For anyone who missed it, Part 1 of my review can be found here
There's one point in Aion that feels like a grind, where you're literally watching the experience bar, wondering if the 5,000 experience points you just got from killing a Grove Vespine made the thing move at all. This is the home stretch to getting to Level 25, and although halfway through the level cap of 50, with each new level increasing the amount of experience points required to progress, it certainly isn't halfway through the game. But Level 25, along with providing access to the PvP-based areas in 'The Abyss', also brings with it new skills, new quests, and the game's first instance/dedicated dungeon - the Temple Grounds, aka TG.
Anyone up for a TG run?
Entering The Abyss definitely has an epic feel to it, with suitably epic music and visuals to take in. Detailed cut-scenes describe its importance in detail, as both player controlled races attempt to control the various fortresses and artefacts whilst also having to deal with the third and computer controlled race, the Baluur. A dragon-like race, the Baluur, have turned what is essentially a planet's core into a massive battleground. It truly is quite the setting, and it falls naturally into place with the campaign quests completed to get to this point. In The Abyss players still complete the usual quests, and also take part in specific instances and dungeons, but all the while in an environment where control of key locations is in a constant state of change and the threat of running into a legion of Asmodians ever present. For the Elyos that is.
But it's also at this point, being in a hostile environment, that being part of a legion makes perfect sense. Not only to provide help completing quests and generally improving your character, but to actively take part in large scale battles in enemy or even friendly territory. In The Abyss, players obtain Abyss Points (AP) which in turn help level-up your rank in the region whilst also being there to trade for items and weapons, which to put it in crude Battlestar Galactica terms, are frakking awesome. Not only obtained from killing members of the opposing race, but also for questing and grinding Abyss mobs, AP points are a nice touch that also add to your Legion's standing and overall progress.
In The Abyss players and legions can band together in an alliance to help defend or even to try and take out key strategic points, which plays out every bit as well as you'd hope. Gathering at the edge of a large cliff face overlooking a distant artefact on the horizon, amongst a group of 50 or so other players, mere moments before a large scale attack, is definitely a site to behold. Taking to the skies as you mount a large scale offensive attack echo feelings of epic gaming in the best possible sense.
As expected, and this works both ways, being on your own away from the safety of your race's main control point/hub within the Abyss can be asking for trouble. Those unfamiliar with MMO terms might be interested to note that 'ganking' is ever present in Aion, which is essentially the act of roaming a map as part of a large group and bullying lower level characters from the opposing race. Fun if you're not on the receiving end, and a staple part of any PvP MMO of this nature that makes a welcome or unwelcome return here.
Prior to reaching The Abyss, sections of the game where you are allowed to fly were kept to a minimum, but in the Abyss, flying is the main mode of transportation and in a lot of cases - battle. Aerial combat in Aion plays out pretty much the same way ground combat does. But things like being able to freely move both vertically and horizontally add new layers to combat, making a fight in the sky a familiar yet very different offensive and defensive affair. Trying to manage your offensive and defensive strategies whilst also keeping a keen eye on your remaining flight time, definitely takes a few wasted deaths to get used to. But in the end, probably the best thing about being in a large sprawling location with the ability to fly is being able to spread your wings and, yes, fly away when the heat of battle gets a bit too much. OK, so this tactic may not work as often as you'd like but taking flight and using speed increase scrolls and/or skills to flee a large hulking enemy that is at least 10 levels higher than your character, and succeeding in getting away, is worth the other nine times out of 10 it fails. And yes, this comes from experience.
Rifting into Morheim
One of the cooler types of quests players will receive at higher levels, are spy missions, which essentially refer to rifts that open up in non-PvP areas and locations that transport you to the opposing race's equivalent non-PvP area. Spy missions are usually tackled in groups and vary from simple fetch-quests of certain materials to extracting information from NPCs and finding other key items. Rewards for spy missions usually exceed other quests in the game, and although quite unpredictable in where and when rifts appear, are a welcome addition to the game. In a very cool way they help build a sense of unity with your entire race, as tackling enemies in this way can be both exhilarating and a great chance to group up with other people and share a unique experience.
With access to the game's full range of content, playing a character from Level 25 and higher, is the polar opposite to the linear nature of the earlier sections of the game. At this point, the parts of the game that appeal most to your play style or even preference in an MMO can be taken at your own pace. Everything from raiding, crafting, questing solo or in a group, to even gathering and selling rare materials can be taken on full-on or in a casual manner. Legions themselves also fall into these categories, allowing structured team-based progression to casual friendly co-operative gameplay. Developer NCSoft have ensured the content within the game will keep people occupied for a long time, with numerous areas and locations to explore and play in, well up to Level 50.
But overall, the key experience one looks for in an MMO, with numerous people active in a persistent and changing game-world are shared experiences. From tackling a dungeon as part of a group suited to your skill and role, to defending a large enemy invasion at a friendly controlled fortress, Aion utilises well executed RPG and character building mechanics to make these things quite accessible. For a person who has no qualms immersing themselves in a deep single-player RPG for numerous hours, playing an MMO like Aion, feels both different and very similar. Instead of a world filled with countless NPCs there're real people, and much like NPCs in single-player games, you pretty much avoid the majority. But when you find a group of like-minded players and work as a team in tackling a simple quest or large dungeon, Aion definitely shines.