Review Date: Nov 2 2009
ESRB Rating: Teen
The market for fantasy MMORPGs has become quite crowded in recent years, with scores of free titles flowing out of Asia on top of a flurry of North American and European efforts. Some of these games garnered considerable interest at launch, but they haven't been able to turn that into ongoing success. Aion is NCsoft's lastest offering in this genre, building on their vast experience with earlier MMORPGs such as the Lineage series. In this review I'll elaborate on some of the things I mentioned in my preview.
Most of the features you would expect to find in a game of this kind are here, and in a commendably polished state. That in itself is no small task, especially considering how much MMORPGs can mature after launch. Of course, Aion was available in Korea last year, so the game has already had some of the bumps smoothed out. Since the North American beta, a number of small but significant changes have been made, including the addition of an option to reverse the mouse axis, left mouse button camera control, and the removal of GameGuard.
Aion does not try to reinvent the RPG format. If you hate games with levels and quests, or you want twitch-based combat, there's nothing to see here.
The graphics in Aion are impressive and will appeal to those who like a high-fantasy setting with a dab of anime influence here and there. Character creation is very flexible, which is a good thing, although you will come across some unusually tiny avatars that look rather odd. While the two races in the game, Elyos and Asmodian, are both human-like, the sliders will let you build a character that could be a big-eared gnome. The model physique is clearly the most popular, however.
A quick thumbs up for a lot of conveniences you don't see in every game, like a transparent map, account banks, and the ability move stats to items of a different appearance.
In Aion you start out with a primary class, each of which leads to two sub-classes you choose between upon getting your wings and becoming a Daeva. The resulting 8 classes fit the customary tank, healer, damage dealer mold quite closely, while still being reasonably capable of soloing. RPGers are comfortable with this sort of class structure by now, and Aion has a sound implementation of it.
As I noted in my preview, Aion combat is quite typical for this genre of game, but there are interesting differences. Along with combination skills that trigger in a particular order, they've given movement certain stats bonuses. Moving forward increases your attack power and decreases your defense, strafing improves your evasion and parry rating, and moving backward boosts defense while lowering attack power. You also have Divine Power, which accumulates as you fight and can be used for very spectacular moves. Not unheardof in other games, but in this case it builds slowly and clears each time you log off.
There was a time when MMORPGs offered very little in the way of quests, and those quests were hard to find. These days players expect to see an abundance of quest-givers clearly marked with icons floating over their heads, and even explicit directions on where they have to go to complete the quest. Aion offers a set of quests that adhere to the central storyline, as well as secondary quests undertaken largely for the experience bonus.
The game has only one starting area per faction, and the early levels of the two sides mirror each other quite closely. There are just enough quests to get you from level to level, which isn't a problem on your first character, but on your second or third time through doing the exact same quests grows pretty stale.
Collection, delivery, and hunting quests are the mainstay of MMORPGs, but some recent games have managed to expand on this considerably. Unfortunately, Aion seems very short on imagination in this regard, so you'll rarely, if ever, be tasked with an escort mission, asked to lure an enemy into a trap, or man a ballista against hostile forces. Any game that features flying should at least have a few bombing runs to break the routine, but maybe they've saved them for the higher levels.
Aion currently has about 15 instances geared toward group play starting with Nochsana Training Camp at level 25. There are party (6-man) and raid (24-man) instances, but only 3 of them are available before level 50. Although it's clear that PvE raids are not the main focus of the game, they grant good XP and they're a nice break from solo questing.
Is It a Grind?
This is probably the most common question I get about Aion. "Grind" typically refers to the need to kill vast numbers of mobs, rather than quest, to get enough XP to level. Of course, quests often require you to kill mobs, so it's really about the additional XP doled out for completing the quest. So far I've found enough quests to get me from level to level, but higher level players assure me that once you reach the mid-30s that comes to an end. There is little debate that the pace of progress in Aion, at least without a group, is quite slow, and complaints about the grind at higher levels are not baseless. While some old-schoolers actually prefer this, it's almost certain that NCsoft plans to add high level content to the game.