Every so often, an addictive game comes along and swallows us whole. For some, it’s Call of Duty: World at War’s zombie mode. For others, it’s Wii Sports Resort, and for the few, the proud, and the nerdy, its a little ol’ genre known as MMOs.
These games come and go by the droves. They range from sci-fi to fantasy; from free to play to $15 a month; from casual to hardcore; and from a full $50 entry cost to browser based affairs. But all of them have one thing in common: they’re timesinks. For the socially sane, MMOs are squeezed in after work, and before dinner with the kids, or after the wife goes to sleep (cough, cough). Should you choose to take the road less traveled and let an MMO dominate your life, say goodbye to your significant other, your social life, and your job.
So who is the new kid in town? What devilish fiend is attempting to lure you into his van with candy, and take you on a vacation that never ends? This month, its NCSoft’s Aion.
What is Aion?
Aion: The Tower of Eternity is a new fantasy based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMO), made with the CryEngine (Far Cry), and published by NCSoft, who has managed a myriad of hit or miss games, ranging from the heralded City of Heroes to the dead and buried Tabula Rasa.
NCSoft is currently charging $50 for the game, and $14.99 per month to play, with discounts offered if you commit to three, six, or twelve months.
What are your choices for your personal avatar?
Well, unlike typical role playing games, you’re not going to get a whole lot of choices when it comes to your race. You can either be the angelic Elyos, or the demonic Asmodians. So basically, you can pick the flamboyant pansies (win), or the complete and total badass death bringing devils. Whenever you meet an opposing faction member, you will always be able to kill them, and every enemy level shows up as a “??” on your HUD.
Where Aion fails in racial diversity, it succeeds in customization. Want to make Barack Obama? You can! Want to make yourself? Provided you have the self confidence, you can do that too! If you happen to be me, you can live out your fantasy of looking like a J-Rocker.
Just like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, every cosmetic facet is fully customizable, from your chin size, to whether or not your ears are elf-worthy. For once, I actually think I succeeded in making four completely different looking characters.
Class-wise, Aion has just about everything you could want, sans hybrids. You can play your typical damage soaking tank, damage dealing warrior, arrow shooting ranger, elusive assassin, nuke heavy sorceror, pet-based spiritmaster, the always popular healer, or the black sheep of the pack: the Chanter (the supportive bard).
How does the game look, and how impressive is the overall design?
Without reservation, I consider Aion to be the best looking MMO I’ve ever seen. The set pieces are absolutely gorgeous, and every area has a unique feel to it.
The CryEngine really does wonders for the MMO genre. Rather than talk about how amazing it looks, I’d rather just serve you up some screenshots, fresh off the burner.
Get to the point, man! What’s the gimmick?
Sadly, all MMOs released in the shadow of World of Warcraft need some sort of marketing gimmick: something unique to differentiate themselves from the pack. Well, Aion has flight, and ladies and gentlemen, Howard Hughes would be proud.
I’ve heard complaints from outside audiences that the flight system doesn’t look authentic. Here’s a video I made that I believe will speak for itself.
To be frank, I’ve never had as much fun in an MMO as Aion, and a large part of that is due to the flight system. Sometimes I’ll find myself on a gigantic hill, with my objective some five hundred feet below. In a standard MMO, I’d have to hoof it, but in Aion its no problem, as you can glide indefinitely! Instead of lazily taking the elevator, I always opt to take flight (it’s there, why not use it!).
Small note: the initial starting areas are light on areas where you can engage in full flight, and right when you earn your wings, you can fly for a limited time of sixty seconds, which is off putting. Through upgrades, which are essentially “mount” purchases, you can upgrade your flight time, and later areas offer more flight opportunities, but Abyss pvp always offers full flight.
Is it fun: or better yet, is the combat system involved?
Simply put, combat in Aion is much more involved than your standard MMO. To use World of Warcraft as an example, I would use two, maybe three abilities to level from 1-70 (forgive me, I quit before Wrath of the Lich King’s 80 cap).
