Wednesday, May 20

Aion review: Familiar faces

This is going to be my "Eurogamer Review" of Aion.
By which I mean to say I really didn't put in enough hours to write a decent one with any kind of authority but I'm going to do one nonetheless.
The upside to this is that it's likely to spur on Geeky to go and write a really good one debunking all my mistakers and errors in the process. Two for two so to speak :-)

Some caveats:
The review is based upon my experiences with the Chinese version of the game with a bootleg EN L10N pack, which means (besides there not being skeletons in graveyards but burrowing beetles instead) that I had horrible lag throughout my testing.
Also, I haven't played so far that I got my Wings. My highest level Asmodean is level 8 now, pretty close I suspect.
And finally I may be tweaking the lay-out of this post after publication.

On to the actual review!

The first thing you notice about the game is the login screen, which seems vaguely familiar. Let me just get right through it. Several years ago NCSoft decided to start work on a third installment of the Lineage franchise. About two years into that project, a major chunk of the game's source code was stolen. Unlike Valve NCSoft saw this as such a disastrous stroke that they abandonded the L3 project. However, the L3 team wasn't scratched but went on to work on an MMO using a completely new IP. This is Aion.

Throughout my trials and turbulations within the world of Aion I could not help but feel this game is really a more pollished version of Lineage II. And I mean that in a good way by the way. In much the same way that Vanguard can often feel like an EverQuest III, except without the extra pollish that Aion has.

Character Creation:

It starts at character creation where you can pick from Archtype classes much the same way. Warrior, Scout, Mage and Priest. Ok, exactly like Lineage II. The Scout, my first choice for a character, can specialize into an Assassin or a Ranger. The boys from NCSoft even added a few very familiar faces to the 20 or so default "mugshots" you can pick from.

Beyond that, you have tons and tons of customization options. Some 40 odd hairdo's 20 "Faces" and thirty facial element sliders. There's a bunch of body sliders as well, with the Booby Slider divided into chest and torso sliders. Go knock yourself out. All the thumbnails on the left are linked to full size versions, so take a peek if you will.

Since there's only one race, very little information is provided in that regard. You do get some basic information on the statisitcs of each class. Since there are absolutely no surprises there, I won't bore you with them.

The Interface:

With most games, I immediately start looking for means to modify the Interface. Something is always not where I want it. So it is with Aion.
The first pleasant suprise though was how elegant yet minimalistic it looked. You can tell they spent effort to make it so that it detracts as little as possible from your viewing pleasure, yet when you become aware of the UI, it's not ugly either. The second surprise of the sort was that the game comes with two "HUD Options" out of the box. One where most Info is at the top and one where it's at the bottom. The nasty surprise is that I now have pretty much summed up all the customizations options now. There's still some minor tweaking you can do, but this is definately not a western style MMO (read WOW clone) with a LAU (Luai?) XML derived moddable interface. WHich makes sense for an RvR game.

As I said before, I haven't been able to truly spread my wings in the game yet, so I can't tell yet whether or not the UI 'works' while in flight.

NPC Dialogue is pretty standard, with big clear "buttons" to click to progress through the dialogue. You have to click them though, no pressing 1,1,1 then read the tracker. I like how the Quest tracker works. When you get a new job, it'll flash for 10 seconds during which you can decide whether to put it on there permanently or let it fade.
The latter is liable to happen with "Kill ten Reds" quests. For the more "complex" quests the tracker provides a good amount of information.
Having Quest / NPC locations show on your minimap takes some work and feels a bit clunky, going through several popup windows. However, this means you tend to spend more time looking on your own rather than following the breadcrumb trail which isn't actually in there. And that's a Good Thing™

Combat & Gameplay:

Combat, for the Rogue anyway, is somewhere in between Lineage II's click-your-macro-and-go-make-some-coffee and Western Style 4 Skillbarr click fests. although the game provides you with 4 optional skillbars, so this may end up being more Western than classic Korean.
Skills are bought and have the usual level requirements. I did like that there's a high level of passive skills. I also saw the beginning of some rudimentary combo's or "Chain Skills" as they're called. I haven't progressed beyond a basic one so how complex they become is unknown to me. I did get the impression it's more along the lines of EverQuest II's "Heroics" than more involved systems like Age of Conan or LotRO's Warden Gambits. But I may be proven wrong.

Talking about Skillbars reminds me of another way that this game keeps whispering "Lineage III", Emotes work exactly the same as in Lineage II. Down to the icons being higher resolution versions of the same. Makes sense though.

The Graphics:
Graphics wise the game has progressed way beyond Lineage II of course. The Character Models look like they spent a year and a half just on those. Oh, running animations and a lot of the combat moves, not to mention armor and weapon looks, will give L2 veterans de-ja-vu.

In fact, the Character Models are so good they stand out from the background a bit too much on occasion.
The landscape, while heavily "localized" to the world's setting, reminds me a lot of Elder Scrolls 3: Oblivion without the grasses. The Models are of Age of Conan quality though. This isn't a problem while you're moving around as stuff moves to fast to really notice. It's not much of a problem when standing still either, but on screenshots the difference can become telling. I actually checked whether I was running on lower quality settings for environment a few times. Nope. All sliders set to max.

The upside of this is of course performance, something that's important in an RvR game, and probably a boon to fast moving flight as well. So it's not that much of a biggy. Only a rambling perfectionist like myself would deign to notice it :-)

The World:

For some reason I can't find it in me to get into the world's background. Heck, I keep calling it "the world" for a reason...
I've been playing Asmodean as that's what the Mutants are on and I do get the impression NCSoft worked hard at making them a real race with their own psychology that not quite bad, but more mercenary like and Yankee style resource depleting scavenger/stripmining mentality. (Sorry Yanks, but you did do that for years on end). The same was done for the other race I understand.
But it's still oriental Shiny Happy People versus Goths.

