A first look at Aion: The Tower of Eternity

Wings? Yeah, I got 'em.

Aion is not an innovative MMO. Anybody will tell you that.

You have your quest hubs with quest givers who task you with killing everything in the vicinity. Classes start off with four archetypes (scout, mage, priest, and warrior) and split at level 10 into eight subclasses (ranger, assassin, chanter[shaman], cleric, gladiator[berserker], templar[paladin], spiritmaster[mage pet class], and sorceror[wizard]).

And these work exactly as you might expect, in essence. Sure, there’s a whole combo tree where you can buy and equip skills to make devastating combos, but since they kindly have made a one button combo system — you hit the start combo ability, and then hit it again for the next ability in the combo, and so on — you usually aren’t pressing more than a couple of buttons. You never actually stop pressing buttons.

But I don’t really want to get into the mechanics of the game. You can point to pretty much anything in Aion and say, I remember that from World of Warcraft, and this thing is just like it is from EverQuest II, and this feature is totally right out of Lord of the Rings Online.

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That’s the number one thing I have heard about Aion — it’s just like every other game, so why play?

Uncomfortable truth time, folks. Innovation does not do well in the marketplace. Blizzard proved with WoW that you can do without innovation if you give a polished experience and give people what they want.

Aion is so polished that it gleams. Every inch and corner of the place is filled with nice little touches — like the pool in the corner of one of the starter regions (seamless world, of course) that has a dryad there who will leave you alone if you leave her alone. People were gathered at it, probably on some quest I hadn’t gotten, but — it was so immersive.

That picture up above — those massive creatures? The first time I saw them, it was in the distance as I was testing out my wings for the first time. They were so far away, I wasn’t sure if they were weird trees or rock formations or what they were. Somewhat later, a quest sent me to that area and there they were, immense, moving around slightly, they didn’t care about anything but grazing at the river head.

This is the most immersive game since the original EverQuest. Not just because of the graphics — though they are superb, just a little more ethereal than normal and far, far from the cartoony weirdness of WoW. Aion is immersive because every part fits together with every other part. The NPCs move around and inhabit their world, and this is a world worth inhabiting.

And yes, you get to fly.

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Now and then you come to cut scenes — for completing an important quest chain, Ascending to become a Daeva and earning your wings, or remembering how you came to be cast down from Heaven to live among mortals for a time — and they are beautiful, and they make you want to level up and head back into the Abyss to bring the hurt to the creatures that cast you out.

That’s the real meat of Aion. You start out on your own half of this shattered world — the angelic Elyos on the bottom half, the demonic Asmodians on the upper — and between them, at the core, is the Abyss. Ownership of the fortresses in the Abyss shifts according to the PvP battles, and those in control can levy taxes on the merchants in their realms. There is a third, NPC race, native to the Abyss, and they were the ones that shattered the world. I’m not sure if they take part in the faction control, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they aided the weaker faction.

WoW took ideas from Ultima Online, EverQuest (mostly) and Dark Age of Camelot, and made them into a single game that was greater than them all. That’s all Aion is doing here.

And hey, you get to fly. That’s gotta be worth something.

Nightly Blogroll — Though Amaryllis dance edition

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The “Amaryllis” edition stuff? Well, here it is, a warm Spring night, just started writing, and “Though Amaryllis dance in green” comes up on the playlist, and it just seemed to fit the mood so well…

And re: the banner, well, Atlus’ newly revamped MMO import NeoSteam closed its Open Beta today to relaunch soon as a real live game. Rumor has it that characters from both the closed and open betas will carry through to the live game, so if you’ve a yen to play a fairly standard fantasy grinder with PvP and a light industrial flair, give it a shot.

Aion had its first closed beta this last weekend, where players were invited to join the lighter side of Aion’s warring factions. Aion has been passing out beta keys like they were Reese’s Pieces at an ET convention and though absolutely thoroughly detailed information about the beta is easy to come by, only Ravious of Kill Ten Rats is Daeva enough to blog about it. But then, he got permission (and I am trying to!). His take? Highly polished but standard gameplay, with the ease of the first ten levels no indication that there is no grind to come.

