As you no doubt already know if you've been at least following Aion a little bit, the MMORPG uses a more traditional class system as opposed to a more dynamic method of determining your role.
When you start, you can pick between four basic, archetypical classes: the Scout, the Warrior, the Mage, and the Priest. Upon reaching level nine and completing a mandatory quest that will be automatically given to you, each of those classes will have the option to go one of two paths. The class of interest today is the Chanter, a Priest who'd rather get in the thick of things as opposed to watching the combat from afar.
The Chanter is perhaps Aion's most hybridized class. It takes on a dual support/damage role through the use of healing, toggle aura buffs (Mantras), and melee attacks. It is not a pure hybrid, however, as it lacks significant range attacks, crowd control, pets, and all those other goodies some classes get in many MMOs. Even still, the Chanter is quite versatile and able to fill multiple roles. It is not a Jack of All Trades, Master of None, but rather a Jack of Some Trades, Master of Mantras. Yes, while it is a hybrid, the Chanter is still the primary buffing class of the game.
A basic, quick feature list would look something like this:
- Moderate Melee DPS
- Weak Ranged DPS
- Moderate Defenses
- Strong (aka only) Toggle Aura Buffs
- Strong Single Target Buffs
- Strong Group Buffs
- Moderate Direct Healing
- Strong Healing Over Time
- Weak Resurrection
- Weak Crowd Control
Once you've ascended and picked your class, you're given the choice between two weapons: a mace and a staff. At this point, neither seems to be the "wrong" pick. The mace + shield combo lends itself to better survivability according to its proponents, but the staff seems to be the more popular choice due to higher damage and Parry. Unable to resist the allure of staff combat, I went with the latter and haven't looked back yet. In fact, my second weapon slot's shield is still only a level 12 white!
When you take off into Altgard or Verteron, you'll at first play mostly like you did in your Priestly days as Smite still inflicts significant damage and you only have three melee attacks. You'll also notice that you bloom very early, with your new chain armor and your ability to heal and buff yourself; you'll be able to deal with opposition quite easily. In fact, Chanters can go and solo enemies several levels higher than themselves without too much trouble almost right out of the gate! Though your melee attacks use mana like your spells, it won't be until later that it'll become an issue, so you'll have almost no downtime. Later, you'll get a Mantra that restores mana to ease off the burden and resting for a one tick of mana regeneration seems to be enough to keep you going virtually non-stop. And then there's always buying/crafting food and potions to help out, but that's a whole different topic.
As you level, you'll quickly notice that your only ranged attack will become weaker and weaker, especially since it never gets upgraded. It'll slowly go from a damage tool to a pulling tool, at which point you're better off ignoring it if you're locked in melee combat. As your two skill chains develop, you'll be able to utilize them more and more without waiting on recharges. Nearing level 20, you'll be able to swap back and forth between the two chains with little recharge time between each one. You'll also accumulate more Mantras, which, since they are free to run, you should keep them on all the time. However, you can only run three at once, so you'll want to change as the situation or team composition demands. Also to note, you can only be affected by four Mantras at any given moment. Personally, I think this is a silly restriction, since just two Chanters on a team can run six different Mantras between themselves. Fortunately, the Mantras do rotate every few seconds if you have more than four around, so running more isn't a complete waste, but instead just causes which buffs you have to change every few moments.
In the mid 20s, you'll pick up a nifty ability: Focused Parry. Soon after that, you get your Parry reaction ability: Parrying Strike. Between these two, you can mitigate quite a bit of damage when a Parry triggers, it'll block roughly 40% of the damage. And then you can counter with Parrying Strike which almost always stuns your victim. The stun on it, and Heaven's Judgement as well (which DO NOT stack, by the way), last long enough for you to pop off a heal unhindered. However, it's not entirely reliable, due to its one minute cool down and the fact you need to Parry first, which is a chance thing. Even still, these will keep you up as a strong soloist and can even enable you to off-tank in some situations without too much trouble. However, the early bloom of the chanter will start to slow down in these levels. You'll still be quite strong, but everyone else will be catching up and the difficulty will become less forgiving.
It's 30-40 where all the Chanter horror stories seem to raise from. It's not because they suddenly start to suck, but rather they change little while everyone else, including NPCs, continue to grow dramatically. Most of the abilities you can pick up in these levels are simply upgrades of your older ones. This isn't a bad thing per say, but it does make growth feel a bit stagnant. You'll still be able to do your thing as you always have, it just won't be as easy. It's after the 40s where things seem to pick up. Lots of new abilities, some that made me say "Whoa!" out loud when I read them.
In terms of PvP, the same rate of growth in PvE that I described seems to apply against players as well. Right out of the gate, Chanters are beastly in the duels and the arena. Just go out and challenge someone around your level to a duel once you've adjusted to the Chanter play style. Trust me, it'll probably make you happy. In the 20s, the gap starts to narrow as everyone catches up. You won't pwn face off of everyone and, if you participate in big rift groups, you'll notice you're often the next target after the Clerics. You'll have to work for your kills. At 25 you can go to the Abyss but... well... the Abyss isn't friendly to a level 25 anything with all the higher levels about. 30-40 is more or less a nightmare for 1v1 PvP when it comes to being a Chanter. Everyone can run from you due to a lack of slows (that crappy five second stigma snare doesn't count) and immobilizes and many of the high DPS classes will out-damage your healing rate. It's not impossible to beat any specific class, just really tough. Get a group in those levels, the PvP is balanced around that and you'll be much better off. At 40-50 I'm told it picks up again due to all those nice abilities. And, if the Korean video I saw of a level 50 Chanter destroying tons of people in the Abyss solo is to be believed, they'll become quite strong again.
All in all, the Chanter is quite a nifty hybrid class and also quite powerful on its own. It's one of the better PvE soloists; a great help on teams, and can fill a variety of roles. I'm having a great time running around with my own Chanter, as the allure of beating someone's face in while supporting my team was too much for me to pass up. I can only wait to see what the end game will be like with those skills that simply look like WHOAMG! If you like the ideas of smacking things and helping your allies, give the Chanter a shot. You'll probably be quite pleased.