Not So MMO - Aion: Legions of War Review
Questionable armor options, pigeon insults and, and some of Gameforge’s later monetization decisions aside, Aion still retains a fond place in my memory. When an opportunity arose to get some time in a modern reinterpretation of the NCSoft original, I jumped at the chance. This is our review of Aion: Legions of War.
Now, after the incendiary reception to Blizzard’s recent Diablo announcement, it might come as a surprise to learn that Aion: Legions of War is a mobile game. While western outfits struggle with the public perception of Android and iOS, Korean publisher NCSoft seems committed to the format. After a recent showcase of upcoming mobile material, including Aion 2 and three different Blade & Soul iterations, the global launch of Aion: Legions of War is the first of many small screen titles to come out of the east.
Despite the incoming onslaught of mobile MMORPG, Aion: Legions of War is not a fully-fledged MMORPG. Unlike Netmarble’s Lineage 2, this particular mobile experience does not venture out into the open world or ask you to kill ten Krall. |This particular game, developed by NCSoft’s own Iron Tiger team, delivers a light tactical RPG that brings Aion back to life using some familiar mobile mechanics.
Playing as the sibling of a legendary legion commander, adventurers face tragedy and revelation in a daring cinematic opening. This a beginning that sets the central protagonist on a path to build their very own legion of heroes. Winding through the lands of Elysia, taking on the Krall, dipping into the Abyss, and rescuing the odd Shugo, Aion: Legions of War generously makes use of established Aion lore and is a genuinely nostalgic return to a game I hold a great deal of reverence for. After an impressive monologue and opening trailer, the game’s central story proceeds through a series of linear PvE combat instances interspersed with a range of on on-screen novella style updates.
Too often, mobile games have a habit of disappointing when it comes to story. Aion: Legions of War manages to do a decent job, however. Although sometimes a little on the nose and less inspiring than it could otherwise be, Aion: Legions of War’s central story arc is at least above average and does not take too many liberties with established lore. Its range of core characters do not drift off into cliched territory too often. It would have been fantastic for impressive visuals and early voice acting to show more prominently beyond the beginning of the game but this is, after all, not a big budget AAA script. BY the time I spent several days with Aion: Legions of War the narrative side of this RPG had still managed to avoid ever succumbing to the skip button.
Between each of the narrative interludes, PvE pits players and their legion against the worst that Aion has to offer. This ranges from Aether Golems and Balur, Krall warlords, and Asmodian attackers. These encounters are not intrinsically different from many other mobile RPG combat systems. Players pick a team from a group of heroes, enter an arena, and direct their team to dispatch a range of opponents. Where Aion’s PC partner might give full control to commanders, allowing freedom of movement, Aion: Legions of War is more pared back. Aon: Legions of War takes a more tactical approach to combat encounters, allowing commanders to build their squad, choose team tactics, and control the general flow of battle.
As battle breaks out, characters will reposition as required under the influence of the game’s internal AI leaving commanders in control of a limited action set of abilities. Although a little constrained, this approach to engagements tends to be clean, precise, and engaging. Unlike Lineage 2 Revolutions, it does not push players towards auto play by insisting on an all or nothing management of combat. Instead, a deliberately simple system seems to understand that 5 inches will only go so far.
These seemingly simple design decisions extend well beyond the limited action set. Getting into a combat instance, dungeon, or endgame arena is a surprisingly smooth affair and Iron Tiger never overwhelm the player. Graphics in Aion: Legions of War, for example, are impressive for a mobile title but never overwhelm the small screens that we hold in such high regard. Attack and defense are, again, handled by the AI and the effect of different damage types can almost always be ignored during the leveling process. Underlying the simple tank and spank approach that most players will use to take to these encounters, is a far more complex subset of power systems that you might first realize.
Instead of presenting rows and rows of skill bars, a multitude of potions, free-form dynamic combat, and a range of Wildstar boss mechanics, much of the difficulty of Aion: Legions of War comes down to deck building. Even before entering any instanced area of Aion: Legions of War, players are presented with a summary of their legion’s own power ranking. This is promptly compared against the upcoming enemy and provides a subtle hint to inexperienced player to take a look at their party members, character progression, skills, gear, and upgrades.