Aion is a bit more robust, as I already had eight viable abilities very early on in the game playing a spiritmaster, partially because the game requires you to to make pet commands manually rather than put them on an auto-cast system. Plus, every character gets a limit break ability that can be used every so often, just to mix things up a bit.
Aion also benefits from a “combo system”, that encourages you to use lower abilities to “activate” stronger, more useful abilities. For instance, if I were to use the first ability-based sword attack as a warrior, I’d have the option to use a more ferocious strike for a few seconds, while the opponent is reeling.
Combat can take place either in flight or on the ground, but either way, its a blast. At its heart, its still an MMO, which means you’re going to be standing in place a lot, but if you have simplicity reservations, expect to push a lot of different buttons.
Is it grindy? Also known as “is it fun to level?”
Is it fun to actually level up? Well, yes, but I say this hesitantly, because at times, it can get monotonous. I was extremely pleased to find out that Aion was very much grind-free until level 22 or so, but I’ll get to that in a second.
From level 1-10, all of your time will be spent becoming accustomed to the fantastic world of Atreia, and earning your wings. There are an abundance of quests, and not just “kill 10 boars” (Southpark anyone?) and other such derivatives. In fact, you may find that when it comes time to ascend (earn your wings, and subsequently become a true citizen of Aion) that you have a ton of extra quests left over.
Aion also benefits from the “story quest system”: a trait that it shares with fellow competitor Lord of the Rings Online. Unique to very few MMOs, Aion actually makes an attempt to weave a cohesive story, and it simply works. You’ll learn the inner workings of rebellious organizations, and become connected to the plot at large. As time goes on, harder quests that require balanced groups will arise, and you’ll need to (gasp!) cooperate with other human players to move on.
So what’s the problem with later levels? Once you hit level 22, the game stops holding your hand. Quest hubs become more obscure, and only a few story quests are available until level 25. Once you hit the glorious two-five, however, Abyss-Arena PVP, dungeon instances, and a whole heap of other options open up to you. To make up for it, you get experience for gathering materials, and for PVP, which is always a plus.
Bottom line: you have been warned! While I was able to get my third character from 1-10 in two hours, level 22-23 stole 8 hours of my life that I cannot take back!
Is there end-game content?
Here’s the meat and potatoes question! Frankly, this is all I look for in a serious MMO. I didn’t really start playingWorld of Warcraft until The Burning Crusade was out, and end-game raid content was a top priority. Just likeVanilla World of Warcraft, Aion is a bit light on the end-game content side, with only a few raid-size dungeons to offer, which may turn off some.
Max level in Aion is 50, and early reports are coming in that it would take around 10 days of straight play to reach this milestone. To give you something to compare it to, in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (which has a maximum level of 70), I reached 70 on my third character in 6 days knowing what I was doing, and with little dilly dallying.
On the pvp side of things, rifts are a really unique addition to Aion that really help spice up gameplay. Upon receiving a message that a gateway has opened up, the entire area will go into a sudden state of panic, as your opposing faction now has access to your land.
“Rift parties”, consisting of any number of members will start forming, and all hell breaks loose. The biggest reason why I enjoy rifts is because it forces world pvp, and considering you get experience and gear points for it, its definitely worthwhile. But, if you’re the type who finds world pvp too taxing, and enjoy some good old fashioned arena based action, Aion also allows you to enter the Abyss: a giant battleground used entirely for player versus player combat.
The question you don’t want to ask after buying it: will it end up in the MMO graveyard?
From the looks of it, no. NCSoft has recently said that every year they will come out with a major update for Aion, not including forthcoming patches that add extra content and items.
NCSoft has had its ups and downs, but if reports of 3.5 million Asian subscribers are anything to go by with the earlier released Asian client, Aion is an early success.
I hope to see you in Atreia!