Aion: The Tower of Eternity
The caustic grind-culture of the Korean MMO market has never gelled with a European audience. While the Lineage games had their champions over here, even we egalitarian gamers couldn't stomach having a second job levelling a moon elf. Imagine my surprise when, four hours into Aion, I found myself genuinely enjoying the experience - not in a belaboured "this isn't awful' manner, but with the true, itchy addiction of a solid online slasher.
From The East
Though it has the hallmarks of seemingly every MMORPG released in Korea - sexy elves, fan fiction-quality writing, and effeminate swordsmen - Aion also has many of the things that make World of Warcraft such a success.
In fact, much of Aion screams of a unity between the East and West, or at least that someone on the development team from day one had been taking extensive notes from Blizzard's work. Though the grind itself is still present, the brutality of the curve has been remarkably softened.
Whether this is a purely psychological effect, or from the gameplay design, isn't totally obvious, but NCsoft have done their part to spread quests across the gamut of levels to the point that it's much more of an adventure than a slog.
Wings Of Desire
Flowery story aside, Aion's still a generic MMO. You pick a class that does damage either from a distance or up close using a variety of attacks activated by pressing the number keys. Aion changes this up by having a number of chain abilities - meaning one triggers the other. For example, my warrior character could trigger his main ferocious strike ability, and either lead more damage, or have raised his damage over the next minute and protect him from some. It's a simple and effective system, if not terribly inventive, and succeeds in making Aion a snug fit for anybody who's played any other MMORPG released since Everquest.
The difference, at least in NCsoft's eyes, is both the focus on PvPvE - a confusing acronym, referring to players killing enemies controlled by both their peers and Aion's M. - and the bizarre addition of players having... well;;, wings.
This means that you can fly places (at first in a far more limited manner than you'd like), much WOW's flying mounts, except you can do pretty much anything you can do from the ground. This is a nice touch, and does add an extra depth to areas, if not enough to justify it being a key selling point in the game until you reach, at level 50, the Abyss.
This gigantic PvP area is made up of islands - like Outland from WOW but less static - that you fly between. Clashes take place both in the sky and on the ground against the Balaur and your opposing side, and you can gain Abyss points (which can be traded for items, much like WOW's honour system - are you seeing a trend here?) for kills and castle captures.
While we only spent brief moments in the Abyss so far, the verdict on it is simple: when it has full forces doing battle and really utilising everything it has to offer, the Abyss will be excellent However, in the same way that Warhammer Online's public quests require reliable streams of dedicated players to be remotely enjoyable, the Abyss will require both sides to be likeminded in their aggression and strategy.
The rest of the game is beautiful, addictive and well-balanced, presented palatably and with constant, satisfying rewards. What it lacks in a killer license it makes up for in tasteful art design and some stunning visuals. PR gobbledygook aside, Aion simply looks better than most of the competition, and yet it runs stunningly at every option on full on a rig that stutters, albeit occasionally, with Champions Online and EverQuest II. There's a lot to be said for how well everything connects together, too - every quest-giver and the area in which every monster roams is locatable from the quest screen and on the mini-map, with enough mystery left to make the game still, well, a game.
In fact, the only problem is, regardless of it being a tight, fun, addictive grind, Aion lacks anything that really screams "PLAY ME!". Combat is crisp and enjoyable, but not exhilarating. It's graphically stunning, but not memorable. The Abyss PvP is cool, but not amazing. Even the soundtrack is an improvement over the usual terrible jazz-trance-pop that Korean MMOs usually use. In short, every care has been made to make this a game that anyone from any region will enjoy. However, there just isn't that intangible harmony nor inset differentiation that the game would need to compete with WOW - and that's a shame, because otherwise, Aion is damn good at what it does.
Download Aion: The Tower of Eternity
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP