Aion fans have been awaiting on the edge of their seats to hear more news on the promised changes and additions that are in the works with content update 1.9. While Aion Community Manager Andrew "Tamat" Beegle attempts to smuggle info out of the highly secure dev studio, Ten Ton Hammer took a more conventional route and hit up NCsoft West Producer Chris Hager for an interview to snag a few more details on what is shaping up to be a very significant update. We were not disappointed! Chris shares specifics regarding several already announced features as well sneaks in a little top secret info of his own that you may not have heard about just yet.
Keep reading to find out what update 1.9 will have in store for you!
Ten Ton Hammer: This conversation marks a change in how NCSoft addresses future updates with Aion, doesn't it?
Chris Hager: "We're releasing all this information for the next update in concert with Korea. A lot of times Korea will post it, and because the build won't come to us for several months after, we don't talk about the patch. So then it goes through a poorly translated Google document, and then it gets posted on all of our forums and our websites. Then the community's rife with speculation on what's true and what isn't, and they don't hear a peep out of us.
"So we're really trying to be proactive and put our money where our mouth is when we say we're trying to open up communication with the players, and make sure that the players know that we're on the same page with the Korean team. We want players to have an official presence and a source for players to go to for all of these updates."
Ten Ton Hammer: Tamat gave us a sneak peek (literally) of some of the major bullet points of 1.9. Could you go through the major aspects of 1.9 in a little more depth?
Major instance changes: "One of our biggest instances of PvPvE is the Dredgion instance in the Abyss, and we're doing a number of changes and updates to that to make it a lot more challenging and fun. We have increased the spawn rates, changed the mechanics, decreased the time (because we found that players had too much time in there - we wanted to make it a little bit more fast paced).
"We've got a lot of other instance changes as well. In the past, we know that drop rates have been really low; it really discouraged players, groups, and legions from going through these instances. The main change we've made to instances - we have dramatically increased the drop rates for a lot of the boss mobs. So instead of going through an instance 50 times for a chance to see a really good weapon drop, it's going to be much more noticeable."
A New Looking for Group System: "Currently what we have is a looking for group chat channel, and it can be very hectic to try and find a group. So we actually have a new UI system where you can go in, search for a group, and it'll bring up a listing of group leaders who have posted slots available. You can message the group leader, double click and join the group right away, and likewise you can host a group, you can post a specific class that you need and what you're running. So it's a really good way for players and groups to match up without having to go through a lot of chat spam."
Two-handed weapon merging: "With every patch, we'll potentially overpower one class and under-power another, so this is a way to balance out the gladiator and the warriors as opposed to rangers and assassins that can use two single-handed weapons. Essentially, what it will do is take stats from the lesser of two two-handed weapons that you merge together and put a percentage of those damage stats (plus any bonuses) onto the main weapon. In that process, the lesser weapon will be destroyed, but it'll also move over all of the manastone slots so that the people using a two-handed weapon are no longer at a disadvantage of having less manastone slots than the dual-wielders. So it's a way of leveling things out, especially in PvP."
New daily quests: "We've got a bunch of new daily quests, with a number of level ranges and two difficulty ranges (easy and hard). The rewards are actually according to whether you choose the hard or the easy route. Some of the examples of rewards are consumable items, items like weapons and armor that have a time duration on them. With these rewards, you can get the benefit of having a high-powered weapon for 24 or 48 hours, without necessarily having it as a permanent weapon."
Reduced money sinks and more flight paths: "We've not only increased the number of flight paths in all of our maps, but we've reduced the cost for them, as well as reduced the cost for soul healing and soul binding. As opposed to fairly breaking even between buying new spells and soul healing, this will allow players to take more risks, enjoy the game more, and purchase a little more frivolously, which is something we all like to do from time to time.
"With the new flight paths, players are spend a lot less time running, and a lot more time playing. I know sometimes it takes me five or ten minutes to run halfway around one map to get to one spot, and I'd probably die once or twice too. I think that's a really good one for players so that they can spend more time playing and less time running and dodging."
