Aion: First Weekend Thoughts and Impressions

Aion was released last week, and despite my being in the EU headstart, I only managed to put some significant time into it this weekend. I’m not really sure why I felt the need to purchase Aion. I’m very happy with LotRO as my main MMO, and this would be the case even without the imminent release of Siege of Mirkwood.

I think a couple of things sold Aion to me. The first being the promise of exploring a new and pretty CryENGINE rendered world. The second was not wanting to miss out on the excitement of a new MMO launch. Heck, even AoC and WAR, despite their myriad launch issues, were massive amounts of fun in the first couple of weeks, mostly due to the novelty of the experience and the vibrancy of their busy worlds.

Busy, busy, busy

Busy, however, is a subjective term, as Aion has made me realise. Never have I seen so many hundreds of MMO players crammed into the same places on a regular basis. While this is likely a consequence of having just a single leveling path for each of the 2 factions, busy zones are regularly instanced into multiple channels to mitigate congestion, with each channel as heaving as the last.

It’s difficult not to be impressed by the scale of Aion’s launch, even if that does have a downside for most players – while with last year’s big releases, Funcom and Mythic took the approach of launching with a sufficient number of servers to ensure that the initial player rush was more or less contained, NCSoft are seemingly deliberately trying to squeeze too many players onto too few servers, as evidenced by ubiquitous login queues.

NCSoft obviously expect the initial player rush to subside as the ‘WoW tourists’ succumb to their homesickness, and in a desire to avoid the costs and negative publicity associated with closing superfluous servers, they’ve chosen instead to subject their initial players to login queues. Although frustrating for many, it’s probably the right decision.

Those that enjoy the game and plan to stick around will endure the queues, as was proven in the early days of WoW. Those that are likely not to stick around will probably make their decision based on their game experience, not their queue experience, providing they can actually get into the game, of course!

I’m guessing that in a few weeks time, login queues are likely to become a rare occurrence, or at least much less severe. By then, the majority of launch players will have the measure of Aion, and great swathes of them will have realised that the game just isn’t for them. This isn’t because Aion is a bad game. In fact, it’s a beautiful, extremely polished and fully featured MMORPG.

Beyond the queues

What Aion isn’t though, is a more enjoyable leveling game than WoW, and while the PvPvE end-game might well be truly unique and revolutionary, I doubt that the early and mid-game is compelling enough to inspire your typical WoW player to work their way through to that wonderful end-game. Even those players that do find Aion’s leveling engaging are unlikely to find it compelling or different enough to neglect the social ties they have made elsewhere for long.

The classes too are fairly uninspired. You get all the typical MMORPG archetypes: tank, melee DPS, sneaky assassin, bow-wielding ranger, glass-cannon mage, pet class mage, pure healer & buff-focussed healer/DPS hybrid. This would be more tolerable if the classes had new and varied mechanics to make them interesting, but instead, all we seem to get is a straightforward chaining mechanic.

I rolled a Chanter, which is the healer/DPS/buffer hybrid, and at level 16 all I have are half a dozen fire-and-forget buffs, a couple of heals, a nuke, and a few chain related melee attacks. Similarly to the chap that reviewed the game over at Eurogamer, a typical round of combat consists of a predictable sequence of button presses until a mob is dead. Ok, the same charge could be levelled at most MMORPGs, but never have I found it so conspicuous as in Aion.

I’ve also dabbled somewhat with the crafting, and with this being the first Asian MMO I’ve spent any significant time with, it helped me develop an appreciation of just how much grind is tolerated in that corner of the world. I’d hate to imagine what a non-Westernised Asian MMORPG must be like!

Wish you were here

I guess I fall squarely into the Middle-Earth tourist demographic, becauseĀ  while I’ve certainly enjoyed my time with Aion this weekend, I kind of wish I’d had the same idea as Spinks and just scratched my curiosity itch in the beta. Actually, I did plan to make use of my pre-order beta access, but I ran into a worryingly common control-related omission that prevented me from playing until the launch patch was implemented.

However, I do not begrudge having given NCSoft my cash. I am likely to have as many fun hours out of Aion as I would a typical single player game (the gliding-as-shortcut alone has provided much entertainment), and my small contribution to Aion’s launch success will hopefully play its part in inspiring further development, and ultimately competition, in the MMORPG space. A significant number of WoW tourists may even decide to emigrate, and whenever Blizzard is forced to abandon some of its complacency, we all benefit.

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One Response to “Aion: First Weekend Thoughts and Impressions”

  1. Longasc Says:

    I would like to add something to the combat sequences and classes. They are very well balanced for group and mass pvp. The pvp balance puts Blizzard to shame, but nobody ever seems to bash Blizzard for that.

    The thing is, most Aion mobs have two white dots – this means ideal for two people. Various classes demand different ways to combat a mob, and all benefit when grouping with someone else. While soloing is still not impossible, but Gladiator+Chanter is more than the sum of its parts.

    Aion is not just repetitive button mashing. The combat needs time to get more complex, maybe too long for most of us used to our kind of MMO design. I found the most significant upgrade to the combat abilities of my Gladiator were the Ankle Snare and the 3-step-AoE KD combo at level 28. Before level 30 flying in the Abyss is no fun due to the very limited flight time, too.

    Now compare that to my Warlock and my Paladin. I dare to say even the generic Aion Warrior level 4 beats a Paladin level 11 in WoW. And the combos of Sorcerers and Gladiators put the Shadowbolt-1-button-rotation or the Incinerate-Conflag rotations of Warlocks totally to shame, while often needing less buttons, hence the “button mashing” accusation, but it works very nicely in a pvp environment.

    The sad thing is that Aion might be one of the pinnacles of Asian massive open world pvp, but it is still a grinder with mobs that look very alien and odd to westerners. You pay Kinah for everything, death really hurts. You can die a lot if pugging certain instances, one of my Cleric friends has 1.000.000 Kinah rez cure fees already. She is grinding so much for drops that her level rises, and if she dies, she pays even more rez costs…^^ Around level 30 it is ~20.000 Kinah. At 32 I already pay 24.000.

    The quests are so generic that it almost hurts, but questing in both story, writing and what you actually do (K10R) is not at the heart of this game anyways.

    I am hugely disappointed that there is no more world to this game. Grind and PvP alone make the game a beautiful shell. Imagine the game clients in the hands of Blizzard or Turbine, now this would be a really cool marriage of east & west.

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