Aion: A Crafting Review

Last week Aion had an open beta event where anyone could sign up for an account and try the game. For those of you who missed this in our Comments, my husband convinced me to try other MMOs to experience their crafting systems and see how they compare to WoW. Presumably by doing this, I can get a better understanding for the good, the bad and the ugly. I have to say that my time in Aion has certainly helped in that regard, and I think this test has turned up some valuable information.



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.

PROS

  • 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


CONS

  • 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

10 comments:

  1. Good overview.

    Crafting in Aion sounds quite similar to Saga of Ryzom. Crafting failures, being able to collect everything and becoming a high level crafter acutally being a challenge and meaning something.

    I must say crafting failures sounds ok, but in practice is extremely annoying. Nothing worse than spendin a lot of play time accumulating the materials for some uber powerful item only to have the creation of it fail due to random numbers.

    Personally I find crafting in WoW fairly dull. Everyone is Grand Master Tailor/Enchanter etc so spending the time leveling your professions doesn't add much to your toon except an option for making some money and a small buff. Sure there are a few unusual/rare recipies, but generally they are easy enough to obtain.

    In a system like Aion/SoR high level crafters were well respected and known and could demand high prices for the high quality items they could make.

    I suppose what im saying is in the Aion/SoR type system you can play a crafter as your main role and have a niche in the game. In WoW there is ten people just the same as you and crafting is just a minor side mini-game.

    Gobble gobble.

    ReplyDelete
  2. sounds alot like final fantasy xi. crafting failures, learning all crafts but only being able to max 1 (theirs was 1 to 100, all others to 60). Being able to set up your own marketplace (usually done on mules and you didnt get a chair :p). critical succeses making better items (in ffxi +1's). and insanely expensive.....yup its an asian game. alot of their crafting systems have some nice points but are pretty hardcore. at least here you dont have to craft at specific times on specific days facing a specific direction during a certain phase of the moon....(and no im not joking, ffxi had that)

    ReplyDelete
  3. so what did you think of Aion from a non-crafting standpoint?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bob: I agree that I would like crafting to have more "cache" than it currently does. There should be some way to distinguish dedicated crafters from min/max players and WoW currently doesn't have that. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm in the camp that feels crafting should be so hard that no one except dedicated crafter-types would be willing to endure it. Surely there's a happy medium, at least I hope there is :)

    Rien: I didn't want to put a lot of non-crafting perspective into my review because all of my game time was focused on progressing crafting. So my combat experiences are probably skewed vs someone who goes in to test the leveling game. But from what I did experience, it felt very WoW-like in terms of questing, using special attacks to kill mobs and unlocking new spells as you level. I found myself thinking in standard MMO terms during combat (slow, dot, root, blast, repeat). The combat abilities I tried were not unique enough to make combat feel significantly different, just different graphics with different spell names. The graphics and character customization are very nice, but at the end of the day it's another EQ or WoW type MMO. I hear that PVP becomes more prevalent as you reach the level cap, but I didn't get high enough to experience that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think i'd prefer a crafting system that was hard but provided good rewards all the way through. A system that wasn't mandatory for crafting-only buffs (like WoW) and which had a lot of hard to make, high quality gear, all of which was in WoW terminology was BoE.

    So you could dabble in the easier, lower levels of crafting for some reasonable gear for the "leveling phase" of the game but which became increasingly harder to improve. At some point players would basically decide to focus on their crafting and invest the time in it, which would allow them to produce high quality goods for sale/use, or stop working on crafting and accept that you will have to buy the goods from the crafters who did invest the time.

    But thats my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bob, I COMPLETELY agree with you. On my main (80 dwarf hunter) i have been a LW from lvl 10, put in many MANY hours to just farming leather, scales(blue dragon scales anyone?) and other such items. Then a member of our guild leveled his LW in about 6 hours and 12k gold later, he hit 450, while i am still at 438 (unlucky with artic fur drops!) That same guildie, in the following 2 weeks, leveled his mining to 450, enchanting and Engineering, all within 2 days max from start to finish.

    It really annoys me that people do this, and takes away from dedicated crafters like me. On my tankadin alt, I have been a BS from approx 15, and am actually reaping the benefits, having made most of my own gear esp my current tank set!

    If there was a way to keep the Higher lvl recipes only available to those who are dedicated to crafting, then I would feel ESTATIC about having a high lvl BS and LW. As it is I am just one of MANY LW and Armorsmiths on my server. alot of them power-levelers, just buying mats off the AH and flooding the market.

    I had a thought about having Crafting recipes ONLY available through quests involving crafting, much like Aeon. With typical XP quest rewards and some currency as a payoff, one could lvl through just crafting. By having to do quests in order to unlock recipes, you would weed out the powerlevelers, and basically everyone nnot dedicated to the craft, and with multiple crafting profs per toon, there would be the possibilty of doing several "quest lines" at the same time, add in the xp reward for gathering, and you have happy crafters!

