I specifically stated PvE in the title because I have no PvP experience to speak of in Aion. PvP and PvE combat are vastly different experiences in most MMOs, therefore I wanted to make a clear distinction before delving into the details.
Combat in Aion is really in one word: traditional. You have your auto attack, and a list of special abilities that activate when you press the corresponding keys. Aion introduces new factors such as movement-combat-benefits, combo chains, and limited flight form into the mix, but the core of the combat system is still Dungeons & Daevas 1.0.
I can’t defend Aion in this respect, if you’re looking for genre-mixing, genre-defying, or genre-evolving PvE combat, Aion doesn’t offer it. It’s the same old cake with an extra layer of caramel on top, enough to keep some customers happy, but not enough for others. Still, let’s look at the Aion cake and what the extra layer is composed of.
- Movement Combat Benefits, if you have seen the recent GDC’09 Aion presentation you already know what I’m talking about. When you’re in combat, moving forward gives you a slight damage bonus, moving backwards gives you a slight defense bonus, strafing gives you a slight evasion bonus. These bonuses do not kick in the instant you move, there is a second delay, although I can’t be sure if that’s caused by my high latency connecting overseas or not. These bonuses are not significant, but definitely noticeable over the long run. In PvE there are so many speedy ways to recover your HP that I don’t see a major benefit in utilizing the movement bonuses, at least not at low levels.
- Combo Chains, using certain level 1 abilities unlock level 2 abilities, then level 3 and so on. Don’t confuse this with the Warhammer or Spellborn mechanics though, not all level 1 abilities unlock all level 2 abilities; it’s not a tiered system but specific, predefined combos.
- Limited Flight Form, limited in terms of flight time, you can’t stay airborne forever, at least not in the regular PvE areas. There are skills and equipment that can increase your flight capabilities but your aerial prowess is always limited. Flight form in Aion has no control limitations, you move in true 3 dimensions, and you can do combat the exact same way in the air as you do on land. The flight is nicely implemented so that it feels like an extension of your character’s abilities, and not some awkward flying machine that you struggle with. I have not spent enough time with the game to see how flight impacts the PvE combat, but the PvP implications are obvious.
If you take a look at the numerous PvE gameplay videos of Aion on the web, let’s face it, they’re boring, nobody wants to watch someone else’s character wave a sword around, make pretty colors in front of a crab and get experience and loot that has no relevance to the viewer. If I look at videos of the first few levels of PvE in any current MMO, the vast majority of them would bore me to tears, yet when I play these same games, the sword waving and color flashing gained sudden significance. I was stabbing the crab, I was causing the flashes, I was gaining the 5 gold that this crab somehow acquired and kept under his shell. So the next time you try to judge a game based on gameplay footage, check what portion of the game you’re watching, and remember that for MMOs, there is a connection to the character that you can’t experience vicariously.
As Paul Barnett puts it; most console games are “lean-back” games, while most MMOs are “lean-in” games. Console games are built around entertaining everyone in the room, be it the player or the viewers, they all lean back in their chairs and watch the show. MMOs are “lean-in”, they pull you into their game and try to immerse you in their world. You’re not controlling a predefined character, you’re controlling you.
Now that I’ve successfully grossed out everyone with the glorious romantisization of MMOs, I’ll end by saying this: Although not revolutionary, Aion’s systems are so polished and modernized that I don’t think the traditional combat style would be a detriment to the overall game. I’m always one to push for innovation, but if given the choice between innovation and Aion’s level of polish, that caramel-topped cake looks mighty delicious.
Will probably talk about graphics and art next.