Sunday, September 13, 2009

Aion Beta Analysis and Player Reactions

Players' responses are mostly positive to NCSoft's Aion: Tower of Eternity open beta for the US and Europe.

The Art

Most players are finding Aion's graphics appealing, and it's more than just the Cryengine it's built on. The world is pretty, the characters are customizable, and the effects are smartly finished. However some players have found the art style a bit generic, a problem that has plagued Korean games for some time. The common complaint is that this style is mostly technique and not enough genuine creativity.

My own opinion is that there's more to Aion's art than the standard Korean style. While it may be reminiscent of NCSoft's previous MMO, Guild Wars, it features more flares of evocative art. It particularly excels in the design of the enemies and fauna that populate the world. Although I'm not sure that it properly sells the fanciful layout of that world, which is made up of two halves of a planet facing each other. The other half is visible in the sky, but is perhaps not prominent enough to be convincing.

The Hiccups

The US/European open beta has benefited greatly from the year of polishing the game spent in Korea. Aside from initial server or router issues that caused unplayable lag, it's been a long time since a beta offered an experience that felt so complete and refined.

Building or Borrowing?

As a long time MMORPG vet, I appreciate that the game assumes that this is not my first. By level five, my scout character was nearly as involved as an average MMO's level 30, stringing together dynamic combos and employing varied techniques for different enemies. As a result, there are many complaints about the game's difficulty, but there appears to be less than for Champions Online -- likely because Aion is far more traditional.

The game does suffer a bit from "more of the same" syndrome, as it does not stray far from the standard MMORPG mold. Starting on the Elyos side, the amount of time it took me before I had to kill my first boar for a beleaguered farmer was approximately three to five minutes. And the game strictly adheres to the auto attack + skill bar formula.

Ye Olde Quests

The weakest aspect of the game is perhaps the quest structure. The sort of quests found in this game could have been thrilling for gamers in the early part of this decade, but now they feel dated. They lack the flare and color of the average Champions Online quest. Aion does, however, feature a more involved main-line of quests, but even they feel a bit dry at times.

Fans of free-grinding will be happy to hear that killing enemies without quests yields markedly better experience than in most other MMORPGs.

8 Classes

There are four archetypes for the player to choose from at the start. As expected they are the standard: warrior, scout, mage, priest. At level 10, a player ascends and is able to choose between two career paths, effectively giving the game 8 classes.

I've never been a fan of branching classes. Even if you want classes to share a few basic skills, you can begin to differentiate them at the lowest levels by mixing in unique skills. Branching classes can discourage replay, as players are unable to immediately jump into a distinct new experience. But in Aion's defense, the game weaves the branch into the storyline in an amusing fashion.

I can Fly! Sort of...

The flight system is a welcomed addition, but feels a bit clumsy, requiring five keys to operate. I had trouble finding the right buttons to bind that didn't eat away at possible skill hotkeys. And don't expect to fly everywhere, because it's not allowed in many areas of the game.

The game seems to have won over many of the testers right away, but its continued success will depend on its endgame and PVP, as it does with any MMORPG.

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