I've been trying to figure out a way to put this non-offensively, but I can't find a way to say it. So, I'm just going to say it in the most flamboyantly offensive way possible.
This game has no soul.
Yep, there ya go, I said it. And, certainly, that last sentence is a bit harsh. But what I'm trying to really say here is that Aion doesn't have any truly endearing qualities. It's really odd to say that about a game that has so much going for it. Maybe it's the way that the fields are full of brain dead monsters in the traditional Asian style, maybe it's the way the game is punctuated by irrelevant "story" cutscenes that really say nothing at all, or maybe it's the way this game has beautifully written quests that mostly just end out with "...and you can solve all of my problems by killing X of <generic enemy here.>" Certainly that last part could be aimed at any MMORPG, but it just seems painfully obvious in Aion instead of melding in like it does in other games.
And, once again, I don't mean to be as angry as that last paragraph makes me sound. But Aion plays it safe -- almost too safe. The combat is a very been there, done that system that is, while pretty, nothing to write home about. Sometimes, especially at earlier levels, the combat drags on for far too long, preferring to rely on the auto-attack for long stretches of time while your skills are stuck on cooldown.
The flight, the pinnacle of level 10 and the unofficial crux of the game, isn't even boldly featured by the game's design. Areas of the game's map bar flight entirely, and the only level that I know of that really takes true advantage of the flying system is the Abyss, the game's huge PvP war zone. Even when you can fly, it's only for a limited time, which makes flight an almost haphazard extra. Sure, I've been over that little fact, but I still find it odd when it comes from a game who's box art is dominated by a pair of wings. Doubly so when I do more meaningful flying in Champions Online or City of Heroes -- games that don't emphasize flight so boldly and boisterously.
So what's my final call?
Aion is the vanilla of MMOs. It does things right but it doesn't do them spectacularly. It targets everyone, but it simultaneously targets no one. It doesn't take risks. It's fun, but it's not endearing or memorable. It simply is.
Personally, I'll be sticking around with this game. I don't think my job is done here -- not until I get a clear picture of what is really stored in the Abyss. Until then, I don't think I have a clear picture as to what this game wants to offer to me, the player. It's sad that Aion waits so long to truly bloom for the player, but alas, this is the game design as the creators have made it.
With all that said, here's my recommendation -- try it out for yourself. If you pick this up and absolutely love it, then I can go to hell with my criticisms. Who cares what I think when you're having fun? Fun is always the bottom line around here at Anti-Aliased, and I'd rather be wrong than deny a reader a good time in an MMO.
Colin Seraphina Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who you'd think would love Aion due to all of the angels, yet doesn't. When she's not writing here for Massively, she's rambling on her personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message her, send her an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com. You can also follow her on Twitter through Massively, or through her personal feed, @sera_brennan.