Monday, August 17, 2009

Aion Part I

So I pre-ordered the CE this weekend, so I could get in the Closed Beta Event 6 (CB6) and get a feel for the game. After 'sitting on it' for a night... we'll kind of recount items, mull over things, and give a Mythbusters-esque "Confirmed / Plausible / Busted".

Aion is a Westernized version of an Eastern-MMO... in other words, it’s an Americanized version of a Chinese MMO. The development cultures differences between Eastern and Western MMO's are as vastly different as the true cultures themselves, but we'll touch on that as we go. Lore-wise... Aion puts its nice, different own personal-stamp on a tried and true fantasy setting; bad guys attack good guys, 1000 year war, peace treaty then chaotic assassination, hell breaks loose, world shatters & civil war ensues. Thats a **very** brief description on the lore.. but it's a nutshell. Lore, typically for me, does add something to the game... it gives quests and objectives meaning, gives your character a purpose and can add a sense of pride (realm/faction pride).

While September 22nd is the US release date, the game has actually been in full blown release-mode for a while in China. This, in my opinion, really works to the advantage of Aion; it allows for more time to "polish" prior to releasing to a Western audience, which typically are more cynical and critical of games and expect more at an initial release (SEE: Warhammer Blogs) than Eastern players. While the Eastern players don't mind muddling through a rougher release, WoW has created such an influx of new blood to the MMO community that doesn't accept the same "thats just how it is" limitations of previous title launches. Western MMO players demand polish, and in my opinion, this is the largest advantage that Aion brings to the Table. It will be immediately patched to version 1.5 or 2.0 (China / Korea) at US release, so Western players will see the imediate results of 8 months worth of Real-World play testing and fixes. This item alone will do more for the release than I believe that NCSoft Realizes.

Moving onto the first immediate item for review are the Graphics. Utilizing the Cry-Engine, NCSoft has issued forth another Competitive advantage... currently there is no other MMO that is as graphics detailed as Aion, save Age of Conan, however Aion does it without the major Graphics limitations and issues. Native AA is implemented in the engine currently, up to 8x AA, and Hardware Supported Bloom effects (via Cryengine) are available as well. From playing the Beta last night while keeping task manager open, the game looks solid from a back-end perspective... no Graphics leak like AoC, and no Memory or Page File leak like WAR. Reflective textures as well as high-detail textures (with sliders! Warhammer - take notes) are in already, and the game runs extremely smoothly for being so graphics intensive. Once more players are on the screen plus when it starts being used on non-SLi rigs is when we'll see whether or not Aion has a graphics bust or win.

Character Customization and Class selection are one of the first things you experience in any MMO, and Aion raises the bar for Customization. Currently there are something to the tune of 1500+ different face / hair / features combinations available to select from, with an additional 1500 available at retail release. Hair Color, Skin Tone and Lip (?) Colors are all done via a palette chooser, making the combination of colors virtually endless. I don’t think enough can be said about their degree of customization, It’s nice to think that there are slim-chances you’re going to see another character who looks EXACTLY like yours. Class Selection is of your typical fantasy variety; DPS/Tank warriors, 2 flavors of healers, 2 kinds of casters and your stealth characters. While the Class offerings are not as robust as the customization options, they still present familiar "faces" for people new to the game; given the descriptions of the classes, you start with a good idea of how the class is going to pan out at level fifty.

This is the conclusion of part I.. part II I'll review more of the gameplay nuances, and go over the various classes in a little more depth. The last part of the posting I'll visting my thoughts on Aion, pros, cons and my concerns that I'd like to see hammered out in the first month.

look for part II tommorrow!

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