Updated Thu, Dec 17, 2009 by Medeor
Aion has been out for a few weeks now so the clamor of the launch has settled down to a dull roar. Players seem to be enjoying the game aside from a few issues like the queue and some initial rubber banding. I am one of those enjoying my time in Aion and today we’re going to review what I like to refer to as the biggest surprises in Aion. As most of you know I’ve been neck-deep in World of Warcraft for many years. I have also played most of the other MMOGs on the market and always enjoy something new. When I heard the cries of Aion being a “WoW Clone,” I got all excited. I hoped for a game that took some of the secret sauce of WoW and applied it to their own design. For the most part I’d say that Aion has sampled the secret sauces of multiple games and implemented a fun game with solid gameplay mechanics. Amongst all of the solid mechanics there are some neat little treats that have surprised me during my time in Aion. In no particular order (Dancing with the Stars fans), here is a sampling of the pleasant surprises I’ve found in Aion:
Unlike many other games that hearken to the term WoW clone, Aion does not suck. We are very early in the lifespan of the game and end-game is still a bit of a question, but so far the game is fun and the programming sound. I admit to starting the game with some trepidation, but after the first few weeks I can safely say that I could play this game for extended periods. Unlike some other games that have shipped in the last few years, the incredibly fleshed out gameplay keeps me logging in. See the rest of the surprises to better understand why.
Even though this game is of Asian descent, it has been westernized very well for my tastes. I enjoy the graphic styles and the art direction as well as the amazing overall graphics of the game. But that isn’t the real gem of the game’s appearance, no, the real “goodness” resides in the combat animations.
I can’t believe how fun the combat animations are in this game. It reminds me a bit of Dynasty Warriors without being too over-the-top. Each skill has a different animation and critical strikes feel like critical strikes. My assassin spins like a dual wielding Tasmanian devil lopping off hit points at a blurring rate. I can’t get enough of the actual combat sequences.
Like the invention of indoor plumbing I believe we all enjoy some convenience. Aion has taken this to heart and provided some nifty game mechanics. First and foremost, the quest log works. I don’t need a mod or addon to figure out the level of the quest, the location of the items for the quest or where to turn it in - that’s all included in the standard quest log. The “locate” feature is a great addition.
Another convenience included is the travel system. Between recall points, the flight paths and teleports, Aion does not make travel a chore. I believe this will become essential when it’s time to level up some alts and want to get around the map faster.
The last but certainly not least convenience added into the standard user interface is a simple little button that automatically sorts and stacks your inventory. It’s about 10 pixels wide and yet it does so much.
Aion is a game that invokes some thought surrounding the risk of reward versus the cost of death. At level one death does not matter. At level 10 it starts to sting a little. Death has three impacts, well four actually. The first penalty is experience (XP) debt, as in the loss of XP. Players lose a portion of XP when they die. The XP debt can be forgiven by a “Soul Healer” for a fee. That fee is proportionate to the amount of XP being regained. The prices should not break the bank unless players are truly reckless and then they deserve it. The second impact of death is a brief soul sickness that can last up to a minute (or longer? A minute is the longest I’ve enjoyed). The soul sickness slows the player to a staggering walk and makes attempting battle almost silly. The third impact is the rez point. If a player is not resurrected by another player at their corpse, the player can release and rez back at their last bind point (obelisk). If that now-dead player is not careful, this can be very inconvenient (ask me how I know). Nothing says “insult to injury” like being a level 11 with soul sickness and winding up way back in the starting zone. Again, let’s not discuss how I know this. The fourth impact is the loss of any Divine Power that has accumulated. Divine Power is a second mana type bar that fills through defeating enemies. Once built up it can be unleashed for savage and/or spectacular skills. My own conservative nature comes in when I look at how much my Divine Power bar has moved. If that green bar is full, I'm a bit more cautious - losing a full green bar is quite painful.
Triple or even quadruple ouch!
Death penalties are typically a lightning rod for player joy and angst. Some feel that death penalties (DP, not to be confused with Divine Power) should be quite strict and others feel that any penalty is too strict. From an economic standpoint death can have no impact if you stay alive. Originally I felt as if the DP was similar to a “repair bill” in WoW, except that you don’t pay the soul healer if you don’t die. From that perspective Aion could be very cheap for your in-game wallet. On the other hand, if you do die you can choose not to pay it and just re-earn the XP. Taxing the soul instead of the gear also prevents any types of monkey business of running somewhere sans-gear and not losing any money. The other exploit usually attributed to DPs is using death as a means of travel. With the convenient travel system and recall spell, dying to get somewhere seems to carry too high of a cost in Aion and that’s a good thing.
Aion is a fun game and has some excellent additions for the MMOG market to model. How do you feel about the nifty new parts being added to our genre? Are you as thrilled with them as I am, or do you have others that you think are even better? Let’s discuss in our forums below.