A friend and I managed to get into the final three day closed beta event for the US/EU version of Aion and this preview is based on the impressions I took from those three days.
Those that know me know that I have spent the better part of the last five years searching for a MMORPG that could compete with the undefeatable Internet Juggernaut known as World of Warcraft. During that time I have seen a great many MMO rise, and attempt to conquer the beast only to be struck down, swept away, and vanish as quickly as they appeared. It is no surprise then that I have become extremely skeptical whenever I hear people talk about a upcoming game being a WoW killer, so when I first heard of Aion, it was not even on my radar, I knew of it. But paid little attention to the hype. From what I had seen it was just Lineage II with wings. Another pretty, but puddle shallow MMO in the endless parade of pretenders to the throne.
But then articles of Aion's astonishing record breaking success in Asia starting appearing on the net, and as time went on the accolades continued to pour in. I became intrigued, and began doing some research, and was dumbfounded by the shear number of positive previews, and reviews for the Asian versions of the game. So many westerners became so hellbent on getting to play it that there is currently a rather large community of paying English speaking players in the Chinese version of the game with modified English clients. There are already Hundreds of English info, and fan sites. A fully functional armory site, and even two whole separate communities trying to create a private server client. I had only seen one game ever generate this sort of reaction before.
I then knew I had to try this game.
Aion takes place in what I would have to say is one of the most unique fantasy settings I had ever seen. An inside out spherical world where the surface, and the sun and moon were encased in the world itself, making the concepts of up, and down subjective depending on where you are standing. After a disaster that destroyed most of this egg like world all that remained was the top, and bottom haves, and a floating rubble field hovering in between, with the sun suck in a position that lit the lower half, and cast the upper in perpetual twilight. The basic gist of Aion's story is one thousand years after this disaster a three way war plays out between the Elyos, humans that live on the tropical sun lit bottom half, The Asmodian, the mutated bestial people on the cold sunless upper half, and the Baldar, dragon like creatures that dwell in the hovering rubble in between known as the Abyss.
The player can choose to either play as an Elyos, or Asmodian. And choose between four base classes, Warrior, Scout, Priest, or Mage, which after hitting level 10 then branch into two separate class paths. Once you picked your race, and class you come to the character creator which gives a stupefying degree of customization choices, and sliders. I literally spent hours playing around with this thing, just to see how many look alike characters I could make. It is no exaggeration to say it is fully possible if you put enough time, and effort into the task to accurately recreate your real life self as a playable avatar.
It'sa Meeee, Basilisk!
The gameplay, while not reinventing the wheel, is extremely polished, and very well paced, giving plenty of quests, for the player to do, even having actual story events to go along with them to keep you immersed . The games combo chain system adds a lot of choice, and interactivity to what normally amounts to just hitting icons on a quick bar while targeting a mob, and makes a tired old combat system feel fresh again.
Once you complete a questline at lv10 and gain your second class, you also gain a pare of wings, and the ability to glide, and fly. This greatly changes how you play, fight, and explore Aion's environments.
And what environments they are! The world map deceptively makes the world of Aion seem tiny, with only 6 zones per faction, however once in these zones you quickly realize just how massive, and varied they truly are. You can find, a darkened marsh, a sprawling primeval forest, a craggy mountain pass, a massive relic filled desert, and a bright lush jungle all in the same zone on the light side of the world, Elysia. All gorgeously vibrant, and masterfully rendered. However the twilight lands of Asmodae gets my award for most interesting, and just damn trippy environments ever seen in an MMO; hauntingly beautiful, and totally alien. I spent a great deal of time just trying to explore as much as I could with my laughably low level character. The higher the level of the area the more “out there” the environments become. From strangely shaped frozen canyons, to bio-luminescent snow jungles, to lava fields elaborately draped in magma absorbing webs of fungus, to areas I just can not effectively describe with any semblance of brevity.
The music accompanying theses visuals is equally beautiful, and varied. Drawing from orchestral, folk, ethnic, house, and rock; many pieces blending two or more musical styles together to create something unique, yet always fitting the mood, and vibe of the surroundings.
My only real regret with Aion was the woefully short time I had to play it, never getting a chance to do any real PvP or having a chance to mess with the skill swapping stigma system.
I hold little delusion that this will be the game that finally dethrones WoW, however I do know Aion is definitely something special, and I will absolutely be coming back to play more in-depth when it launches in September.
Sunday, August 16, 2009