Aion Review
Aion box art
System: PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: NCSoft 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: NCSoft 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sep. 21, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: MMO 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
A Solid Experience Lacking Innovative Ideas
by Derek Hidey

Video games have been recently categorized into two camps: ones that bring polish to already established norms of gameplay design and ones that try to break new ground by bringing innovation to gameplay design. NCSoft's Aion certainly and unquestionably falls into the former, and whether that is a good or bad thing is purely a matter of perspective.

Aion screenshot

While one of the overarching issues with most MMORPG launches is the sheer number of bugs and glitches, Aion suffers very little from such problems. From the starter area to the first major city, stumbling upon a glitch or bug is practically a rarity. Players should find the ride to be relatively smooth, which is a huge factor when it comes to enjoying a game. If you can't get it to work correctly, how would ever expect to have fun?

Unfortunately, server queues, even two weeks since launch, are still a problem. NCSoft has taken steps to help remedy the problem like opening new servers and setting a logout timer on AFK players with private stores open, a problem that only kept server queues long and painful. However, most mainstream MMORPGs suffer from these types of growing pains at launch anyway, and they tend to diminish once the initial shine wears off. Credit has to go to NCSoft for addressing the issues as best they can considering the popularity of the game. And, if popularity is one of the biggest issues with Aion, then that's saying something.

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The background story in Aion sets the players up for entering a conflict between the world's main races: the Elyos and the Asmodians. The world has been severed in two pieces, with one getting direct sunlight, while the other only gets reflected sunlight. It is explained that the Elyos are warriors of the "light," which can be construed as being the "good guys," while the Asmodians are warriors of the "darkness," or the "bad guys." Unfortunately, aside from being told so by the narrator, there isn't a lot of evidence in the game. Players of both races complete similar quests throughout the game such as helping farmers with pesky monster infestations, not exactly a very "dark" thing to do if you're an Asmodian. On the other hand, it would be difficult to believe that one race is purely "good" and the other "evil," so the lack of in-game proof isn't too bothersome. Conversely, it doesn't offer much variety in terms of gameplay between picking a side other than whether a player prefers black wings to white wings, or claws for feet to sandals.

There is an attempt to invoke interest in the plot by including short in-game cutscenes, but they are very much hit or miss. In most cases, the cutscene is nothing more than a camera panning over the area you must locate while an NPC delivers a brief verbal message. And the voice acting isn't exactly top-notch either, which doesn't help the cause at all. The rest of the game is told through the same quest dialog boxes that have been seen before.

Aion screenshot

Immersion is taken up a notch by Aion's visuals, which are supported by the acclaimed CryENGINE. The environments are rich and detailed, and the style brings something for nearly everyone. As players move from area to area, they'll find that the scenery will never be too similar, which is a huge plus considering how much time you'll be spending there before you can move on. Moreover, nothing quite captures the eye like looking up at the sky and seeing a giant whale-like creature slowly soaring across the horizon.

Nevertheless, considering the sheer visual capabilities of the CryENGINE, Aion leaves most of its features untapped, which is definitely a shame. Even last year's Age of Conan boasts superior visuals compared to Aion. Of course, this isn't to say Aion looks bad, it's just exactly what you'd expect.

One great feature of Aion is its detailed character creation system. All the basic customizable options such as hairstyles, tattoos, and colors are available. There are also standard presets that help quicken the process by letting players choose a complete character they like the most and then just tweaking certain things. And, if that wasn't enough, the game even gives you an advanced mode where you can adjust the finer details such as the length of your character's nose or the width of his legs. In fact, the ability to create a unique character is almost a guarantee. If there is to be a downside to the system, it is that there seems to be no restrictions on the customization. If you want a character with legs that are a foot long and a torso that's about five feet long, you can probably do it. While creating such characters would be entertaining, seeing them running around the world of Atreia just doesn't make sense and breaks the seriousness of the game world. Nothing is stranger than seeing a fellow Asmodian that looks more like a bobble-head doll than a dangerous warrior.

Aion screenshot

Aion also used a tiered class system, allowing players to pick from four main classes at the start, with each class branching into two specialized classes. Mages, which represent the magic-wielding, ranged DPS class are able to specialize as either a Sorcerer or the Spiritmaster, which gets the ability to summon creatures to fight alongside them. The Priest class is a balance between melee and ranged combat. Its specialized classes are the Chanter, which acts as a support class that provides bonuses to allies, and the Cleric, which acts as the games main healer class. The Scout class can eventually specialize as an Assassin, which provides the stealth damage-dealing gameplay style, and the Ranger, which is a ranged damage-dealer that also uses traps to hinder opponents. Finally, the Warrior class, which is mostly melee-oriented, can specialize as a close-combat, damage-dealing Gladiator, or as a tough, tank-type Templar.

Screenshots / Images
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