For those of you who aren't familiar with my blog and just want the skinny on Aion, I will do my best to provide a comprehensive look at the crafting system and list my personal Pros and Cons. I'll give explanations as much as possible, so you can decide whether something applies to you or not. This review will be written from the perspective of players who place a high value on the crafting system in an MMO, with the ideal benchmark being the ability to fully level via crafting. Since this isn't possible most of the time, I'm going to be pointing out any areas where leveling or killing is forced on the player to progress through the crafting system.
The first thing you notice when starting Aion is that the graphics are quite nice - specifically the character customization area. So I want to acknowledge that a lot of effort has clearly been put into the look of this game and there is a huge level of customization available. Once you actually drag yourself away from the character design portion and start playing, it's a pretty standard gaming experience. You'll be doing quests, killing mobs, and visiting your class trainer to learn new abilities. I was actually surprised at how similar the game play felt to WoW, even though I purposely picked a character type I don't play (mage).
A fun thing I discovered right away is that you have the ability to gather any materials you come across. Aion does not distinguish between gathering herbs, ore, or anything else. If it's a node, you can collect it, and no special training is required to unlock this ability. As a result, I was able to start collecting materials as I made my way through the newbie zones. One of the cool things about Aion is that you get XP for harvesting nodes and crafting items. All nodes work the way mining used to work in WoW. You click two or more times and get one resource each time until the node is used up. The amount of XP you earn is pretty small, but better than nothing. I earned 185 XP for a 25 skill node and 195 XP for a 30 skill node. This doesn't appear to scale as you level up. XP seems to be based on the level of the item, not the level of the player. When creating an item that required a skill level of 1, I got the exact same amount of XP at level 13 as I did at level 10.
Initially, I was enjoying my newfound ability to collect every goodie I came across, but it didn't take me long to realize that I didn't know what I'd be doing with these items. I had no idea how much of anything I was going to need when I finally got to a city. It's kind of an awkward situation because you want to be proactive and get a jump on the components you'll need later, but without trainer access you really can't do this type of planning. When I got to the city, I found that most of the items I had gathered were not of much use to me. Some professions will use the first wave of components for the whole first tier, but others may only use them for the first 20 skill points. If you don't want to waste your time gathering items you won't need, you might want to visit a database site and confirm which nodes are used for the craft you want to pursue. Reliable information can be a little harder to come by with a new game like Aion, so be aware of that.
Another thing I found frustrating during this time was the lack of amenities. In the newbie zone, you have no access to the main city. This means you cannot visit crafting trainers, you cannot put anything in the bank, and you cannot visit the Auction House. Pretty much anything you would do in a city is locked during this phase. You're required to quest all the way through the newbie area and complete your "mission" quest line, which eventually provides you a teleport to the city. Since there are level requirements in place, this will probably occur around level 9 or 10. Because of this, the 1-10 portion of the game is heavily reliant on combat and questing, depending on how much gathering you decide to do. You probably could just gather your way through, but it would take significantly longer to go that route. One gathering action grants about 1/5 of the XP that killing a level 10 mob does.
While you can't get to an Auction until you reach the city, Aion does have the concept of a personal store. This feature allows you to plop down in any location and start selling items as your own little traveling market. I didn't particularly like the way this worked. Your toon just whips out a chair (from where, I have no clue) and starts broadcasting to nearby players with a canned message. The second I realized what it was doing, I turned mine off. I have no desire to sit in the middle of a random village and annoy other players. But then again, I'm not a trade chat barker either, so some players may be just fine with this system. You are required to stay logged in while your store is active, but you cannot engage in other activities. EQ2 had a similar system and I always found it strange from a technical viewpoint. Why would you want to encourage players to camp on your servers when they aren't actively playing?
Once you reach level 10 and complete the primary quest line that takes you to the city, you'll be able to unlock the manufacturing professions. The basic structure of the skill system has five tiers which each take 100 skill points to complete. My goal was to get through at least one tier of recipes which meant getting to 99 skill. It costs about 3500 "kinah" (gold) to unlock the first tier of a craft. This sounds like a lot of money, but early quests reward several hundred gold each, so it's not too difficult to build up a respectable stash by the time you get to the city. Additionally, I had read that it takes about 18k to fully fund the first tier of training, so that's what I tried to save up. Sadly, it wasn't even close to the correct amount I ended up needing.
In order to engage in crafting activities, you have to be in the city. Each craft requires an appropriate work station, and items cannot be made without one. Tailors use a loom, weaponsmiths use a forge, and so on. This sort of thing didn't really bother me, but if you're out adventuring and want to make a quick item or two, it's not an option. I just set my binding point to the city so I could return with minimal fuss.
