Aion Hands-On Report
MMORPG.com`s Community Manager Richard Cox writes this article on his hands-on experience with NCsoft`s highly anticipated MMORPG, Aion.
When I was getting ready for PAX I was told one of the primary reasons for going would be to check out Aion. PAX would be the first time the general public in North America would be getting their hands on the game. Much like most people out there, I really didn’t know a lot about the game. In fact I was going in with a lot of preconceived notions and assumptions. It is a Korean made game after all, so as such it comes with certain stereotypes. I’ve played more than my share of Korean MMOs and I have to say for the most part the majority of those stereotypes exist for a reason. While at PAX I spent probably an hour chatting with various members of the development team and probably between two and three total hours playing the game.
First of all, a little background on the game for those of you who haven’t really been following it much yet:
Aion: The Tower of Eternity takes place on the world of Atreia. The world is split into two halves with a collection of shards and ‘islands’ between them. There are three factions in the game, but adding a twist to the normal faction based games out there, one of them is entirely NPC controlled. The two player controlled factions are the Elyos and the Asmodian. Foregoing the stereotypical ‘good vs. evil’ setup, Aion’s factions are more along the lines of ‘light vs. dark’. The Elyos (the light) live on the bottom half of the world, where the sun still shines and everything is still bright and pretty. The Asmodian (the dark) live on the top half of the world, where the only light they receive comes reflected from the Elyos world below, giving everything an ominous glow to an otherwise dark world. The third faction is the Balaur, the ancient enemy of all the people of Atreia, whose constant war is what led to the cataclysm that split the world apart. Between the two halves of the world lies the Abyss, the game’s primary PvP area.
Now to the good stuff, all the juicy info I managed to get out of the various developers I talked to. Most of my tour was handled by Brian Knox, the Associate Producer, though various others came and went throughout the hour, including the main producer. This is going to be rather sporadic as we jumped from topic to topic as they came to my mind. I’ll start off with character creation: Aion’s character creation is set up in a multi-tier system. You start off by picking your faction; Elyos or Asmodian. Then you pick your archetype: tank, support, melee dps or ranged dps. From there you select one of two classes per archetype. For those who aren’t as concerned about the appearance of their character, you can take the simple route of just picking through a couple of pre-generated faces, hairstyles, etc. But for those who want absolute control over how their avatar looks, you can then drill down and adjust just about anything you can imagine using sliders. There is also a ‘random’ button for the impatient among us. Playing around with that for a while brought up some pretty funny combinations; it seems that you don’t have to keep everything proportional with the sliders, resulting in some characters with big heads or extra long necks and such. Another great addition to the character creation system is a preview option, which will let you see how your character will look with some example mid and high level gear.
One of the first questions I had about the game was the grind. We all know how much of a grind Korean games can be. As it was explained to me, Aion will definitely be the exception to this notion. Max level is 50 and the leveling pace will be on par with World of Warcraft’s, which really isn’t that bad at all. When I asked how this was being received in Korea, where the game is already in beta, I was told that they love it. Grind heavy games are really all they’ve ever known over there according to Brian, and now that they’re experiencing different setups, they’re really enjoying it. WoW is hugely popular over there and so far the feedback on Aion’s leveling pace has been very positive.
Next up I asked about character customization (skill wise) and alternate leveling. Aion will have a system they’re calling the Stigma system. Your character will have five Stigma slots into which you can place skills/abilities from other classes. So if you want to give your melee class a little bit of healing, or maybe a little caster firepower you can. This allows you to customize your character’s abilities to more fit your play style without completely changing the class. Also while PvPing in the Abyss you earn Abyss Points, which translate roughly into something similar to Realm Points if you’ve ever played Dark Age of Camelot. Much like DAoC’s Realm Ranks, you gain PvP ranks as you collect Abyss Points from PvPing and you are able to buy Abyss items. Titles seem to be all the rage in MMOs as of late, and Aion doesn’t disappoint in this department either. There is an extensive title system and the titles in this game actually provide bonuses to attributes and such. Another system you can use to further customize your character’s combat ability is the manastones which drop as loot quite often. Your weapons and armor have slots that you can use these manastones to imbue extra bonuses on the gear. During the time that I spent playing the game they seemed to drop fairly often and provided all kinds of different types of bonuses. There also appears to be at least one other way to mix up the abilities on your character. While snooping around in the auction house I noticed one of the searchable categories was “Skill Books” so it seems that you may be able to find skill books to add skills to your character as loot/drops, but I was unable to get any information on that, so merely speculation at this point.
