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Game by Night

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Author: GameByNight

My early Aion review

Posted by GameByNight Saturday September 26 2009 at 7:12PM
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Aion’s been out for about a week now and people all over are posting their impressions. As a fan, I think it’s only fitting that I post mine. A little caveat before we skip the potatoes and hit the meat: I’ve played Aion for some time but I’ve yet to hit the Abyss or any high level content. This “review” will be based on my experiences within the first 14 levels. An actual “Should I Buy” style post will come later on down the line.

Combat:

Combat in Aion is immediately familiar to those of us who’ve played other keybar based MMOs. Despite being familiar, the game adds extra depth in several ways. First, as I’m sure you’ve read about by now, you have combo attacks that fill up your skill buttons when they’re ready to go. Second, and lesser know, are abilities that operate exclusively on DP (destiny points, Daeva points, what have you). These skills are interesting because they tend to be very powerful but extremely limited in use. Like XP, you earn DP when you kill things and, also like XP, it accrues slowly. Deciding to use a DP based skill can push your towards a win at the moment but, when you’re without it later, you may find yourself regretting that you used it. I can only imagine that this is more impactful in Abyss PvP than in PvE.

Since the game went live, I’ve been playing an Assassin where the skill rotation you use can make or break your damage output. Between managing cooldowns and using the right buffs at the right times, there’s a certain amount of complexity to playing effectively. I wouldn’t call it difficult but, like most things, you get better as you go.

Combat is fast paced and responsive, more or less so depending on what class you decide to play. If you’ve played WoW, expect a similar feeling if not even a little faster pace. Sounds and animations during combat are top notch. The eyes of Asmodians glow red and, as an Assassin, I’ll often see my weapons burn bright as I land crits (which have a nice explosive sound when they hit). Combat in this game may spoil you. Be warned.

Graphics:

Unlike most people, I’m not enamored with the graphics in Aion. Sometimes they look great, like the character and monster models, but other times they’re plain out ugly. The game makes heavy use of textures, which helps its performance, but, like any game that does so, suffers at times because of it. Still, on the whole, it’s nice to look at and is no worse than our loveable little Warcraft. Use that a basis for comparison to how poor some textures can be and you’ll have an idea for what I mean.

Bad texture compared to most

The art style is great. Some things are anime-ish but I find that I don’t really mind. It’s a nice mix of East and West and both blend well with the world NCSoft has tried to create. Despite how others may feel, I don’t think either influence greatly overpowers the other when taken as a whole.

I personally love some of the small touches in the game. For example, chapels have swirling clouds along the top of them that give a very mystic vibe that I really like. The architecture is neat and the zones have a very cohesive and “done” feel to them. All of the little touches are there, from the birds flying in the forests to the balls of light that swirl above some of the lakes (or ghost fish if you’re Elyos). I’ve yet to find a place that feels unfinished or lacking.

A small note: much like LotRO, the mining resource nodes just don’t seem to fit. A lot of times, iron deposits look tacked on to the landscape and silver has a very spider’s leg feel to it. I’ve yet to find a game where mining resources really look “right” though, so maybe it’s just me.

Another small issue I’ve noticed, at least early on, is that a lot of the armor is fairly bland. I’ve gotten to level 14 on my Assassin and noticed very little change in how I look, despite going through three sets of armor (most pieces, anyways). Some of the upper end gear looks great but I wish that there were a little more variation.

Animations:

Animations are, hands down, excellent. I’ve talked about the combat animations above but I can’t say enough good things about them. They just feel right.

Apart from combat, the much criticized walking/running animations are right on task too. The gait and speed of your avatar is just as you would expect it to be and doesn’t seem off at all.

NPCs and mobs still roam and meander as they do in all MMOs. Nothing new there.

The only thing I really don’t like about the animations is when you’re talking to an NPC. Your character will mirror the NPC’s movements to a tee. You nod when they nod, gesture when they gesture. It doesn’t feel right and even a little timing difference would be much appreciated.

This cutscene features less epic and more nag

Performance:

The game runs great but it does get choppy at times. On my desktop, I have a 260GTX and I’m almost always at 80-100FPS on max settings (no AA), except when I’m in Pandemonium. However, a better measure is probably with my laptop that’s running an 8600GTM and a 2.1GHz dual core processor. My laptop, on second to highest settings and no AA and pull an average of 35FPS. I’ve dropped as low as 25 and spiked as high as 45. A lot of it depends on how populated the area is with both mobs and players. Pandemonium though? Forget it. Both machines run that at about 15FPS, even when I drop the graphics to their lowest.

I should note that I can turn the “important” graphics all the way up on my laptop and compensate by turning shadows down to half and the water effect to the second highest step.

I’m interested to see how my laptop will fare in the Abyss. It handled Alterac Valley wonderfully in WoW, and most other games like a charm, so I have high hopes.

The game isn’t a beast but it looks like it should run a lot harder than it does.

