Review by RealMunkeeGamer

"The First High Quality MMORPG in years with eye candy to boot."

For those of us who know even a little about the gaming industry, we've watched a certain MMORPG giant rise from the ground and form a towering behemoth, changing the face of gaming forever. We've all asked, "Who's going to take it down?" There have been several contenders over the years, but according to the numbers--they've all failed.

This most recent contender, Aion, will most certainly not be the one who kills it, but that is a good thing, a very good thing. I'll warn you, this review is lengthy, so only read this if you really want to know about the game. Let's get on with it.

SOUND - (8.5)

BGM - (9.5) - The BGM in Aion has been heralded by many to be some of the best of any game and in all honesty, I agree. It can get repetitive but there's unique and flavorful music in each new zone you go to, really solidifying the change to a new area. It all has a very well-developed, magical feeling to it, which suits the Aether soaked world of Atreia perfectly. A word of warning though, on your first trip to the Abyss, you may notice that you think you've stepped into a EuroTrance Dance club. Some will love it, but some will hate it. Personally, it's like they just took a selection from my grind-music mix and added in game, so I was happy with it.

Voice - (8) - Now, despite the great music, the Sound category loses some points due to the character voices. There are three voices to pick from for each gender, which is better than most games, but there are few voices, namely the female voices that can start to become very annoying if you're a melee class. The Assassin is worst of all because each quick Dagger strike sounds like someone screaming and dying-50 times per fight. Word on the street is you can download either the Korean or Japanese Voice pack, if you prefer, for some improvement there.

VISUALS - (11) - Yes, that's right, it's a 11! Notice now, I did not score this category according to graphics, because extremely good graphics with bad artistic value is nothing worth getting excited over. However, his game is by far the most beautiful gaming experience I've ever had, so much so, it's hard to know where to begin.

Character Creation - (10) I guess I'll start at the beginning, with character creation and customization. And let me say that is unrivaled with its blend of options and beauty. There are quite a few pre-made templates for face and bodies (that all look amazing!) from which you can tweak almost every little detail that you'd like. There are no races, only the two factions, but it's from this point that you can play with body proportions and facial features to make elves, gnomes, dwarves, hobbits, demons (for the Asmodians), or humans. The possibilities I've seen are Cloud look-alikes to President Obama.

While making your character's bodily features, you also get to pick the voice (as mentioned before) and try on three different outfits. There's bare bones underwear for getting body shape just right, a suit of low level armor for your class so you'll know what you look like right when the game starts, and then a sample of high level armor to show you what your toon will look like at end game. This is important because you wouldn't want to give your warrior absurdly large shoulders just to have that ruin the way you look at 50.

One more note, about armor, is that you can actually take the stats of one piece of gear and apply it to the graphics of another piece. So if you have a set that you particularly like the look of, you never have to change it! You can just take the stats from your upgraded gear and apply it to the old set. And if you do get new gear and like how it looks but it's the wrong color, you can just dye your whole set to match, so you don't end up looking like a clown.

It's worth mentioning, in case this sort of thing matters to you, that the female avatars are some of the most attractive 3-D renderings of humans I've ever seen... but only if that sort of thing matters to you. >.>

Game World - (12) - Once your character is made, you step into the world of Atreia. There's only two nitpicks I could possibly have so I'll get those out of the way. First, some of the ground textures are not 100% beautiful, in fact, they're a little blocky. Honestly hard to notice, unless you're nitpicking. Next, is a feature of the cry engine, to conserve graphic power, far away objects will have lower resolution and graphical quality. So, only when you're zoomed into your character's face or have the camera right next to the fight will the full graphics show through. This is a good thing, though, because it means that less-than-top-notch gaming computers will be able to enjoy this game with high frames per second and an enjoyable experience.

Now, the good... This game world is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. From the first monsters you run into to the sky graphics, to the random visual effects everywhere, you just feel totally immersed in the world of magic and Aether. The sky is just amazing, because you're actually looking at the top half of the world, which has been split in two. So the lights from the towns of the other faction dot the sky instead of stars. And the random visual eye candy is just amazing to adding to the effect. As the Elyos, you'll run into flying fish in the newbie zone, a gigantic flying space-whale in the distance, and dinosaurs peacefully grazing over the walls of your capital city. And everything just has the feel of being touched by magic in one way or another. I can't emphasize enough that the artistic value of this game is phenomenal and completely overshadows the minor ground-texture issues here and there. Even if I didn't like the game, I would still play because the art is that good-- it's like interactive art. I love it.

GAMEPLAY - (8.5-10) - It's hard to know how to score this exactly because everyone has different tastes and preferences. Personally, I'd give it a 9.5, but read on and form your own opinion.

PvE - (6-10, or 8) - I give this score a range because there's a lot to PvE and the mood of it can swing from low to high. There's crafting, soloing, gathering, and instances.

Crafting and gathering go together so I'll review them first. Gathering is mostly the same as some other MMORPGs but there's this random number generator that you have to beat in order to successfully gather. The higher your skill, the more likely you are to "win". If you're suitable level at all, you'll be successful 70% of the time and it only gets higher, so don't worry. But there's two kinds of gathering skill, ground and air. On the ground is everything from fish to herbs to minerals to gems (which you need to keep up with, many quests involve gathering ground resources). In the air are vortexes of aether. You need both resources to successfully craft anything of value but the aether is a bit of an issue for some. You see, your flight time is limited and sometimes the aether can be quite high. So while your struggling against the random number generator to gather that last piece of aether dust, you'll run out of time and plummet to a painful death. The lesson here is, don't be greedy or just prepare by taking flight time gear and potions.

