Being a former WAR player and beta tester, I saw first hand the fall of WAR. I saw a great company (Mythic), a great idea (the RvR concept) and a great world (the Warhammer world) fall into the depths of mediocre gameplay and design. It was disconcerting and, because I considered myself a Mythic fanboy, depressing.
A post by Syp, of Bio-Break (and, formerly, WAAAGH!) fame, started me thinking about what will make Aion different from WAR on the RvR front. At first glance the concepts are identical. Fortress sieging and PvP-centric gameplay, with PvE as an added activity, but not the main game. As a matter of fact, Syp put it very well in his post when he had this to say about Aion:
PvPvE – Remember Warhammer Online? That didn’t sell me on the whole Realm War deal, so how is this going to?
Hmmm, a valid point and one I can’t blame him for having. It never occurred to me because, quite simply, I have seen RvR and Realm Wars work firsthand in DAoC. That’s why I had such high hopes for WAR, I knew what Mythic was capable of creating. So, what makes Aion different? Why do I think it will stand up, whereas WAR crashed and burned?
Lets take a look at why I think WAR failed.
First, is the foundation on which everything is built, the game engine. Mythic shot itself in the foot from the very begining by designing a game around a graphics engine that just couldn’t handle it. I know very little about game engines, but I do know when one is not working and WAR’s engine wasn’t. More than a handful of characters in one area and the engine would be brought to its knees. Lag and a low framerate made everything a chore to do. I found myself avoiding large fights just because the lag was so frustrating that the game wasn’t fun. There was very little tactics or strategy used, simply because it is exceedingly hard to flank your enemy when you are moving at 8 frames per second.
Secondly, the RvR design was horrible from the beginning. Small RvR lakes and even smaller Keeps with one way in or out and one ramp to get to the Keep Lord, guaranteed a zerg atmosphere. Because the RvR areas were so small, there were no small groups roaming around looking for fights. No matter how hard small groups tried they always ran into the zergs, the area was too small. You couldn’t avoid them. Once a keep fight started all of the fight was congested into one area. Having one door insured that tactics were useless. Once inside you found 60 people trying to make their way up an 8 foot ramp to get the Keep Lord. All of this and to exasperate the situation the engine couldn’t handle that many people and frame rates dropped into the single digits.
Finally, having two Realms with no real mechanics to balance them, meant that each server was divided into the “haves” and have-nots”. Once a Realm on a server got going and winning with regularity, the losing side fell further and further behind. The winning side was able to get the good equipment faster, while the losing side found themselves facing the same enemy that had just defeated them, but now they had even better equipment. There were no real mechanisms built in to stop this. Outnumbered Realms were crushed, while the winning side just kept winning. Until they were bored. In fact, that was the only real advantage the losing Realm had, the winners would eventually grow bored until they left the game and then the other side could mount a comeback. A very sad way to balance a game, indeed.
So, that’s the major reasons I think WAR failed. What is Aion doing differently to stop this from happening to begin with?
To start with, Aion’s engine is top-notch. In large battle situations I get better and more consistent framerates than I do in WoW. I have been in some fairly large PvP battles so far in the NA beta and my FPS stay at a high 60-100 at all times. In the capitol cities surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people I never dip below 60. Not only that, but I get no ability lag at all, which was a major problem in WAR. Spells go off immediately with no delay. This engine is capable of rendering huge battles between opposing realms. Actual tactics and strategy can come into play, simply because the engine will allow them to do so. Score one for Aion.
Whereas WAR was doomed from the start because of the design of the RvR areas, I think Aion’s design will be a strength. The Abyss is absolutely HUGE, dwarfing any of WAR’s RvR lakes in sheer size. Smaller groups will be able to roam and will not be eaten up by the zerg. I have seen many one vs. one, 6 vs. 6 and 3 vs. 5 type fights in Aion, those were almost never seen in WAR unless prearranged. Additionally, the Fortresses are much bigger and have multiple ways to attack them and multiple ways to get to the “Keep Lord”. No more building a tank wall on the single ramp and AoEing the enemy to death. Won’t work in Aion, the enemies go up multiple ramps and on top of that, they can fly. Battlefield objectives, which in WAR were simply to trade back and forth to the enemy for points, are actually useful and needed in Aion. The provide large buffs, do added damage or added healing. These need to be controlled and held, to make the rest of the campaign easier.
Finally, whereas WAR (I think) made a huge mistake in only having two realms, Aion has three. Yes, one is AI controlled but it will help to balance things immensely. The Balaur are unpredictable at the best of times but talking to friends on the Chinese and Korean server they seem to be especially ruthless towards the winning Realm, thus allowing the losing realm a chance to get back in the fight. Friends have described Balaur attacking while the two Realms are fighting and complete chaos ensuing as each side tries to decide whether they should continue attacking each other, help the Balaur against the opposing faction or just run as both sides come after them. Neither side can get too far ahead of the other side because the Balaur will not allow it. Its a wonderful mechanic and one that NCSoft is going to expand and improve upon as time goes on.
So, there you have it. Three reasons why I think Aion can work, while WAR did not. To be sure, there are other reasons; general polish, mail that actually works (seriously Mythic, after nearly a year could you not have made mail work correctly? ITS THE FREAKIN’ MAIL!!), a seriously improved PvE game and ton of other little things that make Aion stand out where WAR faltered. All in all I think Aion has a nice future in store for itself and its players. I hate that Aion will succeed at the expense of WAR as many of its players leave for the greener pastures of Aion, but Mythic had their chance and former fanboy or not, I can not justify staying there.