Early Aion Impressions

AionEarlyImpressionsI’ll be blunt:  I don’t like 99.999% of the MMORPGs released in the Eastern/Asian market.  The art style in those games never appeals to me and the gameplay is simplistic or shallow.  Don’t even get me started on microtransactions [Note: not present in Aion] which tend to be in most Asian games.  For these reasons, I was skeptical going into Aion.  I have a friend whose been in the Chinese OB (he has multiple higher levels) and I’ve been listening to the impressions of people playing the Korean version as well.  When the opportunity to pre-order from Gamestop came around it was a no-brainer to take advantage of a no-risk win-win situation.

However, I can not talk about my impressions from the NA version because it is still under a NDA… which makes no sense given that the game is released in two other countries.  What’s the next best thing?  How about trying those other versions?  Since NCSoft has yet to respond and allow me to write about the game, I downloaded and gave the Chinese version a go via the free trial and compared my experiences.  I’m happy to say that they were completely identical (aside from a bit of latency issues with China), so I’m going to spill the beans on my Chinese experiences, tell you they’re identical, and assume that the “westernization” comes at a later level.

I don’t want to beat around the bush and overwhelm you guys with huge paragraphs of fluffy explanation.  Instead, I’m going to give you the bullet point goods, bads and miscellaneous tidbits after briefly describing the ‘feel’ of the game.  Remember, these are early impressions based on the first 1-20 or so levels of the game with info from friends tossed in.

Aion is hands down the best MMORPG from the Eastern market that I have played.  It feels like World of Warcraft in many ways, which is a good thing.  It has that same level of polish and attention to detail.  The controls are tight and the animations are fluid.  The ambiance of Aion’s environments actually surpasses WoW by a long shot.  In addition to feeling influences from WoW, I was also feeling some FF11 and WAR coming through which made for a surprisingly harmonic blend of gameplay and ‘feel’. Aion is going to feel familiar, but a good familiar. Let there be no doubt that Aion’s production quality is very high.

I really need to mention one last thing: performance. The game ran soooo smooth. Dozens of people visible at a time on the screen in a capital city and I didn’t even notice a one frame per second difference. Loading times were so fast that I could not even read the tips. This isn’t hype when I say that Aion’s performance record for the entirety of my playtime has been immaculate.

Miscellaneous tidbits (stuff I thought was interesting)

  • Private Stores – Players can set up their own private store and sell their stuff.  Your character sits down and a chat bubble above your head allows you to leave a message or advertisement.  And yes, these get used for guild adverts and for RMT as well.
  • Money (Kinah) is very important.  There is a money sink for everything.  Skills, changing your bind, buying additional emotes, teleporting, flight paths, crafting, wing upgrades, etc.  I like that money is important and creates a solid economy, but at the same time money will definitely always be on my mind.
  • Skills can be bought from stores but also found as drops.  From what I hear there are so many skills that you can’t use them all.
  • Rifts open and allow players to travel to the enemy PvE lands.  “Rift wars” then ensue and players battle it until the invading side has to retreat through the portal.  This is in addition to the natural PvP area of The Abyss.
  • You can pay a fee (more on money being important) and change the look of an item to match something you like more.
  • Exp is lost when you die. You can buy a portion back (Kinah again). [Info from a friend: Exp is also lost in PvP as well as Abyss points.]
  • Character creation gives you a lot of options. You can change your body shape, height, facial features, colors, details, etc. I’m not sure what to think about being able to make a character who is tiny and skinny, thus harder to click target. In the Chinese version everyone makes tiny little characters. Hopefully the NA players are more vain and want to look cool.

