Aion Open Beta Review

Guest article by Aedinn Ní Mhactíre, a veteran of many other MMOs, who agreed to write about Aion for me, since she got into at least some of the Beta.

Aion Open Beta took place in the second week of September. I had grabbed a Beta key as something of an impulse, not usually being one to particularly slaver over Betas, preferring to wait until a game is a bit more polished. However, my previous three post-WoW attempts at MMOs have not worked out on the long run, so I wanted to at least have a stab at a new game before committing myself (and more importantly, money) to it. Due to the difficulty getting the client running and shortage of playtime, I only completed 11.5 levels in total.

The process of getting started was not encouraging. I downloaded the client, registered on the site, then got an email advising that since I had an EU Beta key, I should probably get an EU client as well! Um. My housemate the network engineer may have something to say about this month's downloads. After all this, I spent a frustrating evening first watching the client crash a few times and then, when it apparently stabilised, the authentication server fell over. Thus my Beta experience was cut short by about three days. In the end I did get in and did not experience any major game stability issues over the remaining days.

Like in any self-respecting MMO, the setting world has been through a cataclysm (What's that, LOTRO players?). In this case, the world of Atreia has been ripped into two halves by a series of rather unfortunate events concerning celestial warfare and self-sacrifice of celestial lords. The two halves, bright Elysea and dark, cold Asmodae, have existed in isolation, until a recent encounter has revealed the existence of the other. The two domains are inhabited by humans and by Daevas - humans ascended into immortality and revered as near-gods. You, my friend, are a Daeva. Well. You will become a Daeva at level 10. The Elyos and Asmodeans carry a bitter hatred of each other, each viewing the other as the culprit for Atreia's destruction. However,
the game does not make the mistake of presenting one as "good" and the other as "evil". Both races are noble, beautiful, interesting, with plenty of convincing lore, and very, very flawed.

If you create an Asmodean character on a server, you cannot create an Elyos on the same server. This practice is familiar to anyone who has played in their time games like Dark Age of Camelot or WAR. I remember it coming as a bit of a surprise and shock that WoW allowed you to play both factions on the same server. Here's another thing, an interestingly peculiar one too: On any given server, there is only one race option available. No dwarves. No humans. No orcs. No kerra. And so on. Perhaps because of this lack of options, the game allows a ridiculous amount of customisation with your character. The amount of options can be overwhelming and in the game the PCs vary from tall horned giants to tiny pixie-like creatures.

The class options are also limited and will feel restricted to those coming from other games, particularly EQII and its gazillions of available career paths. In Aion, as a human (levels 1-10) you will be either warrior, mage, priest or scout. On ascension at level 10, each of these classes forks into two, and you must choose between them. Warrior becomes a Gladiator (DPS) or Templar (tank), mage a Sorcerer (almighty pew pew) or Spiritmaster (pet), priest a Cleric (healer/melee) or Chanter (buffer), scout an Assassin (melee DPS) or Ranger (rangered DPS). Having not grokked the melee capabilities of a priest early on, I uncharacterically went with a mage, and on ascension became a Sorcerer.

There is nothing new in this class for those who are accustomed to playing a squishy clothie in other games. You slow down your enemy and while it tries to crawl towards you, you ice it and fry it and in general cause it a world of pain until it hopefully drops dead at your feet before clawing you. I had a few unpleasant encounters with more than one enemy at a time, managed to survive two, but any more than that and I was a bag of semi-divine mush on the ground. On death, you resurrect at the obelisk to which you have bound yourself. You take an xp penalty but this can be restored for a fee by a soul healer. Standard stuff. A nice touch is the mage's equipped weapon - a spellbook, rather than a staff, dagger or the like. Yes, the spellbook
can be upgraded same as any other piece of equipment.

I wish I had had a chance to try out others, the cleric in particular, but I was very unwilling to give up the progress on the mage. This is ever my problem with alting. And, hell, I was enjoying it.

