Sprawl hasn’t been Scrawling as much recently because he hasn’t been playing as much World of Warcraft as he used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still love World of Warcraft, but alas, I’m struggling with sitting on the computer for four hours straight, multiple nights per week. This however gives me the perfect opportunity to experiment with Aion’s Closed Beta weekend!

This was my first time in the world of Atreia, so I wasn’t completely certain what to expect. I have heard it said that this is “just another Korean MMO”, so my hopes weren’t very high when I received my beta invite in the mail. If it weren’t for the fact that a well-known gaming company was publishing this game, NCSoft, I probably wouldn’t have even tried it.

I have to admit, I’m not sure what makes a Korean MMO different than its North American counterparts, but having played a few of them, I can say I can recognize the eastern style when I see it. There is that ever-familiar Sci-fi meets Fantasy world, which has a very Final Fantasy feel to it. For those unfamiliar with this Techno-fantasy genre, picture a futuristic world with gunboats and airships, but everyone walks around with bladed weapons and martial arts prowess. Aion is no different.

The 5 GB download, and the subsequent 300 MBs of patches, took a while to install. There was not a special introduction movie bundled with the game either, so it was pretty obvious based on the sheer size alone that the graphics in this game were going to be intense.

Character Creation

At first character creation seemed limited. You are presented with a choice between one of the two realms: Elyos or Asmodian. Lore-wise, there is no good or evil, but just like in World of Warcraft, the Asmodians, like the Horde, take on the darker side of things. Once you determine which faction, you have your choice of class: Warrior, Scout, Mage, or Priest. Additionally, of course, you get to choose your gender. There are no differences between realms, except for a faction specific “super move”, which probably won’t play a big role in the large scheme of things.

Once you have picked all of the important stuff, you can easily spend fifteen minutes on the small character visual tweaks available. From the people who brought you City of Heroes (CoH) and the plethora of character creation options, NCSoft doesn’t disappoint with the number of forehead and chin choices available in Aion. It isn’t quite up to CoH level, perhaps not even close, but I was overwhelmed enough to find myself just hitting the randomize button until I was happy.

As expected, I settled on an Asmodian Scout in the hopes it would play somewhat like the WoW Rogue class. Avid readers of Sprawl’s Scrawl know that I’m a Rogue at heart; however, had I known that Asmodians all have backhair akin to a horse’s tail growing out of your neck, I would have gone with Elyos…

All in all, it seems like there aren’t really a lot of options that would impact how your character plays, at least that is how it seemed until I hit level 10. At this point, there was a quest-line that results in further class specializations. My Scout had the option of becoming a Ranger or Assassin. Needless to say, I chose the Assassin. The Aion Assassin has a stealth-like move that allows you to move around unseen for approximately 30 seconds. Due to the short duration, you have to be a little more careful in your approach because the pesky move always seems to wear off at the most inopportune of times.

User Interface

The game starts with your character waking up after having passed out on the road. There isn’t much of an explanation as to what happened, or perhaps that part hasn’t been translated yet, but you waste no time getting your hands dirty with quests. In Aion, the questgivers all have blue arrows over their heads, which should guide you in the right direction. So far there aren’t any special starter quests that teach you how to play, but if you are familiar with current MMO user interfaces, this one is no different. After all, it would be foolish to reinvent the wheel. How successful would a new first-person shooter be if they changed the default keys from WASD? An MMO is no different. That being said, the UI plays just like World of Warcraft with a few additional keys added to control your character while flying through the air.

Flying is a big draw for this game, but it really feels no different than a fast-paced underwater battle in WoW or flying combat in City of Heroes. There is a flying bar, which gives you approximately one minute until you are forced to land, or fall to your death. While flying, you have the ability to glide, which lets you descend at a faster rate than just plain flying. As such, you do this rise and fall type combo for the fastest traveling speeds.


The graphics in Aion are breathtaking even for my mediocre 8800GT. I was able to play at a full 1920×1200 with all of the graphical enhancements set to maximum at approximately 60 fps. Performance would drop down while visiting the capitol cities, but that was somewhat expected given the density of players. NCSoft has implemented a nice video option that lets you downgrade player character detail in highly populated areas. Due to this awesome feature, I was getting approximately 40 fps in the main city, which is a large jump over the usual 15 fps I get in Dalaran.

Internet latency was pretty bad this closed beta weekend, but as fans will often tout, it is closed beta after all. I had a lot of “rubberbanding”, especially in densely populated areas, which can be very frustrating. The worst is when you are fleeing some enemy that is pounding your backside, and all of the sudden you go sliding back towards him like the King of Pop himself. There were also huge bursts of combat lag, where nothing would happen in battle except for a fierce staredown, and then all of the sudden, a serious boatload of damage is unleashed on both sides.

PvE Gameplay

Quests in this game are of the standard fare. You have your kill X, gather X, and Fed-Ex quests. Aion was translated from Korean, so it is pretty impressive that many of the quests read well. Often times you get multiple pages of dialogue, which for some people is going to make questing impossible. In WoW, we are used to the one line summary of the quest that basically tells you what to do. In Aion, you need to read through multiple paragraphs or even pages to decipher what it is they are asking you to accomplish. Now this might sound like a pain in the butt, but alas, all the key terms within the quest description are highlighted. Additionally, you can click on these terms for more information, which marks the location on the map. I found the quests to be a lot more interesting when I took the time to read the story.

Once I found the map location feature, quests became a lot easier to manage. Also, for those of you that like to breeze through quests, there is a short summary after the quest is accepted. My only complaint is that you can’t go back and read the long dialogue after the quest is in your log. So there were plenty of times I was trying to remember the purpose of the quest based on one line of text.

I had plenty of quests to level up to 12 but by then I only had a few quests left in my log. I asked around and the general rule of thumb most people seemed to follow was to grind while questing. For example, if you are asked to kill 10 wolves, you should kill all the bears and other creatures that you encounter along the way. I spent an entire level killing flying bugs in a shallow lake, which was actually a bit fun because I found a bunch of green rarity items to replenish my gold stock. However, I don’t wish to be grinding full levels too often.

Traveling in Aion is a combination of managing predetermined flight paths and teleportation. So far, there are four main leveling maps in Aion per faction, which are very loosely connected together. Traveling within a given map is done through flight points between the major quest hubs. Travelling between maps, and the capitol city, which is just another map, is done through teleportation. You can wander off the edge of a map to an adjacent map, but typically this is not how it is done, even the first time around. Teleporting to the next zone seemed par for the course in this beta at least. It is theorized that as the game develops traveling will be done by airship rather than the quick but non-immersive teleportation.


This is one of those areas I’ve always felt the Korean MMOs shine. The grinding experience, aka the combat, in these games is generally very fast paced and fun. I don’t know what it is, perhaps the exaggerated animations or the bright colors and sound, but when I punch a creature in the face, I want to know it!

Everything else is as you would expect. You have a few action bars at the bottom of your screen that you populate with your moves. Each class is a bit different, but all classes have combos, which amounts to certain moves that can only be activated after or in conjunction with another move. For example, the Assassin has an overhand strike and a backhand slash that can be chained together for increased damage.

The Assassin class also has a mechanic that would be described in WoW as combo points. In Aion, the Assassin engraves runes on the enemy, perhaps on their forehead, and then performs a finisher that gets increasingly stronger based upon the number of engraved marks on the enemy. Confusing? Yeah it’s basically a combo point system. However, weaved in with the combat chain combo system, it makes for interesting and involved combat. The Assassin alternates slashing up the enemy with stacking magical engraves on the enemy. By level 15 or so, I was constantly pushing buttons, weaving my attack rotations to try to determine the most optimal way to destroy the enemy. It definitely felt more involved than playing the WoW Rogue in PvE solo content, and I can already see wanting addons to keep track of combo points and the like.


Casual players everywhere will be happy to hear that there isn’t “forced grouping” so far in Aion. Sure, there are a few group-oriented quests that can’t be completed without a few friends, but they are hardly required to level up your character. Superior gear can be found through crafting and PvP, so these group quests are purely optional. However, we are only talking the first 20 levels. It remains to be seen how NCSoft will address endgame content without defaulting to the typical group play raid dungeon requirements.

