August 06, 2009

Aion review from CB3 - Blood for Blood!

This is a repost from my initial Aion review on Stunty Stomper. Figured i should post it in my new Aion blog as well. I fixed some old infos where it applied.

During the closed Beta Weekend 3 i was able to check out the upcoming Aion MMO some. Since i know a bunch of people are interested in it i took the time to give you a rundown from my perspective. I leveled an Asmodian Templar (Tank) up to level 18 during that weekend. So all my findings will be based on what i saw during that time. Also important to note: Apparently NCsoft will release Aion with version 1.5, so there are several patches missing (translations: 1.1 / 1.2 / 1.5) on the EU/US servers at the moment. Some things might get fixed with those, where i know it will its mentioned in my article.

Before we start to talk about the game, let me say a few words about the GameGuard software, a hacking prevention software that Aion uses, which sucks a lot. I know many players had trouble with it, me as well. I had to deinstall (not simpy disable) my NetLimiter (firewall & bandwidth shaper) as else i would get some error window that only told me some korean gibberish with no hint towards the problem. Users of 64bit windows had major trouble as well, those had to exchange some files taken from another game to fix their problem. I fail to understand how a company can use such a crappy software that does not even yield a proper error message in the first place. Lets hope they improve it, but from what i hear people are not happy with GameGuard, tho its unlikely to change.

Who will have fun in Aion? Well, if you dislike grinding at all - Aion is not the game for you. Period. If you need the game to take you by the hand for everything or want a rich storyline with a lot of lore - Aion is probably not the right game for you. Can casual gamers have fun in Aion? Yes, they can but the most fun you'll have while playing with a good guild (called Legion in Aion). Due to the way things work a good guild will speed up your progress a lot. The game itself immediately reminded me of some of those typical asian free-to-play grind MMOs (like 2Moons and such), but its a notch better done. A lot of features are not really explained inside the ingame manual and you have to figure them out yourself. I'd suggest that this gets fixed before release, else the whining will be huge since people have no idea how to use certain things.

The game looks very good. Character customization at character creation (and also later on) is huge, a lot of stuff to play with. Despite the lower polygon count used for models in Aion, they made good use of some high-quality textures on the monsters and the surroundings. Like so many other games they have a bunch of places with blurry/bad textures as well, but the overall feeling when you run around is great. In general the maps are nicely done, tho often a tad colorful for my taste... guess thats the asian influence. Several monsters or plants/trees have a cool and unique look to them tho, you don't think i saw this similar model a hundred times already. Some races are the "cute kind", like large squirrels or pandas - but heh, who does not like to slaughter cute Mumu herb gatheres while they do nothing wrong but work?

There is a lot of good and catching music in Aion. Sometimes it feels a bit out of place when the different themes switch, but overall there is a larger amount of good music then in many other games.

UI in general
The Aion UI is nothing special or really new. It looks clean and has enough features to work with tho. Often i wish it had more options to turn off some confirmation windows or other parts to save a few clicks, but its ok to use. You can't freely place or resize the UI, its rather limited in ways to modify. Annoying: It seems at many places the UI is missing tooltips to explain what certain settings or attributes do. The UI luckily has a moderate color/feel to it so not to distract you from the gameplay. Everything you look for in a MMO UI is basicly there, can't remember important parts missing. Annoying is that you can't switch the camera view to look freely around while running into a direction, maybe its because coordination in flight later on, not sure. You can use the middle mouse button to switch the camera 180 degree and eg. look behind you while running forward, but thats about it... else you'll always run where you look. Note: Someone mentioned patch 1.5 has enabled left mouse button to rotate camera and also invert mouse. The UI has many auto move/pathing features that will make your toon run by its own. Parts of it can be disbled (stick to target) but some others can't. This can be tricky if your toon starts running off and aggros close by mobs because by accident you clicked a gather note.

Instanced gameplay

The game world is instanced. While one instance (called channel) can hold a lot of people (no idea how many) it seems at any point there are 10 channels from any given area. Not so sure about the main capitol, can't remember if that was instanced as well. You see a lot more players running around then eg. i saw in AoC instances tho. The game engine supports a large amount of players and runs very smooth and stable. While playing i seldom had lag and even with 50+ players on your screen inside the main city the performance is very good, no heavy drop in FPS for me. You can change channels by choice any time you wish. If you're in a group you can choose to teleport into the group leader's instance from the group menu. If certain quest points are camped you can always try to switch the channel to avoid the crowd. Sometimes this helps, sometimes not. I also hear that only the first few areas in the game have channels, later on and in the Abyss there is only one - anyone knows this exactly?
Note: I heard tho, come launch the channel change will have a 10-15min delay. So no avoiding crowd or farming named mobs with channel change.
Edit: Only the initial zones are instanced. The lvl 20+ zones only have one channel.

