Aion is definitely a refreshing looking MMO; online gamers tired of certain other franchises will initially feel like they're really doing something new. Of course, after a few hours it'll become apparent that there isn't much radically different here, but it's all very well polished, very well balanced sameness.
- Lovely graphics and music
- Interesting environments
- Compelling PvPvE
- Typical MMO startup tedium
- Some terrible voicework
As we rapidly approach the fifth anniversary of World of Warcraft, most MMO fans have fallen into two camps. The first are sick of that game and desperate for something new, while the second couldn't be reached for comment as they were too busy powerleveling in preparation for whatever anniversary celebrations Blizzard has planned. Aion is, of course, targeted toward that first group of gamers (plus any bi-curious folks hovering between the two) and as such it provides a compelling alternative -- if not one that's as radically different as it might at first appear to be.
The Enemy of My Enemy…
Aion's storyline is set up through a predictably polished cinematic telling the tale of the not two but three factions. Yes, there is a third, but it's not quite that simple. At first there was just one group of folk living peacefully inside a sort of hollow world called Atreia. Everyone at peace; everyone having a good ol’ time. Eventually the protectors of those people, the Balaur, got bored with the defending and started with the attacking. A group of super-human citizens with wings, the Daevas, rose to defend against the Balaur and in the process shattered the tower holding the world together, thus cracking the whole globe in two.
Half of the inhabitants were bathed in beautiful light and so received supermodel-like complexions and bodies, becoming the angelic-looking Elyos. The other half of the people weren’t so lucky, their world cast in the shadows and littered with angry beasts, so they too became angry and bitter, naming themselves Asmodians. These are the two playable factions, with the Balaur mixed in as a common enemy – along with all the little grunts and miscellaneous critters you’ll kill along the way.
It's a generally interesting storyline, but the two factions are very similar, each being distinctly humanoid and each having four very predictable classes: warrior, scout, mage, and priest. After level 10 is reached, classes branch in two. For example, warriors must become either gladiators -- able to double-wield -- or templars --receiving a few protection spells to go along with their hulking biceps. So it’s really eight classes then, a fair number, but there isn’t much in the way of ability customization to be done.
Asian MMOs are generally considered to be particularly grind-heavy affairs; initially repetitive and with each level achieved by climbing over piles of corpses. Aion, which was originally released for the Korean market, has had that grind toned down for release outside of Asia and I didn’t find it to be particularly tedious. Indeed, a gamer who takes the time to seek out and complete every quest in every area should never need to spend an afternoon cutting a circular path of grunt destruction, as the experience gained through quests alone will ensure sufficient progression.
Mind you, a good number of those quests are themselves grinds, with you being tasked to eradicate this pack of menacing kobolds or that gaggle of offensive mushrooms. Still, you at least feel like you’re making progress, even if the levels don’t come at you particularly quickly. Finding those quest goals is easy thanks to helpful pathfinding; simply click on the name of the person you’re trying to locate or type them into the chat window and a map will pop up with an X showing you exactly where to go. Lovely.
Even running through your favorite attacks is easy. As always in an MMO you’ll be pummeling away at the number keys, but the ability to define macros will make your carpal tunnels happy. Just hit a single number and a macro will fire off a string of abilities in your defined sequence.
Your character starts out having no memory of his or her past (how terribly cliché), but at level nine learns that he or she is, indeed, a Daeva. So they get a level boost, some new abilities, and a pair of wings. These feathery appendages definitely set the game apart, but sadly have a very minimal impact to gameplay – at least initially. There are limited areas where you can fly for long distances, but the rest of the time you’ll simply be gliding briefly, stopping, and waiting for your wings to recharge. You’ll still need to rely on public transportation and will still walk to most places.
A more interesting aspect of the game is a persistent PvPvE area called the Abyss, where generally high-leveled players will be sent on quests through areas swarming with both Balaur and people from the opposing faction, fighting against each other to capture and keep castles. It’s an interesting aspect to the title but, as it only opens at level 25, you have to make a considerable commitment just to get there.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Without a doubt Aion is the most luscious looking MMO on the market today – as it should be, since it’s the most recent. Despite running on the CryENGINE it won’t quite make your Crysis-playing friends jealous, but character models are incredibly detailed and the environments impress given their scope.
There is a selection of lovely and dramatic tunes that manage to highlight the mood of whatever situation you are in without becoming repetitive. Other sound effects, however, quickly annoy, with some particularly… energetic sounding female battle cries that will have you reaching for the volume dial.
A Nice Place to Visit, Stay to See It All
Aion is definitely a refreshing looking MMO; online gamers tired of certain other franchises will initially feel like they’re really doing something new. Of course, after a few hours it’ll become apparent that there isn’t much radically different here, but it’s all very well polished, very well balanced sameness. It’s partially a shame that gamers won’t experience the Abyss until they’re a fair distance into the game, but that should help to prevent those newbs from rushing in, getting creamed, and signing off in disgust. Overall it’s perhaps not the completely refreshing experience some might be looking for, but one worth experiencing just the same.