Now that`s a bit embarrassing.
After all the talk about MMOs lacking innovation, I am up to say Aion is a really great one, although it can only be described as classic by all means.
Still, out of the MMOs I have covered here so far, it`s easily the one I liked the most, and I am looking forward to it`s western release in excitement.
I think the keyword for Aion is improvement. They hardly try to do things different, but they try to do it better. This is true for almost each department.
Of course the game starts with the character creation, and it`s save to say I already fell in love with it at this point. It`s just incredibly detailed, you really have a good chance ending up with a toon looking the way you wanted it. The only downfall is the lack of an option for eyecolors, but I heard it`s already patched in the korean version. One noteworthy feature on the creationscreen is the option to preview the character wearing high level armour. Really helpful to get a good sense for the bodyshape.
It`s also pleasing to see your creation looking exactly like you`ve built it ingame, sounds simple, but isn`t exactly granted on other games.
Once you do your first steps into the world, you`ll have a first look at the design and artdirection, another strength of Aion.
Technically it may not be the absolute top of the genre, nitpickers go ahead and count a few lowres textures here and there. But man is it beautiful.
Almost every scene is crafted with a lot of love, and everything feels alive. You see butterflys flying, NPCs are usually animated (and turn to you when you talk to them), dark woods are filled with all kinds of glowy little things, and looking to the sky you have a good chance to spot some giant creatures majestically crossing by. Playercharacters also feature lots of unique animations depending on their gender and the region you are in. There`s anims for rain, getting sweaty in the desert, standing idle in a lake, and so on.
I dislike to do the comparement, but it reminded me a lot on my first steps in WOW. You explore the first regions with wide opened eyes, and just wanna see more of it.
Another keyword for Aion is user-friendliness. This is most evident on the interface. In example the way quests are handled is just right, and you will instantly miss it on any other MMO. When you pick up a quest it starts flashing on the top/right of your screen for a few seconds giving you a chance to check it to add it to the onscreen tracking. No need to go to the journal and pick it up there. Wanna reread the text? Click on the onscreen entry and get directly to the correct journal page. Can`t find the place you need to go to? Click the name on the text and get it marked on the map, the radar and an info about coordinates on the chatwindow. It`s just greatly convenient.
Combat seems to be very generic the first few levels, but turns out to be quite cool later on. One good thing are the chainskills, which simply means some skills only work as followup to others. It adds to the flow, and adds a small tactical component once you have more than one followups chained to a single starterskill. The other thing is simply the quality of skills. They ask you to think a little about your timing, and the order of using them can be situational. The only other game coming to my mind offering similar well thoughtout skills is guild wars (both NCsoft, coincidence?).
Can`t write about Aion without mentioning wings, although I`ll keep it short. You get them at level 10, and you feel very special once you do (although everyone does, so you are not any special at all). Flying works perfect, controls are good. Just know you can not fly everywhere, it depends on the region you are in. Gliding is possible everywhere though, so it helps shortcutting some ways by jumping off a high cliff or something.
Characterbalance will almost certainly be a huge topic. At low levels it`s frankly totally out of place. I made it my personal difficulty-selector. If I wanted a tough challenge I played a scout class character, if i wanted to go easy I picked a priest class ( mage or warrior `d do the same job here). That statement is for levels 1 to 16, I can`t judge the higher levels, but it`s said to balance out to a degree. However, I tried almost every class/subclass and have to say I liked playing them all in PvE. Actually the classes at disadvantage have been the best fun.
There`d be a lot more features (almost all leaning towards “classic” rather than “innovative”) to cover, but to cut it short, everything feels very functional and complete.
Hopefully NCsoft manages to release Aion soon for western markets, it`s such a sweet game it`d be a pitty if they would mess up by coming too late. Right now it would really stand a good chance for success, but competition is tight on the genre, and noone can afford to hang behind.
For further info on Aion I recommend jumping over to http://www.aionsource.com/forum/.