The Good

  • Graphics – They’re top notch and give LOTRO a run for its money.  Environments are beautiful.
  • Music – Gorgeous music. Nothing else to say.
  • Character animations are exceptionally good in combat.  When not in combat your character reacts to his environment.  When in a desert he looks bothered by the heat and notices that it’s hot.  When it rains he’s like “Wtf? rain?” and pulls out a big leaf to cover his head.  When standing in water and not doing anything he’ll even reach down and play with the fishes, occasionally pulling one out and tossing it back in.
  • Combat is engaging and well done.  There aren’t any nagging issues like LOTRO’s delayed ability activation or WAR’s natural lag.  It feels like WoW’s combat. (It takes longer to kill stuff than in WoW). The combo system is also quite neat. Some abilities are part of chains and when the opener is used it transforms your hotkey into the next ability in the chain for easy use.
  • Flight is one of the better parts of Aion.  It’s not just flight like a flying mount in WoW but a part of your character and an extension of several mechanics such as combat.  You can cast spells while flying or fight however your class does.  You can glide around the terrain (not the same as flying) to move faster and closer to the ground.  Flight and glide physics and controls are intuitive.
  • Story “epic” Quests – These are great and what I want from quests:  Story, difficulty, great rewards, and a purpose.
  • The in-game wiki-type instructions for quests allow players to get help locating quest objectives and provides additional info.
  • Crafting and gathering are simple, fun, and serve a purpose.  You go out and gather materials like you do in WoW and come back to make stuff.  The stuff you make rivals the best gear out there.  Crafters have work orders for you to level on as well.  From what I saw in my 45 minutes of crafting, If you don’t want to go out and gather resources or use the resources you’ve gathered to skill up then you can do work orders where the materials are provided for you (except a glass vial which I had to buy from a vendor.)
  • PvP gives you the best (or equal to the best/crafted?) gear via Abyss Points.
  • Group-centric play – You’ll do better in a duo and a trio and the game will naturally reward grouping and promote grouping to advance and succeed.  The game is tough and it shows even around level 15.
  • Every class fills a role.  You may think a class like the Spiritmaster (a pet class) won’t bring much to a group, as often the stereotypical Westernized MMO pet classes tend to favor solo play, but the Spiritmaster is the only class with a flight time debuff which is important in group PvP.  That’s just one example.

The Bad

  • Leveling  is very Quest Centric.  From 1-20 you can quest the whole way.  The quests are very unimaginative and you’ll feel that quest burn (Unless you’re a masochist and love this crap) from having to go kill 10 of this, gather 8 of that, and do that whole song and dance of filling your quest log, going out and doing a bazillion quests, coming back and picking up the followups, and going back out and doing it all over again.  If questing is your thing then this should belong in “The Good”, but I hate it so it goes in my bad list.
  • Flight is not allowed in some zones.  Why?  I don’t know.  It sucks to be on top of the world, literally, in one zone but have to land and run around on foot in another… without much explanation.  I do suppose it would ruin some quests and having to work your way through land content if you could fly around, but it’s still sad to have to land.
  • Class Balance – I don’t know what to think about it since I haven’t done PvP outside of the arena.  I’m relying on friends for info from the higher-level Chinese OB and Korean version experience, but apparently Clerics are very powerful.   Sorcerers (my fav) are on the top 3 badass list too.  The game isn’t balanced for 1v1 from what I’m told but the stronger classes are still recognized in group play.  I’m sure class balance can benefit from a pass in the westernization process.
  • Tagging a mob is done by doing the most damage to it during a fight. This has apparently gone through a few iterations in the various versions.
  • You’re not much different from anyone else of your class. There are no talent specs or skill trees. There are Stigmas, but apparently the best ones are a big “duh” and everyone takes the same ones. I’d like to see them fix up the Stigma system and allow for more diversity.
  • Redundant instancing… ick. Aion instances the same area multiple times like Age of Conan. All the area I played (except the Capital city if I recall correctly) were instanced a few times. I don’t like this at all, but at the same time it’s been nice to use when the quest areas are so camped. I doubt the Abyss redundantly instanced and hopefully I can get confirmation on it.

I played for six hours straight and didn’t even realize the time was flying by.  As we all know, that’s a sign that you’re enjoying the game.  I had this real urge to level up and see the next area.  I wanted to level and get more abilities for my character because he seemed to get better and better each time I visited the trainer.  The epic story quest kept me engaged with the entire leveling process and I wanted to press on.  There was one point when the quest line became so tough that Bartlebe and I had to sneak in and attempt something designed for a group.   Being creative and thinking outside the box allowed us to advance well beyond where we should have been able to go.  Exploring the world was fun and I was able to sneak into a couple zones (which are all pretty big), risking death every step, and see what higher levels get to see; I haven’t done this type of exploration since EQ when I explored deep into Kunark at level 50.

