PC Aion

Scott Tortorice

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Every fantasy MMOG released within the last five years inevitably gets compared to Blizzard's behemoth World of Warcraft, and Aion is no exception. Developed and published by NCSoft, Aion was released in South Korea nearly a year ago where it gained immediate success. With over 450k copies sold even before launch, it is obvious there is excitement and anticipation for Aion. In determining its success, two questions need to be answered: can it withstand the pressure of being compared to the most popular MMO in the world, and was NCSoft successful in making the necessary changes to appeal to the western audience?

Getting Started

When the Balaur rise up in revolt against the god Aion, it plunges the once peaceful world of Atreia into a century’s long war. As humans learn to harness the power of Aether, they become known as Daevas and fight alongside the Empyrean Lords, the new guardians of Atreia. When peace talks between the two sides goes awry, the Baluar charge the Tower of Eternity, the power of Aion, causing the world to shatter into two parts. This event will come to be known as the cataclysm to the remaining inhabitants of the broken world. When Atreia separated in two, the bottom half that is bathed in the light became Elysea; the top half that is shrouded in darkness became Asmodae.

There are two playable races that players can choose from: the Asmodians, whose capital city of Pandaemonium resides in the upper half of Atreia known as Asmodae, and the Elyos, whose capital city of Sanctum resides in the lower half of Atreia known as Elysea. The third race that inhabits Atreia is the Balaur, an un-playable faction that comes into play in the Abyss.

Aion features a deep and satisfying character customization, very much like what is found in Age of Conan. Players choose a server, a race, class and gender before being able to customize the look of their character. There are a number of presets available for faces and body frames, but if the player wants more control over their character, there are a host of changeable options. For example, players can choose a hair style, face shape, an assortment of decorations or tattoos, as well as colors for the hair, eyes, lips and skin. Like the face, there are a number of sliders that can manipulate various parts of the body for customization as well. All of these options give the player a lot of control over the look of their character, and as can be expected from players, some funny and odd looking characters are running around Atreia.

Players will need to choose one of four starting classes when creating a character: Warrior, Scout, Mage or Priest. Anyone who has played Everquest 2 will be very familiar with how this system works. When players finish their ascension quest in the starter zone, they will have to choose a specialty classes. Each starting class has two specialty classes for a total of eight in all. Warriors can become Gladiators or Templars; Scouts can become Rangers of Assassins; Mages can become Conjurers or Spiritmasters; and Priests can become Clerics or Chanters.

Gladiators focus on high damage, two-handed weapons and Templars fill the role of the tank in Aion. Scouts are all about DPS, with the Ranger focusing on ranged combat and the Assassin using counterattacks to stun enemies with poison blades. Conjurers have high damage magic spells that make them deadly at long range; the Spiritmaster sacrifices some of that offensive potency in exchange for being able to control elemental spirits as pets. Clerics are the dedicated healing class in Aion, and while Chanters do have some healing abilities, they are an offensive healer that focuses on buffing their party members primarily with mantras.

Sometime around level 9, players will be given their ascension quest where they learn that they are Daeva’s and will be given the choice to choose a specialty class.

Since there are only two races, all players regardless of class will start in their respected starting zones. It is here that players will learn about various aspects of Aion’s gameplay, including combat and questing. This process is helped along with a set of informative video tutorials instead of the industry standard pop-up tips to help get the player started. These videos are really well done, most are narrated and cover most everything featured in Aion. Players should easily be able to pick up the basics just from watching and listening to these videos - kudos to NCSoft for that.

The starting zones suffer from some pacing issues. There are plenty of quests to do and leveling is not going to be an issue, bBut you will be running around a lot, and the closer you get to the ascension quest, the longer you will spend running from point A to point B to advance a quest. Plus, the starting zones are not all that exciting. Class balance shows itself in the early stages as well; I found the Scout in particular to be the hardest to level through the starting zone.

