The internet is a truly amazing place; a gathering of people from all cultures and ethnicities. It is a place where people hate you for your ideas, not what you look like. That said, it’s usually a good idea during your travels through the magnificent digital world to make as many friends as possible, which is something I attempted to do with one of my earliest reviews on Atlantica Online. During this mind-broadening journey, you might want to consider picking yourself up a couple of asian friends. Tales of old tell of oriental heroism and perseve…yeah, whatever, they can get you into NCSoft betas. This is exactly what happened when one of my friends, born and currently located in China invited me to play AION: The Tower of Eternal Awesome with him. After I downloaded all the files, and he helped me register my account, I was ready to log into NCSoft’s latest virtual fantasy world.
I. Graphics/Art – 11/11
When it comes to graphics, art, armor and weapon design, NCSoft goes to eleven. It’s not about whether you like their style or not. That’s not it at all. NCSoft excels in this department because their animation is always top-notch, their spell effects(if a bit exaggerated at times) look wonderful, and everything moves at optimal speed the whole time you’re playing. I know, eastern MMO combat looks a bit anime’ish, and perhaps a bit fake to some people due of the over-exaggerated acrobatic feats that some games add to their melee classes, but damn it, it’s a fantasy game. I’d rather my guy smoothly somersault off the enemy, reach orbit at the height of the jump, and then come crashing down furiously in a well-animated sequence, than have my guy take awkward stabs at his opponent.
It makes it all seem that much more heroic. It makes you believe that your character fights with confidence, and it’s a lot better than having to look at the way some races held weapons in World of Warcraft; it made me wonder if they really had any combat training at all, or if they just bought an adventurer certificate in Chinatown for 1 dolla, 1 dolla.
Animations, and NCSoft’s artistic excellence aside: a lot of the beauty in AION comes from the heavily modified version of the Cry Engine they use. We’ve all seen what the Cry Engine can do in FPS’s like Crysis. To see that sort of graphical potential in an MMO is truly astounding. There is no better word than breathtaking to describe the environments, characters, and how it all comes together to create this outstanding virtual reality. It’s true, there have been other games with amazing(er) graphics, such as Age of Conan in DX10, but…It’s Age of Conan.
One can praise NCSoft for its artistic prowess all day, so let’s move on for a little bit. Let’s talk about character creation. We’ll keep it short since there’s nothing too innovative here, but then again, it’s just character creation. How innovative can you really get after a certain point? Character creation has pre-defined hairstyles, faces, body types, etc. It also includes an endless amount of possibilities for facial construction by way of sliders. Want to make your character look like Barack Obama? Go ahead. You can do it if you spend enough time messing with the sliders. Although there are no races other than “human,” you can move the ear slider up to have pointy ears and look like an elf. You can also be as tiny or as big as you want(within humanly limits). It’s refreshing. I don’t have to play a hideous gnome if I want to be tiny, and me being smaller doesn’t give me any special racial traits over the towering behemoth standing next to me.
II. Gameplay – 9/10
I’m the kind of person that’s never really impressed by flashy videos. Previews, trailers, video walkthroughs, all of that stuff bores me. You could be showing me the birth of Jesus Christ on video and I wouldn’t really be impressed, unless I witnessed it for myself. AION was one of those things. My friends constantly bombard me with videos from this game or that, saying “look at this game, it’s so cool!” but I always end up closing my YouTube tab dissatisfied and bored.
It wasn’t much better when I got into the game and was given my first quest. I sighed and said to myself “damn it, not this again.” After following the very linear path of fruit theft and insect killing that was laid in front of me, I started to wonder if I really wanted to take this game further. Then, I started getting missions. Missions are like quests, but they advance your own personal storyline. At first, they’re not much different from the other quests, you get some short 5 second cinematics showing you which mobs you have to kill, as if they were something special. However, as you progress they start getting more intricate, and by level 10, I was foaming at the mouth for more. PvE is PvE, and I don’t think it will ever evolve past “fetch me ten fish” or “kill six wolves,” but I get the impression from NCSoft that they’re at least trying by giving you your own personal storyline to follow(in cinematics) in-between fish-fetching and wolf-killing.
