Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Aion Open Beta Review: A keeper

I've been playing the Aion open beta the past few days and I have to say my reaction to it is about 180 degree from my reaction to Champions Online.

To begin with, while CO looks like an amateur comic book , Aion is *gorgeous*. Dripping with details, very believable environments and people. Just a pleasure to look at.  Having said that, it can at times be "too" pretty.  My character is on the slender/good looking side and between the overly ornate (but still formfitting) armor he's currently wearing and a few of the animations, such as the hands on the hips idle anim, he really looks kinda queer.  Not that I have anything against queer folk at all, but it wasn't what I had in mind for this character.  I suspect this is more an issue of Eastern/Western style clash then anything else, as Aion was originally a Koren game.

For any one who doesn't know, Aion is a "angels v. daemons v. devils" game. The Angles and Daemons are PC races, the devils are the 'spoiler" and are controlled by the computer. (It should be said that this is an over-simplification. Although I'm currently playing a Daeva, an Angel, and i haven't seen the Asmodean side yet (the daemons) the game suggests that it gives both sides in the war a justification that makes them the "good guys" in their own eyes.  Interestingly enough the "angels" are called "Daevas"... which is another word for daemon.)

The experience is well paced from both a gameplay and story POV. You spend your first 10 "newbie" levels as a human being. This allows you to learn all the game basics as well as to help you develop an emotional connection to the "humans" before you ascend to godling. The world is rich in story and flavor and i have yet to run into any quest that felt too objectionably like a repeat of a previous one. Both Aion and City of heroes cast the players as exceptional heroic protectors of the "normals." In both quests and making that connection however things Aion does a much better job. The "normals"in CoH lacked any character and were there mostly as Macguffins to retrieve or sources of canned applause. In Aion though every NPC you meet feels like it has its own, rich background story.

At Level 10 you "Ascend" and leave the newbie playpen. At this level oen of the other big features of Aion kicks in-- your wings. In some (but not all) zones you can sprout wings and fly. Again, CoH had flight, but thus winged flight is a more visceral (and harder to control) experience. You are also time limited on your flight so that's one more quantity you need to watch and manage. It was smart of the developers to make you wait for this bennie. Not only did it give you the time to connect with the land-bound humans but it also delayed your trying to learn to manage this while you were learning everything else about playing the game. Right after you get flight you are given a sort of "training quest" to get the hang of it where all you really have to manage is your flight time. This works very very well to introduce you to "flight skills."

The rest of Aion so far is pretty vanilla fantasy MMO. Those who coem to it from WOW (or EQ or even older) will find a lot that's familiar. Advancement choices are mostly through choice of gear and pluses that "socket" into the gear, though you also periodically get important new skills. They have built a "user store" feature into the game that formalizes people selling gear that don't want. This makes them standing around and shouting their advertisements a bit more controlled less annoying and correspondingly less annoying.

I haven't reached what NCSoft calls the PvPvE yet, which is where the three factions clash. I suspect that's probably the "end game". But I AM staying up too late and generally enjoying myself getting there.

All in all I think NC has another winner on their hands and a very natural game for WOWites to "graduate into" when they want a more adult and serious game experience.

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