There's also a system of skill combos to be used in combat. Some skills will trigger preset chains, or branching trees, of abilities, with the choice for the next phase appearing to the right of your character. It's not dissimilar to Age of Conan's combos, and should provide a little more tactical shape to battle; systems like this are very popular with MMO designers at the moment, although they are no substitute for designing skills to be interesting and fun, and to play off each other, in themselves.
Flying, meanwhile, is regulated by a resource called "ether"; the supply of this is limited according which the area you're in, allowing NCsoft to adjust how long players can spend in the air according to both their level, and the geography. This makes use of flight in both combat and exploration a strategic choice - take a short-cut at the expense of being able to flee a fight, for example. It's still not quite clear how combat flying can resolve itself across all classes without descending into chaos, particularly in PVP, but the ether system is a good start at making sense of it.
Flying will be most useful in the surreal, broken world of the Abyss between the two hemispheres. You'll get your first quest to go there halfway through the levelling curve, at around level 25, and move up through several tiered areas. This is where the majority of the faction-on-faction, aerial PVP combat will play out; there will be siege gameplay around fortresses, and battles to control artefacts that buff or debuff your entire faction (by turning the enemy into frogs, for example).
The Abyss is also where the third faction, the Balaur, will make itself known. An army of different races amassed by the banished dragon lords, the Balaur will essentially act as checks and balances in the PVP war, with AI scripting deciding when and where it should intervene to cut back whichever faction is looking too overwhelming. It will also be used heavily by the game's live team to create one-off events around.
Wary of a creating a game that leans too heavily on this epic, server-wide, highly organised PVP - a style of MMO play that is much more prevalent in Korea - NCsoft is working hard on the questing side of Aion. Quests are divided into two lists in your log: "Quests" are optional side stories, of which there seem to be hundreds upon hundreds, while "Missions" are elaborate quest chains that take you through an over-arching storyline.
Quests will make regular use of Aion's polymorphing, turning players into various beasts - a parrot, in the example we see (some classes also get inherent polymorphing skills). There will be plenty of voiced cut-scenes to illustrate quests, and some use of instancing within quests to advance the storyline. However, dungeons will not be instanced, for the most part; this is a defiantly open-world MMO.
The six crafting professions are as standardised as the classes: alchemist, jeweller, cook, tailor, leatherworker and blacksmith. Once again, though, there are a couple of interesting twists: with every item you create, there's a chance of failure, success, or a critical success that will create an even more powerful item. Also, once a Daeva, you'll be able to fairly easily transmute raw materials into others - wood into iron, for example - which should take some of the pain out of resource-gathering.
There are a few more concessions to ease-of-use - click on an NPC's name to locate it easily on your minimap; pay extra for express mail that instantly couriers your item to anyone in the world - although the death penalty, while mild, will still be off-putting to some (lose XP, get a deubff and respawn at an obelisk you have to manually bind to). Overall, Aion seems like a game that's eager to please, do what you expect, and do it well. That's the Western half of its DNA; the World of Warcraft half.
The Eastern half is all in the CryEngine visuals. The world is pretty enough, though rather beset with fantasty cliché. Yes, there's another giant mushroom forest, and the elegant spires and arches of the two capitals, Sanctum and Pandemonium, look rather similar. The character art, however, is simply stunning. And it's not just the almost offensively beautiful player characters and their ornate gear. Many of the game's enemies are fabulously colourful, charismatic and sharply drawn; highlights are the mysterious cat-people and their little beaver-like helpers, and a race of burly, red-skinned Hellboy lookalikes.
Best of all, most of Aion's splendour is achieved through rich colour and fine art, rather than particle effects and polygons, meaning it shouldn't be as expensive to run as it looks. NCsoft appears to have thought of everything. That's just as well - if it's going to bridge the abyss between the Eastern and Western MMO, it will need to. The big question is whether Aion can be all things to all MMO players, and still retain a soul of its own. We'll find out when it's released early next year.