Only playing levels 1-20, and for such a short time, doesn’t give a real perspective on the rest of the game.  I still haven’t PvP’d outside of the arena (an area in the capital), and PvP is a huge part of the game.  I’m told the game requires more grinding, mostly in groups later, which I like, however I don’t know how this change in gameplay will affect the ‘feel’ of the game.  My overall impressions are very positive and mirror what most people have been saying about the game.   I’m glad that I pre-ordered.

If you’re looking for more Aion info then I suggest you head over to our forums where experienced players are sharing their thoughts, info, and answering questions.

  • Good review… I assume you are fluent in Chinese by now 🙂
    Looking forward to this game! I will try the next beta event coming up.

  • There is a fix so that you can convert the Chinese text to English.

    I just added a few more things to the lists as well.

  • Looking forward to this. Nice write up. I am going to pre-order this weekend. I finaly quit wow this week, I got to the point of I have seen everything I will be able to see, “whats the point”. Resubed my warhammer account. Actualy having a good time so far, I hope land of the dead will hold me over until Aion and Champions.

  • The character creation is top notch as well. Plenty of options to choose from when making a character.

    If only there was a nice video about that. 🙂

  • The “quest-centric” nature drops off a bit in the Abyss… mostly because questing only makes up around 40% of your level Exp required.

  • oh man I wish I’d been keeping up with you guys. One of my local friends showed me this game and I thought it was just one of the most polished Asian mmo I’d ever seen, while still maintaining a lot of the little features that make them so pick up and play enjoyable. I’ve always thought a lot of these Asian produced games would do really well in the US and I’m glad to see one is making a big leap over.

  • The Abyss looks like the most interesting and likely disappointing part of the game. Abyss Points from PvE, points penalty on death and rampant kill trading make me quite worried. Also the lack of any bloster means going in there at 25 will be very difficult.

  • I don’t know about getting Abyss points from PvE. Maybe Phandy can answer that for you. The death penalty is one I’m split on. On one hand a death penalty adds a new dimension to the game. On the other hand it’s annoying. Which one reigns supreme will be decided when I play in the Abyss.

  • @Keen: I mean there is a lot of PvE in the Abyss. When you kill a npc there, you will get Abyss points too.

    That plus the point penalty on death makes me think a lot of people will be avoiding PvP.

  • Ha, love the work around.

    Aion has me intrigued. So, I may give it a try, but I fear the $50 box price just to get annoyed with the same ole’ crap. Plus with a baby on the way my time is limited 😛

    Flight was explained as limited because you have to be within a certain range of something. The farther away, the less ability to fly you have. Some lore reason, but most people will probably miss that point when they try to fly for the first time.

  • “I played for six hours straight and didn’t even realize the time was flying by. As we all know, that’s a sign that you’re enjoying the game.”

    My only cavill with your review are those two sentences. I don’t know about you, but I could say that about virtually every MMO I have ever played. They are all fun when they are new and hours pass in minutes.

    I think that’s the main problem with reviewing MMOs. It’s near-impossible to give any kind of informed opinion on 95% of the game until you’ve played it for weeks or even months, but on the other hand it all seems gosh-wow marvelous for the first week, which is when most of the reviews get written.

    Aion has never caught my interest and I won’t even be trying it, but the more quality MMOs we get, the better. Bound to be at least one to suit everyone eventually.

  • @Heartless_: drop $5 at gamestop if your local store has pre-orders left. You’ll get into all the beta events and if you don’t like the game you can transfer that $5 to another pre-order.

  • Feel free to say anything about the game, NDA is only forbidding screenshots with english UI on it for the reason that game doesn’t contain the final version of english texts (more westernization are on the way).

  • @Werit: Apparently the Mobs you can kill in the Abyss have better drops and give way more exp per kill as an enticement into the area, sure the penalty will hurt but as far as i’m aware you won’t “de-level” and you’ll be leveling at a faster rate than grinding outside the abyss anyhow 🙂 so a bit of a gamble that could pay off nicely.

  • The reason you cant fly in all zones has to do with the back story. Some zones have more “magic” (totally forgot the word, been a long time) energy in them that allow you to fly. The reason you fly is not just because of your wings, but because you bend the magic energy in the area to your will. This is how they explain the reason, the real reason simply has to do with some zones are just made for foot travel, for them to fill 3d space in every zone would be a huge undertaking.

  • I’m really concerned about the pvp exp loss. I, for one, suck at pvp and can see myself getting into this slump where the annoyance of being killed repeatedly sucks all of my enjoyment from the game.

