Review by Kaiden
"By all means not an original MMORPG, but it does its job quite well."
The acclaimed "Aion: The Tower Of Eternity" has been one of the most hyped games in the last months. Many gamers boldly foresaw it would become the next World Of Warcraft, taking MMORPG gaming to new heights and levels. Is it the truth? Simply put, it is not. But nonetheless, Aion is not a bad game, it is by no means original, it just takes a lot of things from previous online games (but it is something every game does), and manages to give a high polish, which is one of its strong points.
MMORPGs usually just utilize the plot as an excuse for grinding, questing and engaging in PVE and PVP battles; Aion does not swerve from this: there are basically two factions you can choose from, the Elyos - angelic, light-bound beings - and the Asmodians - devilish, darkness-bound ones -, and while both of them are not really on good terms with the other, they have a common enemy: the Beluar (if this plot rings a bell, it is supposed to be so). Clearly you get a nice FMV presentation before starting the game up, and it manages to tell the story in a good way; of course, in the game everything is limited to quest text and small cutscenes which, for the first parts, are plainly useless and way too forced. Immersion is nearly nonexistent, you know that every monster is there for a reason - a quest, that is, and you can plainly see the advancement process (spend 10 levels in this area, then go into another one, et cetera). Of course, many MMORPGs suffer from this, but Aion can not profit from a consolidated storyline, unlike World of Warcraft and Lord Of The Rings Online, something which helped immersion a lot (though technically all of these games suffer from the same issues).
Aion is a typical Korean-style MMORPG, imbued with occidental elements which try to appeal basically World of Warcraft gamers. You can choose your faction (Elyos or Asmodian), then you can choose your class and gender. Classes are quite basic, you have the typical archetypes of Warrior, Scout, Mage and Priest. Later on, at level 10, you can further specialize into a subclass, becoming a tank or a melee DPS (Warrior), an assassin or a ranger (Scout), a sorcerer or a spiritmaster (Mage), a chanter or a cleric (Priest). Unfortunately, this is where specialization ends: there are no talent trees or such to choose from, this means that every Templar, say, at level 50, will be exactly the same as another Templar level 50, bar the equipment. This also means that when you choose a class, you already know what role you will have to play (except the chanter, which is te only hybrid-like class in the game, being a mixture of healing, dps and buffing).
The actual gameplay is very standard: experience and levels, enough said; quests are typical MMORPG fare: you either have fetch quests, killing quests, item retrieval quests, looting quests, the usual stuff, and exceptions and variations are very far and few in between. This helps speeding up the leveling process, if that is what you are looking for in this game. On another sidenote, monsters give a nice amount of experience themselves, so if you cannot find any more quests, you can simply start killing monsters and you will be getting experience at a reasonable pace. As a nice touch, quests are divided in Campaign Quests (related to the main storyline), normal quests and crafting quests, so you can easily skim through them.
Of course, the nice new addition everyone is mostly talking about is flying, but lower your hype, because flying is still a very limited experience. For the first 20 levels or so (which make up roughly almost half of the leveling process), you practically cannot fly, if in 1 or 2 areas. Now, to me, this looks like an illogicality, because it does not make sense with the story at all. Moreover, you are often forced to go from one place to another, and having to walk all the time feels like a leg-pull when you know you have beautiful, luscious wings on your back. The development team, though, often states how flying is not a mean of transport, but rather a combat option. That is fine, but then one needs to have land mounts to speed up the walking process. As for fighting, again, it is usual MMORPG fare: you click on a monster and you engage it with your normal physical attack, then you can choose from a variety of skills bound to your hotbar(s), you can drink potions, buff yourself... nothing new, nothing breath-taking.
One of the key features of Aion is the use of the Cryengine, the graphical motor that powered the first Far Cry game; undoubtedly, the overall graphical presentation is highly polished, though actually it is far from being comparable to recent offline games. In the MMORPG market, though, probably Aion has the best rendered graphics, but I will probably tie it up with Lord Of The Rings Online with DirectX 10 enabled. Aion's style is quite cartoonish, yet not as cartoonish as World of Warcraft, but is not realistic at all. The character creation process is really well done, probably the best you will find in a MMORPG, with lots of customization available; character textures are also well rendered, yet terrain textures still tend to look flat at times. Spells and particle effects are well done too, though they are not exactly spectacular. There is a lot of eye candy, so nearly everything you will be doing, except walking, will be accompanied by a blinging bright light or, at any rate, some kind of graphical effect.
The sound department is not so important so it could get a section of its now: just know that there is some voice acting and it is well accomplished, though some text still is a bit mechanic, as translations from Korean to English usually are. Sound effects and musical pieces are also well accomplished but there is no "standing out" tune.
Aion is not a bad game, it just does not actually deserve all the hype it got. It will be fun for a couple of months, but certainly it is not going to overthrow World of Warcraft, which still remains a far superior game, or any other big hit MMORPG.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 11/05/09
Game Release: Aion (EU, 09/25/09)
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