During the beta weekend there were a few points when you ran low/out of quests and needed to grind a little bit to get to the next level. From what i read one of the patches added a bunch of more quests to help with that. When it comes to leveling you can do both questing or grinding. It will depend on what you do which is more effective. If you get a small group of people and grind those elite mob areas, this can yield very good XP. I was going solo at some point and killed mobs 3-4 levels above me and that yielded very good XP as well. It will depend on your level, your gear and if you're solo or in a group, but so far it looks like you don't have to quest. Tho usually the quests will lead you through the areas and some follow-up quests will give you item rewards. Every so often a quest will give you a short intro with a cutscenes (using the game engine), which can really add to some stories, but often felt a bit out of place. I'd rather have a sequence explaining me what happened then show me some abandoned hut in the middle of the forrest i never saw before. There is a quest helper system in place and when a quest text mentiones a certain NPC, mob race or place you can "locate" them and if possible get a mark on your map where to go to, sometimes things are at hidden/hard to reach places and it does not work.

During leveling i had two aspects that annoyed me big time:
1. Loot rights are given to the person/group that did the highest damage to a mob it seems. This results in high damage classes to "steal" the mob you have been fighting already. There are a few quests on a timer, you already fight a mob down to 70% HP to get a quest drop and some sorc jump in, kills the mob with a tad higher damage then you, grabs the stuff and runs off. I met a bunch of players that did this by intend. Supernice.
2. Sometimes there is a very long respawn timer on quest objectives (you scouted the area already three times only to realize the object spawns on a table you ran past several times) or quest mobs. I did a few quests where only special mobs would drop the needed items and in the whole frickin' village spawned 3-4 of those for like 15-20 players running around there. Add point 1 to that and go figure the annoyance.

There will be griefing and spawn camping in Aion on a larger scale then in some other MMOs.

A nice feature during fights inside NPC villages and such: Many NPCs alert each other when attacked or start to run away and alert others when low on health. You'll really have to watch were you are going and which mobs to pull later on if you're leveling in areas where the mobs are challenging to you. In addition ranged NPCs are hard to move, looks like they use their ranged "attack skill" also when close to you. So no step-by-stepp pulling them back. To a certain degree you can work around it with corner pulls and such. Training NPCs into other players is rather easy as well and i can imagine this leads to griefing as well. When you run away too far from a mob it will reset and leash back, BUT can aggro players on the way sometimes. While you kill mobs somewhere one idiot running away with a large groups of mobs on his tail is often enough to get you killed, so watch whats happening around you. Overall fighting mobs is more challenging then in many other MMOs, which is refreshing. I also hear rumours about a hate list system used beside the normal aggro system. Mobs can have certain "rules" why to hate certain players more then others.

Killings monsters feels like its taking longer and more effort then in WAR, WoW or AoC. Depending on the level difference against a mob you will use several different skills before the mob drops dead. When fighting equal level monsters you use a few skills to kill it, but i had to use at least one rotation from all available skills at the early levels to kill it. Level difference has a major effect on the power the mob has and the time it takes to kill it. If you fight a mob three levels higher then you, its already dangerous if you get adds at the wrong point and you'll have to use several skill rotations to kill it. Combat overall feels good tho, the animations are very fluid and if i use a shield bash my toon will really take his shield and smash it into the foe. Combat skills are used similar to Black Orcs in WAR. While you have "single hit skills" as well, the best skills are part of a chain which opens up after you used the starter skill. Depending on your level you get more skills to use as 2nd or 3rd. The chains are easy enough to identify/use since there is a good display for them and when they become available they'll start to glow. Then you got a few seconds to press the corresponding key. There is no skill "queue", so if you press the needed key to early it won't fire. Should you use a different skill while moving down a chain, the chain will be lost since you need to wait for the starter skill to come off cooldown again. The different chains for my templar had 1-3 branches they could lead to. Many skills are in reaction to eg. block, parry, etc. ergo only open up if the condition is met. Playing my templar from the skill system itself really felt like being on my Black Orc, i can live with that. The fights sometimes feel a tad long, if you bang with two people on some elite mob it can take forever to get it down. On the other side you have the feeling something is happening, the good animations underline that feeling. The fight animations and sounds are a bit too much mortal combat IMO, but i read somewhere one of the patches gives you an option to disable at least most of the "mortal combat ninja cries" your toon does while fighting.

