The latest member of The MMO Gamer’s writing staff, Jeffrey Philipp got the opportunity to sit down and play Aion during one of its closed beta events. Continue to read his impressions.
Salutations folks, I was lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to take part in the Aion closed beta, and I thought I’d take a little bit of time to relay my thoughts so far.
I suppose the first thing that warrants mentioning is that the developers are doing something drastically differently than previous betas I’ve participated in. As opposed to other game betas it’s not a continuous playing period, rather they are opening up individual areas that they are hoping to test and running players through those areas, presumably to get more focused feedback. I personally have to say that while I would prefer the chance to just play the heck out of the beta, I think that this is actually an incredibly effective technique for getting proper testing feedback. That said, the amount of time they have allowed for actual testing has limited the amount of exploration that one can engage in, but I assure you I’ve done my best to root out all the interesting bits.
The first thing that anyone is likely to notice about this particular game is that it’s incredibly, and I mean incredibly polished for a pre-release state. There is however a reason for that, and that is due to the fact that the game has been live in Korea for just over seven months. I’m certainly not going to hold that against the game, but I have noted that testers of the NA/EU version are currently playing on v1.0 servers and clients, while the actual game is v1.5 at the moment.
What difference that might make to the finished product I certainly couldn’t say, so I’m going to try and limit this to only what I know, and leave speculation to the comments at the bottom. As I said, the game is currently polished to an almost mirror shine. One spot I did notice some performance trouble though was with control responsiveness. When playing things could feel a tad sluggish sometimes, though I’m willing to chalk that one up to the network chaos that accompanies huge amounts of people all playing in the same space.
One aspect that almost certainly deserves it’s own section is the graphics. The game is running on the Crytek engine, the same little piece of software that brought you the gorgeous Far Cry, and which was later improved to be used in Crysis as Crytek2. As such the graphics are, for the most part, quite breathtaking. Characters and enemies are highly detailed and effects are varied and for the most part also quite impressive. I think that this high quality is what creates such a jarring effect when compared to the texture quality of the terrain and far distance static objects. The terrain and distant objects are certainly not in any horrifying state as to be distressing, but they certainly lack the variety and detail of so many other objects, there does also appear to be a fair amount of stretching on pieces of terrain that are not entirely flat.
I won’t presume to speak for the developers, but it seems to me that this decision was made to reduce the amount of power needed to create the world, the upshot of which is, you will be able to play this game at a quite detailed level without having to refinance your house to buy a new supercomputer. I was getting quite acceptable fram erates with full detail and upwards of thirty people on screen at the same time.
Now a very pretty game is one thing, but that certainly doesn’t necessarily make it a good game, that is provided by the game play. Up to now, only the first twenty levels of play have been made accessible to players, which does certainly leave some parts out, but it allows for an impression of the basic mechanics as well as the new player experience. As far as game mechanics goes, it will be largely familiar to people who have played any of the other big name titles out there. HP and MP bars, and some boxes with pictures on a bar at the bottom that do different things.
The holy trinity has been maintained with a clear Tank and Healer class, though from my limited playtime I found that there were a number of classes that could fill those shoes if strictly necessary. I had chosen the healer route as I am wont to do, and played through the first ten levels at a pace similar to healers in most other games. I must admit that there was not a great deal worth mentioning in those first ten levels, though there was one thing that I was impressed by. The overall starter area quests were separated into two lines, the campaign quests and standard quests.
The standard quests truly are standard quests, in every sense of the word ,they adhere to the same principles that were created with EverQuest questing. It was the campaign quests that I found myself more drawn to. It would appear from my limited experience that each major area has it’s own particular story that is played out through these campaign quests, each of which are either explicitly or subtly related to one another, and are often bookended by cut scenes. Currently they are simply video with subtitled text, but the developers have promised that voice-over is intended and is currently in progress to be included for cut scenes.
And now we come to level 10. Once a player manages to get a character up to level ten things open up a bit more. The story given is that while you have been a mortal human for the first ten levels, you are blessed and allowed to ascend to the ranks of the immortal Daeva after completing a simple quest line. While that sounds cool of it’s own right, it comes with the added bonus of a pair of wings which you can use to take flight and rain death from your opponents down from above, and take to the skies and explore areas previously denied to you by your mortal status; for one minute, and only in proscribed areas. Yes, I found out very quickly that there are actually a rather large number of restrictions on playing with flight. Looking at it now with the benefit of hindsight I can understand why that might be, but it was still a little bit disappointing to be grounded so soon.
Flight isn’t the only big change the comes with level ten. From level one to nine you get to pick a general class, but once you reach level 10 a player gets to branch into one of two subsequent classes. In my particular case I went from Priest to Chanter. As could be expected, each of the two classes one can choose at level ten are, at least in the most general sense, a more advanced version of the class you’ve been playing for the first nine levels, but with slightly different directions. In the case of a chanter I retained my ability to heal, but from the skills available to me at the time it would appear that the Chanter relies more on powerful buffs in order to prevent your party members from taking damage and increasing the damage they do.
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