  • “My only cavill with your review are those two sentences. I don’t know about you, but I could say that about virtually every MMO I have ever played. They are all fun when they are new and hours pass in minutes.”

    My experience has been very different. I’ve tried quite a few MMOs and knew within the first couple of hours whether or not I’d continue playing it. CoH, Eve, LotRO and especially WoW pulled me in at the start. I stuck with the first 3 for about 6 months and WoW for 5 years…so far.

    War, Free Realms, Tabula Rasa, RoM…they all left me cold in the first hour.

  • Exciting stuff.

    I was lucky to get the only 2 pre-order keys our local EB Games got in. So me and the little Lady will be trying the events from here on out.

    This is probably the first Fantasy type MMO I’ve been excited for quite some time.

    Is this one you guys will be starting a guild on? Would love to chill with some good people and have fun killing others 🙂

  • @Dismantled

    We wont be personally starting a guild but we will be joining a guild being created by a member of our community. Check out our forums and go into the Aions section. You will find a sticky thread about it.

    Feel free to introduce yourself and make yourself at home. Anyone is welcome. The more, the merrier!

  • Thanks for the info. Nice write-up. I’m looking forward to trying Aion. I’m itching for something new and Aion looks very refreshing and exciting. I enjoyed Lineage 2 for a while but it was too “Eastern” for my tastes. Glad to see Aion has been Westernised more.

  • @Dismantled: As Bartlebe pointed out, our gaming community is joining forces with a group that played WoW together to form a guild. We already have vent up and our forums are a great place to start mingling with people. You’ll find the link to our future guild as well.

  • Leaving aside the rest of the game for the moment: I dislike tagging systems that go by who does the most damage, it lends itself to very egocentric griefing.

  • Yeah, it’s not my favorite method. I’ve dealt with it before in older MMOs and I’ll deal with it again if I have to, but I would rather them make it about first hit; not that first hitting is much better.

  • Aye, that is one thing I wish they would change. It really puts tanks and healers at a distinct disadvantage when mob tagging is decided by damage done.

  • I’m surprised that you mentioned “private stores” but I guess that is because you don’t play many eastern MMOs. They are in just about every one and I have never liked that format in ANY one of the numerous games I have played with it.

    It’s a very asian approach to have people being able to set up their booths and sell wares in highly trafficked area, but unequivocally worse than an AH system.

  • From the vine I have heard this game is very instance heavy…like Guild Wars is…is this true?

  • I knew I was forgetting something! Thank you for bringing it up Poxus. Yes, Aion has redundant instancing in some places but not in others. The starter island had a couple and the subsequent areas did as well. I dislike this approach, but it’s far from being like Guild Wars.

  • “Redundant instancing… ick. Aion instances the same area multiple times like Age of Conan. All the area I played (except the Capital city if I recall correctly) were instanced a few times.”

    This is bad? One realm instead of 3532534 small ones, no need to reroll, less balance problems (as everyone play same realm), no problems with finding groups, no need for realm merges etc. This should be done in every mmorpg.

  • I did Chinese OB and it was fun. The game does a lot of simple stuff well it seems and does not try to shove in a bunch of screwy experimental mechanics.

  • If everyone is still playing Aion 6 months from now I’ll have a look. I have a feeling the same old MMO problems will hit it tho.

  • @ Keen

    I was able to secure a beta key, and will be playing on the 19th. I am looking forward to gaming with you guys again.

  • i think you just broke NDA of the NA beta by saying it is exactly like the Chinese version?

  • Technically nothing that was identical between the versions was under the NDA. The parts which were not westernized were. That is why you’ll find none of my comments about the Korean voice overs, translation and localization issues, etc. The NDA is down now though.

  • Sounds like a decent game. However I hear rumors that this game uses Gameguard. That little rootkit devil gives me a BSOD every time, so Aion is out.

  • My heart skipped a beat when I read the reviews on Aion. However as soon as I read about Exp death penalties it quickly changed my mind. I do not have the time to spend on regaining exp whenever I die and I am not in the mood to feel angry whenever I do die because of this I am sticking with WoW. Its more convenient with my time and money.

  • Can we play professions only characters.Like in Star Wars :Galaxies and not bothering with others aspects on the game?I’d like to