Op-EdPreview: AionOp-Ed - RSS 2.0
There's an emphasis on story in Aion that most MMORPGs lack, and the game is fond of cutscenes. There were at least four or five individual cutscenes within the first zone alone, though whether that will persist through the rest of the game or if that's only the developers going "Hey, we're going to introduce you to the world and the plotline with these super keen cutscenes, okay?" and packing them all into that introduction remains to be seen. Either way, little cinematics featuring your character being celebrated as the big cool savior is actually a really neat touch, and make you feel like, well, you're actually part of the game's overarching plot.
All of these little tweaks to the MMORPG formula are nice enough, but the main 'gimmick' in Aion is, naturally, the wings: Hit level 10, choose your class path, and you get a pair of wings with which you can fly around the world as you please. Or, at least mostly as you please - there are areas where you won't be able to fly freely, but you'll still be able to glide. The free flight is an interesting idea, but it remains to be seen if the flight will actually be pertinent to the gameplay and combat at all, or if it's just another way to get around town. If the former, it'd add an extra layer to fights in the game that would really help Aion stand out from the crowd; if the latter, well, then it's just a fancy-looking flying mount.
But boy, is it ever fancy: Aion is still a gorgeous game in all meanings of the word. The art direction is fantastic, from looking into the sky to see the other half of your shattered world hanging above you to traipsing through a mushroom forest filled with deadly fungi to wandering through an ethereal city suspended in the sky. The artistic beauty is bolstered by a powerful technical engine - turn everything up to max, and the game looks great. It should run decently even on computers that aren't top of the top line, too (though the cutscenes chug a little bit when you're running a program like Fraps).
In the end, it's still way too early to make a call either way about Aion. Not only is it still in beta, but there's no way to tell whether or not all the mechanics and touches that were really cool over the first ten or so levels will still be as interesting and compelling when players are level 40 and beyond.
Bottom Line: A treat for the eyes and a treat for the ears, Aion mixes run-of-the-mill MMORPG gameplay with some cool new touches and nifty-looking cutscenes, and it's clear that effort was spent actually localizing it, which is rare for oversea MMOGs. Will it hold up over time? There's no way to tell. Even so, Aion has a ton of potential and is worth keeping an eye on.
(Correction: We've been informed by NCSoft that the official name is now just "Aion.")