Every six months or so, hardcore World of Warcraft players anxiously await their new lord and savior: an up-and-coming MMO to deliver them from their addiction. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of these games, despite their unbelievable hype as the “great hope” fail miserably. As a former WoW raider, I remember Age of Conan and Warhammer’s promises of a better virtual world that were never fulfilled.
Aion, the newest MMO on the block, promises exciting gameplay and a beautiful visual style. Oh yea, and you can fly. Is it everything its cracked up to be? Read my impressions of the beta, and find out.
Click for a larger look at the backstory between the two races
Aion takes place in the magical world of Atreia. If you’re a Greek mythology enthusiast, think of Arcadian, idyllic landscapes. The story of Aion draws many parallels from Christian creation stories: some time ago, the god Aion created a servant race called the Balaur, who later rebelled against their maker.
A great war broke out, and severed the world in two. The Elyos (angels) are creatures of beauty, and residents of the lower half of the world. The Asmodians, the inhabitants of the upper world, weren’t so lucky. Their world was cursed, and due to many years of traversing the land, their features evolved into a beast-like state.
There are four classes to choose from when you start your journey
When you create your character, you can choose between the Elyos and the Asmodians, and select one of four classes: mage, priest, scout, and warrior. All of these play out exactly how they sound, so don’t get confused! The beauty of this simple selection system is that you’re able to choose your favorite role hassle free, and branch out into a more advanced class later.
Once you hit level 10, you’re allowed to choose one of two advanced, specializations: for instance, my character started as a Mage, but became a Spiritmaster (Warlock). It was a bit too early to judge, but I could already see the incredibly Eastern, anime character design apparent in Aion. For starters, my character looks a bit like Sepiroth from Final Fantasty 7 with robes (which is totally awesome).
Magnalon triumphantly makes his debut
As with every MMO, you start off in the “noob” zone killing defenseless animals. Except this time, it looked beautiful. In World of Warcraft, the only starting area I particularly enjoyed was the woods of the Night Elf island of Teldrassil, but Aion’s Poeta brought back a lot of those fond memories.
Everything is just so detailed, and fun to look at. You won’t have any trouble navigating about anywhere, because the quest givers are clearly marked on your map as well. Overall, the first 10 minutes were some of the most enjoyable moments I’ve spent playing an MMO. You also get a trusty teleport relic that allows you to return to a location you have visited, and chosen to be “your spot”.
The mage really enjoys his literature. Your book is your weapon: it shoots fireballs!
The first town you encounter on your journey is bustling with player activity. In Aion, you can set up your own shop, Ultima Online style. I’ve noticed that players of Aion are particularly driven. No one is really stands around like in other MMOs, despite the fact that there are a ton of people on the server. I checked out other people’s goods, and found most of the prices to be fair.
Gamers will help run the economy of Aion by picking herbs and mining for ore, and selling it in the game’s towns, creating their own bazaar-like experience. It’s always a treat to find a real life traveling merchant as well if you’re low on supplies out there in the field. You’d think that with all these people running around, it would be hard to share quest space: luckily, that’s not really the case.
Get the Aion Times here! 1 gold! Click for a bigger view.
Quests are pretty easy going in Aion. To ease the pain, there’s a quest helper/locator built in to the game, which, as MMO veterans know, is a time-saver. If you ever need help with most of the quests in the game, you can click a proper name in your quest log and a purple X will mark your objective on your map. You can also choose to open a translucent map overlay on your game screen.
The quests themselves are pretty straightforward, with some non-typical fare mixed in. You have your standard “kill 10 boars”, “collect 10 plants”, and “deliver this message” quests, but you also get some pretty fun ones like “trick the lord of the forest into giving you the gift of past sight”, which allows you to revisit your past, and participate in a flashback of the great war. Aion has a lot of short cut-scenes thrown in, similar to the ones Blizzard added to Sunwell and Wrath of the Lich King.
Here’s a world-view of the lower half of Atreia. Click for a bigger view.
Aion’s title system is a pretty cool expansion on World of Warcraft’s. In these two games, you can recieve special titles, such as “Lord of Demon Slaying” for completing certain questlines and objectives. In WoW, these titles would just make you look cooler, but in Aion, they grant you certain statistical bonuses.
I’ve never had a tougher decision in a game than choosing whether or not to use the “Tree Hugger” title just to gain a few HP! Simply put, Aion shines because of its little “extras” that it offers. The user inferface is very intitutive, and allows for full customization, including the ability to move menus around wherever you’d like.
Time to burninate this bug.
Combat is more fun than most MMOs I have ever played. Aside from Age of Conan’s active counter battle system, most MMOs are a fairly boring affair when it comes to actually fighting enemies. In Aion, there is a special chain system that alleviates some of the monotony faced when powering through those long grinding sessions. When you cast a basic fireball spell, you can chain it into a higher, similar spell for more damage. Even at an insanely low level, I was chaining together a knockback ice bolt to freeze my target, using a leech spell to damage him over time (called a “dot”), immobilizing him with a hold spell, and burning him with a chain fireball.
When starting my Warlock in World of Warcraft, I just spammed shadowbolt for the entirety of my early levels, and did just fine. Aion’s combat complexity excels even further when you start dabbling in the advanced classes: especially sorcery. Veteran Aion plays contend that sorcery is one of the most advanced classes you can choose in any MMO, combat wise. After learning the ropes, I was able to fight my way through Poeta’s questline and seal the demonic portal that was spilling creatures into the realm. I earned a new title, and was told I was ready to become accepted into the inner circles of the Elyos, and earn my wings.
The scenery is breathtaking.
Finally, I had saved Poeta, and ascended into the angelic city of Sanctum. It was time to earn my wings. At level ten, you can only just glide, and engage in flight for a short amount of time. As you level up, your flight capabilities increase, and you’re able to engage in aerial combat. After hearing everyone buzz about how fun flying was in this game, I had high expectations. I was very satisfied with my first few minutes experimenting with gliding, and I expect it to be an incredibly fun experience at later levels.
Sanctum itself was a sight: it’s one of the most jaw dropping locales I’ve ever seen (I’m also a sucker for floating landmasses).
Finally, time to earn my wings!
This was a pretty basic rundown of how Aion’s style and early level gameplay through the eyes of an Elyos. I will bring you more in-depth coverage when the next beta event is scheduled. For those who are interested, this beta isn’t open to press only: you can reserve Aion now at Gamestop, and get into the beta yourself. The closed beta event dates are July 17th to July 19th, July 31st to August 3rd, and August 14th to August 16th. The full retail version is set to ship September 22nd, 2009. I hope to see you in the next event!