    The other thing i would like is found in Wow, that several crafting items ccould be combined into other crafting profs (potions form Alch, Enchanted Leather from Enchanting, and Buckles from BS all tie into LW just for an example) thus making multi-crafters a very powerful advantage. I am a Multi-crafter(or as close to one as you can get) in WoW. I have at least one toon for each prof, and all have the supplying prof (ie Skinning for LW and Tailor, Mining for BS JC and Eng) While this does provide some agravation if you havent lvled a prof yet, it does create more of a market for items you make for those crafters that havent lvled your prof yet.

    I feel that we would need a group of crafting quests to unlock recipes and xp for gathering, but with those, there is no reason anyone wouldnt be able to lvl up just by crafting, esp if the xp rewards were high enough that you could keep your toon on par with the mobs in the area where you have to gather from (wat crafter hasnt had to fight a little to get to a node?)

    If a game were to combine all these, along with a good combat system for those hack-and-slash guys(and girls) then i think it would be flying off the shelves! I for one would Definetly play that game!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I was wondering have you tried Perfect World and is it in anyway comparable to Aion.........Thankyou Chris

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oddly enough I did feel like I was reading a crafting overview of Final Fantasy XI. Rein has it dead on. The moon phasing bit was extremely annoying to level a craft. And it didn't award you levels, but rather 0.1 or if you're lucky 0.2 of a whole point at a time. That wasn't guaranteed either. Crafting really had no real reward in the game either in my own opinion. But that may depend on the craft you choose. I love the WoW crafting system and the risk vs. reward concept is much more favorable. I've actually been curious about Aion so this was very good information for me. As always Ms K, thanks a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Although your comments certainly have a fairly negative feel to them (thats the overall impression i get from reading this anyway) I'm not entirely sure why Aion seems worse than WoW from a crafting point of view. Certain aspects of the game are restricted at lower levels, just as they are in WoW. This is not meant as a block to progress IMO, just a way to smooth out the learning curve. You don't get talent points in WoW until level 10, not because blizz want to prevent overpowered level 7 toons, just so that new players learn the basics before they have to decide where to spend their points. Similarly you don't get crafting until level 5 (i think) so that newbies can learn which buttons to click to swing their axe and not have to worry about collecting meat and cloth and ore, etc for levelling a different set of skills.

    The flight restrictions sound slightly annoying (especially if theres no option to 'glide' safely to ground if your timer runs out) maybe it's something that will be improved as the game matures (like the way in which you can, for a price, get your toons cold weather flying early on now rather than waiting till level 77).

    As far as being forced into combat for materials goes, well the same as WoW afaik. I can't think of many recipes in WoW that dont require materials that drop from mobs, but as the game matures then surely they will become available on the AH ? If you could just sit in the city and buy all your crafting mats from a vendor..umm..is that really what you are looking for in a game ? The idea of a crafting oriented character is great, don't get me wrong, I've put a huge amount of love and time into my BS/LW on WoW, but I expect to put in the time, gold and mats farming to make it so.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Yeah, I noticed that my comments trended negative too. It wasn't really my intent to make the game seem bad. The main reason it comes out negative is because I'm scrutinizing for non-combat play, which it clearly wasn't designed to support. Neither was WoW for that matter. It's not that Aion is worse, it just didn't measure up to the standard I was applying.

    The part that hurt Aion in my testing is the fact that they grant XP for crafting activities and they unlock all crafting paths for every toon. This gives the impression that they want to support crafters and provide an alternate leveling path, so I came into it with that assumption. After playing the game it's clear that crafting isn't really a viable alternate path. At least not until the economy matures and the auction is a reliable source of materials. But since I'm guessing they didn't design the game to require a mature economy, I'm going to assume they didn't intend crafting to be a leveling path.

    I tried to include explanations why I had a problem with the features I didn't like, so readers could decide for themselves if they felt the same. At the end, the Pro/Con list is pretty close to call depending on how many of my points you agree with. Aion is comparable to vanilla WoW on most levels and the graphics are really good. If this game had been released during Vanilla WoW, they might have siphoned some players away. At this point I think they are just too similar. With all the hype Aion has gotten I was hoping to see something notably new or different, but I really didn't. It's basically WoW with a robust character designer and flying at level 10.

    That said, if you're bored with WoW I'd recommend it as a reasonable diversion. I never saw any bugs or any major problems with the game. Because it's fairly WoW-like, it's probably not going to hold your attention forever, but it may be novel enough to keep you busy for a few months.

    ReplyDelete