Public test servers. Just three small words. What thoughts and feelings do these words invoke in MMO gamers? Much like the words "open beta," PTS seems to represent more of a sneak-peek playground for upcoming gaming goodness instead of a place to test and tweak said upcoming features before they go live. Come on, let's admit it: In an age when the philosophy of instant gratification seduces new acolytes by the hour, who can truly deny that desire to see all that is new and shiny? Who doesn't want to take a stroll through new instances, test out new weapons, and try on new gear? New equals exciting. And we test-drive cars, so why not games? And if we test-drive games, then why not game patches?
With this in mind, I think it would not be far-fetched to believe that Daevas flocked to New Atreia (as I have dubbed it, seeing as this world certainly could not be confused with the Atreia I already know) when NCsoft opened Aion's test server to the public on May 12th. After all, many players are eagerly anticipating the features offered in the 2.5 patch. So in order to bring you a taste of what's to come, yours truly ventured forth onto the realm of the PTS. What I found was exciting, fun... and a bit surprising.
Vicariously live the crazy whirlwind life of a PTSian after the break.
While under the guise of gathering information for completely scientific reasons (and to share all discoveries with you of course!), I counted down the days until I could create a character or two on the test server. Since you can create both Elyos and Asmodians there, I thought to give both sides a whirl. But first things first: I had to make a character.
Now those of you who know me have already groaned. Yes, adding even more fine-tuning and expressions into the character customization added still more time to my already lengthy process of creation. What's worse, the issue of picking the perfect shade of skin in creation only to find the hue seriously altered upon your entering the game still exists. Figuring out the pattern to the change, I was finally able to get the in-game skin tone more to my liking after remaking five times. Not the speediest of starts. And since the only way to remember your other choices is by screenshotting the creation process, mimicking that certain look you just perfected takes even longer. (Hint for NCsoft: How about having a save feature in creation to save models? I promise it would be useful and popular!)
Now, where were we? Ah yes. Sadly, I discovered that I could no longer create black hair on Asmodians, so I had to revisit my plans. After crawling along at a snail's pace using the new color sliders, I finally found a look I was happy with. OK, some of you may find taking that much time to be silly -- especially with the ever-present possibility of a server wipe (yet another reason to save character models, NCsoft!) -- but remember, my creation will be gracing these hallowed web pages. I certainly can't have my model looking less than his or her best! Besides that, I take pride in my art! And with so many options, you truly can get a personalized look that is your own work of art.
Four score and many minutes later, having finished perusing the new body types and experimenting with the four new expressions, I finally logged into Ishalgen and stayed. And so it began.
Life in the fast lane
While this experience was the tortoise in character creation, it quickly transformed into the hare once I logged in and began to play. See, in my mind, I knew and understood that XP would be gained at an accelerated rate. But that still didn't prepare me for the actual experience. My first level advancement was achieve in one minute and 21 seconds flat. And that is because I took the time to do a quest! Level 5 was achieved within 12 minutes, five seconds -- again, because I took time out to do quests. It was at this point that I actually stopped doing any quests, as the time to click on the NPC to acquire the quest and then return to turn it in cut seriously into the XP per minute yield. Just killing mobs had me swimming in so much XP that I swear I began to feel like XP was oozing up out of the ground where ever I walked!
In truth, the only thing that slowed progression down was traveling to mobs to kill, stopping to empty my bags, or taking a moment to catch my breath. Ironically, there are some drawbacks to this break-neck speed. I leveled so fast my head was spinning and my wrist was aching from the fast pace. If you found a little spot with a good respawn, you literally just would target, kill, and level. I couldn't even begin to keep up on skill books; I only grabbed skill books about every 10 levels. So the fast-paced leveling was with inferior skills!
XP wasn't the only thing raining down on Daevas in the PTS -- AP gain was also cranked up exponentially. Single rank 9 kills gave so many Abyss Points that I blinked my eyes in disbelief, and fortress guards gave so much that I heard one PvPer cackling with glee.
As if XP and AP alone raining upon Daevas like mana wasn't enough, loot rates were also increased. And I don't mean increased-like-on-live-servers-where-you-can't-notice-a-thing increased; I mean so-much-loot-that-you-can't-see-the-ground-for-the-blue-glow-of-unclaimed-loot increased. Without exaggeration, I can report that the ground literally became littered with piles of unlooted bodies because my cube just couldn't hold it. Even after expanding my cube to the max, I'd waste so much time traveling to town to sell off loot that I just had to let it lie where it fell, taking only coin and possibly gear upgrades. Then again, I leveled so fast that many upgrades were obsolete in the blink of an eye. Tell me Daevas couldn't get used to this! We'd need an army of Shugo loot-litter removers!
There and back again
Obviously, the logic behind increased leveling and loot drop rates is sound: Players need to get to the new content in order to experience and test it. And with only two weeks between the PTS opening and the patch going live, that does not give much time for characters to get up to the levels needed to explore said content. I understand this. It makes sense. But that didn't negate the shock of returning to the regular servers where the world is more drab, the AP and XP come at a crawl, and loot becomes rare again. I have to admit, I found moving between the two servers to be a bit painful and disconcerting. Perhaps this explains in part the surprise I found on the PTS: It was relatively deserted.
Although definitely a positive when enjoying a quiet LFG channel, the negative becomes apparent when trying out group content; if you think finding groups is hard on your regular server, try getting one on the test server. Despite the fact that all of the new shinies are there, very few Daevas seemed to have been lured over. Maybe some players found it painful to level so quickly knowing what awaited them back on the live servers, so they avoid the temptation of the PTS lest they become so disheartened they give up entirely. Perhaps with only two weeks until Empyrean Calling would arrive on the live servers, most found enough patience to wait it out. Shocking thought, I know. It could be that some players simply couldn't forfeit any precious time when it came to developing their permanent characters.
It could also be that NCsoft shot itself in the foot by offering such great incentives on the live servers (increased XP, increased drop rates, increased AP gain) that Daevas couldn't afford to miss out by going to the PTS. If the idea of the test server was to actually have the features tested, I think the ball was dropped. However, if the only reason to open up that server was to build excitement for the upcoming goodies and allow players a brief taste before sinking their teeth into the main course, then I would call the PTS a success. I have to admit, with only two days left to go, I am very excited for this patch to finally go live.
Soaring through the Aionosphere, MJ Guthrie touches down weekly to bring you Wings Over Atreia. Featuring tips, guides, and general snippets of life in Aion, the column is better than Tutty-on-a-stick, ackackackackackack! Have a suggestion to share? No need to bribe a Shugo -- just send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.