previews\ Aug 16, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Aion - PC - Preview 3

When a new triple-A massively multiplayer online game is announced, there is usually a lot of hype about what it will offer and how it will differentiate itself from the other titles vying for players’ time and monthly subscriptions.

Aion, from NCsoft, has had some additional pressure put on it in addition to the hype. Consider that NCsoft has had a couple of MMOs start out and then falter and close (Auto Assault and Tabula Rasa), and while City of Heroes/Villains is still going strong, the North American market for Lineage II is a little shy (the game, though, is a huge hit in Asia), so if NCsoft needs a hit MMO, it appears that pressure falls squarely on Aion and the development team.

The closed beta session ended today, and the game will launch a new version with a ton of new content and some changes for when it goes to open beta at the start of September. The game will release September 22 – if all goes according to plan.

With all that in mind, and knowing the game may be a slightly different beast with the next version, it’s still applicable to do a preview of the game. What Aion brings to the MMO table is a game that will be challenging, is beautifully crafted and has stories steeped in lore for the player who wants to feel some immersion.

Aion is the story of a world shattered, with two races growing up separately with a racial hatred of the other side. The Elyos are pure and light, with white wings (once they have ascended to level 10 and become a Daeva – more on that in a moment), while the Asmodians are a bit darker, with clawed feet and fingers and black wings. The game does have a robust customization selection in the character creation so while there are some physical attributes particular to each race (as well as armor that is bit more finite in looks at the start), you can create your own look for your character.

There are four profession archetypes, that each break down into two sub-classes: warrior breaks down into gladiator and templar, priest goes to cleric and chanter, scouts can become rangers or assassins, and mages can choose the path of sorcerer or spiritmaster (pet class). There are beginning towns that have a series of quests designed to introduce the game to players as well as get them to level 10, which is when players ascend to the rank of Daeva and get their wings, as well as determining what class they will play through the rest of the game with that particular character. As your character advances, you buy skill books to learn the skills commiserate with your level and class.

The wings truly offer an interesting dynamic to the game. First off, they are not a form of transportation that can take you all over the world. The wings are on a timer and can be zone specific – in that you can fly in some zones, but not in most of the land quest zones. However, you can still glide by double-tapping the space bar and this can help you traverse hostile territory faster, or even chase down a running enemy, if you can find a bit of a hill to use as a launching point for the glide mechanic.

The game itself has base elements that are standard with most MMOs. You get a series of quests designed to draw you through the lore of the game as well as level you up. You level, you get better skills and better equipment. There is also a harvesting and crafting element to the game that will give players who want to take a break from the fighting something to do.

In combat, you can chain attacks. One attack may open a secondary chained skill and allow you to evolve the damage to a higher level.

But Aion’s glory is also a warning post for the player base – this is not a world where a player can waltz through it with hardly a thought for strategic elements or group dynamics. The Shattered World is a harsh place where beauty can host peculiar wildlife that will do you in quickly and effectively. Yes, with skill you can fight a couple of levels above you, but get careless and mobs half a dozen levels lower will attack and might kill you. In addition to experience debt, there is also damage to the soul, which can accrue and cost a pretty bit of coin to heal. The more soul damage you have, the slower you recover and move. Grouping, when possible, is advised and a good group can make for a thoroughly enjoyable time.

But more so than the player-versus-environment (PvE) elements, the world of Aion is also player-versus-player (PvP). And you don’t get a choice of whether you wish to participate. If you are in the same zone as  players from the other faction, they can attack you and likely will if they see you. For example, one night recently a rift opened up between the world of the Elyos (Elysae) and the world of Asmodae (home of the Asmodians … as you probably could have guessed). A group of players from Elysae went through the portal and worked across the landscape to the snowy areas outside of the Asmodian citadel Morheim. The battle lasted hours. Any player coming out of the city was attacked.

You can earn Abyss points (which is an open PvP zone players can get to after level 25) through killing players of the other faction. But it does not matter if you are simply trying to quest or not. Every player is fair game in an open-PvP setting. That is yet another reason why Aion is not for the more casual MMO gamer. You need to be on your toes and watch to see if a rift has opened.

Aion is simply a gorgeous game with a fair amount of lands to explore and a host of quests. The music is very nice and some of the NPCs (non-playable characters) had voices in the closed beta, which furthered the story elements.

This is a great game in the making and a whole lot of fun to play. It is challenging, and has those jaw-dropping moments that are seldom seen in very many games. Was all the hype merely hot air under the wings of the Elyos and Asmodians? Nope, this is a game that might not have appeal to more casual players, but for those who don’t mind PvP and enjoy challenging gameplay, Aion is on target to be a huge hit.

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