I wondered at first why the move never seemed to activate when I pressed it. Then I noticed it used a third bar that had appeared under my mana bar. This meter filled as I killed enemies without dying. It filled very slowly. I got to use the limit break a few times, and while visually impressive (I speared the foe on my polearm and slammed him into the ground around me a few times) it didn't seem to do very much damage. Disappointing, especially considering that you can't use it unless you manage not to die for about an hour of questing. Which, to be honest, I couldn't accomplish more than twice all weekend.

A few quests had sent me off to another area, and I was eager to try out my wings and new polearm, so I payed a fee to teleport there. Most quests reward you in large sums of cash, but everything you do costs a ton as well, so it evens out. At least this early in the game, the economy feels lively and getting even small sums of money is genuinely exciting and meaningful. Thoughtfully, the developers gave the teleporting NPC in the city a repeatable fedex quest that sends you to the bank and back and rewards some cash, just in case you accidentally spend all your money and find yourself unable to afford a teleport out of town.

I immediately tried flying, figuring the controls out as I went along purely from the keybinding list. During my first flight, I stayed in the air too long and fell to my death right in the middle of town. You can fly for about 30 seconds to start with, though I get the impression this extends as you level in some way. One thing I didn't know at first was that you could fly longer if you used the "glide" key. This would cause you to glide forward but stop consuming your flight meter. At first, I would continue pushing W to go forward, and gliding would cause me to lose altitude quickly. I thought that was all it did.

Then, I started questing in an area that forbade flying (all of the questing areas I've encountered so far are like this). From time to time, I'd see another player go by on their wings in these areas, much to my puzzlement. I figured out that you could at least get some air time in these areas with the glide button, but I'd almost immediately hit the ground again. Late in the weekend I was in a group, and mentioned that I couldn't figure out how other people were flying so much. Both of the people in my party, at the same time, said "don't hit forward". It turns out that glide works a lot like the flight hat in Mario 64: if you press nothing, you'll stay level and slowly lose altitude while maintaining speed. If you tilt forward, you will gain speed but lose altitude. If you pull back, you'll gain altitude but lose speed. You can stay in the air for quite a while by alternating forward and back and using the built-up speed from descending to create wind resistance and pull yourself back up. Eventually you'll land, but it's still very useful for travelling and escaping.

None of this was explained to you by the game itself anywhere I could find.

While questing, I came across ore nodes and plants that could be gathered using a skill I gained at level 10 called "gather essence". I liked that you just got the skill automatically, and the same gathering skill applied to anything you could gather. The only exception is "aether", a substance you can only gather from flying nodes high in the sky. That had it's own, separately-leveled skill. Leveling gathering worked just like WoW: every few gathers you'd get a skill up.

There is a chance to fail, represented by the fail bar, which fills in competition with the pass bar. I'd estimate I failed about 1/3 of the time.

So I did a few levels of standard questing, then made a trip back to Panda for ability books. While there, I explored a bit. There's a vendor district, a residential district, and a pvp arena. There's also a bank/auction house. The AH works, though I couldn't get the search function to operate. Your bank includes an "account warehouse" which is presumably accessible to all of your characters of that faction on the account. Nice.

Then there's the Alley of the Damned, also known as the tradeskill area. Here, hundreds of players while away their few beta hours endlessly cooking, brewing, and smacking a hammer noisily onto an anvil.

Tradeskills require no "play". Just like WoW, you click a button, and wait for a bar to fill. Except this time, the success bar is accompanied by a fail bar! Luckily, I only had a few failures in all my boring, grindy attempts.

There are a bunch of tradskills, and you aren't limited at all in how many you can try. However, you can only specialize in one and max it out to level 450. All of the others stop at around 375 or something. The ones I remember are Cooking, Alchemy, Accessory crafting, Armor crafting, Weapon crafting, and Paint Dehydration Observance. Well, OK, I made that last one up, but they are all about that exciting.

Having a hard-on for giant weaponry, I, of course, selected Weaponsmithing. After paying a fee to the trainer to start learning it, I checked out the patterns available on the vendor and noticed at 40 skill I could craft a sword that was an upgrade over my polearm. I checked the equip level against what the vendors were selling, and I saw an identical sword that couldn't be equipped for 4 levels later! "Cool!" I thought, "the benefit of weaponsmithing is you can make weapons a little bit better than what else you could equip at that level!"

It turned out I was only partly right.

Being a naive little Daeva, I went to work skilling up. One of the nice things about Aion's profession system (he says begrudgingly) is that you don't have to repeatedly make useless, unsellable items to skill up. The trainers actually offer a repeatable quest, represented in it's own tab in your quest log entitled "work orders", where they supply a quest item and you have to buy a few side mats (like sand or cooling water) from the vendor and transform the given items into something else. Then you give the trainer the new items, getting some skill-ups along the way, and receive in return a small reward of side mats. He gives a new, more expensive variation on the quest every 10 skill points. The bottom line is you spend a few hundred gold and about a minute of time, and you get one or two skill ups per quest, and a small fraction of that money back as random materials. I ended up spending about an hour and 10k gold grinding up to 40. It was not fun at all, and I could feel my minutes of beta time, in which I could have been impaling giant bear/wombat creatures on my spear, being sucked away. But thoughts of instead impaling them on a giant, more powerful sword kept me going.

Finally, I reached 40 skill, and bought the pattern for the sword. Then I realized that one of the materials I needed, some kind of weaponsmithing orb, was not available from the vendor. A quick internet search revealed that they only dropped off of random mobs, and I needed 6 of them! To the AH!

I had to check all of the personal shops and sell every extraneous item I had saved in my warehouse, but after another half hour or so I managed to scrounge together the 6 orbs while keeping juuust enough money for a teleport back out of town. By this point I was pretty tired of crafting, but looking at the sword in my inventory made it all worth it. Now to quest up those last few bars of XP so I could level to 13 and equip it!

During those 20 minutes of questing, a green-quality sword dropped that could be equipped at level 12. It was significantly superior to the one I had just spend nearly 2 hours crafting.

I hate tradeskills in Aion.

Said hatred notwithstanding, I had a great time in the beta last weekend, and I'm looking forward to the next beta event. Friday, I'll give a brief recap of the highlights and what I liked and disliked. My Aion preview: the brief and judgmental version!

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