Questing/Story:

I haven’t been impressed. There’s no getting around it. Don’t get me wrong, some quests are great and have some neat cutscenes attached to them. Most are very routine kill/collect quests. The writing is better than normal but is somewhat diminished by the fact that you can skip 90% of it and still know to kill those five Mosbears.

With that out of the way, why don’t more games have cutscenes? Even the little fly over/voice over bits they do before quests seem like a natural thing that should have been part of MMOs for years and just hasn’t been. Some are better than others but all are better than none and I’m happy they’re in the game. A few are downright epic, especially the one that ends the Ascension quest line.

[Aside: Does anyone know what the hell Odella is? I’ve had to stop these mole-things from growing it multiple times now and I can only assume odellaJuiceit’s some kind of lettuce tobacco or something. I think I missed something early on but, either way, I’m tired of doing quests around it. Enough with the Odella.]

Anyhow, and most importantly, quests are more difficult and offer less reward than a lot of other games. At first, you’d think this was a bad thing but I’ve come to feel otherwise. When I say they’re more difficult, I say that for the sole reason that mobs are harder to kill. They fight more and aren’tafraid to smack you around a little bit when you step out of line. I was frustrated the other night because I died three separate times trying to kill a mob that was two levels higher than me. But you know what? Good. Mobs should provide a challenge. The alternative is mobs that don’t and I’d rather have to think as I fight than turn off and wait for the XP to roll in. Mobs in Aion fight level appropriate, so if you’re trying to take on a mob that’s “elite” you’d better be prepared for an elite fight.

When I say that quests are also less rewarding, I mean that both in terms of experience and equipment rewards. Most of your gear from 1-15 will probably come from drops, private stores, or the auction house, unless you have a friend that crafts. {Update: Keen reports that at 18, he's getting some really excellent level gear from drops. The color quality he's talking is exceptional and would cost a pretty penny kinah to buy} They do provide more potions, which help you complete future quests. Since the game requires far more experience to level than other games at these early levels, it can seem rough. This is countered, however, by the fact that killing a mob your level is likely to give you about 1000xp a piece, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. The dreaded “grind” so many people bitch about is a non-issue too, in the fact that 1) you don’t have to do it often; and, 2) when you do, it’s not for long unless you choose to. Players who grind have a definite advantage over those that don’t, however. Mob trash sells very well, so these players are earning extra money, crafting materials, and experience which will in turn make their questing that much easier as they move forward.

Oh, and yeah, the death penalty. It’s there. It’s also easy to dismiss and, honestly, easy to not even notice until you’ve died multiple times without fixing it.

Extra Stuff:

Fluff

The game has a lot of polish and, yes, fluff. I was surprised to find that one of the first quests after you leave Altgard (your first stop after leaving the newbie zone) gives you a reward that lets you turn into an angry cornstalk. How very appropriate for our Halloween season.

Some call it fluff, some corn. Both are edible but only one goes well with butter.

Private Stores

Interesting feature. I like carousing these to find the best deals because private sellers will often try to beat the auction house. Besides, private stores aren’t ran by ferrets with female voices and hats.

Ferret thing that loves you

Still, you see a fair share of spam as a result of them and I suspect that they’re a big reason for the lag in Pandemonium.

Crafting

Crafting is interesting. I enjoy doing work orders because it’s an easy, repeatable, way to raise your skill level. I haven’t taken it too far (mainly because I’m trying to keep up with the Jones’s in terms of leveling) and I’ve spent most of my time gathering so I can power level it up later on. Aion’s crafting is interesting because you can level every skill up to 399/400 and “master” two all the way to the max. As far as I know, all of the skills require some form of gathering but I haven’t looked to far into this. As a tailor/weaponsmith, I’ve been collecting iron and animal pelts to prepare, both of which are every where. Mining nodes are everywhere if you look for them, at least at this stage of the game. They also don’t seem to be randomized, so it’s entirely possible to create a little circuit and run it indefinitely.

Conclusions

I’ve been having a great time in the game so far. Dying to PvE is something I haven’t done this much since I first got started in MUDs and it’s strange to find these limitations again. I find questing all the more exciting because of the challenge, however, and feel all the more powerful when I truly lay waste to mobs.

Aion isn’t a perfect game. It’s not innovating and making a new box outside of the one most MMOs fall in to. It’s a fun game, though. Leveling has all of the charm of WoW and more, which is saying something. I’m looking forward to continuing with the game and seeing what it was to offer and it looks like I’m not alone. If the rest of the game lives up to the standard I’ve seen so far, Aion really will take the #2 spot just behind WoW and may just set the subscription bar higher than the other AAA games that came before it.

Should you buy it?

Like I said, I’ll hit on it later when I do a complete review. For now, if you need a second or third opinion, I’d say yes. Absolutely.

Rating right now: 9/10

And... because I like them...

Thaaaaat's all folks!

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