In stead I enjoyed noticing how the game may be Lineage III in tons of ways, there's also several differences. NCSoft is clearly aiming at the Final Fantasy market, meaning lots of cute antropomorphic creatures.

Again, this is a smart thing. Lineage II is so big in Korea they can have dating shows on TV where participants are drawn from the L2 Playerbase pool. Aion looks set to be directly competing with NCSoft's previous flagship game. Aiming at the predominantly Japanese market of FFXI Online makes a great deal of sense. Especially since Sony's repeatedly dropping the ball on that end. SOE's attempts to fix that are still a year or so off. Still I wonder how Aion's success in the East has affected L2 player numbers there.

The game will definately have a bigger appeal to Western players than L2 did. Mostly because it's more pollished and accessible. I doubt it'll be a WOW killer though. If the RvR ends up being more meaningful than WAR''s is it'll do better than that game I warrant. It's not a game for the Hardcore PvP crowd I bet. Those people are better of trying to get into Darkfall I suspect.

Caveat to my caveats, I have a sneaky suspicion that this lag wasn't caused by network issues but by the combination of Aion's use of Gameguard and my (experimental) Windows 7 version of Kaspersky. The latter employs heuristic scanning along with signature matching and this tends to bite with things like Gameguard which is essentially a spyware program used for "good" purposes.
Since games that use things like Gameguard have immutable laws where Gameguard lagging means you have to wait for Gameguard to approve your attack (30 second delays sometimes) no such restrictions apply to the NPC's. This means I die a lot when I shouldn't. I hope this is fixed before a Western launch or that nobody realizes both the Gameguard & Anti-virus processes are spiking when you lag, or this may be a very detrimental thing for NCSoft's chances at another MMO success.


  1. Another nice glance into Aion. Although I only played Lineage II for a month or so, it had a lot of nice things going for it. So your review should be pushing me to try it out too. But I am still a bit wary. The blue skin of the characters and the fluffy animals do scare me off a bit. I don't really know what I want to hear. Maybe I should stop thinking to much and just start enjoying another beautiful shiny world.

  2. Check out my Aion Gallery at Picasa. At the end you'll find a few Elyos (Eloi imo) faces. They're not blue skinned. Neither are all the Asmodians. As you can see from the Skin Color options here. Nor do you need to have pointy ears. The blue skinned pointy ear look in some of the screenies in the post above were to demonstrate the resemblance to L2. What with L2's dark elves being its most distinctive looking race :-)

    Having said that, L2 is much more Old Skool Hardcore than Aion. Aion is very Post-WOW Pollish and accessibility.

  3. Oh, you do have to choose some good and some bad.
    Asmodians get to kill the cute furries, but a lot of them do have blue/gray skins. Elyos don't have the skin problem but more of the cloying cuteness. :-)

  4. I won't comment too much as I have plans for a long review myself, I will say though that lag has never been a problem for myself, nor for a few others in the guild while others have the horrendous problems you speak of, it sounds more like a location and route issue ? No expert on these things :) Those reporting problems now didnt have any on the previous region.

    I was not happy when I saw gameguard is used but so far haven't had any problems at all with any interference with my anti-virus and anti-spyware software, which TBH has really surprised me.

  5. You've made some very valid comments there, I'll expand on those from further into the game, currently hit 20 expecting to have entered the Abyss and the 'real game' by the time this trial is over.

    The Chinese version is V1, Korea has V1.5, I expect the western market will get the latest version on release which includes more quest content and higher xp rewards than we are seeing on the Chinese version.

  6. I suspect that in addition to the 1.5 version we'll get a Westernized version. As mentioned, Chinese has a problem with Skeletons.I still wonder how Blizzard tackled that one on Wrath of the Lich King. Koreans and Weterners seem to think no game is complete without them.

    Not to thrilled about the bigger XP rewards. Kinda feel they're too big as it is. I did notice another difference between Aion and Lineage II in that there's no repeatable Kill 50 critters quests. Also gear isn't quite everything as it is in L2. So maybe Aion is closer to third gen than L2 afterall.

  7. P.s. Geek. I would love to know what AV you're using.
    Routes are a definite possibility. If one of the nodes my connection comes by is fscked up it delays everything. Doesn't explain the spikes in CPU power on both AV and Gameguard though.
    I haven't installed ethereal or pingplotter yet on my new pc. I'll do so in a bit to find out where the servers are (using ethereal) then checking where the lag occurs (pingplotter)

  8. AV = AVG

    Quest rewards are often less than the equivalent from time spent killing mobs which people have a problem with.

    When you get into later levels there are repeatable kill x amounts of critter quests which reward coins , not Aion currency Kena (sp?), but single coins of different types. The coins can then be traded in as either multiples of 2 or 4 of one type for a random reward, the random nature of the reward means it's a risk, I did a bit of grind to see what I got and for the 4 coin reward I got a rather nice staff, just a shame I can't use staffs....The quests can be repeated up to 100 times and are a big time sink.

    After reaching level 10 you would have also come across the fed-ex repeatable quest from the portal NPC in the capital city, theres a few more littered around in various outposts, purely optional, no faction system involved.

  9. oh Skeletons - they definately exist in abundance on the Elyos side in a post lvl 20 area along with a rather laughable 'wounded ghost' who would randomly spawn wielding it's head on a chain.

    I'm unaware of the Chinese cultural issue with skeletons, I'll have to investigate that now :)

  10. I see rather than a cultural issue it's a 'government issue', being a Necro in the game world I've always found them harmonious :)

  11. Added three more screenies of my Ascension battle.