Aion: pay-by-the-hour design pervades the game
Aion: Tower of Eternity
My Play Experience: At the time of writing this I have both a cleric and a sorc to level 30 (level cap is 50). I've experienced the two instances available below 30 (NTC and FT), and spent some time in parts of the Abyss. I'm critiquing the game as of 11/9/2009.
Summmary: Aion tries to provide a world where PvP is not a tack-on, but an integrated part of the game. This turns into a blessing and a curse. Overall I find the game more appealing than Warhammer Online, and marginally better than Age of Conan. However, there are too many bugs, bots, and disconnects for me to recommend the game to others or stick with it for the long haul. Since the game has been out for over a year in Asia, it seems unlikely any of the core bugs are going to be fixed because of a US release. In addition, the Korean version uses a pay-by-the-hour model, and it seems to show in the game design.
Client Bugs: The game is rife with them. The ones that bother me the most are the camera control and movement bugs. In particular, there are annoying issues with the left-click camera swivel. For example, to swivel the camera only, you must left-click on a world object, but not the empty sky. When you're flying up (especially to escape someone), this becomes very frustrating, as you must find an object in your viewport to click on in order to look behind you without stopping your escape. If you're above all the objects, you're out of luck. Just fly and hope for the best. It's been suggested that this wasn't as important to the Asian markets that use click-to-move more often, but click-to-move only works on the ground. Aion's large PVP area, The Abyss, is dominated by flying pvp play.
Server Disconnects: Many of the instance runs I've been on have had multiple players disconnect more than once. Sometimes I'm affected, and sometimes not. These are not user networking problems which coincidentally hit three party members, they are problems on the server. On one particular day the whole server was complaining about lag, but not just networking delays, the entire server was grinding to a hault. Mobs were taking a long time to spawn. It may be a slight exaggeration, but it's possible that I've been disconnected from Aion more times in three weeks of play than in a year of playing any other online game. I've certainly witnessed more disconnects.
Bots: In every zone I've found players botting. Their characters are unattended, mindlessly targetting and killing whatever is near them. This is no surprise, as the game design makes botting incredibly easy. Click-to-move and click-to-attack features mean all one needs to bot is a program that will inject TAB (next target), followed by 1 (attack), wait several minutes, then do it again. A very fancy bot might press a few other skill keys, and periodically cause the player to rest. Bots typically are left fighting passive (non-aggressive) mobs several levels below themselves, so there is no risk of them dying. Because the Asian version of the game is pay-by-the-hour., NCSoft seems to have financial incentive to silently condone or encourage widespread botting, as more hours logged in playing means more money for NCSoft -- even if they are bots. The US game does not use pay-by-the-hour, but instead has a subscription fee. However, the game is still crippled by bot-friendly features, and no support staff to shut down the bots. Combined with the ridiculous amount of grinding required to reach the level-cap, after a while I've begun to feel like I'm the only human player stupid enough not to bot my way to 50. Further, in many cases bots cause trouble when trying to complete quests, as they are far overlevel and mindlessly steal mobs needed to complete quests. Aion's mob-tagging system credits the kill to the player who does the highest damage to the mob. This makes it a common occurance for a bot to mindlessly run in and kill-steal your mob while you're working on a quest. There is no way to stop them, as there is nobody at the wheel.
PVE Solo: The PVE experience is passable until level 20. Their campaign quest system is interesting, and provides some continuity to the game, while other quests provide depth. However, there are not nearly enough quests to keep you moving thorough the levels. As early as level 20 you will need to start grinding out XP. At level 25 so much XP is available through once-daily runs of the first instance (known as NTC) that it feels like a waste of time to earn it any other way. However, this XP gravy train ends at 29, and it's back to spartan quests and ridiculous amounts of grinding. I'm told it gets far worse in the mid-30s and all the way up to 50.
PVE Instances: The two PVE instances I've had access to are Nochsana Training Camp (NTC) and Fire Temple (FT). Both are fairly uninspired and monochromatic. Bosses are tank and spank. Loot is not guaranteed, in fact, in my 20+ runs of NTC on two characters I only saw four pieces of blue boss loot. There are some challenging gems for expert players, such as the Three Keys group instance/quest, setup as an attunement for FT. Three Keys is more of a puzzle than your typical instance. A brute force run with no wipes might take a bit longer than an hour. However, if players are proficient at gliding and avoiding pat aggro, it can be completed much faster. Sadly, the only reward is attunment to FT, so there isn't much reason to run it more than once per character.
PVP: Aion lacks any type of half-way fair matchup against other players. Players fall down on all sides of this camp, so I know my personal preferences may not be shared by anyone. I love the challenge of fighting other players. I'm okay with gear-differences, as they motivate you to improve and yet still keep it interesting. level-differences, on the other hand, are very frustrating. I've never enjoyed world PvP for this reason. For every time that world-pvp produces a fight against similar level players, there are 1000 times where it's just a high-level player you can't touch killing you on sight. I enjoy the WoW battlegrounds, as you can get to the top-level in the bracked and basically be "on a level playing field" with respect to hit equations. I was thrilled when I found out that Warhammer adjusted effective level of all players in a battleground, so even if you went in at a low level, you would have the same chance to hit someone 5 levels above you. Aion's PvP environment involves temporary rifts that randomly open between the zones of opposing factions, and The Abyss. Spy quests encourage you to group up and rift to the opposing faction's territory to achive great rewards. It sounds neat. However, it doesn't work out so well. Because rifts are random events, it's not easy to decide you want to make a rift group and go now. Rift groups can only form as an opportunistic