Aion: The Tower of Eternity
One of the biggest dangers for a developer of a payable MMORPG is that only few gamers will give a game a second chance. For many the 30 free days are enough to know whether they’ll spend months or even years online, or ditch it in the dustbin after the trial period is over. Aion: The Tower of Eternity is the latest “big” MMORPG to have been released but whether it fulfills all its promises is something that deserves further investigation!
NCsoft isn’t unknown in the MMO scene, as this South-Korean developer and publisher has a whole series of free and payable MMORPGs under its wings. Most well-known titles in the West include City of Heroes/Villains, Lineage 2 and Guild Wars (no MMORPG but a CORPG). With their newest title, Aion, they’re now trying to get to the higher standard players these days demand. If you want to release a succsful MMORPG it needs to have a decent portion of PvE as well as PvP. Something recent competitors haven’t always done with as result that they quickly started to lose groups of players.
As in each game there’s a background story. Long ago the inhabitants of the world of Atreia fought the Balaur, a dragon-like species. The war lasted hundreds of years and after many sacrifices it was decided to try and make peace with the Balaur. It’s unclear who in the end was responsible for the failure of this endeavour but the consequences were quick and clear: the giant tower that kept both parts of Atreia together collapsed, the Balaur got banished to another dimension and the inhabitants of Atreia get divided in two sides: the Elyos and Asmodians. Both blamed each other for the destruction of their monument and the war against the Balaur had only just stopped or they were already fighting against each other.
The Elyos settled at the bottom of their world and had the luxury of bathing in sunlight for eternity. Thanks to their eternal beauty they quickly became vain with as results that they looked down on the Asmodians who were less fortunate. Due to living on the top side of the world the light of their sun quickly became scarse which resulted in them growing up in a cold and barren environment with pale skin and additional hair for extra warmth. Another result of the harsh environment is that they’ve managed to grow closer to each other, contrary to the Elyos.
The looks of both races is gigantic, but in gameplay there’s little difference. There’s plenty possibilities present for customizing your characters like dozens of options for the face. But that’s not all, you even get to adjust your size. You won’t easily come across a character that looks identical to yours and many different cute Elyos women and impressive Asmodians is what you’ll be seeing walking around.
The game has eight different classes but at start only four are playable. The gamer can choose between starting as a warrior, rogue, mage or priest and as of level ten there the possibility to specialize. Each start class can evolve in two other classes. The warrior can for instance change into a templar (defense) or gladiator (offense). Each path differs and has its own series of skills. After level 20 players get the chance to specialize even more with the help of so-called Sigma Stones which can enhance certain skills or give you the possibility to use different types of weapons.
To learn to use all these skills you’ll need to climb in level and this can be done by killing monsters or completing quests. For over half the game there are sufficient assignments present where plenty of characters need the help of that one true hero. With the quests ther are two types, the first being the standard stuff that doesn’t really add to the progress of the story, like helping a fisherman show his love to a beauty, but the campaign quests are something quite different. These add to the story and are mandatory as otherwise you won’t be able to progress your character. Getting wings is a first influence of this type of quests.
The fun part here is that there are plenty of in-game movies that add to the atmosphere like a group of cavemen who cheer when you’ve saved their city, or an endboss who comes introducing himself. Another advantage is that you can regularly unlock new titles for your character and these aren’t only for show but also give bonusses. Sadly enough the quests can’t be completely described as positive to the highest level. When a player gets to around level 30 he quickly starts to feel the so-called grind. There are fewer and fewer quests available and one gets forced to kill monsters without any specific goal. It’s sad to see NCSoft filled the first part of the game completely to afterwards seemingly lose interest. Luckily the loss of quests gets partially compensated by the countless instances in the game where you can gain additional experience together with a group.
In case we almost forgot, there’s still a war going on between the Elyos and the Asmodians and this will for a small part be fought out in the opponen’s territory, but largely in the Abyss. This is a seperate dimension where you can do very little without your wings. Not only will both groups be bashing players’ heads but they also take into account the Balaur. In the hundreds of years they’ve been banned, they’ve settled here and have been preparing for an invasion of Atreia. In these areas you therefore don’t only have to watch out for other players in large scale battles but also the Balaur who can come out of nowhere and completely turn around and almost victorious battle. Of course,such interventions also have a positive side, but only if you were on the losing side. One of the biggest PvP fights in the game are the attacks on fortresses which can easily have hundreds of players going at it with chaotic and fun combat as result.
If you’re fed up with fighting for a while, you can still do certain jobs to earn extra money. These go from making simple weapons and armor to potions and decent food. Collecting the necessary ingredients is quite easy to do as you’re not obliged to have certain skills. This way you can collect plenty of raw material at any time, even if you don’t need it at that moment.
All fights, special effects and beautifully looking characters of course need to get displayed by a graphical engine. For this NCSoft has used the CryEngine which we first saw in Far Cry. This engine has been adapted plenty as for a MMORPG it looks very nice. The character animations are fluid, the weather effects are a feast for the eye and the surroundings go from big forests to deserted vulcano plains.
The sound is different from what’s we’re used from Western MMOs. Due to the Asian origin of the game the music is quite Eastern. It’s a nice variation to the typical tunes we get over here but probably not everyone will be an equally big fan of it. The characters have plenty of English voice-overs but these are clearly less than their Asian counterparts. It’s sad that the player doesn’t have an option to choose which voices to use as many will probably now just turn them off.
As end conclusion I can only say that Aion has had a more than decent launch. The game offers a solid base for both PvE and PvP and if we look at what the devteam still has planned then the future looks bright!