For crafting, there's a similar system of beating the random number generator, but again, you'll almost always be successful if you're around 5-10 levels above what you're crafting. Additionally, some crafts allow you to critically craft and upgrade say a white piece to green, then use that green item to critically craft a blue item (scaling up in rarity). To level up your crafts, you could either use your gathered materials or accept special crafting quests called Work Orders from your Craft Trainer. These quests work by providing you with raw materials (which you can't use, they're specific to the Work Order quest) and the recipe which almost always requires extra crafting materials bought from the nearby vendor. You craft the necessary goods, level up your crafting, turn in the quest and repeat. Every ten levels of crafting, a new work order become available so you're always crafting something that will level you up. Essentially, by spending kinah and some time, you can level up your crafts over and over again until you're broke or at max level. I've got to admit though, crafting and waiting to see if you proc a rare items to sell on the Broker (Auction House) is exhilarating and addictive.

Soloing is something that's completely viable in the PvE zones of the game with some minimal risk of being ganked by the opposite faction. Some classes are better suited for soloing (and people will cry that it is unbalanced) but the game is not balanced around PvE soloing. You will be spending a LOT of time, however, grinding out experience to reach the next level.

But this is a good--no, great thing! In WoW, it feels like every level is quite insignificant and with barely any world PvP, level has no relevance. It's just a quick chore to get to max level and then you're good to go. In Aion, the amount of work that goes into changing from say 42-43 is incredible! When you meet an opponent who has reached that high level, you have reason to fear them, because they know their class in and out.

There was once a time when video games were addicting and made you feel good about yourself because you'd struggle to overcome some obstacle, eventually make it, and feel accomplished. Aion brings that joy back! Death has an experience penalty which can only be revoked with a hefty sum of kinah. This makes you fear for your life instead of feeling comfortable running into any horrible situation. The right to explore isn't just handed to you, you've really got to keep your wits about you in new territory because there could be a random world elite or a war party of the opposite faction just around the corner. It's really satisfying and immersive!

Grouping is the same old same old. Quite frequently, any group work is non-stop tank and spank. And there isn't exactly much in the way instances until max level. I believe that this will not last, however, as Aion matures and new content is released through patches.

To recap, I have given a range of 6-10 because the lows are pretty low but that makes victory all the sweeter. You work hard through frustration for the sweetest success and it really feels good.

PvP - ( 8-10, or 9) - This game is advertised as PvPvE which in real life terms means PvP with a bunch of monsters around to mess things up. This does, actually, enhance the whole experience. The two factions have a common enemy, the NPC Balaur who will also engage in "PvP" in the Abyss, a zone where the war rages endlessly. The Balaur are as much a game function as a character in the Lore. The Balaur are there so that if one faction is either really good at PvP or outnumber the other player faction at a given fort raid, they won't become bored because the Balaur will move after the dominant faction.

As it stands, PvP has manifested itself in two major ways. Either by world PvP in the Abyss (aka ganking) or through massive PvP battles to claim fortresses in the Abyss. This is why the classes, as they stand, are already very balanced. If you're going to be ganked and someone gets the drop on you, you will probably lose. This is supposed to work this way. The Abyss is a dangerous zone, with greater rewards. There are risks beyond the NPC monsters, namely the opposite faction catching you from behind. It will frustrate you when it happens, but you'll be able to turn around and catch them at a later time for the sweetest revenge kill ever. It is in this way that the game has not concerned itself with 1v1 balance. It would be pointless because there are no structured 1v1 battles to be had, which causes people to complain about ranged DPS being overpowered and "all" the classes being imbalanced. If you hear this complaint, just tell yourself, they got ganked by a Sorcerer or Ranger and couldn't do anything about it and got mad. It is in the fortress, mass-PvP battles where the balance is designed.

The fortresses and nearby Artifacts are gigantic game of king of the hill, where massive amounts of fight and resources (crafters can actually build big siege weapons) go into capturing them. Some complain that fortresses are nothing but Tab-nuke, Tab-nuke, etc. But don't let people with bad play style mislead you. An organized group will always beat a group of people who are Tab-Nuking.

Although I haven't reached it yet, there is also an instance, which is a race to the final boss between the two factions. Once in the boss room, the two factions must battle it out while also trying to be the ones to take the down the main boss. I consider this to be the truest expression of the PvPvE concept and I can't wait to get there.

PvP is truly where this game shines, but it takes a lot of work to get there. Yet again, making it all the sweeter of a reward.

CONCLUSION - (9) - I wouldn't give this game a 10 unless I thought it was perfect. I don't, so it has to take a 9. It did however, revolutionize the genre for me. It won't kill WoW, because it does not cater to casuals and I like Aion that way. There is real honest game play and I truly believe the WoW-killer will not have honestly satisfying game play. For me, Aion bumped WoW down to around 7 out of 10, because WoW has inadequate graphics and continuously dumbed down game play and Aion is taking its place at 9 out of 10 for stepping it up. So, if you're a real hardcore, old-school gamer that's tired of WoW and the Wii and all that casual non-sense, then Aion is a must buy for you. You'll feel what I'm talking about after playing a while past level 10.

If, however, you think WoW is one of the greatest games ever because you never get ganked and everything happens in an instance and the rarest gear has a higher drop rate than .1%, then just stick to WoW and realize the problem isn't with Aion, you just prefer a more casual gaming experience.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/27/09

Game Release: Aion (US, 09/21/09)


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