Aion is not just an amazing MMO... It is an incredibly beautiful game, unlike any other I have seen before. The level of polish is remarkable and the game itself runs smoothly without any lag or visible glitches on an average system. I must say that I was blown away by the visual aspect of things immediately at character creation. As you can see in the screenshots, the amount of customization detail and options is staggering, but what is even more important is that these characters are stunningly modeled and animated in the game itself. I cannot even begin to imagine the time and resources that have been allocated to make the character models shine as much as they do.
As soon as you log in into the game, you realize that the entire world has been given the same attention to detail. All monster models are beautifully rendered, full of detail and truly unique from a conceptual point of view. To put it another way, you will not be hunting rats and bandits in this game. Well to be completely honest, at times you will be killing some bandits, but their unique look will keep you wanting to come back for more. The game has a multitude of unusual monsters to encounter and over the course of the week in beta I have never gotten bored of the world. Just when I thought I had seen it all, there was another surprise just behind the corner. I want to emphasize that monster animations are incredible and I was awed by the realization of how much the creatures are actually part of the world, rather than just mobile objects as we are used to seeing.
NCsoft did not stop the "razzle dazzle" with the Fauna department. Flora is equally mind blowing and the texturing technique used make flowers and plants makes them appear scarily life like. For example, I could see the white fuzz on the back of this sunflower. It was very visually pleasing and I will not deny that in the back of my mind I really wanted to reach out and touch it.
The majority of today's MMOs tend to resort to placing humanoid character models for NPCs around towns. These are not the only kind of shopkeepers that you will get to know in Aion. This world has the feeling of a twisted fairy tale (which is fine by me just as long as I do not feel like I am playing the same old game I played for the past decade). And so my Aion general goods vendor was a bearded Amish squirrel looking thing. How can you possibly say no to this guy's wares?
One aspect of the game that I usually find irresistible are character emotes. Aion has broken yet another visual record for me with abundance of beautifully animated character emotes. The animations look elegant and realistic. There are approximately 30 or so animated emotes at your disposal, and they can all be accessed via command line or user interface. I have spent hours entertaining myself with these and I have a feeling you may too!
Some additional character animations are present in the game, but unlike emotes these are primarily triggered by external world events. One interesting example would be your character's reaction to weather changes. Not only are weather effects themselves extremely realistic and visually satisfying to watch, but also it is a real delight to see how your character reacts to them. In this example, a sudden rain shower had washed over the village, my little lass has decided to cover her head with an improvised umbrella made out of a leaf.
During the course of my leveling from level one to ten, I have encountered a quest which required me to speak with a guardian of the forest. At this point in the game I have experienced story line and visual effects that have left me incredibly impressed. As I was standing in the world and initiating a dialogue with what appeared to be an ancient tree, the live world frame has been seamlessly replaced with a beautiful animation that has introduced me to some of game lore story. When the movie sequence was completed, I was just as smoothly returned back to the world. Perhaps the screenshots I have provided will show my fascination better, after all a picture is better than a thousand words. I would like to add, that this kind of flawless visual flow switch happens a lot over the course of your questing and it is extremely satisfying.
Perhaps the most visually stunning movie sequences I have experienced in Aion were during my wing initiation ceremony at around level ten.
A truly beautiful scene was further enhanced by the fact that my current worn gear and my character details matched exactly to what I indeed looked like in the game itself. I would guess this is done programmatically with some real time rendering technology.
I would like to say that although Aion succeeds visually, it is by no means the only thing it is good at. The storytelling is impeccable, environments are really fun to explore, quests rarely feel boring and the game is just plain fun to play. For those who have enjoyed Guild Wars and wished it was a true MMO, your prayers have been answered. Aion has taken all the best from both genres and merged it into one amazing game experience. Aion beta has left me impressed and breathless and wanting more!<