Cheating on WoW: Aion (+ New Writing)

It’s becoming a minor tradition. Every few months, I get bored with World of Warcraft, download the free trial of another MMO, and then come on my blog to tear it apart and explain all the reasons WoW is better. I’ve already done this to Rift and Star Trek: Online, and now I come to my next victim: Aion.

A wallpaper for Aion: Tower of EternityBut something went wrong this time. Against all odds and expectations, I actually kind of like this game.

The basics:

In many ways, the joke “WoW + wings = Aion” is fairly accurate (more on the wings in a minute). The broad strokes are very much in the traditional MMO vein: there’s a guy with a glowing symbol above his head who needs 30 bear asses. Guess whose problem that is?

Still, while it may not be wildly original, it’s enjoyable enough. The quests I’ve done so far flow along at a good pace, there’s not much travel time, and the classes are fun.

My character in Aion, an Asmodian rangerCombat in Aion emphasizes combinations and interactions between abilities, which I find very enjoyable. It makes rotations feel more engaging and skillful. There’s an element of strategy to rotations that WoW often lacks.

Amazingly, Aion’s quests seem to be even easier than Warcraft’s. The enemies die slower, so you need to put more effort into killing them, but most mobs have very small or even non-existant aggro ranges, so it’s almost impossible to die while questing.

Red Bull Aion gives you wings!

Aion’s most unique gimmick is the the wings every character receives upon hitting level ten. Unlike in WoW, flight in Aion is intended to be a core gameplay mechanic, and you can do everything from fight to gather trade materials while aloft — though I haven’t encountered much aerial content yet.

The flight is fun enough, but I’ve yet to see it make a major impact, and there are a lot of obtrusive no fly zones, so that takes some of the thrill out of it. Does make getting to a new quest area more exciting, though.

A winged Elosian in AionThe bad:

Aion has many flaws, but most of are minor and mostly consist of irritating quality of life issues. Imagine having a chance to fail every time you try to pick an herb, or having the risk of losing all gems in a piece of gear every time you try to socket a new one. These are dumb mechanics in the extreme, but to be fair, I didn’t find them enough to seriously hurt my enjoyment of the game. Yet.

I can see things getting more troublesome later on. The game doesn’t seem to have any dungeon finder tool, which is the biggest potential deal-breaker for me. Seeing all the people begging for tanks in the LFG channel brought back some nasty memories.

I’m also told that the game requires a lot of grinding in later levels.

The quest design could use some work, as well. It’s very much a Burning Crusade questing model — get a dozen unrelated quests dumped on you the moment you enter a zone, most of which are just culling the local wildlife. It’s “killing rats” syndrome.

The charm:

But Aion does have a lot of very nice features, as well. The graphics are beautiful, and unlike Rift, even my mediocre computer could still handle it at high settings with minimal lag.

Most impressive are the character models, which are visually stunning and almost infinitely customizable. There are only two playable races, and there’s little visual variation between them, but the customization options are so good that it’s hardly an issue. If you want to play a two-foot tall pink pixie, you can, and if you want to play an eight-foot snarling savage, you can — and both characters can be of the same race.

In fact, the customization is so amazingly good that I took to recreating characters from my novels. I can’t really describe the kind of thrill that was, to see a character I’d created staring me in the face.

The protagonist of two of my novels, recreated via Aion's amazing character customizationI’ve written two books and a short story about that girl.

The world of Aion, Atreia, is interesting, with a unique and alien atmosphere. It has a good backstory that manages to not be a clone of Warcraft, and the cultures are surprisingly rich and well-developed.

I’ve spent most of my time playing on the Asmodian faction, and I find I’ve quickly developed a strong sense of faction pride. I honestly think Blizzard could take a lesson from the Asmodians on how to portray a culture with dark and Spartan themes without making them into cartoon villains — as has happened to the Horde lately.

I’ve often said that an RPG needs two things to work: good ambiance and fun classes. Aion has managed to succeed in both these areas.

The verdict:

One of Aion's Asmodians showing off her wingsAion’s does have its fair share of flaws, and it’s not as fun as World of Warcraft, but the core of a solid game is there. It’s not as soulless and over-complicated as Rift, and it’s not as obtuse and dull as Star Trek: Online.

I don’t see myself paying to keep playing Aion after my trial runs out. I’ve already shelled out for the WoW annual pass, and I don’t have a huge amount of disposable income right now.

But if Aion ever becomes free to play, I may just have to make a return to Atreia. Aion is already free to play in Europe, so it might not be that unlikely.

New writing:

Weird Worm has posted another of my articles: Five TV Idiots (And Why We Love Them). No prizes for guessing who made it to #1.

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