Whatever happened to age and experience before beauty?
Do you play games for graphics, or for the gameplay? That’s really the only legitimate question for whether you’ll like Aion or not. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I take gameplay over graphics. You can make a game as pretty as you like, and I’ll certainly be pleased to see it in motion for five minutes, but I won’t want to spend money or time on it unless it plays well.
[image1]Aion’s about a world that’s basically been ripped apart; half of it is covered in perpetual twilight, while the other half is pretty much sun-roasted. For reasons that I’m vague on, though, the Elyos – the folks from the sun-roasted half – are the pale ones, while the Asmodians – the folks from the twilit half – are the darker-skinned ones. It’s the classic Drow thing – why do a bunch of elves that live underground and get basically no sunlight have completely black skin? Why do the Asmodians, who live in a part of Aion’s world bearing more similarity to Finland in spring than anything else, have dark grey skin?
If you’re into animoo – and you should know by now that I’m not – you’ll probably find the character design of Aion delightful. It’s basically impossible to make a character that doesn’t look like he’s from Bleach or Naruto or some other equivalent. This is fine, actually – my objection to animoo has always been the content, not the appearance. As you accrue more varied gear, your character starts to look more and more badass – not really my thing, but that’s always fun. If you like gigantic heads disproportionate to their attached bodies, anyhow.
The quests, and indeed most of the content prior to the PVP portion of the game, are essentially identical regardless of which faction you’re playing for. This would probably be okay if there was a large variety of them, but there’s just barely enough quests present to get you to level 25, at which point you get dumped into what can only be called the real game. Likewise, the classes seem to be pretty much identical
The fundamental problem with Aion is that it’s a painfully linear grindfest with gameplay nearly identical to WoW… only you have wings, la-de-da. For those of us who’ve played characters to 14th level in City of Heroes, though, flight in a MMO isn’t actually a new thing. Unfortunately, your flight is on a timer, and there’s a surprising number of areas where you are not allowed to fly. For such a big selling point, the wings don’t handle very well.
[image2]You’ll ultimately spend hours whacking monsters with mindless, soulless, gutless, repetitive button presses, doing the same attacks over and over again. Things look a little different on occasion, but it all just ends up the same. I ended up tapping out the same attack combination for just about every monster I fought, since there was never a reason to change.
On top of the generally uninspired gameplay, there’s a penchant for the old-school in some areas where there’s no real need. Experience penalties upon deaths, for example – there’s a reason most all MMOs have phased those out to some degree. Another example is that crafting will occasionally fail, which is irritating in casual passing, but enraging when it’s a batch of rare materials that you can’t just pick up in ten minutes.
What’s worst, however, is the painful grind of it all. The game feels oppressive in the pacing and rate of improvement. It takes approximately fifteen hours of time in front of the monitor to make it to the PvP portions of the game, and that’s if you’re focused on the task of leveling. Meander at all, and you’re looking at much more time than that. Do you really want to hack up wolves and armadillos for fifteen straight hours? (Though I must admit some amusement that there’s a whole group of foes named Dukakis.)
The class system is something almost interesting about Aion… except it was done before in Tabula Rasa, and frankly, Tabula Rasa did it better. Essentially, you start the game in one of four base classes. Each base class can then split into one of two advanced classes. Sadly, the traditional roles of MMOs is all to see here – Warriors for tanking, Mages for DPS, Priest for healing, Scout for alpha strikes. Ho-hum.
[image3]Unfortunately, the classes aren’t especially well-balanced – PvP is dominated by a few classes, with others getting left in the dirt. Lots of tank and spank, lots of heal-spamming, not much in the way of new or interesting tactics. On occasion, you’ll see people swoop in for some devastating winged alpha strikes, and these are the rare moments where the combat seems all right – sad they last all of five seconds, and then you’re back to the usual button combos.
The music’s pretty good. I’ll give the game that one. Sound, animation quality, and general appearance are where the game excels. Keep the artists, NCSoft, but lose whoever came up with the game design – they have steered you wrong.
Overall, I cannot recommend Aion to just about anyone. Folks who were big into Lineage 2 might get a kick out it, but I don’t think this is the game for the Western audience. At its best, Aion plays like a constrained, low-content version of WoW. The game is not at its best frequently enough to give it even that small praise; Aion is simply a poor game.