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Aion Preview: Part Two

28 Jul 2009  by   Paul Younger

Last week I took my first look at the upcoming MMO, Aion, and described the incredibly detailed character creation process. Today’s article will describe the early gameplay itself including the quests, graphics and overall experience.

After the good chunk of time I’d invested into creating my character, I was keen to get in-game and see if the rest of Aion was as impressive. The starter area was, as expected on the beta for such a hyped game, pretty crowded. The quest givers were easy to spot though, despite the absence of the somewhat familiar yellow punctuation marks above their heads. In their places were large blue arrows, hard to miss. So I took my first quest, which was the fairly standard “Go speak to this guy, he has work for you”, which lead on to “Go kill 10 of these nearby harmless creatures”.

I was pleased to find there were plenty of these quest mobs around regardless of there being so many of us in the starter area. I did a couple of additional quests, which took me to a nearby town. Here, there were vendors, trainers and plenty more quests. So far, all pretty normal for an MMORPG. Like any fan of this type of game, I’ve been in many of these lowbie towns, and at this point I normally take a deep breath, gather up all the quests and begin the grind. Instead, I actually stopped to take a look around; there was something going on everywhere.

In Aion, characters who are idle don’t just stand around occasionally twitching. If it’s raining, after a few moments they’ll look up, feel the top of their head and look somewhat frustrated, then produce a large leaf to hold above them. If it’s dry, they’ll glance over their shoulders, turn around, see who’s about. This changes depending on where they are when they’re idle. If you happen to be standing in water, your character will catch a fish, only to have it slip out of their fingers. The result is that, while playing, you’ll never come across a  bunch of motionless muppets, even while talking to an NPC, your character animatedly ‘chats’, and so does the NPC.While on the subject of character animations, I can’t fail to mention the emote system. While it’s likely to be a somewhat brief period of amusement, watching your character go through all these actions is highly entertaining. They can cry, laugh, wave – all the usual things, but there’s a vast selection of other actions they can act out on demand – around 30 of them. Want them to sit? Aion characters don’t just plonk their behinds on the ground, they produce a small stool and rest on that. The sleep emote made my character create a man-sized floating cloud which he reclined on, a couple of feet about the ground, puffing up the ‘pillow’ until he was comfortable. They can act out virtually anything that springs to mind in incredible detail, within reason of course, and there’s more fancy ones you can buy from vendors later in the game. See a video of these emotes in our earlier news article.

Characters look pretty cool when they’re fighting too, with plenty of grand and elaborate moves. More work has been put into their appearance here; when your character is down to around 70% health, they’ll stoop slightly as they walk, if they reach below 50% they’ll stagger. This serves as a handy reminder of your health levels as well as a nice game effect. When you need to regain health and mana after battle, you can use bandages which are cheap to buy from vendors, or you can use the ‘Rest’ emote which tops you back up in a few moments.
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From early on in the game, I picked up and was rewarded with food and potions that boosted performance in various ways, eg. haste, quicker HP or mana regain. I also came across various gems and stones that could be equipped to items to empower them or equipped to my character to further improve his prowess. At the start of the game, these do benefit you slightly, and there’s a wealth of them to choose from. No doubt, as the game progresses they become more important.

Combat is quite straight forward thanks to the simple layout of the UI, which is in the usual format; action bar at the bottom of the screen with skills bound to the number keys. As I ascended through the levels I could choose which skills I wanted to add to my collection, or to improve on. The combat system also has chained abilities, rank two skills light up after using rank ones, so a combo system in effect, which adds a nice twist to fights. Some skills are also faction specific, ‘Slash Artery’ is only available to the evil Asmodians for example.

There are regular quests which you can pick and choose to do, but there are also main storyline quests which must be completed to progress through the game, many including cut-scenes featuring your character. As seems to be quite popular these days, the in-game map and mini map can display quest objectives and important NPCs. I noticed that each quest in my log often had names and locations highlighted. If I clicked on them, they were marked clearly on the map, and an arrow appeared on my mini map, guiding me to my destination. It’s not forced on you if you’d rather figure these things out on your own though.

One quest required me to level my gathering skill, which reminded me of the professions in Aion. There are two gathering and six production professions in the game, and unlike other MMOs, you can level all of them if you are so inclined. Characters are created with the two gathering skills built-in. You can go on the learn Alchemy, Armoursmithing, Cooking, Handiwork (?!), Sewing and Weaponsmithing. I’ll be delving into these further into the game.

You won’t find that you’re forced to walk for miles between hubs and towns from the start of Aion, as there are handy transport and teleport points at regular intervals. If you chose to take a trip to a nearby town, you’re majestically carried by a flying angel of sorts, in keeping with the flying theme of Aion. Also found at towns and some quest hubs are the bind points, set places where characters re-appear if they die. I was careful to reset my binding point every time I found a new one, although I rarely needed it. There is a death penalty if your character is overcome; you lose experience and suffer debilitating effects. However, for a fee a nearby NPC at the bind stone will restore some of the lost XP. Alternatively, you can wait at your corpse for a friendly healer to pass by and resurrect you. The death penalty has been criticised by fans, but it really makes you think twice before taking on too many mobs and being reckless. Later on in Aion, death has harsher consequences, but I’ll cover that when I get there in-game.

Towards the end of the starter area, one of the storyline quests prompted me to choose which career path I’d like to take for my Warrior, in his case it was the tanking option, a Templar, or a damage-dealing Gladiator. My hatred for any kind of tanking responsibility guided me to take the DPS path. This didn’t have any immediate results to my knowledge, but I assume skills and quests offered to me from that point would be suited to my class choice. Not long afterwards, the final part of the starter area storyline was completed, and I was offered a chance to finish up before moving on. The sprawling picturesque floating city of Sanctum awaited, where I was awarded my wings as I reached level 10. A new set of quests was offered, which promised to take me to new lands, to gather new gear and fight new enemies, but for now, my exploring was over.

I stayed in the city, checking out the taverns, seeing which parts of my humble newbie gear I could afford to upgrade, until the server shut down notice appeared. The closed beta test only stays up for three or four days at a time right now, every couple of weeks, so it would be a while before I got to see Aion again. I was strangely sad about that. But it’s been over a week, and the next session is approaching.Check back next week to see how I get on with crafting, instances and possibly the odd bit of PvP.

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