The skills use MP (Mana Points) and Divine Points (DP), some are free without any costs. DP are collected through fighting players & NPCs, through dealing/taking damage. You can't store DP and should you die or log off, that bar goes to zero. DP skills are really powerful from what i saw. It takes quite a while until you filled your DP bar enough to use a skill.

If you die you'll get a short debuff (1min) reducing movement speed, lose 3% of XP and resurrect at your last binding location. You can pay a Soul Healer to get 2% XP back, does not matter if you do it while you still have the debuff or not, the rest is lost forever. If you adventure into dangerous areas its adviced you spend a few coin to bind before you go so you don't respawn too far away. It's annoying to have to wait for people to travel back across the continent. If you die there is a 30min timer another player can resurrect you. You can buy resurrection stones rather cheap from general goods vendors - good investment to be able to rez your cleric if things go wrong.

Come in different quality: grey (trash), white, green, blue and orange. During to the beta weekend i sometimes found green items (a few levels better then white) and one blue chest piece from a named mob. There is a neat item comparision system in place and if you compare two items red/green indicator will tell you which stats are worse/better on the different items. Item tooltips are a bit unclear tho, could use some work. I found it very annoying tho, that many items have the same name, but very different stats on them. You really need to look at them in detail. Very few items in the game seem to be bind on pickup, from what i hear only the boss loot from the high-end dungeons will be BoP. The vendors have a button to sell all misc (grey) items. All UI parts that deal with items work more like an online shop, you can choose the stuff you want to buy and then have to press the final button to check out and confirm the transaction.

# strg+left-click on an item will open up a preview dressing window.
# strg+right-click will link an item into chat.

Auction House & Private Stores
There are brokers in major cities. The AH interface is a bit cumbersome and lacks more filters (stuff like enter item level filter was improved in 1.1 apparently). The amount of items you can list at the AH is limited (dunno exactly how many). If you buy stuff from the AH it goes directly into your inventory. If you sell stuff at the AH, you need to "settle your account" at the trader to obtain the money. There is a private store system in Aion. At any place you can start your own private shop and sell stuff from your inventory. Many players use it while being afk. Some major areas in the capitol city are *full* of private shops, you can spend a lot of time to run from player to player and see what they offer. When you open the shop you can put one line of text in, which will be displayed over your head - also often used for guild recruiting messages etc.

Tip: Double left-click on a player-store to automaticly run to that player and open the shop interface. Since players move right into the player with the shop sometimes it can be hard to target them.

Mailbox system works like in every other MMO. Its a bit confusing tho as you have "normal" delivery (which is instant into the other mailbox already) and "express" - unfortunately i did not test this, but i read this results in a Shugo (small squirrel/hamster NPC) messenger coming to the recipient and delivering the letter.

Group/Party System
There is no real LFG system, which makes the task of finding a party for certain elite quests a bit harder. One reason I'd only play Aion with other people i know. A party can have up to six people, a raid up to 24 players. There is no need/greed loot roll system, only roll dice or abandon roll. This should be improved IMO. In the group distribution you have some nice additional features. You can distribute money to group members, can choose to auto distribute misc items, there is a master looter and some strange bidding system wherer you loot for coin you bid (and coin is distributed between party members).

NPCs have some sort of point indicator next to their name when targeted, this shows you how strong the mob is. While i can easily kill a mob with 1-2 points on my own, those with 4 points could be very tough cookies, sometimes impossible for me to kill solo, depending on the mob. Some quests don't indicate that they are group/elite mission and you'll need to group up. So you'll need to watch out if you run into some elite area.

From what i hear there will be several high-level dungeons available a release, some instanced some with PvP in them. Tho i doubt you should expect very complicated scripted encounters from what the game felt to me. I'm sure the bosses will have some tricks up the sleeve, but thats about it.

With level 10 you'll finish a quest chain and "earn your wings". Despite what many people think you CAN NOT FLY EVERYWHERE in Aion. At least in the first areas there are only few places you can fly freely. Depending on the wings you have and gear stats, etc. you'll have a certain amount of flight time (rather limited). Once the timer runs out you'll get a nasty (fun!) warning *meeep meeeep* and start to fall. Yes, you can die if you fall deep enough. ouch.
What you can do everywhere is glide. You do this by jumping down a slope, just jumping from any higher place and use space again to spread your wings. Many players fail to grasp the concept of gliding, so here is how to: As long as you glide downhill and don't get stuck uphill or at an obstacle you can glide until your timer uns out. Gliding over water is good as well. Don't push your forward movement button while gliding, only adjust your direction by going left and right - this way you can glide a very long time if the area supports it and you use the environment smart. While gliding you will aggro mobs and they can hurt you, so be aware of that. Utilizing gliding properly will speed your movement up a lot.

