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Aion: The Tower of Eternity (PC) artwork

Aion: The Tower of Eternity (PC) review


"A persistent question throughout both Aion's beta and the early days of live was "Will this game kill WoW?" It popped up in the world chat channel more often than "Can I borrow 10 gold?" That by itself is pretty mind blowing, but really, it's a stupid question. No, Aion is not going to kill World of Warcraft. No game coming out in the foreseeable future is going to knock WoW from its throne, but that's the wrong question to ask anyway. Why should it need to? "



A persistent question throughout both Aion's beta and the early days of live was "Will this game kill WoW?" It popped up in the world chat channel more often than "Can I borrow 10 gold?" That by itself is pretty mind blowing, but really, it's a stupid question. No, Aion is not going to kill World of Warcraft. No game coming out in the foreseeable future is going to knock WoW from its throne, but that's the wrong question to ask anyway. Why should it need to?

Aion takes place on a world called Atreia. Imagine two umbrellas connected at the handle. The world is spherical, but broken in the middle, with a massive tower connecting the two halves and holding them together. On the top half is Asmodae, cut off from their sunlight because people inhabit the inside of the planet's sphere, not the outside. It's a dark and harsh place, and its denizens have grown dark and harsh from living there. The Asmodeans have claws and fangs and glowing eyes, they're hardy and fierce from years of fighting whatever lurks in the dark. Opposed to them are the Elyos, which receives all of the sunlight. As such it's a beautiful, prosperous land, though far from at peace.

I can't stress enough how cool the game world is. Basically every inch of it is gorgeously designed, and the various zones display a lot of personality. In the opening zone for the Asmodean side, the majority of the terrain is the kind of decrepit, barren, badlands you might expect from a world without sunlight. Except that down one path is a large watery oasis with a positively massive tree in the middle, brimming with prismatic phosphorescent leaves. It's an unexpectedly beautiful place that gives the impression that even this harsh, darkened land is worth fighting for.

Unexpected wonders can pop up frequently. It's not uncommon to see giant whale creatures flying lazily through the air. They aren't hostile, or even accessible as far as I was able to find, but they are strange and alien and every time I saw one I'd stop and stare for a moment. Then I'd see that instead of a sky there was simply the other half of the world far far above, a menacing reminder of the fact that there is an inescapable war going on.

There is a third realm in the center, a strange place called the abyss, where energy leaking from the broken tower is vital to the survival of both sides. The war over that energy is the center of the conflict, and so it makes sense that PVP would be at the core of the gameplay. Once you reach The Abyss, you are encouraged to kill members of the opposite faction wherever you find them, and rewarded amply for doing so. Much of the game's top end equipment comes from spending Abyss points earned through PVP. There are also a number of fortresses which legions (guilds) can fight over for other bonuses.

With that much focus on PVP, the combat needs to be fluid and interesting, and while the game doesn't make any drastic departures from genre norms, it does have its own flavor. Combat revolves around skill chains, where attacks lead into other attacks, all on varying cooldowns. For example, the game's warrior class has a basic weapon strike ability that takes 20 some seconds to cool down before you can use it again. After using the move, you can chose to lead into another strike for more quick damage, or to employ a damage shield to buy you some time to escape or get a few extra normal hits in. It's a fairly engaging system. Improper management of your cooldowns can lead to your death because you won't have access to certain vital attacks later in combat.

And then there's the flying. I have to admit that it was a little underwhelming at first. You spend the first 10 levels stuck to the ground as a meagre human, running around doing errands in the tutorial zone. When you finally ascend, you quickly find that the majority of Atreia consists of no fly zones. You can still use your wings to glide if you can find elevated places to jump from, but that just makes it into an aggravating and substandard mount. Wings don't really start to be fun until the abyss, where you're more or less free to fly when you wish. They play a big part in PVP, as you have to be aware of attacks from above at nearly any time, and all of the classes get some kind of bonus for having their wings out. Most classes even get a few unique moves that they can only use while flying.

The downside to all that power is that you can only fly for one minute before your wings need to cool down. There are some ways around it, such as potions that increase your flight time, but when it comes down to it your flight time is limited. It's a let down in more ways than one, but it does add another layer of cooldown management to the game's combat later on.

About the only thing that the game is lacking on the gameplay end is a mechanism to customise your character. Aion lacks any kind of skill trees or stat allocation, and outside of a few slots that you can socket with stones for varying effects, every character in a class will be exactly like every other character of the same class. This does make the game easier to balance, I suppose, but it does seem like a step backwards. I think they tried to make up for it by making the actual character creator as massive and robust as possible. The game's tower of body and facial adjustment sliders ensures you'll look unique, even if you won't play that way.

With the first major content patch for Aion already out, NC Soft seems committed to making sure it stays a good experience for quite some time. While I can't promise that years from now every MMO gamer will be fawning over it, I can say that for now things look pretty good. It's a solid MMO, and as long as NC Soft doesn't give up on it, then there shouldn't be any reason for the players to either.

Rating: 8/10

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Freelance review by Josh Higley (October 30, 2009)

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