Aion Correspondent - Trying to make a Difference
Kenneth Tarre, our new Aion Correspondent, has written this introductory article about the upcoming NCsoft MMORPG.
Try to imagine a world where the MMO-gamers were divided between people thinking Lineage 2 ought to be considered the world's 8th wonder, and those that wouldn't touch such a game with an eleven-foot (yes, let's be original) wooden pole. Luckily the world isn't that black and white, but there's no doubt that there are a lot of mixed feelings about Asian-made MMOs here in the west. Pessimists often argue that most of the Asian MMOs are mindless grinders, which is indeed a fair argument, as this has been the reality for a long time now. There's no wonder that people choose to be wary, however I believe we're approaching a season where this reality is about to change, as our global world is closing in on us.
In essence, I think we all agree on the fact that grinding is as natural in MMORPGs as breathing air or visiting mmorpg.com is for us online gamers, but many of us still detest hearing the term with a passion. It's not as much about removing the grind, as it is about hiding it away and sugar-coating it with layers after layers of sweetness, to the point where a diabetic would probably be seeing stars. What I'm talking about is quests, competitive challenges and rewards… you know, everything that makes us forget that we're actually still grinding.
For many of us, it feels 'ooh so much better' if we aren't just told to slay 50 cute chickens for the sake of progression, but that doing so saves a village of innocent child's from imminent doom and destruction, as these cute chickens just happens to be man-eating monster chickens on a quest for world domination. With this in mind, isn't it foolish to believe that one of the world's largest developers and publishers of MMORPGs haven't picked up on this trend yet, and is trying to adapt their new blockbuster title to this philosophy? The company in question is NCsoft, and the country is Korea. I think you see where I'm going with this.
Between the crystal and the granite
I'm actually not here today to talk about the prejudices people in general might have about Korean MMOs, but to open your eyes to a game which just might change the way we will view Asian MMOs in the future. The game in the spotlight today is Aion: The Tower of Eternity, a game which tries to break free from the ever so tiring shackles of just being seen as "another Korean grinder", as it's made by the same company which brought us the above mentioned Lineage 2. Using the spoon which I had in my pocket for no apparent reason, and scratching on the surface of this upcoming MMORPG, I start to see the contours of something that is certainly trying.
Aion could probably best be described as a blend between eastern games such as Lineage 2 and western games such as World of Warcraft. You have the intricate and stunning clothing and armour designs of eastern high-fantasy (not to mention the most in-depth character creation I've seen in years), combined with the extensive questing and story-building we have come to expect from the western AAA-titles. The game is being designed with a western PvE-mindset, yet brings us the sieges and PvP only eastern developers seem to get done right. If you'd be so inclined, it could be said that Aion takes the better from two different markets.
Aion claims to be intuitive in several ways. While the PvE-gameplay is central, you'll actually be able to level quite well in PvP alone, if you so desire. The Abyss is one of the central zones in Aion, and could best be described as a large PvPvE area (which is something that I will touch on in a future article), consisting of several layers of gameplay, which you'll first have access to at level 25. Since the game currently offers 50 levels, this means that you'll be able to join the competitive PvP gameplay quite early, and then be able to remain in those zones until you've reached the highest level, almost entirely side-stepping the usual PvE levelling gameplay.
Another way to take away the sense of grinding is to make sure that the game consistently offers rewards as you progress, never leaving you with the bitter taste of feeling stuck in a monotone process for too long. Being born a human in Aion, you'll soon start your adventure in a Guild Wars-like fashion, with storyline quests to tell the beginning of your story, and to guide your character on the long and winding road to becoming a Daeva, an eternal being. If you want a recent example of how this can play out, imagine a lighter version of the Tortage area in Age on Conan, except it continues. The game will gradually introduce new elements of gameplay as you progress throughout the game, for example the ability to fly and to choose your final class, not to mention the Stigma system, which allows you to borrow skills from other classes in order to individualise your character.
No shine without polish
Am I saying that Aion will most definitely become the "next big thing"? No, but I'm saying that you'll be missing out if you pass it along as "just another grinder". There are a few good signs which suggest that this game is coming along just fine, for example the light-handed NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) that is in place. NCsoft has more or less allowed any information to be leaked to the international players, despite the game being in its closed beta phases, which shows that the developers aren't trying to hide the game's flaws from the masses. Korea is currently moving into its open beta phase, as they claim the game is finished enough to do so, and more information should surface during the Leipzig GC convention in a few weeks. International players can look forward to trying the game during several events and conventions this fall, with exclusive Preview Events taking place in early 2009. In any case, I would strongly recommend you to check out the official website http://www.aiononline.com/us/ for more information about this game. This is surely a title to be reckoned with (no pun intended).
And that concludes the first Correspondent article about Aion: The Tower of Eternity.