Taking Apart NCsoft's Latest Updates to Aion and City of Heroes

Aion Screenshot - 843741

It’s been a busy year for NCsoft. The Korean purveyor of MMOs has and will continue to see major updates to two of their biggest games in the Western market: Aion and City of Heroes. The company was more than excited to show off the new features each game has brought to 2011. Curious? Cautious but ready to go back to a superhero oldie? Prepared to find out if this pretty fantasy game where everyone has wings has remained aloft? Check out our impressions.

City of Heroes: Can you believe City of Heroes is seven years old? Hot damn, this game (once owned by the likes of Cryptic Entertainment and now headed by Paragon Studios) in addition to NCsoft has shown that you don’t need Azaroth to keep gamers playing. With two expansions—City of Villains (which was more of a sequel/expansion) and City of Heroes: Going Rogue—players have plenty of options to help their hero rock the world. As of April 5, the 20th content expansion was brought to the game, something City of Heroes fans have been diving into for a month now.

So you’re considering coming back? There's a lot to catch up on. First, true endgame content has been brought to City of Heroes. Yeah, we know--but the City of Heroes experience had never really lent itself to endgame content, and now it does. Tons of new content is based around an alternate universe trying to lay waste to the City of Heroes universe, with heroes building task forces to take on the threat on the Sky Raider Flotilla (and mobile fortress). On the villain side, players are making strike forces and working to sneak around this larger threat to benefit themselves by collecting the Flames of Prometheus, an item that will grant some massive stat boosts.

Not at the level cap yet? Good news! A wealth of new content has been brought to the game to prepare level 20-40 characters to best take on the impending threats. Sure, it might not be as epic as the endgame raids, but they’ll be fun all the same.

The new abilities brought to the game are the incarnate abilities, which are only earned through the completion of endgame missions. Players earn slots that grants them pets, massive AOE damage attacks, hyper-strong buffs and nerfs, and more. These abilities are awesome, but require a bit of legwork to unlock. Players have to collect components in order to build these abilities. Additionally, new collectibles called merits will be used to buy extra awesome armor and weapons. This will come with the Keyes Island Reactor region.

What's the Keyes, you ask? Currently there are a few different endgame areas. There’s the Incarnate Trials are Lambda Sector, the Behavioral Adjustment Facility, and others, but one area that is not out yet is the Keyes Island Reactor. Players are looking forward to this new region, which will bring new objectives as well as new gameplay mechanics. If you haven’t played City of Heroes in a long time, now might be a fantastic opportunity to see how it has progressed over these seven long years.

Aion: If City of Heroes has seen some major changes, then so has Aion. This purely Korean MMO has seen a lot of changes to better appeal to Western gamers, and this is no more obvious than with the future update to the game Aion 2.5. The team behind Aion have worked on keeping their three strengths core to the game—deep character customization, worldwide PvP, and distinct PvE, including soloing—and the update to 2.5 will keep these themes present.

If you played Aion and gave up on it over time, the game has seen some major changes in your absence. 1.9 brought more content and weapon fusion. Update 2.0 changed the cap to 55 and offered two new zones to explore and six new instanced dungeons. Pets were also introduced to fans. Update 2.1 revamped the drafting, and XP gain and item drops were increased to cut down on all of the grinding. So what does 2.5 bring? First, the game will have a completely optional visual update. For players who can run the game on its highest settings, this will take what was already a beautiful game and make it even prettier. Additionally, the deep character customization has seen another massive redesign, letting players create chibi versions of themselves, and the addition of new motions mean players can show, not tell, what they are feeling.

Additionally, the UI has seen a bit of a revamp, as the map is now more functional than simply pretty. Pets can be interacted with much more, and they have a mood system that impacts the game. Players can now take advantage of the mentor system, letting high-level players help out low-level players in a way that is less detrimental to the game. Legions also have even more options for working together, and the team-wide cloaks look snazzy.

Of course, the most exciting part is the actual content itself. The biggest new addition is the Esoterrace instance. A massive arena that will take many teams three to four hours to complete, wave after wave of enemy characters will storm in, with opportunities for breaks between the levels and stages. Initially it starts off as a generic arena, but later stages take place under water, in the air, on pirate ships, in a volcano, and even in an alternate dimension. It’s hardcore, and showcases everything that Aion wants to share with their gamers.

NCsoft is working hard to market this game as a solid experience over the pretty graphics, and it looks like they are well on track to making it happen.

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Ben PerLee
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