Aion: The Best Looking Mass Murder Simulator of 2009
Aion: Tower of Eternity
Play Experience: At the time this review was written I have leveled an Elyos Chanter to 43 (level cap is 50) and seen most of the in game zones. I have played a few hours a day since the head start began on September 20. I have gone “rifting” a few times, experienced PvP in the abyss, and participated in several fortress sieges. This review is based on the state of the game as of 11/03/2009. It is my intent to update this review once I hit level 50 and have seen the game mature a bit and given the developers some time to fix their problems.
The Summary: Aion is an east meets west mmorpg brought over from Korea by NC Soft. The graphics have a very anime look to them similar to Lineage 2. The game uses a two-faction pvp oriented model much like World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning but with a third pseudo faction in the form of the Balaur, a race of reptilian humanoids bent on world domination or destruction... or something. The presence of this third pseudo faction is designed to help balance the power on the server and often will come indirectly to the aid of the weaker faction.
Artistic Style and Graphics: 5
You will be very hard pressed to find a nicer looking mmorpg on the market today. Aion uses a version of the “Cryengine” which gives them a lot to work with and on the highest settings some of the locales are just gorgeous and you don't necessarily need a monster computer to run on high settings. On the lowest graphical settings the game still looks presentable though many of the textures look like like they belong in Everquest 2 or even Dark Age of Camelot in certain places..
The character creation tool is very powerful allowing you to create anything from the mutated and bizarre to a parody of your favorite anime character or celebrity. I saw a three foot tall Jay Leno, chin and all, running around. You can anything from a two foot tall gnome to a 9 foot tall giant and everything in between. As you can see in my pictures I went for the child serial killer look. Aion by far allows more customization to your avatar when compared to just about every other mmorpg short of Champions Online and the City of Heroes/Villains.
Class Balance: 3
The game has only been released in North America for about a month and a half, nearly a year for Asian audiences so it's a little early to comment too much on the PvP balance. In my pvp experiences the winner any given battle is almost always determined in this order:
Number of players = Average player level > Group composition > Gear quality > Player skill = Uses the most consumables.
I would like to warn anyone reading this that the order is likely to change once more players hit 50. This chart is based on my observations on the current state of the game where the majority of the population is not 50 yet.
PvP in Aion occurs in two different ways. The first is rifting. A rift is a portal that if you enter, takes you to the opposite faction's parallel zone which then allows you to go pvp on the enemies turf. Nearly every zone in the game except for the the low level (25 and under) areas has a number of points where a rift can appear. Rifts can only be used a limited number of times before it closes and becomes unavailable. When the rift runs out of uses it will despawn, rifts also typically despawn after about an hour passes. The second restriction for rifting is it will only let players who fall within a certain level range through. To give an example, a hypothetical rift spawns: It can be used 100 times and will allow players between level 24 and 46 enter. No players lower than level 24 or higher than 46 will be able to use that rift to cross over.
The second way in which PvP occurs is in the abyss. The abyss is one giant multi-layer zone and is similar to wintergrasp in WoW or just about any zone on a WoW pvp server. Over all, PvP wise there's very little we haven't seen already though flight was implemented extremely well.
Yeah Aion's PvE gets a 1 in my book.
Let's talk about soloing and general leveling first. The game's level cap is 50 and as you level up the game feels very well paced until about level 35. I didn't feel the amount of grinding I had to do was unreasonable and often it was for a quest or a certain item drop. For the most part, you don't run out of quests in this phase of the game nor are you ever stuck wondering where you should go next, in fact for a brief period of time it almost feels like you have too many options but this feeling fades quickly.
When you hit level 35 the game rapidly changes and by time I hit 40 I was desperately searching the land for any quest to help me reach the next level. This is where the grind began for me, fortunately Chanter is a very group friendly class which eased the pain a little bit but as I continued to advance in level barely any quests were opening up. Experience for quests at this point would get me through roughly 20% of the total experience needed to level up. Where I am now at level 43 it doesn't even look like I'll hit 20% before I finish the handful of quests that unlocked.
All of the faults I have listed so far would be forgiven if Aion had fun group content. So far I have experienced four instanced dungeons designed for a full group of six players of varying levels and while some seemed intriguing at first, only one provided a memorable experience. Instances for the most part are packed to the gills with minions and henchmen who serve no purpose but to slow down your advance to the next boss. The boss fights themselves are nothing special, generally tank and spank with group damage going out on occasion to keep the healer from falling asleep.
