Guesses at Aions First Expansion, and When Can We Expect It?
Somewhere in the recesses of NCsoft lies a schedule outlining the rollouts of the Aion patches, live events and some future expansion. We know it’s there, yet half the fun is letting them open that present and seeing our reaction. Some of you may be saying, “Dude, we’re not even level 30, let me get to max level and catch my breath before you start screaming for an expansion.” I hear you, but I also know that the MMOG crowd is a restless bunch. We want to know what is out there just over the horizon. If all we see is darkness, then we lose some of that drive that makes us the poster children for OCD completionist pamphlets. With this is in mind, I say we start evaluating some of the design issues and guesses as we march toward expansion number one. I’d say there are always two major issues and impacts of any expansion, the content and the lore.
Plenty of space for expanding the current map.
Content is King
When using the word Content, I’m referring to the actual gameplay areas and new player experiences. Content is what gives the players achievement, progression and a reason to improve their characters. Content includes more levels typically, more skills, and continents, quests and abilities, all providing a feedback mechanism for players to increase their enjoyment of the game. The maps of Aion already have some open areas that could be filled in for starters, but the meat of any expansion will surely be another continent.
In Aion the expansion options are fairly wide open. Using teleports as major transportation mechanisms means that adding continents or other land masses is fairly straight forward. The question becomes, which side gets more land – Elysea or Asmodae, or does the Abyss grow? The answer could be one, or the other or all three, or a completely separate land mass. The real answer will result from how the new content is explained in the lore.
More Lore or is it a Bore?
The lore of Aion does not enjoy the years or decades of build up like Lord of the Rings, Everquest or even World of Warcraft. I’ve heard the lore referred to as “paper thin” providing barely enough reason for two races to hate each other. I won’t argue over the validity or depth of the existing Aion lore, but enough backstory has been written to offer some interesting options.
Option One: Back to the Future, or Won’t that thing ever die?
A constant refrain of the fantasy genre is to have an ancient evil spring forth and threaten the very existence of all in a realm. Say it with me, “You shall not pass!” With that out of our system, let’s review how an ancient threat may come back to haunt the factions already in turmoil in Atreia. The Drakan seem like the likely candidates that might want to re-emerge as pissed off previous homeowners. I can see them saying “When we handed this place over, it was in great shape, what have you morons done?” Well the Drakan aren’t clean in the whole deal, some of their more motivated types created the Dragon Lords and set into motion the Balaur. I can imagine the Drakan rising out of the ashes of their previous existence and starting the march towards power and fame once again. We know how that story ends, the Drakan and Balaur have superiority complexes and decide that all the pretty people should die, and that’s where we come in (since we’re pretty and all).
Option Two: Young Upstarts get too big for their britches.
When worlds are made, old traditions are buried and new factions emerge. Another route that we may see Aion expanded is the cultist band of Lephar who struggle to count higher than 7 (they have 7 Articles of their Code). The socialist crew that follows Lord Lephar want everyone to be treated equally and share equally in their desire to make Atreia one big Lepharist colony. The religious Lepharists are massing and they won’t go door to door handing out flyers. It would be up to us to crush this religious rebellion and bring disorder back to the world(s).
Option Three: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
If NCsoft doesn’t go after Option One (something old), or Option Two (something new), then they may still go after something borrowed (like maybe portals to different worlds, we could call them planet gates, or Stargates), or if all else fails they could create another race of aliens that crash land on the planet and they’re blue (we could call them Draineye) and they want to take over. Stranger things have happened.
Even if we guess the What, the real question is When?
The game just came out (duh?), so expecting any news on an expansion is very premature. Looking over the MMOG landscape and NCsoft’s history of expansions (Guild Wars), it is probably safe to say we will learn of an expansion in the spring of 2010. I would further expect that expansion to ship prior to World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm (late 2010) or maybe even Star Wars: The Old Republic (this is probably not a 2010 release, but who knows). Any developer trying to ship an expansion just after a WoW expansion is really not giving its game a fair chance, so the goal would be to ship prior to Cataclysm or 45+ days afterwards. Those are all fuzzy numbers, but if I were to put a fine point on the date, I’d guess somewhere in the fall of 2010, probably an anniversary type expansion.
Stop Smoking That
It’s way too early to be looking for an expansion and we won’t see one in 2009, but NCsoft must have at least one expansion in the works. What direction will the game move into next? Will they heed my words and go with a tried and true formula or is there a completely different direction, maybe something I missed? What do you think?