It’s Not the Band I Hate; It’s Their Fans

I have never played Path of Exile. I probably never will.

A promotional screenshot from the action RPG Path of ExileThis is not entirely because it’s a game that doesn’t appeal to me. As a free to play fantasy ARPG, it’s in my wheelhouse enough that it should theoretically be worth a look, if nothing else. Unfortunately, its community has done a singularly good job of turning me off the game.

You see, I can’t recall ever hearing anyone say anything good about Path of Exile that wasn’t couched in the form of a dig at Diablo III.

This is a turn-off on a number of levels.

Firstly, if the only good thing you can say about your game is that it’s not another game, well, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Drawing comparisons is one thing, but any game should be able to stand on its own merits.

Second, there is a strong streak of elitism in the criticism leveled at Diablo III, and therefore also in the praise of PoE. While some people do have legitimate grievances of D3 that I won’t argue with, a lot of the time it’s people who seem to think it’s too “dumbed down” and childish, whereas PoE is a “real” ARPG with “proper” skill trees and an appropriately “mature” tone. UPHILL. IN THE SNOW. BOTH WAYS. LIKE A REAL MAN. GRR.

Related to the above, a lot of the things people hate D3 for are the very same things I like about it. I like that I don’t need to Google a guide to figure out my build. I like that experimentation is encouraged. I like that freedom and flexibility.

My crusader in Diablo IIIThe end result is that I have been given the overwhelming impression that PoE is not just a game that isn’t for me, but a game designed for and occupied by people who don’t want players like me around.

Now, I grant it is possible — nay, probable — that I am being unfair. I don’t doubt that a great many people playing Path of Exile are perfectly fine, and not embittered edgelord elitists. It’s also quite possible it’s a fine game I might enjoy.

Unfortunately, the embittered edgelord elitists are the ones you hear from most often, so for me they have become the face of PoE and its community. They’re the first thing I think of when I think of the game, and it’s a negative association that’s gotten so ingrained over the years that it’s hard to overcome.

I started off this post thinking only about Path of Exile, but mulling it over, it occurs to me that PoE is not the first gaming experience I’ve been turned off of by the community.

Despite the fact I’ve playing MMORPGs avidly for the better part of a decade now, I’ve never really gotten into raiding, as longtime readers undoubtedly know. I flirted with it during Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm, but once the Raid Finder was added, I gave up on “real” raiding forever. Not even my beloved Secret World could make me care about its raids. I never even attempted them.

On reflection, this has at least as much to do with raiders as it does with raids.

A raid group in World of WarcraftMy experience with the raiding community has been almost uniformly one of bitterness, scorn, and elitism. Raiders are the ones who spent years calling me a “filthy casual,” and that’s by far the least offensive label I’ve been given. Raiders are the ones who fly off the handle the moment anyone like me has even a shot at minimal progression. Raiders are the ones I saw treating everyone outside their clique as something less than human.

And again, I know not all raiders are like that. Many are just fine, I know. But that was the prevailing experience I’ve had with raiders. That is the public face of the raiding community, and that bile is what immediately comes to mind for me when I think of raiding.

And that is one of the driving reasons why I never became a raider. There are other things I don’t love about raiding — such as the time commitments — but the community turned me off so badly I never had much motivation to give it a serious shot. Maybe I never would have gotten into raiding anyway, but we’ll never know.

My disinterest in PvP is also affected by this kind of community negativity. Never, in my entire WoW career, have I seen a battleground team lose with good grace. It always ends in name-calling and rage, without exception.

Now, PvP is fairly outside what I find compelling in games to begin with, and I have other issues with PvP outside the community, but the experience I’ve had with people who PvP hasn’t improved matters. PvP was never going to be a favourite activity for me, but it might have made up a larger portion of my gaming diet if my experience with its community had been one of sportsmanship and respect rather than a teeming mass of homophobes, tea-baggers, and nerd-raging man-children.

My rather pitiful rank in Heroes of the StormAll this is just more testament to how negativity and toxicity is poisoning gaming. If you want your hobby to prosper, you need to present a welcoming face, not elitism and hostility.


Aion: Awakening My Legacy

As long-time readers may know, Aion is a game for which I have long nursed a special affection, despite its significant flaws and the fact I’ve spent relatively little time playing it. Even so, it had been so many years since I last played I had thought my time with the game done… until I heard of the Awakened Legacy patch, a Cataclysm-style revamp of the entire game.

IT'S SO PRETTYAwakened Legacy is not without its controversy, and I fully understand why, as it not only changes but also straight up removes large swathes of content, but it seemed like an excellent opportunity to give Aion one more chance.