Aion has a really great feature that I love as a crafter. You can learn as many professions as you want on a single character. Unfortunately I wasn't able to put this to the test during my week of beta time. I can confirm that I was able to unlock a second profession - Cooking. I even made a few items to level it up and make sure it was working as advertised. I verified through several different sources that it's possible to learn all of the professions, however they will only let you max out in one. Personally, I'd be thrilled if I could consolidate all my crafting on one character. Then I'd only need one toon, hehe! But as always, there's a downside, and it's the cost factor. I just didn't have enough money to level more than one profession to 99, so I had to restrain myself. It's a good thing too. I went through an obscene amount of money just in one profession. So while I like this idea, I think it would take a fairly established player to take advantage of it. The way the tradeskills are structured, you'll need a ton of cash. It could take awhile for the game economy to mature enough to make multi-crafters viable. Right now I don't think it is.
Much about this crafting system is different than what we WoW players are used to. First of all, the trainer doesn't seem to actually teach you recipes. Trainers unlock the skill tiers and hand out work orders. A work order is like a crafting quest that you can use to level up your tradeskill. In fact, you pretty much have to use work orders because leveling up your skill on actual recipes is insanely expensive. Since no one has a lot of money in a brand new game, clearly work orders are going to be the mechanism of choice. Essentially what happens is the trainer gives you a work order quest and part of the materials needed to complete it. You purchase the other items from a nearby vendor (thread, dye, etc) and make the items. You turn the quest in to the trainer, and she rewards you with a recipe or crafting components. From what I can tell, work order rewards are the main way to collect recipes. The vendor also sells these same recipes, but it's cheaper to just get them by doing work orders.
At first I thought this was a cool system, but I soon realized this wasn't as wonderful as my first impression led me to believe. The cost involved in doing work orders ramps up rather quickly. At 10 skill level, the work order quest requires you to purchase 332g worth of extra mats. By the time you get to 90 skill, you are paying 672g per work order. Unfortunately, you don't get a skill point for every item like we typically do in WoW. The skill up rate appears to be about 15% in Aion, even for recipes in the first tier. Most work orders have you crafting about 6 items per quest. This means you'll get about 1 skill point per work order. And yes, I was doing the hardest item available to achieve the 15% skill up rate. As you level, you'll spend an average of 600g per skill point which adds up to about 60,000 kinah (gold) to get through the first 100 skill points. The cost to unlock the second tier of a craft is about 17,000 kinah, compared to 3,500 kinah for unlocking the first tier of recipes. As you can see the money continues to ramp up as you get higher. I couldn't even guess what it would cost to max a profession all the way to 500.
After a while, I realized an even bigger downside to this system. I had nothing to sell and no way to recoup any of my costs. The trainer takes the items from you when you turn in the quest, so you've got nothing to show for your 60,000 kinah. Now I realize that when we grind up on green recipes, we rarely sell those either. But we can still vendor or DE them and get something back. With work orders, 100% of your investment is gone.
Once I figured this out, I decided it was kind of crappy. So I started to mix in some actual crafting with the work orders to beef up my cash flow. At least if I made a few items here and there, I'd have something to sell. This is when I discovered another downside to the Aion system. All of the recipes you learn are for white/common items. The trainer doesn't actually give you recipes for green (uncommon) gear. Apparently uncommon items are a random proc from a common recipe. I'm not sure what the ratios are. One small sample I took showed 50/50, and a later sample was around 37% greens. There's no way to know for sure until this goes live, but for now just understand that uncommon items are a proc and not a given when crafting. More often you'll be selling common quality items, which luckily players were actually buying. Green quality gear wasn't all that prevalent on the Auctions, but that could change once more players level up and the economy matures.
The process of crafting an item, at least for Tailoring, was fairly complex. Most of the items I made followed a three step process. You combine the fibers you harvest into thread. Then you turn your thread into better thread and/or pieces of cloth. I wasn't clear why I needed to make thread out of thread, that seemed kind of silly. Once you have your thread and cloth made, then you combine that into armor. In theory it seems nice to have crafting that involves a step by step process and in many ways mimics real crafting. Eventually this just became tedious, especially when I was trying to prep materials for several items at once. Since the items I was crafting weren't even high quality, it felt like overkill to put forth this much effort. I think a system where simpler items follow a simple process and better items require more steps might be a happy medium.
One thing that I definitely didn't like about the Aion system is that most of the recipes require drop components, and not just a few. Roughly 25% of the ingredients in all armor recipes from the first tier of Tailoring are drop items. In my book, this constitutes a deal-breaker as far as non-combat leveling is concerned. As a player, if you were trying to minimize combat play, you'd be forced to purchase at least 25% of your materials from the auction. That's assuming the game economy is robust enough to provide a steady supply of these items. I was willing to purchase them from the auction, but with the low server population, there just wasn't enough materials available for purchase. I actually tried to farm a few of these items, and the drop rate is really low. Like single digits low. Either that, or I just had terrible luck.