Aions interface will be familiar to anyone who has played a MMO before. The default settings have the UI located at the bottom of the screen, the player’s portrait is on the left side, the hotkey bar and XP bar in the middle, various menu buttons and the mini-map on the right side. It’s neat, compact and doesn’t get in the way which a nice bonus. Players do have the option of having the HUD at the default bottom position or at the top. Changing the hud to the top will instantly remind players of World of Warcraft.

Questing

Aion uses a quest hub system like what is in World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online or just about any other fantasy MMO on the market. It’s easy to identify quest givers and NPC’s that complete quest objectives by the unique icon that hovers over their heads. Aion uses a quest progression similar to Age of Conan; there is the ‘one and done’ quests, but many require the player to complete multiple objectives before gaining experience and sometimes a reward at the quest’s completion. Aion also has regular quests and campaign quests, and players can receive both by conversing with NPC’s, by entering a certain area, or by looting an item.

Campaign quests can be seen as an epic story that involves a specific location. For example, when Asmodian players reach Altgard Fortress, they will be given the Altgard campaign quests. There are always multiple quests of differing levels of difficulty, and all have multiple objectives that need completion. What’s nice about the campaign quests is that they are not bunched up in one location, instead they will be sending the player all over the zone and are a great help in showing the player where to next progress.

Combat Mechanics

Combat should have a familiar feel for players with any sort of MMO experience. You can target an enemy simply by hitting the TAB key or left clicking on an enemy. Once targeted, players initiate combat by either clicking on an attack on the hotkey bar, or double-clicking or right-clicking on what it is the player is trying to attack. Players may notice that when they move in combat, green arrows will appear on the screen near their character. These arrows represent a bonus that will only last for a brief time, so movement during combat is encouraged.

Probably the only thing that sets combat in Aion apart from the rest would be the chain attacks. There are two ways to initiate a chain attack; the most common will be to use an ability that comes first in the chain. The second way is if a certain parameter is met, such as dodging or parrying. Either way, one or more flashing icons will appear on the player’s screen letting them know that there is a chance to land a chain attack. Having the icons flashing in the middle of the screen frees up the players hotkey bar, and makes it easier for the player to keep track of their abilities.

Aion has been criticized for its monotonous combat, and it’s true. A game like World of Warcraft features a talent tree that can give a class three unique ways to play; Aion doesn’t have that. Instead, players can unlock the ability to use Stigma Stones. These stones can unlock new abilities that are otherwise unavailable to the player, but there are only five Stigma slots. What can potentially happen is a player will develop a set rotation early on, and because there are few abilities that the player will learn, there will be little need to deviate much from that rotation.

The combat is fast, the animations for the combat abilities can be neat to watch, and it can be fun, but with fifty levels and so few abilities, it does become monotonous.

The Abyss

Players may not realize it, but Aion is actually a PvP game. Unfortunately NCSoft has decided that players have to wait till level 25 to experience Aion’s PvPvE content. PvPvE is the combination of PvP and PvE gameplay and takes place primarily in the Abyss, the area between the two halves of Atreia. Upon reaching level 25, players will instantly receive a series of campaign quests that need to be completed before they are allowed entry to the Abyss. It’s at this point that players will more than likely experience Aion’s first instance, the Nochsana Training Camp. NTC can be run multiple times till level 29 and will give players a feel for how a fortress siege works, something players will be doing a lot of in the Abyss.

The Abyss itself is split up into three sections: the Top, Core and Base. Each section has a number of fortresses and artifacts that can be captured. Control of a fortress is important for a few reasons: some have Fortress Transporters that allow players to transport around the Abyss easier and be able to quickly respond to a fortress defense. Also, fortresses have a powerful artifact that bestows a certain bonus upon the faction that controls it. There are artifacts located in strategic areas around a fortress that can be captured and also give a bonus, but only in the immediate vicinity of the fortress, where as fortress artifacts give a bonus all across the Abyss.