The one instance I've done that is memorable is called “Steel Rake”. It is a skyship with a bunch of humanoid weasel, gerbil, and guinea pig pirates on board. The ship is split into several decks which are of varying difficulty levels. For a group in the low 40's each deck of the ship represents a 1-2 hour time investment however I expect this time will come down as more and more people learn the instance layout. To fully clear this place you could take upwards of 5 hours.
While “Steel Rake” is more memorable and interesting than the other instances it is still plagued with their problems. I do not know if these count as bugs or if they are intended game mechanics however it is not uncommon for a group to spend an hour or more clearing trash on the way to a boss, only to get to the boss room and find it empty... or in one particularly insulting run we made it to one of the boss rooms and inside we found a level 1 non-hostile qooqoo (Aion's version of a chicken). We one-hit killed it and discovered we had just spent an hour clearing to a boss that didn't exist.
Over all this aspect of the game is extremely poorly done. It may be an intended game mechanic but you will often run an instance and find several of the bosses are just gone without a trace. When you couple this with the fact that bosses aren't guaranteed to drop loot of any kind. The only thing worse than spending an hour clearing to a boss that hasn't spawned is spending an hour clearing to a boss that has spawned but drops nothing.
Production Value: 4
Aion is an extremely well made game. From the moment I logged in it felt like driving a new car. Everything ran smoothly for me and it was obvious a high degree of attention and polish went into this game. Some areas could use a little more work though. At times it feels like the camera is working against you. I like to know what is going on around me so I often rotate my camera around to survey the area especially if I'm on the run from enemy players however on occasion my character will suddenly change course and run in the direction my camera is facing... this is extremely lethal if you have players chasing you. The camera is even more difficult to use while flying and at times it refuses to rotate at all which makes aerial awareness much more difficult.
Aside from a few minor rough edges Aion's user interface and various game mechanics fit together to provide a quality gaming experience.
Final Grade: 3.2
I really wanted to like Aion but there are too many things that just make the game unnecessarily tedious and ultimately it felt a lot more like work than a game. Lacking enough content for players to hit the level cap should never happen in a current generation mmorpg. I got the impression that somewhere during Aion's development cycle it was decided that repeatable quests that send you out to kill a large number of creatures counted as content. Playing Aion for me is a lot like eating popcorn. It tastes good but it's not very filling.
Specific things I love about Aion:
I believe I can fly! Aion's flight mechanic is probably the most interesting feature in the game. At low levels you are limited to 60 seconds of flight time, once you ran out of time you would fall to your death if you aren't near the ground. It gives you the player a large degree of mobility but keeps you grounded enough to help the game feel more populated.
Best in small doses: Aion small group pvp (2-6 players) can be a lot of fun if you can manage to find another similarly sized group to face off against. Often times winning one of these small battles is more satisfying than participating in a fortress siege because your individual contribution to the group matters quite a bit more.
Look what I can make: Raising your trade skills in Aion is relatively easy but it is also quite expensive. The difficulty when it comes to the trade skills is actually gathering the materials to create an item after you've learned the recipe. The resources needed to make an item are generally easy to farm but higher level recipes require a massive amount of these resources to create which can take a lot of time to farm or money to buy. These items require significant investment to create even if you farm your mats however in return for your investment you often will get a piece of armor/weapon/jewelry that is better than anything you can find out of dungeons or world drops.
When I grow up I want to be a spirit healer: When you are killed by an npc in Aion the real victim is your money pouch. Each death costs you a percentage of the total exp needed to reach the next level. This amount is faded out on your exp bar until you go to the spirit healer and pay her ransom for your experience. This is often brutally expensive if you are leveling up and you learn very quickly that survivability is extremely important. I'm not normally one to like a harsh death penalty but this really feels like the perfect mix of harsh and reasonable.
Specific things I hate about Aion:
I thought I could fly: Considering how often Aion's flight feature was used to advertise this game it really seems odd that more than half the zones currently in the game prohibit flight of any kind. You are able to glide short distances to speed up your travel time but no actual flying except in the areas immediately surrounding the the first city you visit in a zone. What makes this particular limitation even more frustrating is the fact that flying is pretty fun.
