Aion: The Tower of Eternity Reader Review
If there's one thing that seems to sell, it is the promise of unbelievably attractive women. Let us run by a few examples here - World of Warcraft almost exploded (and still does) when Blood Elves were put in, with females who were nothing short of very pretty. Fighting games do it all the time, I mean, would SoulCalibur or Dead or Alive be half as interesting without the jiggle and bounce of Sophitia and Kasumi? And let us not forget the grand lady of boobs in games, good old Lara. Still flogs units even when the game itself is shockingly crap.
Aion makes no secret of the fact that - whichever side you choose - the ladies always seem to look stunning. It's a Korean MMO that revels in being very pretty, and having the player characters look even prettier. It is very customisable, of course, but unless you are going out of your way with the sliders to make the most bizarre proportioned person in the known universe, all the characters are pretty. This is a pretty game. The girls all have boobs and the guys all have muscles in the right places.
But of course, it is easy to be drawn in by fancy graphics, gorgeous locales and skirts so short that not even Kate Moss would be seen dead walking down the catwalk in them. Aion is still an MMORPG - this means it has to be compelling on the way up, and hold the interest when you are up there so it can milk your wallet for every single penny. And it may be on both points that Aion, despite how pretty it is, could lose a lot of goodwill.
Aion is set in a world divided by the destruction of The Tower of Eternity. On one side, the Elyos grew in the light and prospered, gaining an ego and claiming they were the chosen ones. On the other, the Asmodians grew in a dark world, inhospitable and cruel. They hate the Elyos, what they have become, and fight for control of The Abyss - the void in between the world, of strategical importance as the world itself is dying. The survival of one side means the destruction of the other. Fairly standard plot stuff that I can condense down into one paragraph, go nutshells go.
The Abyss is important, as you cannot avoid it, and this is where PvP comes into play. So like it or not, you'll always in this game come into contact with PvP in some form. The game is structured to prepare you on the way up for this, and it does so reasonably well. But if you prefer your PvP to be by choice, or would rather avoid it altogether, this is probably going to annoy and put off many people.
As for the mechanics, it is easy to get confused. Aion on the surface seems to be quite like World of Warcraft, okay it does drop in a lot of abilities that seem to have little purpose (healing can be done for free by just resting for 10 seconds, instead of spending countless piles of cash on healing reagents) but it doesn't weigh you down like Age of Conan. What it doesn't prepare you for, and assumes you'll pick up, is Dynamic Combat - where movement is encouraged with various benefits. Step towards your foe whilst attacking, you'll do more damage but take more. Take a step back, your parry goes up but your attack power goes down. And sidestepping and strafing increases evasion but lowers power and defense a little. This is something the game assumes you'll know, and as soon as you are out of the beginner zones and into the meat of the game it does require some skill to really farm and grind consistantly. Of course, despite all this, there is no real penalty for just standing still either as long as you remember to heal yourself often enough.
The problem with Aion - good design, good graphics and good music aside - is the community. Yes, you. The person who is now formulating a plan to stick me on a pike. The problem is simple - the userbase has got it into their heads that Aion is "hardcore". It's a purists game, with less gimmicks and more grind and adventure - what an MMO should be. And I'm sorry, but Aion is about as hardcore as My Little Pony. And I'll explain why too.
First of all, hardcore isn't really a title to be proud of. It symbolises not the difficulty of a game but the rabid tendancies of its userbase who will play nothing else. Aion is a little early in the day to be claiming that no-one will be tempted back to previous MMOs. Secondly, Aion isn't difficult. It's just grind on top of grind on top of grind on top of grind. The storylines are good but if you're going to craft, welcome to a whole new world of pain, boredom and strife. Crafting in Aion is the single worst aspect of the game, and of any MMO I've played in a very long time. It is horrendous, it's grindy and dull and tedious and actually, in truth, hideously expensive in any form. So if you're going to try and level your craft skills from the off, you're going to be in for a shock. It does offer some compensation in the form of "work orders", but only the first beginner one is free. As it ramps up, you need to buy differing reagents and it very quickly starts to add up. And when you want to make useful stuff, welcome to "What the Flux?" - where they ask you to go out into the world, find specific mobs, grind them for multiple fluxes and then traipse back to your city and craft, with no guaranteed superior quality item even if you have invested a lot of time into your skill. Crafting in Aion is hopeless, and when you consider the grind needed to get materials is likely to net you plenty of gear drops in the process, the question is - why is it so prohibitively difficult to do for such little return?
