Monday, July 27, 2009

More Aion Impressions

Aion is the kind of game where you fight things like this:

Sadly, I failed to get a shot of the tog during the most recent beta event. A tog is what you would get if you crossed a wrinkly-faced bulldog with a pig, then hired a manga artist to draw it all cute-like. The effect of something that ugly trying to be cute makes vomit well up in the back of my throat.

For the uninitiated, Aion is an upcoming WoW-alike MMO imported from Asia and currently in beta. It has a Final-Fantasy-meets-softcore-porn aesthetic running beautifully in the Crytekimabob engine (or something impressive-sounding). It plays just like WoW: you hit action buttons to use abilities to slaughter an unending stream of NPCs to steal their armor and complete a string of quests for people with symbols over their heads. The “hook” is that your character has wings, making gliding, free-flight, and airborne combat a central part of the experience – in theory. So far, up to level 14, I have done almost zero flying, as all of the questing areas so far have been ground-bound.

I’m told the flying combat comes into play in the outer zones that border a giant rift between the two halves of the world. Each half is populated by a different faction: the angelic Elyos and the attractive-but-emo Asmodeans.

Having explored the first section of the Asmodean experience as a spear-swinging, plate-wearing Gladiator (Part 1 and Part 2), I spent some time in the most recent beta weekend visiting Elyos and trying a different class, the Scout.

Being another melee class, the Scout plays a lot like the Gladiator did at earlier levels, except the Scout is way squishier. I had to stop to bandage after almost every battle. In return, I got stealth and the ability to stun (via a counterattack). Until you pick a sub-class at level 10 – assassin or ranger – the Scout plays just like an early-level WoW rogue, only instead of combo points you have escalating Chain Techniques where move 2 only becomes available if used immediately after move 1. However, Chains are part of the game for all classes, hardly unique to the Scout. Again, as with the Gladiator, attacks seem only limited by their cooldowns. I didn’t appear to have any energy-like resource to keep track of. I did have a mana bar, but I never saw it move. So far, both melee classes echo the design philosophy of the Retribution Paladin: just hit whichever button lights up!

As you can see, Elyos is much sunnier than Asmodae:
Oooh, pretty! (and keep in mind my computer is crap and playing on low graphics settings)

And the capital city is almost blindingly so:

Yes, I managed to get a character named “Pimpn” in the shot. That’s a photojack.

The Elyos land uses a warm color palette, except for pure reds, which are reserved to keep Asmodae (I’m not going to look up how to spell that, thank you) from being too grey. The monsters I encountered in the first ten levels were mostly different from those in Asmodae, and the quests, while largely variations on the same kill or fetch designs, were at least set in a different storyline.

But sadly, the two worlds are disappointingly similar. The quests are nearly identical. The starting areas are both surrounded by camps of little kobold-type mobs that gather some type of food you have to steal from them. The skins are different colors, and maybe the models are slightly different, but in the end, one tiny fat mole-person is no different from the other 500 you brutally murdered, palette-swap or no palette-swap.

What I’m saying is: there’s not much replay value in the first 10 levels of the game. Nominally, there are only two starting areas. In reality, there’s about 1.5 of them. This isn’t anywhere near damning for the game, given that 1) I loved my first play-through, 2) Many other MMOs only have one or two, including my current favorite non-WoW game, Champions Online, 3) WoWs starting areas are pretty similar to each other when you get right down to it. The similarities are just better masked by the art in WoW. In WoW, you have to stop to think about it to realize how similar the starting zones really are. In Aion, you have to work to avoid noticing how close they are to being identical.

According to these NPCs and my mom, I am super-duper awesome.

Hopefully, this will change in the higher levels, and the endgame PvPvE (apparently raid monsters will attack you during your massive PvP fights?) will make up for the repetitive leveling experience.

There’s another beta weekend coming up, and I plan to try out a caster class and get my Gladiator a little bit higher to see how the game changes as you level. Also, I’ll try to get a picture of a tog so they can haunt your nightmares as they have mine.

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