Massively multiplayer online role-playing game Aion's 1.9 version update may not even be out yet (it's due on June 2 this year), but its developers are already priming its strong international community of gamers for the major 2.0 update. The 2.0 update--officially named Assault on Balaurea--brings with it some significant changes to the world of Aion, including an increase in the level cap, new instances to try for higher-level players, and some gameplay tweaks. We spoke with Aion's North American producer Chris Hager to find out about all the changes Assault on Balaurea will bring, as well as get a gauge on how community feedback has affected the game.
GameSpot AU: There’s been a lot of speculation about what the 2.0 upgrade--Aion: Assault on Balaurea--would bring to the game. Let’s start with the level cap. Can you confirm what it will be raised to? What sort of new abilities, weapons, and skills will be introduced alongside it?
Chris Hager: The level cap will go from 50 to 55. With this, there will be a host of new additions, from new zones, new instances, skills, and weapons. We’ve added 33 new skills from level 51 to 55 across all of our classes and also added more powerful versions of existing skills for these new levels. We’ve also added 43 new stigma skills for these levels to further complement the new skills. As far as items, whenever you introduce new content, you have to follow it up with new weapons/armor, and this update is no exception. The Aion: Assault on Balaurea trailer is full of new weapons and armor (my favorite is the bark-looking armor toward the end of the video).
GS AU: What types of new instances are you planning to add? For what level player will these instances be tailored?
CH: We’ve got a wide range of instances that are being added. There are two new solo instances at levels 18 and 37 that will be great ways for players to experience an immersive story line on their own time. We’ve also got six additional instances that are intended for characters level 50-plus that range from single group instances to multigroup instances. Facing down dragons, ancient secrets from the Millennium War, and uncovering the secrets of the Balaur are all very compelling stories that we think the players will enjoy both on the story level and the gameplay level.
GS AU: We’ve also heard a little bit about pets. What are you doing to the animal companions in the world? How will they fit into gameplay?
CH: Pets will serve a variety of functions in game. There are vanity pets, which are just meant to follow you around and be cute. In addition, to vanity pets, there are pets that will increase your inventory by being able to carry a small number of items for you (similar to a player inventory). Lastly, we’ll have functional pets, which serve a couple of purposes from detecting incoming enemies and warning you to creating items like manastones by feeding them. I think pets are going to fill a wide variety of roles in Aion, and the players are going to find them to be a great addition to the game.
GS AU: Will you also be introducing new areas to explore? Can you describe them?
CH: We are introducing two new main areas for our players to explore, along with several shared instance areas. Ingisson and Gelkmaros are the lands deep within the Balaur homeland of Balaurea. Players of both races will be able to go to these areas and explore them. Ingission is where the Elyos have made their stronghold, whereas Gelkmaros is where the Asmodians have made their home base in this land. Both areas have a likeness to what the world of Atreia looked like before the Cataclysm and hold an ancient look and feel.
GS AU: What sort of other community feedback are you building into the game?
CH: There are several system changes and additions in Aion: Assault on Balaurea that the players have had a hand in shaping. To name a few, we’ve added a new flight mechanic, the new wind-current system, that allows players to use flight more freely than before and also offers a quick traveling alternative to flight transporters. We’ve also increased the crafting level so players can keep up with the new levels and integrated Twitter into the client so players can take in-game screenshots and upload it to their Twitter accounts. There have also been a lot of adjustments to skills, quests, and mobs in-game that normally come along with the constant balancing an MMO has to do with its content.
GS AU: Tell us more about the changes to flight? Will you be changing the game’s mechanics in this regard?
CH: The major change to flight is the addition of wind streams. These are naturally occurring wind currents allowing players to jump in and travel large distances by flying. Flying in the currents doesn’t decrease your flight timer, and depending on the type of current you are in, you can break out and gracefully glide down to the world of Atreia at any point in time. Some wind streams are stronger than others and won’t let you leave the current until the player reaches the end. Geysers and updrafts are also additions that are being more widely used within Aion: Assault on Balaurea. These will allow players to get projected into the air and glide to reach areas that aren’t accessible by normal means.
GS AU: Chris Hager, thanks for your time.