Continuing towards their goal to eliminate (or at least reduce) the grind in Aion, NCSoft has been implementing changes to the game over the past few months aimed at increasing the XP and loot gains from quests and other activities that involve more than mindlessly grinding an area for hours. The lastest upgrades launched with patch 2.1 in the middle of November. I called up Associate Producer Sean Neil to find out how the latest patch has worked out so far, and if he thinks Aion is finally where it needs to be.
PC Gamer: What were the key updates in the 2.1 patch?
Sean Neil: In patch 2.0, we increased the experience gain for players. Patch 2.1 was designed to make sure that everyone had enough money and loot drops as they went through the game [in its current progression]. The dev team went through from level 1--every instance, every monster, every named mob in the game--and increased the loot drop pretty significantly...From level 1, you're getting gear drops that you would have gone crazy for before 2.1.
We're not done with 2.1 yet. We've got more updates that are in the 2.1 scope, such as updates to our crafting and questing systems. The first half is out, but the second half will be coming out soon, which will give us another part of the puzzle to making this game into the game we want it to be.
PC Gamer: So 2.0 was about the increasing the XP gain to improve the leveling experience, and 2.1 is meant to bring the other game systems (such as loot droop) in line with those changes?
Neil: Absolutely. 2.0 added content and filled in content gaps [like the solo quests], and 2.1 brings the rest of the experience in line with that.
PC Gamer: Are you looking to continue tweaking the leveling experience more, or are you happy with where it is right now?
Neil: We're always looking at updating/fixing/tweaking systems to make sure that they are ideal. Right now the experience gain feels good to a lot of our players and to us. I think everyone here is really feels really comfortable where things are [today]. I think that there's still some tweaking that can happen...We've been doing a lot of surveying lately to hear what everybody's thinking, and what they want to see happen.
I can't say that they're done. Especially in the MMO world, nothing is ever done. I think that 2.0 feels a thousand times better to me as a player than it did previously. I didn't have any complaints before 2.0 and then 2.0 came out, and now I fell like “I love this. I don't remember how I played before this came out!” I think it's one of those things where we're delivering things that players don't even know that they want yet.
PC Gamer: You mentioned some crafting changes coming up. What time frame are you looking at for those?
Neil: It's hard to say right now. We have localization and testing, and we also have the holiday season in the middle of that. I can't give a definitive date. We'll have something nailed down near the beginning of January as far as when we will be able to announce it. It's very soon though. We're already localizing and testing.
PC Gamer: Can you go into more details as to what those changes are going to be?
Neil: Basically, as this point, it's a lot of changes in how the crafting system itself overall works. Make it easier, a little less materials-heavy, and, more importantly, making a lot more crafting recipes available to players that may not have previously been available to them. I know that when we got to jump onto the Korean servers and play, although I don't read Korean, I was able to see that some of the UI elements had changed, to make things a little bit easier for players to find stuff.
PC Gamer: Have you had to make any major changes to the Assault on Balaurea expansion content since its launch or are you working mostly on these systems?
Neil: For 2.1, we tweaked the level requirements for some instances and removed some of the [required] entry quests, which slowed people down as they tried to get into the instances. We changed some of the difficulty levels on some of the bosses, not to make it easier on the players, but to make them more in line with what the players needed. We didn't want players to get frustrated going through an instance ten times and never see anything in it. So not only did the drop rate increase, but we wanted to make the bosses more "fun fight" and less "another math problem".
For example, in Udas Temple, we dropped the level requirements. Beshmundir has had the difficutly level dropped. We've dropped the number of monters in some areas. There were some areas where there was just a big group of monsters in a room, with no way to work your way around the room. It was taking too long for players to fight through that, and we really wanted to get the players to the bosses. Those where two instance that were introduced recently where immediate changes where made to 2.1. Some of the solo instances have seen drop rate increases, but they are already so much fun that there wasn't much tweeking necessary to the way that those worked.
PC Gamer: I have to say, I had a lot of fun with Kromede's Trial. That's one I ran through a few times.
Neil: One of my characters hit 38, already one level into it when 2.0 launched, and I went all the way from 38-44 doing nothing but Kromede's Trial. I loved it. It's so much fun. I miss it now. My character is like 7 levels beyond it and can't do it anymore. It's a great instance; the story line is great. That's a really good indication of where the dev team is going with the game. They had the same issues, where they where running through the instance every day at launch while it was in development. The instance actually started off running from 39-42, and they played it so much that they realized that they needed to expand the level range, so they went to 37-44.
PC Gamer: How is the loot increase going to affect end-game?
Neil: At max level, a lot of players are leaning towards fortress raids. They're running high level instances and open PvP areas--those are both great sources for gear. We have high level legion people who work here, and most of them were previously geared out at level 55. Now, they're going for Fabled gear that, before patch 2.1, they thought was out of their reach. Now they actually run high level instances, because there's a chance that they'll actually get the Fabled gear.
We still have a lot of content that players still haven't reached into: going into the other faction's zones, capturing their fortresses, opening up all of the crazy boss monsters that spawn when you take the opposing side's fortresses. You have to remember that a lot of our player base was just getting into that 50 range when we launched assault on Balaurea, and now their just getting into that level 55 range, and they are finding all these things that if they had max leveled out before 2.0 came out they would have never known existed.
PC Gamer: During my previous interview, Associate Producer Chris Hager told me that he thought PvP, and Rifting in particular, was unbalanced, and that the team would be working to fix that. Has any improvements been made?
Neil: Actually, yes! The Abyss is the heart and soul of our PvP, but players still like to Rift. We actively polled out players...and the data that we got back was really suprising. We thought our audience was going to lean [toward the Abyss], but they actually leaned more towards enjoying the Rifting system. Players thought some of the changes introduced in 2.0 were a little too strict. So we started talking to the dev team, seeing how we could relieve some of those things. So last Friday, we made some changes.
With 2.0 there was a PvP protection buff that was given to a couple of the zones in game. That provides the home faction with a protective buff whenever another player attacks them. Internally, we felt that the buff might have been a little too much. We asked the players what they though about it, and they echoed our concerns: that the PvP protection buff was more necessary in the lower level zones, since lower level players don't want to get ganked by higher level players. So we started to look at how we could change that, without affecting our PvE players. So last weekend we removed the PvP protection buff completely in our higher level zones, and in our lower level zones it was dropped significantly. And this weekend, we're going to send another survey out to our players to find out what they think.
PC Gamer: What one small change is your favorite, “off the beaten path” update with 2.1?
Neil: I never, ever got a gold drop [before patch 2.1]. But on the third day of 2.1, I got one! Mind you, it was a piece of armor that I couldn't use, but I sold it and bought myself something that I could use. The economy has been stimulated so much. I love to play the Broker (Aion's auction house), and now you can go on there and find something that you've been looking for, and it's not a crap shoot as to whether or not someone else in the game got the drop. It's a pretty good possibility to find just about any piece of gear that you're looking for. I think that's the thing that I like the most, there is more of a market there for me to be involved in now.
PC Gamer: Was there any unexpected side effects?
Neil: I didn't think that we'd see the drop rates as high as they were [right away]. I thought that it was going to be a more progressive thing, but within days of 2.1's launch, the chatter was gone [from trade channel], except for people actually selling stuff! People were out just playing and playing and getting everything off of every mob that they could get there hands on--killing everything they see.
PC Gamer: Thanks for you time.