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Aion Review (Part 1): The Road to Abyss
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 03:18pm 13/10/09 | Comments
Kosta Andreadis takes a long, hard look at MMO newcomer, Aion, documenting his trek to level 25 before giving you his final verdict. Read on for his full thoughts...

When your character reaches Level 25 in Aion, 'The Abyss' opens up - a large sprawling battleground where player and computer controlled races aim to control key strategic sites, called fortresses. From fighting large guardians amongst a group of fifty combatants, to taking part in both small and large scale defensive and offensive manoeuvres, or just trying to see how far into enemy territory you can go - the day to day activities of The Abyss sound, well, pretty damn cool. And to those who enjoy player-versus-player (PvP) content in their MMOs, no doubt this portion of the game would be at the top of your 'things to check out in Aion' list. But, getting to this point in Aion is no easy feat, time-wise that is, as many hours will need to be invested just coming to terms with the game, its world, and most importantly, the content. That's not to say that Aion breaks new ground or provides an experience unlike anything before it. In fact, Aion takes the opposite route, and tries to provide a complete and polished experience utilising pre-existing game mechanics. The following is an account of playing Aion, as an Elyos Warrior/Templar - on the road to the Abyss.


A Story of Collecting, Gathering, and some light Killing

When you try and picture a warrior you most likely think of a guy with a sword, possibly a shield, kind of the way Arnie looked back when he played Conan. Yes, boring old hack and slash warrior, with no spell, summons or ranged attacks. You might scoff at the choice, but there's nothing like a sword and shield combo - simple and effective. But with an art direction as distinct as Aion's, one that features a noticeable Eastern look, one naturally might find themselves inclined to create an alluring female character as opposed to a muscle bound Generic Fantasy Guy # 63.

Which is what the whole population in Poeta must have been thinking as the ratio of male to female characters running around was the polar opposite of what you'd find in your run of the mill nightclub. A world overrun with female characters is not a bad place to start. But this of course made the choice feel a little generic. But I'm not one to re-roll or spend time recreating and meddling with class types, so for better or worse, the choice was made. Enter fabled female warrior whose lost her memory (Eastern developed game clue # 1) and must battle what looks like giant mosquitoes as a first step on the road to fulfilling her destiny. Aside's aside, one could literally spend hours customising the look and feel of their character, as the creation and customisation tools feature enough sliders to make Jerry O'Connell and Gimli's travels together pale in comparison. If the differentiation between the characters roaming the land of Poeta is one of the first things you may notice, prior to that would definitely be the impressive visuals. And although Aion is fantasy-based, with tree creatures and sorcerers, the art-direction feels very naturalistic, with everything from creature designs, animation, and subtle environmental effects, all being, well, impressive.

It's very subtle the way the game's presentation impresses, with a palette that isn't overly garish or show-offish, and the game-world itself is fantastical in design, it always feels natural and other-worldly, in a sci-fi sense. From lush forest landscapes to large squid-like creatures flying through the air, the world of Atreia is definitely mesmerising. And the music is not too shabby, either. Aion definitely wins a lot of points in the presentation department, more so than any Eastern developed RPG to come along in a long while. Perhaps this is a personal preference, or slightly overshooting the mark, but this is an incredible looking game. And of course, these impressions could also be attributed to the anime-inspired female overpopulation problem currently plaguing the lands of Aion.

Being the opening area of the game, Poeta is essentially the training grounds as you quest to Level 10. A far cry from the enticing nature of The Abyss, in terms of scope at least, but you'll soon learn that these early portions of the game play out like a co-op action RPG; one where you can follow the game's campaign and side quests, solo or in a group. In fact the game could be treated and described as a quest/grind-heavy action RPG, but those words usually bear a negative connotation. It's actually quite impressive, and the best word to describe it would be – polished. The combat system, which although can seem like a keyboard workout (2, 2, 3, 1, 4, 5, wait, repeat), takes into account subtle character animations, with movements also affecting the battle. Strafing increases your chance of evasion and moving back increases your defence, with both movements penalising your attack damage. Couple this with chain attacks, and although the items you're equipped with and the skills in your arsenal still play a major role in your fighting ability, simply attacking enemies and expecting to dominate will only get you so far. This will become apparent when you first decide to take part in a friendly duel with another character.

Everything about the world of Aion and its mechanics, even at an early stage feel spot-on. From the battle mechanics to the UI (which works in a strikingly similar fashion to WOW's – that being MMO juggernaut World of WarCraft), to the visuals, animation, trade, monetary and item system – are all polished, polished and polished. The gameplay of Aion is very much character driven action-RPG, where the name of the game is increasing your character's abilities, which more often than not means killing a mob or two hundred, and looting their corpses for item drops or remains that might fetch a good price in the auction house or local shop is here in abundance. Probably the most talked up aspect of the game, the ability to fly, is kept to a minimum early on, as you don't even get your wings until you reach Level 10 and become a "Daeva" - which is Aion for "god-like ass kicker".

