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Gonna be honest here, as someone who switched from rua to alex... rua is pretty dead. Unless you're super far into the game I'd just make a new account on Alexina. With all the beginner benefits you can get to a decent place pretty quick
I dunno about the populations, but I can vouch for the beginner benefits. They're great - get tons of AP just for ranking up talents to expert, reset your skills to get more, repeat until you've done every talent (as long as you're under 1k). Not only do the beginner benefits enable this to be used to the fullest, but they also grant more AP than you would get without them, if the wiki is correct. With eight free characters, you can get tons of saga ponies, and beginner weapons (1 gold per point repairs). Not to mention storage space from the bank/inventories. I happened to start at a good time, having a chance to obtain both the carasek bag and the slushy cloud soon after starting, not to mention coming in at the tail end of a x2 training and free repair event (not that I was in any position to use these well), but it should be pretty easy regardless, if you already know what you're doing.
As for what's new, all I've personally taken notice of is Festia and The Squires (although they might not be new to you, since you said you've only been gone a year; I dunno when exactly they came along). Free nerfed gachas and free cash shop/advanced play items, basically (though you will get useless crap most of the time in the form of gems and mats, in early game most of these should be worth storing and using to train life skills eventually). Nothing great like what would normally motivate you to buy gacha, but a few things that will ease your fantasy life a bit.
Having said all that, they aren't exactly fun. Festia could be, if it wasn't deserted. It's interesting to learn about the squires at first, but then they just kinda fade into the background - just another element of AFKnogi. Not that I'd ever expect anything more from that. It's still an interesting feature to have in Mabinogi, since we haven't really had anything like it.
There are a few other new things - passive power creep (renown system, eweca buffs based on total and current level, because the existing stat bonuses for leveling weren't enough), buffed dungeons which still aren't really worth doing for the most part (at least not at early game, unless you're looking for skill pages), end game content which I have yet to touch, and some new equipment and fashion items - but those two are all that really stood out to me.
So, if you only want to mess around with a new account to look at the new stuff or see how well you can abuse the beginner skill resets, and maybe eventually take it more seriously, then yeah, I'd say it's worth it. It's easier than ever before. As for activity in general... I saw some people killing a desert dragon recently, and the black/white dragons still seem to die whenever they appear. I've seen a few Lord parties, and I'm rarely in channel 1, so I'm guessing they're still pretty common. More than that, I can't say.
Should probably mention that in that last part, I'm referring to Alexina.
why are people seeing: elf should specialise in magic > they don't though > the description is wrong/outdated/useless
rather than: elf should specialise in magic > they don't though > the state of the race needs attention/update
? i don't get it
I could ask the same thing for the other side of that argument. Neither of those chains of reasoning are less valid than the other, but one does reflect reality more accurately. Also, unfortunately, there's a lot of room for interpretation here.
It's all subjective. If you think elves should be objectively the best at magic, you'll take that description and run with it. If you don't, you'll look at what advantages they initially had, what they have now, and think 'Yeah, I don't think that means what you think it means". Actually, that's not exactly true - in the second case, you'd probably look at what's been done, and then form your opinion. The fact is, elves have had advantages in magic for some time, and they still do. But some would argue that they need more, because their existing advantages seem useless to them now (typically speaking from endgame); and some would argue that they don't, or at least that they don't need much.
For that reason, this argument probably won't end. People won't change their opinions on it. We'll just have to wait and see what happens, listening to elves qq all the while...
P.S. - The exact wording of the description most people here seem to be basing their opinions on:
I don't know if elves still have the most potential for MP or INT, and I'm refraining from saying anything about this buff being unfair to elves until I do (assuming it really is bad). Note that even if this is the case, this description is still technically correct, or at least, not objectively incorrect. While it does specifically mention INT and MP, it's pretty vague with 'high'.