Character customization has always been important to me in MMOs. Knowing that I have the ability to differentiate myself from the other 500+ hunters out there was nice. It allows you to build a character that you want to play, within the constraints of whatever system the MMO had. Of course, there are the “cookie cutter” specs that most tended to gravitate toward, but just knowing you had a choice was nice.
WoW has the ability to drastically change your character, depending on spec. You could make a Priest DPS, druids could be healers, melee dps, ranged dps or tanks. Even DPS classes had a myriad of options to narrow down your character and how you liked to play him.
WoW may be the model that most MMOs follow. WAR has spec trees, as does AoC, although neither allow for as much diversity between specs. LotRO, however, took a completely novel approach with their Trait system. It allows for quite a bit of customization and diversity, while changing up the system from the standard “spec-tree” format.
Now comes Aion.
Aion, on the face, seems to allow for much less character diversity than any of the above. They call theirs the Stigma System and unlike WoW’s spec trees, which are introduced at level 10, the Stigma system comes into play at higher levels. Beginning at level 20, characters can begin to slot Stigma stones. Two at level 20, three at 20, four at 40 and a fifth at level 50.
These Stigma stones give various abilities, depending on which stone you slot. Stigma Stones are gained through drops and can be traded, so expect to see them up on the Auction House fairly quickly. Like gear, some Stones are much rarer than others and may be hard to acquire or cost a lot of Kinah on the Auction House. The rarer stones will have much larger effects than others.
Some examples of Stigma Stone abilities for a Gladiator:
Greater Health I :(lvl20): Recovers 20% of HP. Increases Max HP by 20%, shield rate by 150, parry by 100 for 120 seconds
Dual Weapon Mastery II :(lvl40): Allows character to master the ability of equipping a weapon in each hand. (Lower level of skill available at lvl20)
Earthquake I :(lvl44): Deals 258~262 physical damage to enemies within 10m and decreases their movement speed for 8~10 seconds.
While these abilities are pretty nice, I do worry that there is just not enough character customization in Aion. Five total slots for Stones seems pretty limiting when compared to the 71 points you have to spec your character in WoW, or the hundreds of different combinations built into LotROs trait system.
So, why is Aion going with this seemingly limited system? Balance has to be a major consideration. The more character customization available, the harder it is to balance the game. How many times have retribution Paladins went back and forth from utterly useless to completely overpowered in WoW? How many times have we heard Warlocks gripe because Shadow Priests have taken their DPS slots in raids? It is a constant problem in WoW, which, while frustrating in PvE, is totally infuriating in PvP. With Aion having a larger focus on PvP, I can understand them wanting to tone down the customization a bit.
With that being said, I am not totally sold on the Stigma system. Character customization can be a bitch to balance but not having enough of it “dumbs-down” the game. I like knowing that I can be different than all the other players playing the same class as me. WoW has entire websites devoted to the “science” of proper class specs. Elitist Jerks have made their name on research and testing on what, exactly, is the most efficient Druid healing build or the best Warrior tanking build. I would hate to see Aion not have similiar discussions.
For more information on Aion’s Stigma System, please visit Aion Source’s guide located here. If you have any comments pro or con on the Stigma System, please let me know. It is the one aspect of the game I am not completely sold on!