I find it hard to disagree with anything he wrote.

It’s not so much that your game has standard classes, it’s what the players want. It’s what you do with them. Gordon at We Fly Spitfires (note: I would love to fly in a Spitfire) writes about his favorite MMO classes from games past and present. Beastlord? Yes, please!

Out of all the blog posts this weekend about people’s experiences with Sims 3, Ogrebears’ is my favorite. You just KNOW that he’s a rebel, in his leather jacket and emerald skin, sitting at the school lunch table without a care as the girls go crazy for him.

Lots of people agree that the biggest problem with playing MMOs is having to play them with other people. When you’re solo, you can start and stop when you like and you always get first roll on all the loot. And you don’t have to deal with other people’s problems. Melmoth from Killed in a Smiling Accident asks, with game after game turning to NPCs to fill out your groups — will there be something you miss, after all, when all the other players disappear?

A month or so ago, Mythic called ex-Warhammer players back to the fold with an email detailing the exciting changes available for your exact character, name included. Now they’ve sent out another letter which mines your friends list so you can see which of your friends is still “carrying the banner”.

Is it cool or creepy to get such personalized email? I can’t wait to get an email saying, “Wow, bummer that you lost your job. Did you know that these day-time guilds are recruiting your class?”

WAR may be war everywhere, all the time, killing and more killing, but not all games promise that as their sole focus. EverQuest 2, for instance, has separate paths for adventurers and crafters, and crafters even have dungeon instances of their own (hint: you defeat the enemy by crafting). Ysharros and her hubby have been spending a lot of time doing the harvesting and crafting quests and enjoying the uber rewards. Who needs to kill dragons when you could be mining feysteel?

With over two million players, you never know who you’ll find wandering around in Wizard 101. Thomas has an interview with Terry Dietz, a sculptor who is slowly cataloging the wizards and fauna of the game in polymer clay. Absolutely amazing work!

Now that SOE is axing underperforming MMOs, which is next to go? Ardwulf has been tipping his toe in the pool where Openedge1 usually swims, and is looking to see if XFire can answer which games are teetering on the edge. It’s not looking good for Pirates of the Burning Sea and Planetside, but Vanguard might just sneak through.

Syp takes a look at how adding a simple travel power like Super Jump to a hero in City of Heroes adds an entirely new dimension to the game, and wonders why other games don’t let you do truly heroic things like that? Could super jump (and stuff like that) be the missing ingredient to making ordinary adventurers into heroes?

And lastly, Anjin has a complete run-down of what we’ll see in Free Realms’ future. Soccer/football? Yes, please! Prestige classes? Sounds EXCELLENT! Here’s hoping SOE fixes my account so I can play again :)

See you tomorrow on the Tuesday Nightly Blogroll!

The Players of Aion

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The NDA for Aion prevents me from saying anything specific about the game; press doesn’t face these same limitations, so you can read some impressions at Massively and other places, and I’ll give my own impressions when I can. Having an NDA when there’s a million people playing is kinda weird, but I’ll stand by the agreement I clicked upon.

But there’s no NDA that tells me I can’t talk about the players.

Take one step into the world of Aion, and from that moment on, you’re an expert player. All your years playing MMOs has prepared you for this moment, and nothing you encounter will give you a moment’s hesitation. By the end of the preview Sunday, many characters were fairly high level, guilds had been set up and there was a rough hierarchy of achiever guilds vs casual, friend-based guilds.

Every quest hub had player vendors hawking their wares, competing with each other on price and selection and in most cases, using work-arounds in order to get profanity through the filters and into their advertising message “come here for the best sheet”.

There were the soloers, there were the two-three person groups, and there were the full groups already tearing into the tougher content most players won’t see for awhile.

That’s Aion, the game you already know how to play. And because it’s so familiar, it’s extremely enticing. When I logged off Sunday, it’s because the game had grown concerned that I had spent so much time online.

More when the NDA drops.