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Aion: Hands On Preview

21 Jul 2009  by   Paul Younger

Aion has been on the lips of almost every MMO gamer in the last few months, renowned for its beauty and its popularity in Asia. As the western release date approaches, we take a look at this upcoming game to see if it really lives up to all the hype.

Previously known as Aion: Tower of Eternity, NCsoft recently decided to rename it to simply ‘Aion’ for us here in the west. The game launched in South Korea in November last year, and shortly afterwards it was awarded “Best Korean Game of the Year”. In April it hit game store shelves in China and, to date, Aion reportedly has around 3.5 million subscribers, a mere eight months after launch.

Until now, all we’ve seen of the game in the rest of the world is the odd screenshot, well, the odd hundred, and a brief glimpse of in-game zones through ‘tours’ released by NCsoft. However, the closed beta testing opened last month, and some lucky players finally got a chance to try out the game first hand. This weekend was the third closed beta session, so I decided to get stuck in and see if Aion is worth all the fuss.

One of Aion’s big selling points is its graphics, and from the media I’d seen so far I knew what to expect. However, I was still extremely impressed when the game started up. The first stage of the character creator was my first “Wow” moment. There are four classes to choose from, so to give players an idea of what their characters may look like later in the game, a male and female version of each class is presented, lounging on the screen in front of you, in some of the game’s best gear I suspect. Clicking one of these characters prompts a brief demonstration of their abilities, accompanied by an unmistakably Asian-sounding shout. The game is currently being localised for English-speaking players and western voices are supposedly being added, although there is a lot of debate in the community about whether this is necessary. However, considering the amount of work developers have put into the next step, the character customisation, it’s clear they feel the look, and likely the sound, of a character is important to players in Aion.

The four classes in Aion to choose from are the Warrior, Mage, Scout and Priest. Each of these have two subclasses, such as the Scout’s Assassin and Ranger, and players must pick which role they wish to play later on in the game. So once the somewhat simple choice of class has been made, the character customisation, the part many MMO players look forward to immensely, is next.

I thought the class selection screen was impressive, but I was blown away by this stage. The face that greets you as you begin to design your character is uncannily realistic. My sister happened to be with me when I saw this page for the first time, and she said it was almost like looking into a mirror, albeit there was someone else’s face looking back at us. I knew what she meant immediately.

There are a number of ‘pre-made’ heads to pick from, then you can tweak anything about it that you may not like. There are around 40 different hairstyles, 20 faces, different freckles and moles for women, facial hair for men, and facial tattoos and scars available for both. Next, you can choose the colour of your character’s hair, skin and lips from several pre-set colours, or by using a colour palette for probably hundreds of varying shades. Right, those are the basic settings. Now you can go advanced and adjust a long list of slider bars to change almost every facial feature on the character. Eyes, forehead, nose, mouth, cheeks, chin, jaw, lips – all of them are adjustable, some of them in more ways than one. For example, there are four bars just for the nose; length, width, bridge and tip. Once the face is sorted, you have the body to shape. Again, a number of pre-made options are available, but you can fiddle with the height, shoulder width, torso size and, of course for women, breast size. Arm thickness, foot size and leg width are all changeable too.

But fear not, for those of you that don’t like wasting too much time with the appearance of your character, there’s a random button.

There was also a selection of voices to chose from, but these weren’t available to preview when I was making my characters. I probably spent around half an hour on my first toon before I was happy with him, then finally started the game.

Next week I’ll describe the game itself, how I found the combat, questing, graphics and environment.

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