Other forms of transportation include a flight master system between major hubs inside the same area and teleports between the different regions. So far there are no plans for mounts from what i hear. You can upgrade your wings later on tho. You also have a personal teleport skill (20min cooldown) you can bind at various obelisks, this does cost a small fee.

You can't swim in Aion. Should you enter water deep enough, you'll simply walk on the ground under water. *lol* There is a system that will damage you when you enter "deep water".

Title System
By means of questing (and maybe other things) you'll obtain titles. The thing in Aion is that titles have a small stat boost attached to them. So if you wear a title (and only then) you'll get that stat boost. The title system is not very intuitive and i disabled title display on PCs rather quick as it looks annoying because the title is displayed together with the player name. I never saw a message that i acquired a new title either, so check the title list from time to time.

There are many ways to enhance your gear/weapons: manastones (gems you socket into gear), enchantment stones (obtained by "disenchanting" gear with vendor bought tools), power shards (drop from mobs can be bough at vendor) that enhance your weapon damage for one hit. The different ways to enhance your gear are not very intuitive at first, check here for more info.

I tried crafting a tiny bit. Crafting overall does take a long time and some major coin. You'll have to to go into the main city for crafting stations. No crafting anywhere else. There are normal crafted items and you can crit on a craft, resulting in a better item. There is some wierd upgrading system, where you basicly take an already crafted item, add some more materials and refinement stones and then create a better version. Since crafting can fail (no idea about the mechanism) i can imagine it will take a lot of time and materials to craft the best gear. Apparently you can train all crafting trades up to 399 skill, but only master one to 450 skill.
Gathering materials is done in two ways: You gather stuff like ore, food, plants, etc. from the floor and you have to gather aether that is floating around in the air in flying enabled zones.

Armor dyeing (so far i only saw vendor bought dyes) did look like crap ony my plate armor due to the armor reflections not working together well with the new colors.

Legions (Guilds) System

There is a guild system implemented and you eg. get a guild vault with a guild plus some other organization tools. A lvl 1 guild (register) cost 10.000 Qina (coins in Aion) and can have max. 30 members. You'll get a random crest assigned for the guild cloaks (also displays on player tooltip). Lvl 2 guild can be obtained while having at least 10 members and paying 100.000 Qina. You get to choose a crest from a certain pool and your guild can have max. 60 members. A guild rank 3 can upload their own crest (if you can really upload and not just create one, thats cool) and have 90 members, but you need to pay 1.000.000 Qina and obtain 20.000 Abyss/Legion points (from PvP and maybe fighting the 3rd faction inside the Abyss).

The fluff stuff
Aion has a lot of fluff stuff, like googles, funny hats, festival dresses, etc. Very early on you get cool disguises via quests as well. Lets not even start to talk about remodel shops that will let you switch even the 3D model your gear displays, if you got enough coin. There is a lot of stuff to spend gold on: resurrection stones, teleport scrolls, custom 2h binding stone scrolls, etc. Overall there are many money sinks already in the game. Some of the stuff you buy from the vendors is really useful.

One thing that jumped my eye while reading over the user agreement, they mention NCcoin as some kind of currency to pay for ingame items with real money. I'm not sure if this will really make it into the game, but i know many hope it does not. Also paying a monthly fee (no one knows yet how much for EU/US) as for other MMOs would not be welcome if they make money on the side with this.

Due to the nature of the game you'll be able to spend hours by trying to improve crafting, gathering materials, etc. The later game levels are supposed to be a bit of grind, but then again even WAR or WoW felt like that in the end, tho i assume the feeling might be more present in Aion. Will Aion be a game i could have fun with? Only in a good guild. Should a large part of my guild mates move over to Aion, probably so would i. It's no game i would start without being part of a Legion tho. You hit the wall playing solo rather quick and the lacking LFG system does not help that much. Aion overall was better then i thought it would be, but my expectations were not that high and i doubt it will be THE upcoming MMO people waited for. I think it can be fun for a while tho. Some things are new and refreshing to look at or use. The higher challenge rating while fighting "normal" NPCs was very welcome. They had more AI to them then in the other MMOs i played recently. Most likely i forget a bunch of stuff in this review, should you have any questions or want to share your own thoughts, feel free to use the comments.


Slurms said...

I love the idea of express delivery comming to me directly via hamster lol

Thulf said...

Yeah, i really need to play around with the Shugo Express. Imagine being in the middle of a battle and the small guy tugs your shirt: "Excuse me Mister, could you sign here please?".

Keen said...

The world is not instanced beyond the level 20 zones (might be a few exceptions). Cities are not instanced. No area that has PvP enabled has multiple instances.

This was implemented to ensure that the lower level areas would not be overly crowded.