Aion: Ascension Review (PC)

If you’ve already made up your mind about NCSoft’s new MMORPG, Aion, then you’re unlikely to be swayed by this review. Despite the fact that it’s been nearly a month since the game was released, Strategy Informer has a policy of reviewing most, if not all, of the code we are sent. Whilst puzzlingly late, Aion was eventually sent to us and so will face our critical eye.

It’s strange, because for a game that certainly looked like it could be another step along the evolution of a complex genre, Aion is quite a traditional game. There is little here that can truly be called new or innovative, and the game-world itself reflects traditional values from both sides of the world. An extremely focused (and slightly linear) title, this game is a curious mix of themes, tangible opposites and old fashioned grinding.

Redbull gives you wings.
The environments are nicely done, I’ll give them that.

You should all know at least some details about the world of Aion by now: Set in a fantasy world that naturally defies the laws of physics, Aion see’s you take the role of a normal human (complete with a slightly clichéd past) living on the world of Atreia who is either an Elyos or an Asmodian. Literal opposites, these two factions of humanity we’re divided when the world’s guardians, the Balaur, went on a power trip and fought a war that resulted in the world being literally split into half. The Asmodians live on the top side of the planet, and thus in never ending twilight and the Elyos live on the underside and are always in the light of the sun. Naturally, the two sides hate each other; however the fighting is waged between the ascended guardians of the two sides, known as Daevas.

An interesting plot, to say the least, and a respectable amalgamation of eastern and western themes. The main ‘story’ is told through Campaign quests – non optional missions that plot your character’s journey through the world of Atreia. To be fair, the developers have really tried to make this area a more cinematic and all round ‘epic’ experience. Quests are accompanied by cut scenes and dialogue that could have been from a bog-standard RPG, and while this is certainly refreshing, it’s not used enough and only really gets in the way of gameplay. There also optional side-quests which tend to be your more generic missions, and then there are also ‘work orders’ which are connected to crafting.

The idea of opposites is rather prevalent in the game. Humanity is divided between light and dark, top or bottom, fight or flight... even the leaders of the two sides: Seraphim and Shedim Lords - Angels and Demons. This theme runs deep, right down to the class system. Whilst everyone starts out by choosing the basic classes of warrior, scout, priest and mage classes, at level 10 you get to specialise within that class and these specialisations are also near-polar opposites of each. For example, the warrior can either ascend to an offensive (Gladiator) class, or a defensive (Templar) class.

There’s not much of an emphasis on teamwork until the very end, which is a mixed blessing.
Despite limitations, flying can make combat more interesting when used properly.

It felt a bit too soon to be specialising to such a degree however. Having only played through the beginner area, it’s hard to truly get a feel for the game, or what play style you prefer. There’s no real sense of achievement, and from a more practical point of view you’re unlikely to have joined a Legion (Guild) by level 10, and so are unlikely to know which sub-class would best suit their needs. Still the classes themselves are fairly interesting, and go some way to break out of the stereotypical classes that every MMO seems to fall into and provide more playing options.

Aion’s one true unique feature however has to be the ability to fly. After you ascend at level 10, you’re able to use your wings in certain areas to fly up as far as the game will allow you. Not only does this open up the game world vertically, but it also affects combat and transportation. Every MMO to an extent has to have something that defines it – WAR had public quests, AoC had a revised combat system, and Aion has flight. Unfortunately, you appear to be limited in the areas which you can fly, and through testing more time was spent on the ground than in the air. Kind of defeats the point of having it in the first place, but things get better towards end-game.

It’s not always kosher these days to talk about the graphics of a game in a review, but in this case they really are something worth noting. Utilising the CryEngine, the world of Atreia has been brought to life beautifully, with varied environments, fluid character motions, and gorgeous vistas. Although if looks translated into success, EVE Online would be the best MMO around, and so Aion needs to remember that there’s more to a game then just it’s rendering.

Yeah, Aion tries to sell itself using sexuality... but who doesn’t?
There’s little proper PvP till the end-game, which is a shame.

This is a game that is geared towards the end game. Subtle things such as Daeva Points, a power metre that only fills up when you’re online, encourage the player to play, and to play for as long as possible for maximum effect. Even the PvPvE system encourages (or forces) players to see things through to the near end in order to get to bits that everyone prefers – battling other players. There are only so many ways for constructing an MMO, and this is one of them. It’s probably not the best, but it’s at least different, and despite its flaws Aion is setting up to be one of the more successful new MMO’s.

That being said, the emphasis on grinding, the linear environment and the rather uninspired early levels pose a serious threat to this games growth. Whilst these are things that cannot be changed, it will depend on what NCSoft will do next which will ultimately make or break it.



By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Oct 26, 2009
By the sounds of it, you didn't get far past level 10? (since you said you only did the beginner area), and quite franky, this game cannot be fully judged or reviewed by someone who hasn't at least been to the abyss, since thats the main focus of the game.. which is 25+ and since I saw no mention of the area or what it entails what-so-ever, I'll assume you didn't.

There was also no mention of rifting, which allows players from 20+ to go to the enemy factions lands and engage in not only quests, but mass PvP with unsuspecting players. There is PLENTY of quality PvP to be had from 20+ and PvPvE from 25+

I will agree that Aion is focused on end-game, but I really dont think this review does it justice at all. Which you don't need need to play the game to see, since its recieved extremely good reviews and ratings on most high-end gaming sites, perfect example is IGN's review which not only gave it a high rating, but its 'Editor's Choice Award'.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Oct 26, 2009
I wondered how this much publicised game would fare for reviewers. The summary, while agreeing with Jake, does leave me still wary.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Oct 27, 2009
I was actually just shy of lvl 20 before I had to stop, and those 19 odd levels did not impress me. A lot of grinding, back and forth questing.. some quests that were near on impossible to complete due to weird loot drop ratios... what can I say? I would have played more, but it was a late arrival and I had a backlog building up, so I did the best review possible with the facts I had.

I researched what was in store in later levels, and in the end I decided that from where I stood, the end didn't justify the means so to speak. That being said, I couldn't comment on the Abyss or Rifting (although I did ask around players, see what they thought of it), as commenting on something I hadn't tested is far worse then potentially under-playing a game.

As I said in my review, I agree that the Abyss and the rest of the end game content is the main focus of the game, but I didn't agree with the fact that I would have to have waited so long to play it. That would have still been my opinion had I made it that far, the only difference would have been I could have added in a paragraph talking about the pros or cons of that particular section.

I'm sorry if you don't think my review gives it justice, and maybe it could be better, but I stand by what I wrote. I didn't just pull those words out of thin air you know, they were carefully constructed through what I did observe, research and questionining.

I'm happy to recieve feedback on my reviews, even discuss things like this at length if you want. Feel free to email me.
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Oct 29, 2009
Sorry, after reading my comment it was far more 'snappy' than I had intended it to be. I do not disagree with much of what you did review, my only concern was the exclusion of several main game elements such as the abyss in your review, which if not experienced, gives the rating of 7.5 little or no accuracy on the game as a whole. Hence why I said the review didn't give it justice, although I guess it would have made more sense to say the 'rating' didn't give it justice.

Anyway, sorry for my comment sounding a bit rude, I didn't intend it like that. Perhaps I'll chat to you later on msn about it, though it's not a big deal. :)
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Nov 02, 2009
It's cool man :) I'd be happy to have a chat about it. Even with all I said, it's not the worst MMO out there, so it's not like there isn't potential.