Another 25% of the materials for armor recipes comes from an item called Aether Powder. This is a strange little item that's gatherable, but the nodes spawn in the air. You must fly up to get them, which brings us to another case of bad design. Flying at level 10 sounds really cool, right? The catch is that you can only fly for 60 seconds, and the flight ability is on a 60 second cooldown. Perhaps this isn't too annoying if you're only doing short hops from one quest to another or one clump of mobs to another. However, if you're focused on gathering, this is a HUGE pita.
So lets say I fly up, harvest maybe 2-3 bits of aether depending on how high the node is and how much time it takes me to get in range. By then, my timer is close to expiring and I have to get back down to the ground. Assuming I land safely, then I have to stand around for 60 seconds waiting for my timer to refresh before I can fly back up. When I say land safely, I really mean it. If you don't fly back down to a safe height, you can die when your timer expires. There were a number of times I knocked some of my health off by cutting my landing a bit too close, and I did actually die once when I miscalculated my landing time. Considering just one piece of armor can use 2-5 bits of aether for lowbie gear and up to 10 aether in later tiers, this isn't just a minor annoyance. In all fairness I don't know how this flight window scales at higher levels. I only made it to level 13 before the beta ended. On the other hand, I see no legitimate reason behind the flight timer and cooldown, so I give that part a big thumbs down.
One thing I haven't mentioned yet is the concept of failure. Yes, Aion actually has failure integrated into their crafting system. If you attempt a recipe that's challenging for you, you can fail in your attempt and lose all of your materials. On a work order quest this isn't the end of the world, just a minor annoyance to go back to the vendor and buy more materials. With a real item this would be a serious problem, since even a 50 skill tunic requires 18 pieces of harvested fiber, 4 harvested aether, and 4 drop items. Luckily, I didn't fail when making a real item, but that's probably because I didn't make many of them. From what I've read, the failure rate gets higher as you level your skill. If that's true, then latter tiers could bring a huge financial loss. If I really felt that failure needed to be a part of a crafting system, I would incorporate some sort of refund of materials. If I make something in the real world, it's pretty unusual that a mistake would cause 100% of my materials to be destroyed. More often than not, there would be something to salvage. I see no reason that crafting failures couldn't have the same salvage recovery aspect.
As you can see, there are a lot of caveats with the shiny features Aion put in their crafting system. When I initially read about what they had to offer, it sounded really cool. Unfortunately most of those cool features are undermined by harsh implementation. Granting XP for gathering and crafting, but the XP is low and doesn't scale, making it impractical at upper levels. Being able to unlock all professions, but the cost to level one skill is so exhorbitant that it would take forever to earn the money for multiple skills. Providing quests that help you level your skill, but turning them into a big money sink. Integrating looted materials into the recipes to such a high degree that you'd be forced to farm mobs for them. At the end of the day, the only feature that felt like a true improvement was the built-in gathering skill for all nodes. Other than that, I really wouldn't rate any of these features as better than WoW because they are so restrictive. It's actually sad, because they started out with good ideas, but it's as if they were so worried about long term abuse that they nerfed them to the ground before anyone could actually enjoy them.
In general, I have no problem with Aion's more complex crafting system and the smaller XP gains associated with crafting. What put me over the line in this game was the high level of mob drops required to make even the simplest items and the overall steep cost to level crafting. I spent half my time questing and killing just to earn the money to keep going because I kept running out of cash. Bear in mind that I wasn't making armor to sell most of the time. At least 90% of my skill points were done with work order quests. I was eating up money just for work order materials, which is much cheaper than leveling a skill with crafted armor. At the end of the day, you are forced to go out and do quests to earn the money needed to keep crafting. You're also very likely to be forced into combat to collect mob drops for crafted armor. Until this game economy matures to the point where materials are more readily available on the Auctions and high level players are earning enough money to reasonably fund extra crafting skills, I don't see this crafting system being notably better than what we have in WoW. Unless you just like added complexity for it's own sake, with no meaningful increase in reward.
- Can gather any item type immediately upon entering the world
- Can unlock all professions on one character
- Gain XP for gathering and crafting
- Do Work orders to level skill
- Can fly at 10 to gather sky nodes
- Professions not unlocked until level 10
- Leveling a single profession is extremely expensive just for vendor/trainer fees.
- No bank or auction access until level 10
- Flying has a 60 sec cooldown, making sky gathering sessions more time consuming
- Work order quests leave you with nothing to sell
- Failure to craft a challenging item results in lost materials
- Heavy reliance on loot drop components, making combat-free crafting impractical