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Aion: Comic Con Preview

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As I mentioned to Editor Jon Wood, the difficult articles to write are always about either the games in Pre-Alpha where most everything is still under wraps, and the games so close to launch that NDA has been lifted and most everything has been revealed. Aion falls squarely in the latter. I've seen, written and read about Aion since it was revealed to the Western audience at E3 2006 as Aion: The Tower of Eternity, and had hands-on play when it was provided at Cons. So what is it about then?

Aion, the latest title from developer NCsoft is billed as a PvPvE MMO that is being developed simultaneously by both NCsoft in Korea and the US, with Korea being about nine months ahead, and the US version localized as it develops, for the Western market. The world Aion, Atreia, resembles a globe that has been torn in half. The lower half is a lush green world as it receives the benefit of sunlight where the Elyos live. The upper half is dark, cold and arid, the world of the Asmodians. In Eons past, the two halves were joined by vertically by the Tower of Eternity and the Elyos and Asmodians were one people, but when the tower was destroyed in the thousand year war, the factions turned on each other and blamed the other for its destruction.

The PvP is one of the Dark (Asmodians) against the Light (Elyos), and most of this PvP takes place in the void between the halves of Atreia, the Abyss. Once in a while though, a fissure opens up in the world (announced in a worldwide message) and players of one race can enter the fissure to find themselves in a corresponding portion of the other - that is to say, in a level appropriate area. These fissures have a percentage chance of opening, and when they do, they remain open until a certain number of players have passed through or when two hours are up. Your only way to return is by teleporting home or dying. If you go about griefing newbies though... you may find that your teleport spell doesn't work.

Aion is not so much race against race but faction against faction, as a third exists. The Balur live in the Abyss and is an AI controlled race which is used as a balancing mechanism. They can and will attack either race or even both, which is the reason for PvPvE: Player versus Player versus Environment - the Balur. There's a different percentage chance that one action will be decided upon and it all depends on what is happening at the time. The Balur can decide to be your enemy or your ally, or even turn on you after assisting you defeat your enemy.

There are the usual four generic fantasy classes in Aion; Warrior, Mage, Priest and Scout, branching at level ten to two specialties, but Aion introduces flight as a part of combat strategy. A player starts their ascension quest and can ascend at level ten to Daeva status and gain their wings in a beautiful cutscene sequence, starring their own character, and gorgeous, feathery, huge wings they are too. Believably sized, glorious Archangel wings, not little bumblebee wings that really shouldn't enable it to fly. Although you now have access to new areas, new materials on land and in the sky, as well as aerial combat and two flight-centric stats, flight is limited in time and geography. It is a statistical and strategic balancing act. Even with gear, potions or food that can increase flight time of speed, players will have to manage their flight time and decide when it is an advantage to take to the air and when it is best to stay grounded.

"In areas where you can't fly," said Associate Producer, Lani Blazier, "you can still glide." I tried that out, jumping off a cliff and gliding as far as I could. "It's a favorite pastime in the studio, challenging each other to see who can get further."

Combat also features a chain-of-skills system. Basic attacks unlock more powerful ones on the fly so you aren't locked into a sequence of mashing the same buttons and waiting for them to recycle. What's better, these chain icons appear around your character so you don't have to take your eyes away from the action to watch your hotbar.

Graphics are beautiful in this game. Gorgeous lush landscapes, beautiful details and animations and animated emotes (35 of them so far) so smooth you want to play with them again and again. That combined with cutscenes that are built into many quest sequences really draw the player in.

The customization system allows you to apply the look of one piece of gear to another that you have. At level 30 players can take the visuals from one piece of armor and the stats from another and mesh them together to create a unique combination. There is a restriction though; players can only mesh visuals/stats within the same type of material, i.e. cloth to cloth, leather to leather, plate to plate. You can apply the stats of your higher level armor and yet look like you are still wearing lower level armor if you wish. All end level characters are not going to look like every other of its own class. This makes PvP that little bit more interesting as you cannot judge your opponent by their armor. All you can really tell is that they are level 30+.

The character creator is also something that has to be seen. There are two systems - one tab provides you with 22 faces, 44 hair styles, six body types, premade combinations and allows you to change colors of hair and eyes. The other tab opens up your sliders. I think I counted 25 sliders just for the face alone.

"You can totally create yourself or your favorite celebrity in game," said Lani. "There's an Aion Obama loaded up on Youtube."

So what is new and upcoming? Well, Aion is launching in the US with two major PvE content updates included due to Korean development being about nine months ahead. The Dreadgion Battle Ship is an instance in the Abyss where players will actually be able to interact with the Balur, and will feature RvR quests which pit Elyos against Asmodian against the environment as they race to the Boss. The Spiritmaster (Mage Pet Class) will have a new summons - a fifth spirit. A combination of Wind and Water for the Elyos and a combination of Earth and Fire for the Asmodians.

Finally, a Power-Wiki database will be on their website for any and all information about and in the game; Stats, game play, quests, class information, it will all be there. Aion launches September 22nd 2009 and Lani reminds us that Pre-Orders = entry into Beta and also let us know that there are some exclusive emotes in the Collectors Edition. So many games, so little time.