System requirements: Windows XP SP2; 2.8 GHz CPU or equivalent; 128 MB graphics card or better (GeForce 5900 Ultra/ATI X700); 15 GB hard-drive space; DirectX 9.0c; broadband Internet connection
ESRB rating: Teen
Release date: Available now
Review by: Remy Ransom
At one point the PvPvE epic Aion was a highly anticipated game on NCSoft’s lineup. Those in the MMO circuit waited eagerly to see what the successor to Lineage II would truly be all about. Its teaser trailers were fantastically done, and most players drooled over its character-creation scheme. Through its time spent finally reaching North America, it received mixed reviews. The game wasn’t pulling the numbers it was doing in Asia, and it’s player population was slowly trickling downward. Its first free expansion, Assault on Balaurea (a.k.a. Aion 2.0), is NCSoft’s current answer to the problem that most developers have: How to keep the loyal players hooked, and how to bring in the new blood.
The main story of Aion lies in the world of Atreia and her two warring factions, the Asmodians and the Elyos. Through game lore and quests you find that the two groups are at war for many reasons, and it isn’t your typical hero-and-villain scenario. You join the world among the race of Humans, and as you progress you become an “immortal” winged being called a Daeva. Depending upon your faction, your world can either be one of sheer beauty and warmth, or one of cold desolation. The purpose of a Daeva is to serve their faction as an almost holy being, protecting their lands from their respective antithesis. Assault on Balaurea marks the return of both factions’ common enemy, their once guardians known as the Balaur. This scenario leaves Daevas of both sides the choice to unite against the dragon-like race, or continue fighting one another.
Aion: Assault on Balaurea plays like most MMOs, a third-person point-and-click. The game offers four familiar base classes: Warrior, Scout, