In our first article from E3 2007 we focus in on NCSoft Seoul’s Aion. This high fantasy MMO has been unwrapped for a while, but besides being beautiful, not much was known. At E3, they let us look at the first of the playable factions.
Based on demo / Q&A
Last year, NCSoft introduced the graphically spectacular Aion to the world. This year, at E3, they’ve begun to show some of what makes Aion a game, rather than just a pretty face. Produced at NCSoft’s Korean office, is a traditional MMO in a cinematic high fantasy setting.
The world in Aion was shattered in half. On the bottom half of the broken planet are the “Elyos” and on the top are the “Asmodan”. The Balaur live in the middle. Players can play as either the Elyos or Asmodan, while the dragon-man Balaur are NPC only.
The Elyos were what NCSoft displayed at E3. Their half of the world is extremely lush and colorful. They’ve done a spectacular job with the ambience in the game. For example, there were fish in the ponds and little creatures who hopped through the grass. Players cannot kill them, they’re like trees, just there to make the world feel alive. It worked. It was packed full of moving parts and added to the overall beauty.
For both races, the first ten levels are spent in one of four starter classes. This is the traditional introductory period of the game. At level ten, players can ascend and become Devas and branch their class in further specialization. When a player becomes a Deva, they literally earn their wings. In that, with the click of a button, they can sprout angelic wings and soar into the air.
In flight, there is full combat. This is not a “WoW gryphon” trolley car. The characters soar beautifully and glide through the air. There are some restrictions though. The developers told us that they did not want flying to become “the new walking” and so they’ve limited it to certain areas and added a time limit. As such, the use of flying is a tactical choice. If you use it too soon, you may find yourself in trouble. For practical reasons, the wings also disappear when not in use, which is a disappointment artistically, but makes sense form a character animation point of view.
Once a member of the Elyos ascends and becomes a Deva, they can enter the Deva only city of Sanctum. This is a floating city of the highest kind of fantasy and while we were only able to see a small portion, what was on display was impressive.
Also at level 10, players are able to go into the Abyss, which is the firey center area. There they will find “PvPvE” experience. The Elyos fight the Asmodan as both can hop from rocky chunk to rocky chunk and the Balaur act as a balancing force and assume the side of whichever race has less members.
We didn’t see any PvP, but the developers mentoned that combat can take place fully in the air and they’ve added directional combat, which means if a character can attack another from behind, they do far more damage. This prospect is only amplified when you consider that in flight, an enemy could come from any side at any moment.
Aion makes use of cinematic cut scenes to show, rather than tell, the story of the game. They wanted to avoid lengthy blocks of text in quests (which I am sure is as much for localization as gameplay) and so often major story events happen in these scenes. The effect is nice, especially given the graphical quality of the game, but it was a bit disconcerting in one scene where a demon kicked the crap out of the player character and there was nothing that the player could do about it.
While players can lose control in the name of cinema, they should usually be in a world with other players. They made clear that instancing would have a limited, purely storytelling use in Aion.
The combat in the game has a traditional auto attack and makes use of feats, much as every other MMO does. NCSoft did explain though that auto-attack simply won’t cut it and it is important to chain abilities together to excel.
In the future, NCSoft promises to show more of the Asmodan and Balaur. The game is intended for both a North American and Asian audience.
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