Aion has experienced a myriad of highs and lows since its North American release a year ago. After making big numbers in the Asian market, the game struggled to make an impact on US and European players. Now with the release of Aion’s first expansion, Assault on Balaurea, former players are looking at the game once again and hoping for a brand new experience.
Did NCsoft manage to deliver an expansion that manages to appeal to the western gaming market? Ten Ton Hammer has given Aion a comprehensive run through to find out if Assault on Balaurea delivers.
Aion: Assault on Balaurea is rate T for Teen for Blood, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol, and Violence. Really, just all the good stuff that makes a game awesome.
Returning players should also know that many Aion accounts have been compromised or hacked. If you attempt to log in and find that your account has banned, immediately contact NCsoft customer support at (512)225-6359 Monday through Friday, 12 noon to 5 p.m. CT.
Assault on Balaurea's storyline shifts the focus from the struggles between the Elyos and the Asmodians (although there is still plenty of that too) and turns the spotlight on the trouble making Balaur. Daevas from both factions unite together in a common cause to invade the Balaur homeland and work to put an end to their menacing acts of war. Make no mistake though, the opposing factions may have a common enemy but that doesn’t put any damper on the war between the Elyos and Asmodians and they will fight their own battles against each in a continuing PvP saga.
New zones offer new content and a smoother progression
The expansion is clearly geared to entice higher level players back into the fold and those who heed the call will not be disappointed in what they find. The two new overland zones are surprisingly big in size given that they only actually cover a five level spread rather than the 20+ level spread of the older zones. This gives a wonderful effect of a great amount of gameplay space with more relevant content for those players. No longer will you have to trudge through low level mobs searching for something that you can actually defeat in a fair fight or rub elbows with those unwashed low level masses!
Keeping in line with traditional zone build, you will find the familiar format of soloable content upfront and group focused elites in the back of the zone. This is important because no one wants to stumble over elite mobs when they are out doing some light solo questing.
In addition to the full overland content, players will also enjoy several challenging dungeons that range from impressive to “Omg, you had BETTER be well geared!” as well as a raid style zone for 12 players that will make a name for any legion that manages to conquer that bad boy.
If you are more of a lone wolf don’t worry, the expansion still has something for you. Three new solo instances were added for levels 18-22, 37-41, and 50-55. These quality instances are not only fun but also very rewarding and casual players may just find themselves rushing to the next level set that will get you access to one of these!
Now while the solo instances are awesome, there really isn’t much else in the way of lower level content which is a bit of a disappointment for me. I prefer expansions that bring in a range of new content as they tend to do a much better job of encouraging former players to return as well as add to re-playability for capped players who start up new toons. All players do get pets which are adorable and a lot of fun to collect, but other than basic utilities, they don't really add much to the game.
Another point to mention is that while NCsoft did add a lot of quests and the expansion has a better flow of progression than the rest of the game, players striving to get to level 50 to enjoy the new content will still be hitting the grind. Yes, there are tons of repeatable quests but it is still grinding if you have to run those repeatable quests ten times in order to see any progress on that experience bar.
Aion's graphics have always been a magical feature for me. Combining the Asian style dream-like quality of world beauty with the flexibility of graphic options that many NA players are accustomed to, the game manages to bring a level of semi-realism that is reminiscent of a fine art painting. The vivid colors, lush atmosphere, and amazing attention to detail permeate every corner of Atreia and I believe that you'll be hard pressed to find another game that possesses such a lovely ambiance. The original style and theme of art is carried over into the expansion and players can expect to enjoy the same high level of visual quality in the new lands as they have through out their Aion gaming career.
Probably one the coolest aspect of Aion's graphics is the combat effects. With five new levels to play through, gamers get the benefit of brand new abilities. These aren’t just lame upgrades to what you already have on your hotbar, but new eye candy that gives you a solid reason to scroll out and play in third person just so you can admire how freaking badass you look while dishing out the pain. It’s exactly why I always play in third person in Aion.
Assault on Balaurea has a very pleasant musical score. It has a soft and soothing melody that manages to add depth to your surroundings without being overly intrusive. NPCs have voices which gives them a life and personality of their own. Combat has the epic clash of steel, the buzz of magic, and the sounds of effort in battle (grunts, oohs, and ahhs for the win!) that make you wonder if you’re in game or in a really posh porno.
One caution though, if you have your sound up in town you'll hear the new sounds of a million and one pets roaming around. Most of the time these are a cute background noise that isn't really bothersome unless you're at the broker and everyone around you has a pet out that is randomly doing hops and flips. I eventually turned my sound down because after a while, cute turns into face stabbing annoying.