NCsoft (well known for publishing Guild Wars and City of Heroes) has been hard at work translating and updating Aion for an English release. While it was in closed beta at the time of writing, I was able to play through the first stages of the game and form an impression.
It is clear from the outset that Aion is one of the better looking MMOs on the market. The environments are fairly detailed and varied, while running smoothly on older hardware. Monsters and characters are fairly standard, though there is a high level of character body type customisation available. However, this is of dubious merit as you probably won’t notice it after you begin playing.
The player classes are fairly standard as well, with the four basic ones filling clearly defined niches in the genre (Warrior, Mage, Priest and Scout), with players changing to a less generic class after completing the first quest line. However, for better or worse, group play is a necessity even from the very beginning as the classes are over-specialised to the point of near uselessness while playing solo. That being said, the group mechanics work rather well, especially if your party covers the basic archetypes.
Apart from the ‘campaign’ quest lines, don’t expect anything groundbreaking from the quests. As in almost any MMO, the quests often fall into the same patterns of fetching, delivering or killing. While I’ll never get why heroes are expected to kill X of Y for their Z, the quests do a good job of leading into each other and to new areas of the game, helping new players find their way around. It’s somewhat linear, but as far as quests are concerned (especially those aimed at new players), that is not necessarily a bad thing.
My personal impression of Aion was rather mixed. As mentioned above, playing in a group was practically a necessity, though as with any MMO, playing with a friend or group makes the experience much more enjoyable. While I was unable to explore most of the game (the beta was weekends only, and some features were not open), what I could play was pretty decent. However, the game (the monster areas in particular) didn’t feel large enough to handle a post-release player base, and a number of quests relied on slowly respawning objects, which anyone could manipulate.
As previously mentioned, I was not able to have a look at two of Aion’s major selling points: Flight, and the Abyss. While a few MMOs already allow players to fly around the game world (which is half the point of ‘FlyFF’), Aion features aerial combat, which should make PvP rather interesting. Aion’s ‘Abyss’ is an expansive Player versus Player versus Environment area in which areas can be captured by clans, and with player rankings adding a little extra risk. As you would expect, the two player races (yes, there are only two) represent ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’. It’s a cliché, but one that works.
In conclusion, Aion is a game fantasy that MMO fans will want to keep on their radar. It’s fairly polished, given the time since its 2008 Korean release, and will probably be enjoyable for a range of players, despite being between difficult and unplayable without a group. Nevertheless, I look forward to exploring the rest of the game in its late September release this year. NCsoft says there will be a monthly subscription fee of US$15, as is standard for most MMOs.