My only experience with grouping was at the level 18 region. I teamed up with a Chanter and a Sorcerer. The Chanter played healer and I played tank on my Assassin, which at level 18 wasn’t impossible but hardly trivial. I died a few times when I got in over my head, but luckily our Chanter was adapt at running, so he was able to resurrect me most of the time. One time we got in way over our head, and none of us survived. This was when we realized that Aion has a lot of work to do on graveyard placement. The three of us were back at our bind points, which were three different places across the world. Needless to say we gave up as to travel back would have taken a good half hour, easily.

Luckily when you die in Aion, you do not drop any items. There is an experience point penalty, but paying a small sum of gold offsets it. Provided you always have a little cash, which seems relatively easy to come by in this game, the only penalty for death is time lost.

PvP Gameplay

Since this beta was hard capped at level 20 out of a possible 50 levels total, there wasn’t a lot of PvP to be had. Rumor has it that rifts were randomly opening on Sunday, which allowed invasion from one faction map to the other. Reports were coming in that the enemy was pouring into one of our cities, but since NCSoft hasn’t seen fit to put in a global chat channel yet, even in towns, it was hard to get any up-to-date information on the fighting.

The capitol city for the Asmodians is the grand city of Pandemonium. This city is a site to behold, and makes Stormwind look like a chump’s town. Within one sector of the city is the gladiator arena where players join into a huge melee against other players. It is hard to say if there is any point to it other than killing other players, because in the time it would take to zone into the battle, I would be almost dead. I did get a chance to take off into the air the second match before getting shot out of the sky, but it was a lackluster experience. Hopefully the arena remains a work in progress.

The real PvP, or so I hear, starts after level 20 when both factions enter the Abyss, a third realm that is touted as PvPvE. There is a computer controlled 3rd faction that interacts with players. It is hard to say how it’ll all play out, but players will have access to the Abyss during the next closed beta weekend, less than two weeks away. So stay tuned!


Without global chat channels in the game yet, the economy is completely dependant on the Auction House and the little personal shops. This is one of those features that I love. Players have a small panel where they can drag and drop non-soulbound items, set prices, and sell their own wares. This adds a level of immersion that I feel doesn’t exist in current MMOs, which is that marketplace feeling. For those that still prefer the Auction House system, Aion has one too for the best of both worlds.

One item that everyone is looking to get their hands on are the manastones. Think of these as gems that can be placed in socketed armor. Unlike WoW, a lot of the low level armor in Aion has sockets, allowing for a myriad of stat combinations even at the lower level. Manastones themselves drop off monsters and some of the better ones, like critical strike, are in very high demand. This is where those personal shops come in since you will be hard-pressed to find a deal in the Auction House due to the sheer number of buyers and sellers. While there wasn’t a lot of crafting going on during the short beta weekend, there appears to be a plethora of options ranging from Alchemy and Cooking to Weaponsmithing and the mysterious Handiwork.


Overall, NCSoft has selected a winner with Aion. Since the game is already established in the Asian markets, most of the development time has been spent translating the game into English. Additional time has been spent addressing certain aspects of the game that the North American market find tedious or unappealing. NCSoft is working on putting in better anti-macro measures and toning down the grind a bit, which is perhaps best for the long-term health of the game.

However, if you are looking for a full replacement for WoW, this may not be the game for you. While a lot is subject to change before release, it is obvious to this beta tester that they are spending a lot of time polishing the lower level experience. Either they secretly have all the upper level stuff done, or they plan on completing it during future patches. The next big Aion beta patch is supposed to have endgame content, which surmounts to a few raid dungeons and PvP in the Abyss, so it is still uncertain if ultimately Aion will suffer from the same retention problems that Warcraft does. For now though, if you are looking for a temporary diversion while you wait for the next Warcraft expansion, this game doesn’t fail to deliver! And who knows, it has the potential to be a lot more. Perhaps we are just hesitant to call it too soon… yet again.

Written on 7/6/09