More quest experience and better rewards: "One of the other major things we're doing is enhancing the experience (XP) gains for quests. We've listened to the players comment about how the XP gains are for quests, and how when they do one of these epic campaign quests with 20 steps, and when they complete the final step, the final result is that they get a green piece of armor that's actually worse than the armor they picked up while doing the quest. So we went through and really enhanced the value of the rewards for quests to make them actually valuable to players."
Weapon rentals: "We'll have a weapon rental shop with 1.9. If you're in a hurry and you don't have a lot of kinah but have some (or maybe it's a double xp weekend), and you really want to go play with your friends or level up, you can actually go to a merchant and rent better equipment than you have that's on a timer similar to those daily quest rewards. You can go and have fun, and spend a fraction of what you'd spend on buying it."
And much more: "There are 26 pages of patch notes for 1.9, but these are just some of the highlights."
Ten Ton Hammer: Aside from the instance changes, many of the 1.9 changes seem geared toward the PvE / cooperative player side of the game rather than PvP. Would you say fattening up the PvE and quest content side of the game, the loot and levels, is where NCSoft's focus is at present?
Chris: I think the 1.9 specific focus is on enhancing the overall customer experience. One of the things I was talking to Lincoln [Davis, NCSoft PR guru] about earlier is that you play your game, you get into your groove, and there are things that are annoying about the game, but you do them because it's part of the routine. Until the development, publishing, or production team introduce a new way to do it that's easier, you don't really know it until you see it, and this is what 1.9 is about. Taking a lot of things lurking in the back of players' minds and fixing them.
Some of the things I initially talked about were PvE oriented, but in addition to the Dredgion changes, there are PvP base items - there's a whole new set of Abyss items available at the Abyss merchant. So there are things there for PvP players as well.
Ten Ton Hammer: You talked about the drop rate increasing in instances, so players will essentially be getting the same loot, but more of it?
Chris: There are a couple of changes with regard to what loot will drop, but yea, obviously I can't talk about the specific drop rates, but players will notice. And it will be an increase.
Ten Ton Hammer: Besides the changes to warrior and gladiator with the new two-handed weapon transformation system, are there any other significant class changes coming in 1.9?
Chris: We've got a bunch of new skill additions and a bunch of new class tweaks as well. Without looking at it directly, there are 15 new skills being added across the levels and probably between 10-15 class tweaks that go all the way from assassins to sorcerers to clerics. So there are definitely balance fixes going on throughout this update for all the classes.
Ten Ton Hammer: What is the "stun attack defense system" that appeared on the document that Tamat "leaked"?
Chris: What essentially happens is that if someone attacks you and you get stunned, you can counter that stun. There are a lot of skills in game that will do an automatic stun. For example, the warrior's shield bash will produce a stun. It's kind of a way to make players think and act more when stunned or when wanting to use a stun ability, especially in terms of PvP. If you're battling several people you want to make sure that you're using it at the correct time, or if you want to use the stun, what will the counter be, and is your group prepared for it?
Ten Ton Hammer: Maybe not in 1.9, but perhaps in the future, are there any changes coming to open PvP that will allow players to de-flag instead of dodge their way through the levels?
Chris: I can't really go into that right now, to be honest. I think that's something we've definitely taken note of, across the board. Player feedback is important to us, but right now we're focused on 1.9, and it's probably not a feature of 1.9. What I would say to that, is that 1.9 is all about listening to player feedback over the past 6 months and incorporating that into the game. That being said, we haven't stopped listening to the players.
Ten Ton Hammer: Is there any timetable for when 1.9 will make it to this side of the Pacific?
Chris: We don't have a timetable that we're ready to discuss yet. We are currently in the localization process. Historically, there's been a several month gap - if you look at [Lineage 2] publishes, there's anywhere between a 2 to 5 month gap on an update. That is something that we've always looked at and not liked. Change is in the air; we're getting patch notes in concert with Korea and we're looking at closing that gap as much as is possible.