But the number one reason players will be participating in fortress sieges will be to gain Abyss Points. AP can be earned from defeating other players in PvP combat or by defeating any NPC’s in the Abyss and it directly affects a player’s Abyss rank. Players will move up the ranks after attaining a set amount of AP, which in turn will unlock rewards that players can purchase with Abyss Points. Just as AP can be gained from combat, it can also be lost as well. The higher rank a player is, the more AP they stand to lose from a defeat than they would gain from a victory. It’s not only tough to gain rank, but to keep it as well.

Aion’s PvPvE is not a new idea; Warhammer Online already has fortress sieges as did Dark Age of Camelot before it. What makes the Abyss so interesting is Aion’s third faction, the Balaur. Asmodea and Elyos are not only fighting themselves, but the Balaur as well. The Balaur are a very aggressive faction that will attack player controlled fortresses as well as defend fortresses under their control. Having this third faction should help to keep the PvPvE fresh and exciting and keep one faction from becoming too dominant.

Crafting

There is a fairly robust crafting system in Aion very reminiscent of Star Wars Galaxies or Everquest 2 in its complexity and depth. Players can learn all six crafting professions: weapon-smithing, armor-smithing, handicrafting, tailoring, alchemy and cooking. Weapon-smithing allows players to create melee weapons; Armor-smithing allows chain and plate armor; Handicrafting allows staves, bows and accessories like necklaces and rings; Tailoring is for creating cloth and leather armor; Alchemy is the art of making magical items like orbs, potions and scrolls; and Cooking allows players to create food and drink. Players can learn all six professions, but are only allowed to master two of them.

Crafting is a lengthy and expensive grind that will test a player’s sanity. The process of crafting is rather simple; you choose a recipe, add the necessary materials and begin crafting. As the players crafting expertise increases so does the difficulty of the recipe and the amount of materials needed. The problem is that the game has a success/failure system that makes crafting anything but fun. Failure in crafting results in a loss of time and materials, but success does not always result in expertise gain. The player has no control over the success or failure when crafting. Players who decide to try their hand in crafting should be prepared for a crafting system that requires a heavy investment with very little return.

Odds and Ends

Lot has been made of Aion’s visuals and its use of the CryEngine. There is a lot to like about Aion’s graphics; the character models of players and NPC’s look really good and the animations are superb; the capital cities, the towns and the creatures that inhabit Atreia are all very beautiful. Aion is easily the second best looking MMO next to Age of Conan. The only real blemish would be Aion’s environments; the ground and surrounding hills use flat low-res textures that look ugly when viewed up close. For a game that looks this good, it runs pretty well in most cases. Just as in Warhammer Online, Aion’s performance tends to suffer most during fortress sieges.

NCSoft has made a concerted effort in its changes to Aion in order to appeal to a western audience. Unfortunately two staples of Asian MMO’s stuck around: the practice of using bots and the unbearable grinding gameplay. It’s well known that Aion’s level curve eventually becomes a wall as a player progresses into the later levels. Couple that with a lack of questing content in some areas and you get into what’s called the grind; the repetitive action of just killing mobs to hit the next level with the hope some quests become available. The grind is not limited to the games questing; crafting suffers from this as well. Because of this grind, there is a portion of the player base that has resorted to ‘botting’; a program that automates actions such as leveling and looting for a player’s character. NCSoft has addressed Aion’s grinding gameplay issue and hopes to remedy it with an update any day now.

Lastly, Aion’s launch wasn’t without its issues. NCSoft’s attempted to keep servers balanced faction-wise by only allowing a certain amount of each to be created on a server. If one faction got to be too large, then new players were no longer allowed to create characters on the server till the numbers become balanced. With 450k pre-orders, servers quickly filled to capacity and many players experienced multi-hour server queues before being able to play. Thankfully, a month after launch the server problems seem to be a thing of the past.

Closing Comments:

Aion doesn’t offer players something that they haven’t already experienced as the game’s only unique feature is that PvPvE begins at level 25. That being said, Aion is not a bad game at all, but its slow level progression and lack of any sort of innovative gameplay features will turn some people off.

7.0 out of 10
 
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