The final kick in the teeth for Aion is the userbase claiming a game to be hardcore from the off basically alienates a large part of your audience. And it isn't hardcore. Raiding and instancing isn't hardcore - I'm sorry, but you learn a fight and the pattern and click buttons in a set order. That's not hardcore, you can train anyone to do an instance or a raid. The fact is there really aren't many Leeroy's out there. And hardcore... Aion has one BIG problem that is hard to shake.
It has no personality.
Aion is tremendously pretty, it really is, but something is missing. Even when doing missions, I am thinking to myself, "Damn, this is dull..." - the subtle humour isn't very subtle and not very funny. The story characters are done with so quickly that it is hard to really like them. And the world itself - Elyos or Asmodian - is just a bit too perfect, which makes it rather bland and boring. It is like Paris Hilton (WHY do I keep using her as a reference point?) - she's very pretty and of course very rich. But we've all seen her personality - or lack thereof. It's hardly going to last.
The last twist of the knife comes in the form of the way Aion is run. There is no way to stop the real-money traders from intruding on your playtime. The instanced nature is easily exploited as well, often by the RMT - find a named mob, kill, change instance, you're at the same spot and lo and behold, usually the named mob is right in front of you. Rinse, repeat, wait as required. The flight is hopelessly exploitable - you start with one minute on your flight timer but you can easily stay up for two minutes or more with the right items and a little expenditure, something people know all too well and have already been hiking the price. And on a final note, the economy is dominated with those silly-named people you know are RMT setting prices really high so they get even more money to cycle back into interrupting you every fifteen minutes telling you to buy money. And the expense of the game as it is, most people sadly probably will. And don't think NCSoft will kill this too quickly - this is the same company that runs Lineage and Lineage 2, where botting and RMT are rife and pandemic.
That said, Aion is probably the fiercest competition World of Warcraft has faced so far. It is a bubblegum fantasy land where the girls have big tits and the guys have big swords. It looks great, has clearly had a lot of work put into it and owes a lot to Blizzards baby in terms of UI, menus and general feel. A lot of people have been tempted by Aion, and it shows - on some servers, 5 hour queues are not uncommon (though coming down, it used to be 12 hour queues!). This is clearly a game that has attracted a lot of attention and seeing as it has had a years worth of content from the East thrown in from the start, it does beat its current rivals in terms of things to do.
But really, if this is what it takes to beat World of Warcraft, then we should all be very ashamed. It's an MMO devoid of any real personality, any real difficulty and the only real test the game throws at any point is how long you can grind before you get bored and consider doing something else. It makes me think that World of Warcraft may actually have a point - gimmicks may be cheap and tawdry, but it at least distracts you temporarily from the reality you are wasting hours of your life grinding away at a video game for the thanks of no-one. And maybe that is necessary now. It at least perks things up and loads you up with perks and items that make the grind somewhat more bearable, not demanding you grind for hours on end to make a few more hours more tolerable.
However, his is what replaced Tabula Rasa? No NCSoft. Just no. Thank you for the free month, thank you for the collectors edition perks you gave me for free sticking Tabula Rasa out to the end, but I'd rather have it back thanks. Tabula Rasa was badly run, but the community was far better and the game way more interesting than this. It's like an RTD episode of Doctor Who. It's got the ingredients, looks the part, but it isn't long before you see all the cracks. Some will lap it up. Others will be waiting for the Moffat episode.
Pity really. It was bad enough when there was only one company to hate on in this market...