Sanctum's city planner needs to be put to sleep. (just to clarify, the in game one, not the real life one) Sanctum is the floating capital city of the Elyos faction and is very nice to look at however the problem of getting around becomes more annoying than it should be. The entire city is a no fly zone which wouldn't be a big deal if Sanctum's layout made sense. As it stands now there are certain parts of the city that are only accessible via a slow moving airship that moves between a dock on the primary city island out to a dock on a much smaller floating island. When I say slow I mean very slow, if you miss the trolley you might as well go make a sandwich because you've got a good 5 minutes of free time before it returns.
What's the point of being an immortal warrior who can sprout friggen wings and fly at will if you have to wait for the world's slowest air trolley to take you to a place you could have easily reached yourself? To be fair to the game, the reason why you can't fly is explained in the game but that doesn't make this any less frustrating.
You can't fight fate: Sometimes it really feels like the game is out to get you. The other night while I spent a few hours grinding on a certain kind of creature and it seemed like every 50 creature would just do a crushing amount of dps in a short period of time for no apparent reason. Sometimes the game will drop your connection and if you happen to be flying far above the ground it is very likely that your character will run out of flight time and fall to his/her death. Once I was in a group and happened to be standing near another group grinding on elite creatures for experience. I casted a single buff on my group and out of nowhere the creature the other group was fighting turns away from their tank and proceeded to rush over to me, kill me in two hits, before rushing back to the enemy tank to resume the fights.
Sometimes it just feels like the game wants me dead and because a lot of these deaths feel out of my control as a player and if you have this happen to you two or three times in a day the frustration is just compounded. Death is a part of the game to be certain and as a player I'm fully willing to accept the responsibility and cost of my mistakes but in these situations the only mistake I made was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I'll file this one under "should have learned from WoW". One issue that has plagued NC Soft since release has been gold farming companies logging character into the game and spamming global chat channels with advertisements for their site. This made the looking for group channel all but impossible to use and even if you ignored every bot spammer your ignore list would very quickly fill up forcing you to go through the tedious process of removing all the old, no longer used bot names from the list and starting over again. Why NC Soft didn't have a system in place to prevent it on launch day is a mystery to me, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the gold farming companies would show up to capitalize on the launch of a new highly anticipated mmorpg. To NC Soft's credit they've gotten this under control and the global chat channel spam has all but disappeared.
I for one welcome our new robot overlords. Botting was and continues to be a serious problem for Aion. As I leveled up I happened to keep pace with a batch of about 8 bots. I would see them every day killing creatures close to major settlements and towns. Every day I would report them with the in game slash command. After about two weeks of doing this I stopped wasting my time, it was apparent that NC Soft is not interested in cracking down on these accounts at this time. Recently I went rifting with an in game templar buddy of mine. Once we got situated in the asmodian zone we went hunting. We swept the countryside clean of bots and the occasional real player and eventually we had killed so many that there was effectively a never ending stream of bots flowing out of the nearby Asmodian town right back to the position we were waiting in. At one point we had so many bots fighting us simultaneously (many bots are programmed for self defense) we had to step off of the road we were camping and let a few pass or we would have been overwhelmed. This experience really put into perspective how game breaking bots really are and if NC Soft doesn't get this taken care of soon they are going to finish their leveling cycle and get sold off to people willing to pay and likely get lost in the crowd without any punishment ever being handed out.
I hope they fix that when the beta test ends. Aion has a problem with memory leakage. I personally cannot go into Sanctum on anything but the lowest video settings, if I attempt any higher the game immediately begins crashing after a few minutes. My computer is quite good, and anywhere else in the game I can bump the graphics up to the maximum setting and experience no graphical slowdown. This is a known issue but there has been no word on whether a fix is being made or if those of us with this problem are doomed to run the game in ugly mode.
Thanks for nothing. There are no alternative rule sets in Aion. Before the game had gone live the role-playing community had asked that one of the servers be labeled as such. They weren't asking for rule changes they just wanted a server with the RP tag on it so that players coming into the game would know which server they might find people of like mind on. NC Soft refused to do that but offered to help the community select an unofficial server for role players to congregate on.
While this in and of itself isn't a big deal, it showed that NC Soft was unwilling to make a small cosmetic change for a decent chunk of their player base.
Don't come into Aion thinking it is going to be a WoW killer. There isn't a whole lot here that we haven't seen before in other games though in many cases Aion does it better than those other games. If certain aspects of this game seem interesting to you pick it up and give it a try for a month. If you are not sure wait for them to start a trial promotion and give it a try then.
If you have spotted any spelling or grammatical errors or feel something I have said here is not accurate please feel free to contact me and let me know. I strive to create a very clean, informative, and accurate reviews. Thank you.