NCsoft has released a mysterious video for Aion showcasing its future plans for the MMO. The new features and graphical improvements strongly suggest plans for game updates or, more likely, the game's first expansion pack.
You can watch the epic, nine-minute trailer, titled Aion Vision, on Eurogamer TV now.
The only official comment on the video is an oblique message from NCsoft on the YouTube posting. "The future of Aion - revealed!" the message says. "Your dreams and your imagination becomes [sic] reality. With innovation Aion will make your imagination reality. Aion's future will be your dreams made real."
The trailer shows a significantly upgraded graphics engine, especially in the lighting and shadowing department, with bloom, HDR and "god ray" effects in evidence. All of this indicates that NCsoft has significantly moved on the game's CryEngine 1 tech base.
Weather is shown affecting the landscape, as rain floods a forest and snow settles and melts in a village. Swimming and water combat, not currently included in Aion, are shown, as well as luscious new underwater zones featuring magical air bubbles on the sea floor where the player can rest. In another sequence, player characters are seen riding a boat across rolling waves.
Mounts and mounted combat - both new to Aion - are shown, as player characters train Chocobo-style bird mounts and ride huge dinosaurs into battle. Elaborate new combo attacks and spells are demonstrated for various classes, and there's some remarkable aerial combat footage which appears to show flak and missile attacks.
Player housing is on the cards, going by the footage of a picturesque house being built and furnished, and several of these being placed in a town area.
Throughout, the video conjures up an epic scale, as players battle enormous boss monsters, run alongside giant whales surfacing from an ocean of sand, and fly past stone giants striding across the landscape.
It's all very cinematic, and one wonders how far removed some of the more spectacular scenes are from what's possible in an MMO framework, although it does all appear to have been done in-engine. The art and animation assets are certainly highly developed.
The video could be interpreted as an answer to Blizzard's plans to renovate World of Warcraft with the Cataclysm expansion next year. However, it's not clear whether these improvements are to be expected in one free update, several updates, a paid expansion pack or across all of the above - nor how soon we can expect to see any of it in Aion.
Considering that new zones, new player skills and housing are shown alongside the graphical overhaul, an expansion pack seems most likely. Although Aion only launched in September in North America and Europe, it has been live in Korea for over a year, so work on an expansion could be relatively far advanced.