All of these nod towards the RPG elements of the full-fat Aion and are a nice thought that provides just enough interest to make Aion: Legions of War more than an idle clicker. Gear systems are one of the more intuitive elements. Looting gear from any dungeon nemesis allows Ren to distribute armor and weapons to the rest of your legion. Using the inventory menu, assigning loot is a quick click affair and it is easy to identify who has a need. Extra armor provides a range of different character stats, can be enhanced as you might expect, and conforms to the same class type restrictions that are common in more complex RPGs. It’s, again, a nice thought that I genuinely appreciated, and it can absolutely influence the way that a particular party holds up against the latest wave of Shadow Legion.
This is, for the most part, the point of Aion: Legions of War. The array of dungeons, arenas, and story quests all allow players the opportunity to collect warriors for their legion, train, improve, and generally enhance their ability to come out of combat victorious. Much like many of the mobile games we’ve already reviewed, this ties into a vast number of progression and currency systems, all pushing you towards ever greater numbers.
Brand new heroes can be uncovered in a variety of manners. Plenty of heroes are already available from promotions and a range of events appear to offer up the opportunity to grab new followers by logging in for a brief period. Beyond this, the most obvious route to filling your ranks is to play the RNG game, loot dungeons and collect shards. Again, this is a common feature of mobile RPGs and if you are so inclined these same heroes can be bought directly from the game’s cash shop. Despite selling these shards directly to players, Aion: Legions of War does a sufficient job of outfitting you with a capable legion. While your initial deck won’t stand up against other players, it is well attuned again the PvE level curve.
Obtaining heroes feels relatively easy, seemingly because much of the game’s monetization system relies on upgrading these heroes. As players cut a swathe through enemy territory legion members level up, acquire new skills, and face ever tougher foes. Increasing your legion’s abilities, awakening their inner powers, enhancing gear, and even gaining a Deava’s wings are all tied into the games progression system.
This would not be an obstacle for most full-fat RPGs. Dungeon grind is par for the course. This being a mobile adventure, however, the dreaded energy system rears its head. For those who are new to the energy concept, it gates access to content using an energy currency. Once spent, players progression is capped out until it replenishes, unless you are willing to purchase more. While Aion: Legions of War makes some attempt to furnish players with energy for playing the game, it still feels like anybody ready to put in the hours could face some definite pressure to cough up or fall behind. For more casual players who might only manage 20 minutes here or there, you won’t find this too much of an issue.
This potential pay to win problem raises its head more than a few times during NCSoft’s latest mobile title. Currency systems such as energy, valor, gold, and confinite are all available in the game’s cash shop. While it is entirely possible to play Aion: Legions of War without splashing any cash, the number of times I found an option to skip the game’s basic gating systems using cash was worrisome. In a final, and probably the most egregious monetization moment, Legion ranking is directly tied to the total sum of gems spent and therefore bought, in game. Legion rank is marked in screen and increases as players use gems, providing a range of benefits and rewards. This can include maximum energy increases to exp benefits. In essence, this quite obviously asks players to pay to progress, by attaching a numerical value to their spending habits and applying rewards.
While I have some serious concerns with the monetization model of Aion: Legions of War it does get the basics right. It played to my own nostalgia for Aion and made me at least a little more receptive to the other upcoming mobile titles from NCSoft. The graphics are impressive and ran adequately on my Motorola Moto G6, although I really would not put it on anything older based on my own phone performance. Combat mechanics are clean, well thought out, and engaging enough to keep players tapping away. Aion: Legions of War walks a line between idle clicker and RPG that makes for a layered experience that requires at least some forethought to it. In the end, this return to Aion is a brief detour into a world that I still hold in high regard today. It has all the things you’d expect from a good mobile RPG and it has a better understanding of the platform than Lineage 2 Revolutions. Feel free to play it, but don’t expect it to replace the Tower of Eternity. Aion: Legions of Wars is a solid mobile RPG, treat it as such and remember what it was like to have wings Deava at one time. Aion: Legions of War is out now on iOS and Android.
Final Score: 7.5/10
- Impressive 3D graphics
- Solid story
- Well-constructed combat
- Not overly unique
- Cash shop concerns