by Stefanie Fogel
previewed on PC
Expansion or Update?
It has been nearly a year since NCsoft first brought their massively multiplayer online role-playing game Aion to western shores. Now, the developer is hard at work on the Korean import’s first expansion called Assault on Balaurea. Previously known as Update 2.0, Assault on Balaurea is different from other expansions on the market simply due to the fact that it’s completely free. It is a huge content update that will be available for digital download on September 7th. A new retail version of the game that includes the new expansion content, as well as an exclusive in-game pet (more on that later), will also be available for purchase in North America on September 7th and in Europe on September 10th.
NCsoft is promising some significant changes to the world of Aion as, for the first time, players will be able to venture beyond the lands of Elysea and Asmodae to launch massive counter assaults against the NPC Balaur on their home turf. Two new areas will open up, along with several smaller shared instance areas. The Elyos’ base of operations in this new land is Ingission, while the Asmodians will call Gelkmaros home. Older and wilder than the cataclysm-shattered lands of Atreia, Balaurea features plenty of overgrown ruins, ice-filled caverns and lush, towering vegetation. Many of the creatures encountered in this new, hostile environment also seem larger than life, dwarfing the player characters with their size. And there will be at least one very large dragon to defeat!
New level cap and flight mechanic
Before players start sharpening their dragon-slaying swords, however, they have to level up. Assault on Balaurea is raising the level cap from 50 to 55 and adding 33 new skills across all of its classes. The expansion will also include 43 new stigmas that will complement the new skills. NCsoft is promising plenty of new weapons, armor and instances, including two new solo instances at levels 18 and 37 that will contain their own storylines. Six new instances for level 50+ players, both solo and multiplayer, will also feature compelling storylines that will make Aion lore fans happy as players delve into the secrets of the Balaur and discover where they come from.
Aion’s flight mechanic is getting a bit of an upgrade in the expansion, thanks to the addition of windstreams. Similar to World of Warcraft’s griffons, windstreams allow players to travel quickly over long distances. Using a windstream won’t decrease your flight timer, and some will even let you exit at any point in time and glide down to the lands below. Geysers and updrafts will help players navigate the world, allowing them to reach places that are otherwise inaccessible.
Vanity and “functional” pets
Assault on Balaurea’s other big feature is the addition of pets. While they won’t be able to help out in combat, the pets are functional and can warn players when danger is nearby. They can even store items and produce crafting resources, making farming materials less of a pain for higher level characters. Other pets, meanwhile, will simply be vanity pets who follow players around and look cute, and not much else. Puppies, pandas and mini dragons are just some of the options available to players, along with other, more bizarre options, such as a pet wearing a robe and Scream mask. Much like player character animations, the pet animations seem to be well-crafted with plenty attention to detail. The puppy rolls onto its back and plays dead, while the panda has its very own backpack, and the Scream pet occasionally and comically drops its mask.
Right now, it is hard to say if Assault on Balaurea is truly worthy of being called an expansion, or if it is merely a large content patch. Either way, Aion fans will have plenty more to do, see and collect once it is released next month.