In the battle against World Of Warcraft’s supremacy over the MMORPG genre, Aion’s greatest weapon is beauty. It lacks the depth and experienced wisdom of its 4-year-old rival, but Aion manages to make WOW show its age. The graphics are impressive at every level. Enormous serpentine creatures soar through the air; strange elephant-like beasts water themselves in frozen lakes. The combat skills produce vibrant visuals.
The game is set in a visually stunning world that has been torn in half. The rift caused humans to divide into two new species: the Elyos, who enjoy the luxuries of bountiful resources, and the Asmodians, who live in constant darkness and cold. These two playable races are constantly warring with each other and the Balaur, reptilian monsters bent on subjugating all other life. The fight is waged in the Abyss, a player vs. player vs. environment combat zone between the two realms.
While you start as a human, at level 10, you ascend to the ranks of the angelic Daeva and gain the ability to fly. Flight is more than just a means of transportation in Aion: Your wings are used in combat, and to reach certain resources. Flight time is limited, so you need to keep an eye on the clock to avoid plummeting to your death. While that makes flying another resource to be conserved, it can also produce some long waits as you recharge before continuing on your way.
Quests closely mirror other MMOs, with clearly marked NPCs handing out tasks to kill monsters and gather items. But the grind is punctuated by rewards for players who do more than click “accept” and move on. Quest items often contain messages that tell beautiful stories of love and loss in the war-torn world. Some NPCs ask players to choose from different dialogue options, where careful reading can be rewarded. The crafting system also cuts down on the typical grind by providing free materials for players to level up their skills.
It’s easy to get into a button-pressing rhythm during combat, chaining skills together to produce combos, which in turn provide you with points used for special attacks. But the game rewards doing more than just standing still and attacking, with a system for reducing the damage you take through strafing. This always comes at a cost to damage dealt, and the strategy becomes especially key in player vs. player combat, where others to try to dance around to their advantage.
There are only two races to choose from, but Aion offers a strongly customizable character creation system that allows you to build burly hulks, tiny kids that speak with appropriately squeaky voices, and everything in between. Each faction only has one starting point, which means that players who want to try another class are forced to go through much of the same material again. Even changing factions adds little variety, as the two sides of the world strongly mirror each other.
It’s still too early to judge Aion’s endgame content, but that may be the true test of whether the game will have real staying power, or be just another passing pretty face.