So the question you may be asking, is, are the early parts of the game fun, or simply a grind? I'd tend to lean, quite heavily to the former. Co-op action RPG gameplay, when done right (see your Diablos and Titan Quests) is such an intoxicating blend of addictiveness it should be illegal. And Aion gets this blend right, even if it doesn't even attempt to hide it (which comes in the form of a quest log full of everything from rescue this thing to gather this herb to deliver this message to that guy). In fact, the game itself up until Level 15 or 20 is strictly linear, with a straight forward story and game play progression, teaching players all aspects of Aion. Whether or not the linear nature of the early areas of the game will adversely affect player attempts to create and build and re-roll new characters is still up in the air. But as it stands, if you're happy with the look of your character and the class you've chosen, there's no doubt progressing your character through the early portions of the game can be fun, especially when grouping up with other players and getting a feel for how each class fits into battle.

Sanctum, Verteron, and Beyond

The Jewel of Elysea, or learning how to craft armour and not being able to afford all the skill books for your character.

Being an MMO means a persistent world with hundreds of players roaming the lands, groups to join for some co-op action, people to challenge to a dual, and legions (ie Guilds) to be a part of. One of the best aspects of having a larger community is the affect it has on the trade system in the game, as most items can be brokered off for sale, and if you feel up to it you can even set-up a mobile shop anywhere in the game and sell off any unwanted or farmed items in your inventory. This comes in handy when you have a quest from someone asking you to mine 25 pieces of Titanium, which requires a collection skill of 100 and yours is only 52. This makes a poorly written user shop-front sign that reads "G3T YOAR QUEST ITEMZ HER3!!!!" a little less of an eyesore than it should be.

As your character progresses so do your options, and the level of content to be found within Aion becomes quickly apparent. That meaning there's literally a shit tonne of things to occupy your time with in this game. Well, ok not a literal shit tonne, a figurative one, but you get the point. As an MMO, a genre by default that wants players to keep, well, playing for months and in the case of some titles, years - you'd expect a lot of content right off the bat with Aion. And a lot is what you pretty much get, all wrapped up in a character-based action RPG (hrm, are you trying to tell us something K? – Steve). One could list the features of the game, but that would read like a "yes, sounds exactly like MMO #23". So if you want to be able to craft armour that would make the Gods themselves get an erection, you'll need to be willing to spend days, weeks, and god knows how long completing work orders asking you to create "10 pieces of steel shit thingy" and mining for materials before you'll even have the chance.

It's pretty clear that developer NCSoft didn't set out to create a revolutionary gaming experience with Aion, and sometimes it feels like they must have put out a survey a few years ago asking gamers what they would like to see in a fantasy-based MMO role-playing game. When the results came back they decided to implement pretty much everything, and lo and behold Aion was born. But then again, it does feel partially wrong to think that unless a game itself attempts to break new ground, it's not worth your time. From a well realised and immersive setting, story and environment, to a large number of areas to explore and quest in, to individual career choices for characters, to a mixture of co-op (PvE) and competitive (PvP) gameplay, all wrapped up in a fun and deep combat system, Aion is definitely a well realised and impressive experience from day one.

In the game's second and considerably larger area to explore, Verteron, players are introduced to group quests that are by default, too difficult to tackle on your own. These quests are definitely a highlight as they literally demand some sort of strategy and a good mixture of classes, skills and roles. Attention people of Aion, "LF1M healer for Krall Quests". From the obvious healers to defensive tanks, these portions of the game which are no doubt quite immersive on their own merits pave the way to PvP action later on.

This brings up an interesting point, on this long road to the Abyss. Legions, the game's equivalent to guilds, feel pretty much pointless – to an extent. The game's environments, cities and town areas are literally sprawling with other players and finding people to group up with rarely takes longer than a few minutes, with a friends-list, group chat, trade system, and all the other trimmings readily available. After playing the game for many hours, apart from getting help with a few quests, being part of a legion pretty much amounted to, "Apart from the weirdly animated cape, what else do I get?" But of course, at Level 25 players get access to the Abyss, which not only being the main PvP area of the game, it also ties into the expansive campaign where the story reaches its endgame and the fate of the entire world is determined.

... to be continued.

Part II of the review will of course talk about the Abyss, flight combat, encounters with Asmodians, as well as other aspects of the game AND provide a score of "something out of 10".