Saturday, 17 October 2009

First impressions: Aion, the new MMO from NCSoft

I've had a chequered history with MMORPGs: Guild Wars was entertaining but the lack of actual community play hampered the experience, and Tabula Rasa was a huge step forward for NCSoft - and I'm in no doubt that the involvement of Ultima supremo Richard Garriot played a large part in that.

On the other hand, I've never played the "daddy" of MMO games, World of Warcraft, despite being a huge fan of Warcraft RTS titles in the past. Looking at my MMO history, it seems that I'm a bit of an NCSoft fanboy - and, consequently, I'd been looking forward to Aion for months.

I've been playing it for several weeks now and, thankfully, it hasn't disappointed.

The game's main attraction is surely its rich, vibrant and lavish world. While almost every open-world game relies on the same stale locations - even Aion has its forested area, desert bit, snowy tundra et al - Aion's world is far more imaginative and detailed than the average.

Every different environment is packed with incidental detail, NPCs, quests and places to explore and, thanks to huge demand since the game's debut, most of the world is crammed with eager players. Most of them have been pleasant, too, and always seem eager to help out if you've picked a fight that you won't be able to win.

It's a good thing that virtually every one of Aion's locations (those that I've explored, anyway) looks fantastic because, when it comes to gameplay, NCSoft's latest relies on MMO conventions.

Most of the game's quests, for instance, are very, very linear: the NPC's speeches may be well written and packed with detail, but there's only so many times that you can kill 10 Mud Ribbits or 15 enemy warriors to suit a tenuous request from a local farmer.

The main story quests are more involved and more rewarding, but they're just not as frequent as the dozens of normal quests that little the game's towns, villages and countryside.

And, as I've progressed through Aion's levels, of which there are fifty, I've found that more and more grinding is required. NCSoft may have spent almost a year tweaking the game for a Western release, but the foundations of an MMO that begun life in Korea are often obvious.

That said, Aion has plenty going for it: the combat itself is visceral and rewarding, there's plenty of crafting to do, the main story is decent, the community is friendly and the world, above all, is an extremely nice place to hang around in. Hopefully I'll be sticking around for a while yet.

No comments: