"No photos pleas," we were told, then reminded again as we sat down. This was NCSoft's 20 minute Aion presentation. Pronounced "Ion" not "A-on" we had Brian Knox, QA Lead speaking and Yong-Taek Bae, International Business Liaison running the demo. Aion is an original MMORPG developed in conjunction by both the Korea US studios of NCSoft. We got a glimpse of it at E3 2006 and the graphics were impressive - stunning even, but it was not far along enough to qualify for a vote as we were not sure if the movie shown was in-game footage or generated for marketing. What I saw was indeed beautiful.
The world of Aion resembles a globe that has been torn in half. The lower half is the world of the Elyos, a lush green world as it receives the benefit of sunlight. The upper half is the world of the Asmodians. Dark, cold and arid. In Eons past, the two halves were joined vertically by the Tower of Eternity and the Elyos and Asmodians were one people, but when the tower was destroyed in the 1000 year war, the factions turned on each other and blamed the other for its destruction. The PvP happens between the Dark (Asmodians) and the Light (Elyos). That is not to say Evil against Good, but we humans are simplistic creatures and that's what it will devolve to in most player's minds.
The world-map of Aion is not on a horizontal plane, like a traditional fantasy world but vertical, with a lot of space in between. Some parts of both worlds - floating castles and islands in the sky - can only be accessed from the air. Characters can gain wings and fly. But in this space - known as the Abyss, also lurk the Balur. The Balur are AI controlled dragon-like creatures which will bring another aspect of combat into gameplay.
In Aion, there are three factions, but only two playable races, which is why it is being billed as a PvPvE game. It is player vs. player plus the unpredictable Balur who may choose to assist one or the other, or attack both. That must be some spectacular AI, I opined, and Brian was pleased to elaborate. "Oh yes," he said, "we're very proud of it. The Balur will make their own decisions. There's a different percentage chance that one action will be decided upon depending on what's happening and who's winning at the time. They can decide to be your enemy or your ally, or even turn on you after assisting you defeat your enemy." An interesting concept, and perhaps a way to balance the PvP should players choose to play more of one race than the other.
"All humans want to be Daeva," said Brian, as we continued on the demonstration, "that is the higher life form. The enlightened form, as it were, and the reason they want to be Daeva is that Daeva can fly." Flight, however, is a process, not a right, even for the enlightened Daeva.
We went through the quest sequence for an Elyos to obtain her wings. As we reached crucial stages, the game went into a cut scene involving the character. Aion is still in development, so we only saw the text and Korean voice over, but this is a new concept in MMOGs that NCSoft hopes will distinguish their game from the pack. It did create a cinematic feel in which your character participated, adding quite a different flavor to the game. Once we received our wings, we of course... had to try them out. You only have your wings for so long and some combat moves are aerial-only moves so there will be some strategy involved here. Brian asked Yong-Taek to show us some features, extending his flight to the extent that he lost his wings. If you're still in the air when your wings leave you, you fall, and hitting the ground does hurt.
Some skills in Aion will have longer re-use timers than others (such as flight as a Daeva). Brian also imparts that it will be important to combo the skills, although there was little time to demonstrate it, apart from the fact that all those are balancing issues which they have not completed yet.
Players will select a race to start, and select a profession at level 10. Currently, there are four professions to choose from - the classic ones in any fantasy game: the Warrior, the Scout, the Healer and the Mage. The customization available is interesting in that if you like the look of one piece of gear better than another, you can apply that look to your current piece. That is to say, you can make your uber +10 sword of slaying look like your newbie weapon. The same can be done to your armor - which might be important to some if you really can't stand mis-matched armor or what your +10 divine breastplate of might looks like.
The small slice of the world that was shown does give us a spectacular view of the art. Included in the environment are creatures that are only there for atmosphere as well as creatures that are there for combat. We ran out of time rapidly, but I was able to determine that open beta would be in 2008, although closed beta would be "pretty soon".