Aion comes from South Korean based MMO powerhouse, NCsoft. You may recognise the name from titles such as City of Heroes, Guild Wars and Lineage 2. All enjoyable MMOs but all lacking a certain something that would propel them to greatness. Aion on the other hand certainly has a hell of a lot of promise for such a new MMO. It’s worth noting now before I begin that I adore MMOs, they provide ultimate escapism. I’m not just playing a game with a linear storyline, I’m living in a world full of people who are as human as me and I can finally feel like a pioneer. Sure this escapist’s world tends to involve a lot of teenagers with aspirations to be ‘l33t’ but make friends with the right people, and there’s something truly special about the experience. Aion reminds me of this vision very much.
A lot of MMOs are reminiscent of modern society; they all seem to thrive upon instant gratification. Everybody wants everything right now, right this second. Understandable really considering life being so fast now. Long gone are the days where it took hours of playing to level up and then one simple death put you right back where you were five hours ago. These days we are used to the likes of World of Warcraft where you can reach level 60 on your own in a mere 2 weeks of gaming, even less with the recruit a friend scheme. Aion is rather different from this instead focusing on the levelling journey itself as well as the destination.
I found out quickly that this meant that players actually stuck together, just like they used to. When it takes a while to level up in the 20s or 30s (Aion has a level cap of 50), it made sense to form groups to complete quests and gain experience. That’s not to say that it is a slow ‘grind’ to level up in Aion. Sure it might not be as fast to level up as World of Warcraft is, but nor is it as slow or as torturous as Everquest 1 or Dark Ages of Camelot. It’s great middle ground ensuring that levelling up felt like an achievement but not a slog. The first 10 levels or so are quite simple to gain meaning that it’s not long before you’ve got some power under your belt.
The class system might look a little limited at first but it opens up nicely. The initial choices comprise of the scout, mage, warrior and priest classes. Anyone who has played an MMO before will recognise these archetypes: damage dealer, caster, tank and healer. Each class then opens up further at level 9 adding specialisations to each, so that one can become a gladiator (a strong tank), a spiritmaster (a pet class) or an assassin (sneaky damage dealer). This is simplifying things quite a bit but with MMOs being so huge, it would be quite easy to write an entire essay on each class. From experience, I found that pretty much all the class types could solo when required but this really is a game that’s engineered more for group encounters than lone ranger style exploring. This is made even more vital with the presence of the much anticipated PvP elements of Aion.
At level 25, the option to enter the Abyss opens up. This is where flying (I did mention flying, right? Yes you can fly in Aion, but only in select areas) comes into its own and so does sticking together. It’s a pure PvP area which not only unites the two player based races, Elyos and Asmodians, but also an NPC based race the Baluar which is also out to get you. It’s an intense experience, made all the more so by the fact that you must fly across from platform to platform but it certainly sticks in your mind, and is a great experience. The game really does open up once you reach the midway level point with group instances becoming near essential to gain better items and to level up effectively.
After playing such a solo friendly game as World of Warcraft, it was a slight culture shock to suddenly need to devote time to grouping together to achieve a common goal but it also quickly reminded me just how much fun it is to do so. You can’t underestimate camaraderie and I’ve always found it is the friends I make in an MMO that keep me playing for longer than any amount of content offered to me.
I spent much of my time in the city areas, such as Sanctum and Verteron, building up my crafting skills. Not only did they provide me with experience but I’ve always been a sucker for tradeskills in MMOs. Aion offered me plenty of choices with the likes of cooking, handiwork, weaponsmithing, sewing, alchemy and armoursmithing. In the early levels, the experience gains from such tradeskill related quests were particularly beneficial. While spending time in the city areas, it becomes quickly apparent that they are bustling hives of activity: full of quests and NPCs, but also full of excited new players keen to join together.
To be cynical for a moment, I do wonder if this excitement will last longer than these early first months, but it does seem to have a strong chance of it. With increasingly strong legions (guilds) emerging across all servers, the community certainly seems to be powerful enough to maintain the momentum that the launch of Aion has produced. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults. Besides the incessant gold spammers plaguing all servers, some quests are perhaps a trifle dull at times. The combat although initially involving, eventually turns into a slight monotony of hitting the same few buttons in sequence to ensure an adequate combo is performed.
Overlooking these flaws however, Aion was a great experience and one that has enthused me to levels that I haven’t felt in a long while. I don’t have a crystal ball so can’t tell if it will reach the heady heights of the likes of World of Warcraft or Ultima Online, but it is certainly well worth a look if you fancy something a bit more group orientated than previous MMOs.