Trying to jump in on my level ~30 character after so many years and so much changes sounded like a recipe for headache, so I decided to start over with a new character on a new server. That said, I was also attached to my ranger, so I took advantage of a very convenient feature that allows me to easily export and import character appearances. I therefore started over with a new ranger who was almost* an exact clone of my original.

*(Since I was back on the character creation screen, I did make some very subtle tweaks, most notably a new hairstyle, but she’s still very recognizable as her old self.)

I have to say I was surprised by how intensely the nostalgia struck me as I returned to the cold woods of Asmodae to familiar music and hearty cries of, “Azphelumbra!”

I’ve said it before, but there is something special about Aion that most other games lack. There is a character to the world, a sense of place. It’s hard to put your finger on, but I think it’s some special alchemy born of the dreamy and colourful environments, the rich backstory, the surreal cosmology, and many small touches that add personality to the experience.

My Asmodian ranger enjoys the snow in AionFor instance, at one point I ventured into an area with heavy snowfall, and my character spontaneously began trying to catch snowflakes and generally frolicking. It was a delightful little vignette, and it makes other games seem terribly lifeless by comparison.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. While much was familiar upon my return to Atreia, it was immediately clear that much had changed.

At some point the starter zones got a complete graphical overhaul, so while Ishalgen is still recognizable as its old self, it looks much, much better. I mean, it was always pretty, but now it’s downright stunning.

I think there may have been some general graphical updates since I last played, too. The lighting seems more dynamic, and I don’t remember there being hair physics before. Low level gear has also been completely redone, and is now almost too pretty. All told, Aion is aging very, very well.

The cosmetic updates are the least of the changes, though. Awakened Legacy has truly rewritten the game.

Aion flightpaths are best flightpathsI’ll say off the bat that I think Aion needed some trimming. It was a slow game with a lot of filler content, a product of an older school of design that has long outstayed its welcome.

That being said, even I balk a bit out how heavily the game has been streamlined. Copious amounts of content have been completely removed, even including entire zones. Leveling has been sped up to an almost absurd degree. I already find myself much more advanced, in both levels and content, than I was on my old character, despite only playing very casually.

Again, I think Aion did need some trimming, and it did need to be sped up. It was much too slow before. But it’s been taken to such an extreme that a lot has been lost in translation.

When I played before, I recall there being a lot of internal intrigue in the Asmodian faction dealing with their oppressive government. It added a lot of depth and nuance to the faction, and it was one of the things that attracted me to the game off the bat.

That’s all gone now. The story is now greatly simplified. As someone who played before and remembers much of that depth, it’s not a crippling flaw, but newcomers to the game will be missing out on a lot of important world-building.

Combat in AionThere are also a lot of gameplay features that seem to have been removed or downplayed. It’s a bit hard to say because I can’t quite tell what all is gone, and what’s just changed. It took me until yesterday to realize that changing gear appearances was still an option but had simply moved from an NPC to a UI menu you can access anywhere. That’s actually a great change, but nothing tells you the feature is there.

By that same token, I honestly can’t tell if crafting and gathering have been removed, are now exclusive to high levels, or if I’m just missing them somehow. I still have an essencetapping skill in my character sheet, and I found some nodes in the housing zone, but they only seemed to drop housing-related currency. Meanwhile the crafting facilities seem removed from cities, and I can’t find gathering nodes in the open world zones I’ve been adventuring in.

Methinks this update may have been a bit rushed.

Group content has also been massively downplayed, at least while leveling. Group quests used to be commonplace (frustratingly so), but as of now I’ve yet to encounter a single group quest, or even a group dungeon. As a mainly solo player, this is no skin off my hide, but even I must admit it feels odd to be level forty in an MMO and not even have the option for group content.

From what I can tell PvP is still crucial to Aion’s endgame, but I haven’t encountered any enemy players while questing so far, despite spending a lot of time in zones that are theoretically contested. I haven’t been prompted to raid Elysea yet, either. Supposedly the new server is a bit under-populated at the moment, so that may be lessening the PvP aspect.

My Asmodian ranger takes flight in AionSome changes are entirely good. There’s now an easy to use waypoint system to port you between quest hubs, which is a massive time-saver. You can also now vendor items directly from your inventory, which took me longer than it should have to realize.

Beyond that, it does remain recognizably Aion. The combat is much as I remember it: the best example of the worst style of MMO combat. It’s a standard tab target system with unchanging rotations, but the animations are flashy and incredibly satisfying, there’s little to no downtime in the rotations, and the chain skill system is oddly compelling to me for some reason.

It’s still too early to say if Awakened Legacy will convert me to a serious Aion player, or whether this will just be another brief flirtation. The grind of kill ten rats quests holds little appeal for me these days, but I don’t have a lot else on my plate, and as I’ve said, I do adore Atreia as a setting, whatever other problems the game may have.