Aion, one of the most anticipated MMOs of this year, launches on September 22nd and NCSoft was on hand at Penny Arcade Expo 2009 to give players a preview of the system, running the latest build, build 1.5. Even if some area maps were still in Korean, we were promised it would be completely localized by launch. Lani Blazier, Associate Producer at NCSoft West was on hand to show me the newest features that will all go live by launch.
We looked at the character creation screen which has two tabs. A basic tab which allowed players to select preset styles, and the advanced character customization which gave players slider bars to change many aspects of their face and body. 40 new default faces per faction were added for basic customization, as was the option to change eye color and in response to player feedback in beta, players will be able to change leg length to create some seriously short characters. There are no last names provided in Aion and no change of life name change at Ascension where player characters evolve to Daeva and gain their wings. Players may only use letters in their names. No numbers, spaces or any other keyboard characters. So characters with names like JonBob222 or A@s_h1te will not be running around in Aion.
The tutorial system has also been revamped, with added video and voice-overs to provide a better newbie experience so players won't be trying to read a great amount of text while trying to figure out how to move around, fight in Aion or otherwise navigate the day to day in game.
Class specific armor sets have been added in game to further differentiate the classes looks and silhouettes. Obtaining and equipping a full set of armor will provide full-set bonuses. The advanced stigma system will also be in game. This requires combining different stigma stones in a chain to attain the advanced stigma, and this is accessible at level 45. A 5th tier of rarity for equipment also will be in-game at launch, with five sockets in each piece.
Aion has a system of game instances which they use to provide further diversity in game content to their players. They are simply termed "Instances," and at launch, there will be over 20 different instances. They are all tougher gameplay content that will require a group and one of the first that players access is the one that provides players training to go into the Abyss. That is, after Ascension. Players gain their wings quite early (level 10) and once they have their wings, are able to enter the Abyss. These instances will also provide chances for unique armor and weapon drops from mini-bosses and end-bosses.
I was shown the current end-game instance, the Dredgion. A Balaur ship battle ship that is accessed through the Abyss. This is high level content and is a race between the Elyos and the Asmodians to the end boss. Clearing rooms of Balaur as they progress, messing with each other along the way if they wish to, up to the end chamber. Some of these instances actually scale. Each team earns points for kills and this actually determines the rewards that drop off mini-bosses and bosses. In the Dregdion, the teams are staged and given two minutes to buff before the gates open and then it is a race to the finish where you not only have to worry about the Baluar, you have your ancient enemy to dispose of as well in order to cash in. Chambers cleared will not respawn so one team could possibly run in and behind the other to attack them.
Some of the instances are an alternate copy of the world that players are familiar with. Dark Poeta, for example, is the dark, depressing and evil version of Poeta, a lovely bucolic newbie stomping ground. There are several mini-bosses to be ganked for fun, experience and profit in Dark Poeta, but these instances are repeatable, so players do not need to clear the entire instance but may choose to clear the front areas only, especially if they do not have the three to four hours required to do the entire instance. It can be rushed through; we are told, in about two hours or less by a group that is really on top of their game. Again, the points scored determines the strength and loot table of the end boss. We cheated with GM powers, GM killed some creatures and skipped most of the mini-bosses, resulting in few points earned and a weak end-boss which dropped something equivalent to a rusty sword.
PvP in Aion takes place mostly in the Abyss. With 3-D combat, and the terrain of floating rocks in the desolation of space, the main strategy seems to be stealth and ambush, using the element of surprise. Hiding just under the lip of a rock and using your camera to pan around, players can check on enemy movement and maneuver around the rocks to best surprise their opponents. Items gained in PvP have their equivalents in drops in PvE. Although items are not geared specifically toward PvP, for example - they can be used in all situations, but as I was told, the stats on the items are designed to benefit PvP play a little more than PvE play, and vice versa.
Aion development in the US consists mainly of the localization of content previously published in Korea. Being about six months behind ensures that any bugs and balance issues are first worked out before it launches in the US. Aion launches with build 1.5 with full content to level 50 and is currently in open beta from September 6th to the 13th. Apart from some server instability issues at launch of open beta, Aion looks ready and polished.