The interface is intuitive to anyone who has played MMOs over the past five years. My approach of "hit random keys in the middle row of the keyboard to find out what they are shortcuts for" worked well.

The first ten levels to ascension felt very railroaded, much the same way as the Death Knight starting area in later WoW, although with less cinematics and less epic. Many of the quests were simply "Kill x bunnies" and although the critters were easy to find and the droprate was nearing 100%, I could have sworn that post-WoW games employ more to their quests than just simple grinding. There is a backbone "Campaign" line of quests throughout Aion, very reminiscent of LOTRO's epic questline, which essentially leads to your ascension and beyond -
to where, I do not know. I felt that there weren't many quests in the first place although I did not by any means need to fill up the XP bar by mindless slaughter. The situation seemed to improve after ascension, so it is possible that this was simply a feature of the starting area. Many of the quests employ a very brief cut scene, which was peculiar, potentially irritating but somehow I did not find them so. What was unbelievably annoying was the voiceover in the tutorial bits. We don't need no spoken instructions!

I think a lot of potential was not used to its full extent in the ascension itself. Firstly it is hard to see when exactly it occurs, and whilst the vision sequence is impressive, I couldn't help a nagging feeling of "Is this it?" The only physical difference that takes place is the emergence of your pair of wings - black for the Asmodae, white for the Elyos. On some level I had expected a glowing aura, or something. As it is, even post-Ascension you can't tell humans and Daeva apart unless the Daeva have their wings out. Although the game hype makes a rather large deal out of the PC flight, flying seems to be rather restricted both geographically and in terms of time. For some reason flying is not possible in the capital city, for instance.

Following the ascension, you are sent to your capital city, Pandaemonium (Asmodae) or Sanctum (Elysea). I can only speak for the former. It is stunning. Throughout the game, the graphics are gorgeous, ethereal, very reminiscent of some of the more glorious manga or Oriental paintings. A lot of pastels, pink and red and white. I had expected Asmodae to be a gloomy place of twisted flora and fauna, but instead it was to my eye lush, if harsh, with forests and mountains and waterfalls. The characters speak of everpresent darkness, but you can't see it. Pandaemonium has all the mod cons of a player faction capital city: trainers, bank, auction house, mailboxes, public transport. An interesting feature is that the auction house seems also accessible from other bases, such as Altgard, which seems to indicate you don't need to trot all the way to Pandaemonium every time you need to do business. You can also set up your private store! I almost literally tripped over several people parked at various bases, marked with a flag, advertising, uh, their wares. (Apparently you can also customise the looks of your equipment in Aion. I foresee "Pimp My Sword" coming this way....)

As a lowbie, I didn't have a chance to try out PvP. The major focus of Aion is supposed to be what they call PvPvE, but your correspondent is unable to report on this. I only tried out only a tiny scratch of crafting, so I don't feel entitled to comment it either, other than it didn't seem to significantly differ from other games.

As is evident, I have only seen a very small part of the game. A great deal of what I did see was not perfect in my eyes, but a lot of it was well done. The game clearly owes a lot to its Korean origins and it can appear subtly unfamiliar to the Western player in terms of atmosphere or some odder details in gameplay. The graphics were smooth and fairly natural, spells not as flashy as might be expected. There were hints of a greater story unravelling through later levels. A lot of the dialogue was mature and well written. Getting the hang of the game was easy.

Throughout these notes I have tried to pin down why, despite all its faults, I felt interested and immersed in the game. I am still not certain I have an answer. As mentioned above, the game is a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar. It is pleasing to the eye. I am certainly curious to see if the range and number of quests increases at later levels, how equipment works and whether PvP(vE) in this game falls into the annoying (WoW) or addictive (WAR) categories. I am wondering how much the game will allow for solo play at later levels, or whether it is more party-oriented. At the moment I don't know anyone else who is sufficiently interested in Aion to pick it up, let alone have any whiff of a friendly, mature guild (Legion). If anyone is recruiting, let me know.

Posted by Drew Shiel at September 15, 2009 9:27 AM

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