After lamenting the behavoir of nProtect’s Gameguard that comes bundled with Aion I got wind that the final closed beta event was taking place this weekend, and my next shot to have a look at this game would come on the 22nd of September. Being an impatient person I decided to give it a go. My experience shows the devastating faults that plague Aion’s choice of anti-cheat mechanism but once you get past that, the game is in fact quite a fulfilling experience. So much so that I have in fact pre-ordered the collector’s edition, although I must admit I’m a sucker for these as the Age of Conan and Warhammer: Age of Reckoning collector’s edition boxes now line my bookshelf.
I wish I could say that the install process was painless and was merely a minor speed bump in the Aion experience. It wasn’t and whilst I can understand that a beta operating system is the last thing you’d want to support it did leave a rather sour taste in my mouth when I spent a good 4 hours troubleshooting the cryptic errors GameGuard threw at me. In the end I grabbed a spare hard drive and installed Vista on it, which thankfully worked without incident. I’m sure once Windows 7 becomes official they’ll actually support it but the lack of official knowledge and almost disdainful look they take on people who dare try to run their game on a “beta” operating system is quite frustrating.
The first thing that sucks you in with Aion is the absolute beauty that is the CryENGINE. The visuals are stunning with the world filled with wonderful artwork and vibrant colour palette that is sure to anger many a Diablo II noir fans. The character customization screen is incredibly detailed which does make for some very comical results. This is the first game I’ve played where you’ve been able to drastically alter your character’s height and I chose to be of the taller persuasion. I didn’t really notice it until I saw someone who was little over half my height, something that you never really see in other MMOs where everyone is the same bar some facial features. You can also alter many of your other character’s aspects like arm, torso and leg size, hair style, facial construction and so on. Probably the most amusing thing you can do in this creator is independently modify you character’s appearance, say giving them incredibly bulky arms with a tiny chest and small legs. Here’s just a small example of the character creator gone horribly wrong.
Combat for the most part in Aion is your standard MMO affair. As Yahtzee Croshaw so succinctly put it you are really just whacking on each other until one of you falls down. The skill chains part is an attempt to spice up the combat and does a decent job of keeping you entertained through the button mashes. I must admit my favourite combat system so far was Age of Conan’s as it kept you focused on the game but Aion does bring something slightly different to the tired repetition of button mashing. I’m sure at higher levels there is a bit more variety however.
In order to alleviate some of the grind from questing Aion includes a “locate” feature for quest givers, items and mobs. Some quests lack this (usually the “fetch me my lost shovel” type) but the majority of them allow you to find where you need to go without too much hassle. Whilst it a little lacking when compared to something like WAR and AoC’s quest systems it is still better than say World of Warcrafts. The inventory system in Aion could use some improvement as the only way to expand your inventory is by talking to a “Cube Artisan”, who can add 9 slots for a certain cost. This wouldn’t be a problem except there’s no way to ask a guard where a cube artisan might be, so you have to forage them out yourself.
This brings me to one of my “on the fence” points that I have about Aion: there’s no real tutorial system. After creating your character there’s a short movie setting up your back story and then you’re plonked in a field with little direction of what you need to do. Seasoned MMORPGers won’t have any trouble however it’s not the big things like combat and questing that need explaining it’s the little nuances that set the game apart. Something like the rest skill which is akin to eating and drinking in WoW is never explained to you, and caused my first hour or so to be much more laborious than it should have been. A couple quick pointers in the right direction could make the first tiny steps through Aion that much more pleasurable.
Up until level 10 you’re still just a run of the mill human trying to make your way through the world. However upon reaching level 9 or so you get sent on a couple missions to ascend to a Daeva. This is when you get to specialise your class from you base type to one of two choices. My character was a Warrior and had the choice of a Gladiator (a melee DPS) or Templar (tank) from which I chose the Templar. This instantly grants you more skills and the ability to fly, something which Aion has made a great deal of noise about when marketing the game. Your graduation to Daeva is marked with a cut scene as are many of the quests scattered through Aion. It’s a great addition to the game as it helps to break up the grind especially after a couple hours of play. My only gripe about them is some feel like rushed additions and don’t add much if you read the quest text, but ones like the Daeva ceremony are quite spectacular.
Overall Aion provides a very pleasurable gaming experience that does not try to remake things that work well and innovates in those unexplored areas. Whilst my experience was limited to only the first 12 levels or so I still got a taste of what Aion has to offer and I’m keenly awaiting the full release so I can experience the PvPvE content that NCsoft has alluded to. The storyline grabs you in and is heavily centered around your character and whilst the Harry Potter-esque “everyone knows you’re special except you” is a little cliched, it does help to make you feel important in the world of Aion.
Aion will be released on the 23rd of September 2009 in Australia with a special 48 hour head start for those who preorder the game. It’s also available on Steam for US$49.99 and comes with one months game time, which is decent value and I’d highly reccomend giving it a go. Of course as with any MMO it will suck all the life out of you, but where would the fun be if it didn’t?
P.S. I’ve updated the comments system to now have formatting available and also, you can edit your own comments for 5 minutes after they’ve been published so you can catch spelling mistakes and what not. Also if you register you can edit your comments for much longer!