Speaking of the auction house, it seems Aion will feature both an auction house system and a personal store system. I asked about the crafting system and was basically told to not expect a reinvention of the wheel here. They’re going with a pretty typical trade skill system in Aion, so if you’ve crafted in an MMO you probably know what to expect here. Recipes will apparently come with both skillups and as dropped loot items. The in game mail system does have one really neat feature, or at least I thought so. You can pay slightly more for “express delivery” when shipping some items to a friend. Which basically means, if you’re out raiding a dungeon or something really far from civilization, you can send out a plea over your guild chat or through a tell to a friend, who can then buy you some potions and have them delivered directly to you. Very handy, I can’t count how many times I’ve had to run back to town for potions or such in a game only to get back and find the area I was in had respawned or someone else had moved in and was camping it. Ever been in a game and found an extremely cool looking set of armor, but the stats/bonuses on it weren’t as nice as the crappy looking stuff you’re wearing? Well, consider that problem solved in Aion. It seems you will have the ability to ‘combine’ two different sets of armor, making the one you want to wear for its bonuses look like the one you want to wear for its appearance. And forget a simple dye system; in Aion you’ll be able to add particle effects to your gear. There will also be a system in place for uploading your own custom guild emblem, which will be displayed in various places on your character for showing off your guild allegiance. The guild system itself seems fairly typical of MMOs and there will be an alliance system for grouping multiple like-minded guilds together.
Combat in Aion seemed very fast paced and fun when I was playing it. There is an extensive combo system in the game with a lot of branching paths. Combos will trigger both reactive and passive effects. Some will lead up to more powerful attacks; others will trigger buffs, etc.
Naturally though, the biggest feature in Aion is the flight. The devs I talked to went out of their way to stress that flying in Aion is not just a mode of transportation. The flight in the game is there because of the combat system, it’s all about the aerial combat. Flying really isn’t meant to be used to get from point A to point B, though if you want, you certainly can. You are limited in the amount of time you can stay airborne, and if you don’t keep an eye on your timer, you WILL plummet out of the sky like a rock. And there are skills in the game targeted solely at the aerial combat (knockdowns, for example). If you thought knockdowns were a useful skill when fighting on the ground, wait ‘till you nail one a couple hundred feet in the air. And as you’re fighting in the Abyss, beating back the opposing factions, you’re gaining influence. Influence seems to affect most things throughout your homeland, the higher your faction’s influence in the Abyss is, the cheaper items become in shops for example.
Another interesting feature that I learned about was the random portals. As explained above, the world is split in half and each faction has their own part, which is primarily PvE. This is where you’ll do all of your leveling and such to get ready to head into the Abyss. However, just to throw a little twist into the system, every so often a portal will appear randomly in the world. It won’t stay open for very long, I was told five minutes tops, but that’s subject to change based on tester feedback. While this portal is open, anyone who stumbles upon it can go through to the other faction’s main areas and wreck havoc. As soon as you die you are sent back to your own world and the portals are meant to be pretty rare, so this should add a little bit of suspense to your PvEing without adding the full on ganking that a truly open PvP environment brings.
As far as PvE content goes, it looks like there will be plenty to keep all the PvE junkies out there happy. There are the typical MMO style random quests as well as a pretty extensive storyline set of quests. One cool feature I stumbled upon while playing was that the entire dialogue is saved in your quest journal, for those times when you’ve forgotten a small detail of what you were told to do and don’t feel like going all the way back to town to talk to the chap again.
So to wrap up what I’m sure is quickly turning into a short novel, I didn’t go into this with very high expectations. Like a lot of people out there, I’ve tried a lot of the Korean made MMOs and just couldn’t get into them. While they’re not my cup of tea, they obviously do very well and people out there like them. Given that, I really didn’t anticipate Aion being much different, but I was wrong. The time I spent playing the game was a blast. As I’m sure most people have already seen by the various screenshots and videos around the web, the game is stunningly beautiful. Even in the short amount of time I was playing I actually felt like I was accomplishing something. I did quite a few quests, found nice gear and manastones, and explored quite a bit. Aion has definitely moved quite a bit higher on my ‘most anticipated’ list and I’ll be keeping a much closer eye on what’s happening with it.