One of the most striking things about Aion is its grand visuals and fantastic environments. The azure skies, fantastical fauna, and floating cities in Aion make for a nice break from the boars and dusty castles you’re used to seeing in fantasy MMOs. But it’s the highly detailed lore that really helps create a vibrant and believable fantasy world.
Aion draws on mythology from around the world to create the land of Atreia. Torn apart by the cataclysm, Atreia was divided into two worlds. Elysea is constantly bathed in light, while Asmodae is shrouded in darkness. That’s where you come in. As a fresh player, you’ll need to choose which faction your character hails from.
Above: Aion is one of the prettiest MMOs we’ve seen, and is full of picturesque moments like this
Expect to learn a lot more lore over the course of the game, introducing you to Atreia’s sordid and bloody history. But in terms of class structure and gameplay, Aion plays it by the book and keeps things familiar for anyone who’s played an MMO within the last few years. Primary classes include mages, scouts, warriors, and priests. The titles pretty much explain what they do.
Once our character reached level 10, we ascended - literally. Our character received a pair of wings and we were transported to a heavenly city in the sky. Once there, we got to choose a specialization class, which breaks the above four classes into eight. Scouts could become rangers/assassins (hunters/rogues). Priests could become clerics (straight healers), or chanters (paladins). Warriors split into templars (tanks) and gladiators (DPS melee), and mages can choose spirit masters (straight magic damage) and sorcerers (a pet summoning class).
Above: Aion really takes off when you complete your ascension and gain your wings
The classes, regardless of specialization, are fairly weak until level 20, when stigma stones get unlocked. Stigma stones allow a player to choose how certain skills and talents that affect how they play their class. Stigma stones are plentiful and can be bought or found as drops, so we found we could tailor our assassin to our preferred play style fairly easily.
For example, there is a stigma stone that allows for a stun, an ambush stigma for an out-of-stealth backstab attack, a flurry stigma to increase attack speed, a stigma that protects against attacks, etc. Choosing which stigmas can be expensive, but are a necessary investment for any character.
Although Aion didn’t do anything astonishingly different with their class system, there are tons of skills that flourish in group settings, and all the needed tank/damage/healing classes are well-represented. So players familiar with the typical RPG class breakdown will find themselves right at home.
Above: Aion’s cities and landscapes are grand
The user interface will also be very familiar to those who have played other MMOs, and so is the combat system. As expected, skills can be assigned from a skill menu to numbers in the user interface, and while combat macros can be created, we preferred to play with the time-honored technique of mashing our number keys till we found our favorite sequence of skills.
There is one particularly unique feature found in Aion’s combat system. It uses chain skills, which link attacks together in a number of different ways. Some attacks automatically trigger the next skill in the chain. Some attacks only trigger when the character parries, blocks, evades, or procs another action based upon the game mechanics. As your character grows more powerful, certain chains branch out. So when a chain triggers, you’ll be able to choose where your combo takes you. Should you try to stun the opponent to buy more time while another skill cools down? Or should you link your last move with a pure damage attack to finish off your opponent?
At level 25, the Abyss is unlocked. The Abyss is a PvPvE area. Yes, that stands for Player vs Player vs Environment - and yes, it’s just as hectic as it sounds. In the Abyss, you’ll find the biggest bad guys in the game, the Balaur. These god-like characters are a mighty NPC faction, responsible for the death of the gods and the slow siphoning of the world's energy. The Abyss is where the final battle between the Elyos, Asmodai, and Balaur for the control of the world takes place – and it’s epic. Here, legions (or guilds) can join forces to take and hold castles through besiegement and strategy, requiring players to hold back opponents from both their opposing faction and the mighty Balaur NPCs.
Aion did an excellent job reigniting our interest in the game at this point. At times, Aion seemed a lot more grindy than most contemporary MMOs. Mobs are packed into each area like sardines, and the objectives and quests that link zones together follow a more linear path, with less room to explore and solo quest. Gaining levels, even in the 20s, also takes millions of experience points. But just when we were getting ready to die from the boredom of humdrum quests MMOs are infamous for, the Abyss saved the day with new quests, huge instances, powerful mobs, and PvP.
Part of the thrill of the Abyss is that there is no ‘safe’ zone. The Abyss is open to all Asmodai and Elysians. So we could be calmly killing skeletons and find ourselves dead with an Asmodai standing over our corpse, laughing. Battles can erupt between races at anytime and anywhere in the Abyss.
If you hate MMOs and wouldn’t log onto one if someone paid you, Aion is not going to change your mind. You’ll still find lots of grinding, gold farmers, and deaths in instanced dungeons to hate. That being said, if you do like MMOs, Aion is one the prettiest and most polished titles to release this year. Players who prefer solo quests will find themselves pushed into level grinding by the difficult group quests they encounter early on. But if you like PvP and running instances with friends, you’ll never run out of things to do once you reach the Abyss.
Nov 30, 2009