Back before launch I played in the beta of Aion. At the time I didn’t find the experience compelling enough to pay full price for the client at launch (and, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t it come out somewhere around the same time as Warhammer, which I did get at launch?) but I always meant to check the game out when I could get a good deal on it.
During the big holiday sale, Steam offered Aion for $10, so I finally took the plunge. I have to say after all I’d heard (or not heard) about Aion since it launched, my expectations were pretty low.
The first (potential) challenge facing new Aion players is NCSoft’s byzantine support system. After installing I found I couldn’t log in. Their knowledge base had no answers and while I did open a support ticket, in an attempt to get faster help I headed to the official forums. I got some ideas there but when I tried to post a message I was told I couldn’t post unless I linked my forum account with a character name. Well since I couldn’t log in, I didn’t have any character names, ergo I couldn’t ask for help on the forums.
This is a small thing but generally speaking I’ve had terrible luck with NCSoft’s account management. In my support ticket I included a ton of information, including my ISP, my router name and model, the name of my anti-virus program and the information that I had turned it off as well as shutting down my firewall for testing. The next day I got a response (so points for timeliness) and the first questions they asked me were who my ISP was, had I tried turning off my anti-virus, etc, etc. It’s so frustrating when it becomes clear that support people can’t take the time to read your support request.
Anyway, this is a blog post about Aion, isn’t it? Sorry for the sidetrack.
It turns out the problem was with their servers or something. (A tracert to their authorization servers was dying about 15 hops down the line from me.) Since then I’ve had no problems.
I’d been playing my pet-using mage in Rift and having fun with it so I decided to go Mage in Aion too. I’d go with the Spiritmaster class when I hit 10. Aion’s leveling progression has you as a base class for the first 9 levels, then at level 10 you “ascend” and get your wings (literally) and pick a final class.
Levels 1-9 were familiar to me from the beta; that’s the problem with tightly scripted quest lines that have to be run through on more than one character. However they were a bit more challenging and interesting (at least towards the end) when there weren’t crowds of people doing them.
I’d forgotten how lovely the art style of Aion is (well to me at least). Screenshots can’t capture the whole experience; animals make some really interesting sounds too. And sometimes silly ones, like the patter of their feet. This is very much an Eastern game. When a mob notices you, there’s a Metal-Gear like “plink!” sound accompanied by a ! over the mob’s head.
That said, the gameplay in these levels really isn’t anything special. It isn’t bad, just very familiar. The one interesting mechanic are spell chains; cast Ice Spell 1 followed by Ice Spell 2 and get a bonus effect. Unfortunately this happens automatically. When you case Ice Spell 1 the icon then changes to that of Ice Spell 2. There’s no way to cast Ice Spell 1 twice in a row and then Ice Spell 2 (unless there’s a setting somewhere). If part 2 of a chain is off cool-down, that’s what’ll fire.
I’d been playing Rift before I jumped into Aion, and ironically enough, Rift felt more polished than Aion did, just in tiny details. Aion was a bit laggy and I saw other players rubber-banding around a few times. Jumping feels clunky. You can get hung up on the terrain pretty easily when you’re just trying to jump over a small obstacle. There’re places with invisible walls between an object and a geometry wall (for instance when trying to hug the wall of a canyon, if there’s a tree growing a few feet from the wall, you can’t go between the tree and the canyon wall) and some sloppy combat feedback at times (if a mob is slowed by a spell, when it dies you get feedback that its speed has returned to normal). None of these are deal breakers but they just seem like issues that should’ve been ironed out in the time since release.
Finally at level 9 I Ascended and remembered why I hadn’t played Aion at launch. After a semi-epic battle at the end of the 1-9 quest chains you get your wings and…become an errand boy. You’ll spend the next hour or so running around the Sanctum (or whatever the other side’s main city is called) doing FedEx quests which are, I suspect, intended to force you to learn how to get around the city. In general the city is too big and too empty. I find myself jumping from one end to the other and having nothing at all to do in the middle except run through it. I was already frustrated by this when I noticed something that wasn’t in beta: a teleport system to jump you across the city. If you play, find it and use it!
Just to give you a feel for how Eastern and grind-happy the game is, there’s one quest to take an item from 1 NPC to another that can be repeated 100 times for some special reward. I did it 3 times and never wanted to look at these NPCs again.
Another problem is this:
The word “Mythrazil” is my character name floating in space. But in amongst that mass of player names and guild tags are 3 NPCs in a different shade of bluish-green (or greenish-blue?). If you know where you’re going this isn’t a problem but for a noob looking for a specific NPC this is a real PITA. Aion also uses character item shops so in some places all you’ll see is a mass of characters sitting around with sales pitches floating over their heads. Thanks to Aion’s dwindling population this isn’t as bad as it was in beta but I still dislike these schemes.
When you finally beam down to the planet to go back to adventuring, you’ll realize just how low on the Ascended totem pole you are now. Your first tasks will be to kill crustaceans and turtles and even inert blocks of rock. IIRC this was where I bailed in beta. This time out I pushed on and once you get past those first few quests things start getting a little more interesting.
One of Aion’s big hooks was the ability to fly. So far I haven’t done a lot of that so I can’t comment much on it. It’s fun though. 🙂
The last thing I wanted to talk about is the community. When you first enter an established and potentially struggling game like Aion, you tend to feel like a real stranger. There’re all kinds of vernacular and game systems that I still don’t really understand, and listening to the chat going back and forth is like listening to another language. It’s like crashing a party or something.
There’s clearly some kind of appearance armor system in play since I saw tons of different ‘styles’ of outfit. Everything from typical fantasy gear with huge glowy weapons, to characters in very mundane gear that look liked they just walked in off the set of The Sims or something. Doing all my FedEx quests in the Sanctum was made somewhat more interesting just via people watching.
One thing I haven’t noticed is a lot of spam. In fact I haven’t noticed a General channel at all (maybe its off by default) but there are Trade and LFG channels that get plenty of traffic and it seems fairly ‘orderly.’ I’ve had invitations to Duel a few times but so far no whispers to buy gold or anything like that.
All in all, my time in Aion has been pleasant. Is that damning with faint praise? The world and creatures in it are interesting even if the combat system is (so far) fairly average. I don’t think I’ll stick around long enough to get to the PvPvE stuff that kicks in at level 25, but for my $10 I’m having fun. If you can get a similar deal and feel the urge to be an MMO tourist for a week or so, I’d say go for it.