Overall, gameplay is incredibly smooth. Everything loads quickly, and even though I was playing on Chinese servers, I hardly got serious lag. I keep a pillow handy by my desk, since I play Warhammer Online and even at 4GB of RAM I have to take naps every time I switch zones. AION didn’t even give me enough time to fluff my pillow before everything was done loading. Here’s a not-exaggerated re-enactment of how zone loading works in AION, following this format: hours:minutes:seconds:microseconds.
AION(9:10:57:48AM): Loading… here’s a tip for you.
Me(9:10:57:49AM): “Oh, c-”
Switching zones is so quick, they’re going to have to include their loading screen tips on a separate manual. I can’t imagine anyone can get past the first word in any loading screen tip before the zone’s completely loaded. This is good, and it can even add a fun minigame to AION. See if you’re quick enough to take a screenshot of the loading screen so you can read the tip it included. Impress your friends with your lightning-fast printscreen reflexes.
IIa. The Grind:
The very thing that keeps us playing MMOs is rapidly growing into a scary word: grind. How much of it is actually in AION? Well, I don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll be able to know for a while other than what people playing the Korean release tell us. Even then, it’s all a matter of how much time you have to play, how you manage that time, etc. Levels 1-10 go by pretty quick, which is good, because level 10 is really where the game starts. You get your wings, you get your real class, you get praise from your fellow realm-mates, and most importantly, you get a new emote. That’s right. This emote allows you to stand in lowbie areas and lord your wings over everyone who still doens’t have them.
From what I’ve seen though, and the fact that the level cap is 50, if you’re PvEing the entire way there, it’s going to feel quite grindy.
IIb. The wings:
You probably skipped the rest of this article so you could read about wings and flying in AION. Here’s the honest truth: It’s fucking awesome. Everyone loves flying. Even if you hate planes or heights. We all dream of having wings so we can drop things on unsuspecting people below. AION finally makes that dream a reality. Starting at level 10(after you complete your ascension mission) you will be able to fly. There are certain areas where you can’t take off, but you’ll always be able to show off your wings or at least glide down a ramp. You can only fly for a limited amount of time, but as you keep leveling, this amount of time increases. You’re also subject to a flight cooldown whenever you glide with your wings.
Once you get to one of the first areas where your flight is actually not restricted and you can go up as high or as low as you want, you’ll shed tears of awe. It sounds like something boring, right? Flying around. Druids could do it in World of Warcraft, gryphons could do it, you can fly in Perfect World. You’ve even seen videos of people flying in AION on YouTube. However, you’ve never experienced it for yourself… BUT I HAVE! NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH!
Honestly, until you get to fly around in AION, and do some combat or even some exploring up in the skies, I don’t think you can pass judgement on it. Watching birds fly is boring as hell. Watching other people fly on YouTube is not only boring as hell, but it usually also means having to stand the horrible background music people put in their videos. Try flying out for yourself when you get a chance, see how you like it. Get some cardboard wings and jump off your rooftop, if you want.
Note: I will not be held responsible for any deaths that occur from my above comments, although if you suffer an accident you survive and develop psychic abilities, please contact me.
III. Overall impressions:
Overall I am very impressed by NCSoft’s latest MMO. I was obviously expecting the game to look truly amazing, no doubt, but the gameplay is really what exceeded my expectations. I haven’t even been to The Abyss yet, though I do plan on writing about that once I’ve experienced it. Still, even though I’ve been doing the same old questing stuff, there’s just something about the game that makes it all the more bearable than other recent MMOs. It could be the wings, I don’t know. I can take a break every now and then from questing simply to soar into the skies and fly around a little bit. It’s really refreshing.
Even though it’s not a full loot sandbox, this game has an incredible sense of freedom. The game is still in beta, but it feels so finished. Other than issues caused by the eternal dark curse upon the earth, more commonly known as GameGuard(which I doubt will even be added for NA players), I never crashed, I rarely got lag spikes, and I was never once disconnected from the servers. Ever. No 10k latency, no 5k latency like some games had at release. I’m looking at you, Age of Conan. They could release this game tomorrow, in beta, and I’d buy it.
I can’t wait until the North American version is released, and I can play with all my friends(that’s right, all two of them).