GDC09: Hands-on with Aion

Elizabeth Harper
E. Harper|03.27.09

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Elizabeth Harper
March 27th, 2009
GDC09: Hands-on with Aion

To understand the game Aion, you first need a bit of background on its setting. Aion has many of the trappings you would expect to find in a typical fantasy MMO, but it is a completely original IP with some unique elements. As a player, you are a resident of Atreia, created by the deity Aion, and torn asunder by ancient war between the human races and the Aion's former servants, the Balaur. After millennia of struggle, the Balaur succeeded in destroying the Tower of Eternity, Aion's embodiment on Atreia, splitting the planet in half. In the game's present day, the Asmodians live in the harsh, frigid climates on the upper half of Atreia, far from the sun; while the Elyos live in the sun-drenched, tropical lower half of Atreia. Neither recall the details of the cataclysm that split the world and both blame the other for the destruction that befell Atreia.

Today, fragments of the shattered tower have begun to drift through the heavens and mysterious portals have opened in the world, transporting the Asmodians and Elyos to the Abyss that lays between the two halves of Atreia. Here, they meet one another and their old, neigh-forgotten enemies, the Balaur.

Unsurprisingly, war is at hand. In Aion's "PvPvE" system, you'll fight against both the opposing faction and the NPC Balaur at every turn as you seek to unlock the mysteries of the world around you.

%Gallery-48588%Aion originally launched in Korea in November of 2008 -- and it's likely that in the months since launch, NCsoft has had a chance to polish any rough edges that might have originally been present. The game has, of course, been localized for the American audience -- in more ways than just translating. Throughout the game, the team has taken care to remove text and references that make sense to an Asian audience and replace them with references that will make sense for an American audience.

When you first enter the game world, you're met with the expected character creation screen. Your first choice is faction: do you want to play as an Asmodian, with glowing eyes and dark skin? Or as an Eylos, with their radiant features?

Once you've selected a race, you're offered the choice of male or female versions of four classes:
  • Warrior: A melee fighter ready for battle. At level 10, a Warrior can choose to become a Gladiator (with a focus on dealing damage) or a Templar (with a focus on protecting others).
  • Scout: A versatile class that relies on speed and agility over brute force. At level 10, a Scout can choose to become a Ranger (an archer with superb survival skills) or an Assassin (an expert in stealthy carnage).
  • Mage: Magical damage-dealers who are weak in close combat. At level 10, a Mage can choose to become a Sorcerer (a master of water, fire, air, and earth) or a Spiritmaster (who can summon elemental spirits to his aid).
  • Priest: Specialists in the art of keeping others alive in the heat of battle, Priests are also capable of spells to aid their allies or thwart their enemies and can even stand on their own in close combat. At level 10, a Priest can chose to become a Cleric (a healer equipped with mace and shield) or a Chanter (a healer with a focus on strengthening allies with powerful buffs).
For those concerned about playing a different game after level 10, don't fret. Though obviously each specialized class takes their own unique direction in the game, specialized classes will still share a number of base abilities. And if, for example, you're a Gladiator, but you'd really like a healing spell? The game allows you to customize your abilities through the use of stones you can equip which grant you access to specific spells. You can only equip them in towns and can only have a limited number equipped at once. (For a point of comparison, it sounds similar to World of Warcraft's glyph system, only more powerful.) Out soloing? Perhaps you'd like a heal spell to be self-sufficient. Out with friends? Maybe you'd like some buffs to cast on your allies. Does your party not have a Mage? Perhaps you should pick up some ranged magical damage. All of these are possible.

And after that? Why, character customization, of course! Aion allows an impressive level of customization for an MMO with the goal of never having to run into a duplicate of yourself in the game. There are a wide variety of pre-made options to chose from for face shape, hair, eyes, ears, etc, but you can go beyond the presets and tweak every detail of your features with numerous sliders.

And, while both the Asmodians and Eylos are basically humanoid, if you want to play an Elf-type race, you can make your ears pointed and your character tall and slender. Prefer to play a Dwarf? Make your character short and stocky and give them a beard. We can't say that your options are completely limitless, but they're certainly quite varied.

After you leave character creation, you can additionally customize your look via gear. The game has a variety of armor options which can all be dyed, so you may outfit your character however you wish. (For customizing your stats, obviously the armor you equip has specific properties, but you may also apply magical gems to your armor to tweak any piece to your preferred playstyle.) The game also features what we're told is an in-depth crafting system, with which you can make your own armor and weapons.

Once you've decided to call it quits with the character creation mini-game, it's Into the game you go!

Regardless of the faction you chose, you'll be immediately tossed out into an impressive landscape -- even though the game is being imported from Asia, it's not been out long enough to show any age. The graphics (as shown off on no doubt pimped out demo rigs) were stunning. (NCsoft hasn't officially released system requirements for the game's North American release, but the Korean version lists Pentium 4 2.8GHz, AMD Athlon 2800; 1 GB RAM; GeForce 6600, Radeon X1550 as a minimum and recommends Pentium Dual Core, AMD Athlon 64 X2; 2 GB RAM; GeForce 7600, Radeon X2600.)

The game's starting zone -- at least in this early build of the game -- assumes you're familiar with basic MMO conventions (like how to move around, how to locate quests, and how to use hotkeys) and drops you straight into the action. You start near a questgiver, indicated by a colored arrow overhead. Talk to the questgiver, accept the quest, and you're at the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the game's super friendly quest system. Key terms (such as locations, NPCs, or objects you're supposed to find) in the quest text will be underlined. You can click on these for additional information -- including locations on the game's map. Though occasionally an objective will simply tell you it's at a difficult to find location, for the most part this system eliminates the nuisance of running around for twenty minutes hunting down a quest item -- or visiting a database site to look it up. Everything you need to know is right at your fingertips. (Call it easy mode if you'd like, but remember that World of Warcraft's iconic yellow exclamation point was once considered a ridiculous addition that made the genre far too simple -- and now such clear quest indicators are taken as a matter of fact.) Following quest instructions was simple, and the additional indications of where exactly to find things was certainly helpful in getting around.

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