reviews\ Nov 8, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Aion - PC - Review

There is nothing more discouraging than a game that comes out of the chute firing on all cylinders and then it starts to bog down the further you get into it. This has been a bug-a-boo of late for some MMOs that show great potential, play very well for the early levels and then just sort of run out of steam as the gaming experience progresses.

Alas, Aion, the latest massively-multiplayer online gaming release from NCsoft, falls partially into that category. The game’s pacing is great through the tutorial and even into the initial foray after leaving the lands of the tutorial portion. The game has a wide variety of quests that steep players in the lore of the game, drive plot points, and give a sense of the world dynamic. You will find quests for hunting, to combat the forces in league with the other faction or those groups that are simply profiteering off the nearest available target – which happens to be your factional group, either Elyos or Asmodian.

Around the time you close in on level 20, the progression of the story will take you to cities that are near gates that allow members of the other faction to slide through. At this point the game takes on a different dynamic and instead of being a player-versus-environment game, it opens up to the player-versus-player aspects. There are no restrictions on the players moving into the zones of the other faction – a higher level player can hunt younger players, but those younger players can opt to find other places to adventure to skill/level up.

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 representative of the ‘light’ side of the world, 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, with a world that is seemingly in a perpetual dusk. 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.

Skill books can be bought from class trainers, and sometimes can be purchased from other players or off the player market – this is a world market, based on faction, where players can put an item up for sale while setting the price for the item. Players can also set up their own private store, assuming a camping position and walk away from the game. This might seem like a good idea, but when you zone into an area and find it jammed with private stores, that idea seems to take on a less-than-spectacular aspect. While the folks at NCsoft have tried to ban the accounts of gold farmers, the proliferation of these people is blatant and obvious – at least in the first months of the games release. Chat spam abounds, with banned or blocked names consuming the limits set for a single player in their filter box, and while typing in things like /anon in the chat line helps to a certain degree, mail boxes can also be eaten up.

Inventory space and banking space is another sink hole for the coin of the realm. You can open up more slots in your “cube” – otherwise known as your inventory, but that comes at a price.

In some ways, the economic model of the game is flawed and players will find themselves scrambling to try to keep skills up, and armor and weapons current to their level while offsetting the cost of soul healing (the penalty received when you die – to heal the soul allows you to recoup experience points lost when you died, as well as erasing the movement penalty incurred by death). It is possible to actually de-level when you die, but while the penalty for dying in the PvE portion of the game, the dev team felt that because players will have to engage in PvP, the penalty for dying at the hands of another player is relatively minor.

And there are also expenses incurred through travel. You can bind to a certain location, but that will cost a nice chunk of currency, and should you choose not to, you can travel via ghostly bird within the region you are in, or teleport to another region. The bird flights are relatively inexpensive compared to the costs of teleporting.

The wings players get at level 10 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. The harvesting can be tied to the quest lines and thus keeping your harvesting skills up for the zone is advisable. For example, you may get a quest to harvest a certain material that requires you to have a level skill that is 85. If you have not harvested your way through, because of inventory space considerations, in order to do that quest, you will have to backtrack to the younger zones, and grind your way up. You don’t always advance your skill for each item harvested. Sometimes you may have to harvest multiple items to get one point in harvesting skill. Plus, each resource node allows for (generally) three harvests per node and then the node disappears. You have to wait for it to spawn again to move forward and continue that particular grind.

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. Weapons can be factored in as well. For example, a scout class can dual-wield and the chance of a critical strike (a higher yield of damage) increases for wielding two daggers, as opposed to a sword and dagger.

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. 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. If you are Elyos and work your way up to the Eltnen Fortress, you may find the woods outside the citadel a haven for Asmodian raiders. There is value in gaining rift points, and that means hunting and killing the players of another faction. A young level 20 ranger, while there is a decent selection of slows and traps (if you go ranger, be prepared to kite your enemies – which means hit them with a shot, run, shoot, run, shoot and run, rarely letting them get into melee range) might get ambushed by a level 28 sorcerer. If that happens, expect the ranger to curl up into the death posture. The fight won’t last long, the sorcerer will get abyss points and the ranger will be paying for soul healing and perhaps transportation back to the zone (if he or she did not bind there).

You can earn Abyss (which is an open PvP zone players can get to after level 25) points 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.

While Aion is a beautiful game, the number of quests drop off as you get into your 20s and some quests will involve you running all over to different zones, all at a cost to you, the player. This is a silly notion, especially when you are charged a ridiculous amount of coin for the transportation. Juxtaposed against the reward, this sometimes seems hardly worth the effort.

The game also allows for crafting and like much of the rest of the game, you have to grind up – it also requires coin to purchase some materials and inventory space. The actual act of crafting is sandwich time – make sure you have the right number of materials, select a recipe and the total number of units you wish to make, hit the craft button and walk away. There is nothing you can do to improve the rate of success or chance of failure; it is all arbitrary. You will sometimes succeed, sometimes fail and sometimes elevate your skill. You can learn all the crafting professions in the game, to a certain point, but with the inventory stress, unless you have a deep bank, this might seem impractical. And crafting can be another coin sink as well, especially when you run out of materials and look to buy them to continue.

Aion offers some new ideas and the whole wing dynamic is wonderful. The game is a real treat for the eyes and there is no ugly race. Players can, however, choose to create a beautiful being, or an ugly creation – mostly tied to Asmodian – in the character creation process, though. Even the starkness of some environments contain some amazing elements and interesting creatures. The problem with the game, though, is that it is a grind and at a certain point the story ceases to matter as much and raiding becomes the focus. That, and the economic woes, may be the undoing of this game.

Review Scoring Details for Aion

Gameplay: 8.0
Spam, spam, spam, spam – the chat channels are awash with it. The controls are not hard to master, but the interface can take a couple of moments to get everything set up the way you want. And should you start a new character (you can have eight total across all the servers), you will find yourself resetting your preferences all over again.

Graphics: 9.0
This is a beautiful-looking game and the flight dynamic is amazing, both in terms of look and in animation.

Sound: 8.0
The spoken dialogue is decent, and the musical score is nice, but there is a lot of text dialogue and quest information that you have to read through. The sound effects are about average.

Difficulty: Med/Hard

Concept: 8.0
The game has a few nice ideas, but these get bogged down in retread concepts, the grind of the game and the economic woes. There are a lot of ideas borrowed from Asian MMOs.

Multiplayer: 7.5
The farmers are out in full force in this game, and you no sooner ban one than another pops up to spam you. It’s annoying and irritating. Couple that with the fact that you have a finite number of names you can block and you soon have to start playing with the list – unblocking the old to block the new. Yes, NCsoft is working to ban them, but between the spam and the player stores that block up areas and cause some lag through sheer volume, the game takes a hit.

The player community can be nice, but sometimes finding a group for quests that are obviously geared for the quest dynamic if you are hunting at your level is hard.

Overall: 8.0
Character creation and the flight dynamic are definitely worth a look, but the main problem is that while the gameplay is inviting enough initially, it starts to bog down as you near level 20 and there are not as many quests. You may find yourself repeating the tired, old kill “X” number of monsters simply to try to get to level 25 when you can indulge in the PvP elements more freely. There are objectives in the scope of the game, but the grind does come into play.


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