This was probably the number one quote heard around the Aion booth at PAX08. NCsoft's Aion: The Tower of Eternity had its first public showing in the States this last weekend at PAX, and the general consensus seemed to be mostly positive. As the opening quote suggests though, many gamers were after that novelty of flight, and we can't help but wonder if that will be enough to carry potential players through the game for the long haul.
So we took this opportunity to spend an hour or so with the game, to get a few of those precious first impressions for our readers. Keep in mind that this is only first impressions on a game that isn't finished yet, so take it with a grain of salt.
This is a shining point for Aion. You get quite a vast selection of customizable options when creating your character, which admittedly is a nice change from other games that bear the NCsoft moniker. You can adjust a slider of anything from your skin tone to your hand size in varying degrees of extreme appearance preferences. The faces look absolutely gorgeous, and the character models in general are pleasing to the eye. What's really interesting though is the fact that you can preview your character in three progressive stages of armor, from beginner, intermediate and advanced sets. This is helpful to show you what you can expect further down the line with your character's looks before you commit to anything.
UI and Controls
The game plays like 95% of the MMOs out there, and this is generally a good thing. Too many times, newer games have tried to reinvent the wheel with their control scheme, and it has proven disastrous. Aion also has a simple skill bar at the bottom that any seasoned MMO player can figure out in seconds. We didn't get a chance to tweak much of the UI elements as far as expanding toolbars, but we've been told that the UI is highly customizable. Still, what you start with seems easy enough for anyone to figure out.
Combat is also very familiar as it utilizes the normal tab-to-target functionality. There is also a handy run-to-target feature that simplifies the process of switching, approaching, facing and attacking the next target. The combat and skill effects that are in place now are absolutely stunning, especially considering the fact that the game is not finished yet.
Alright, we know you skipped through the rest of the article for this part, but it's ok. We don't blame you. Quite frankly, flying in Aion is awesome. You activate your wings by clicking on a fairly-obvious button in the lower right hand side of your skill bar. Your sprouted wings will help you fly around the Aion world and engage in aerial combat that is quite revolutionary. As you would expect, the flying can't last forever, so you will need to watch your little flight meter to tell how much longer you have. You can then click on the flight icon to land and resume your adventures on land like the rest of us.
So what's the bad news?
This game is so gorgeous and the flight abilities will surely excite many players, but there are some aspects of the game for which we couldn't help but raise our collective eyebrows. If you've ever played a free game called Rohan Online, you may notice some graphical similarities. The character models are very similar, and even the numerical damage displays above your character are identical. The worlds share some atmospheric similarities between the two games, yet Aion seems to be more fleshed out, even in these early stages.
Now don't take any of this as a criticism, as this blogger personally loves Rohan Online and understands that many of these features are prominent in most eastern MMOs. Rohan Online is a free to play game, which we could almost consider Aion Lite, without the jumping or the flying. But the fact is, jumping and flying is fun! Many people play many different MMOs for many different reasons, but we don't think fun is absent from anyone's list. That said, is the aerial travel and combat worth whatever premium business model the folks at NCsoft have yet to announce for Aion? More importantly, will that initial allure of flight be enough to hold the ever-diminishing attention span of gamers today? Only time will tell for sure, but judging by the lines of people waiting to experience this game firsthand during PAX, we'd say there's a fairly good chance.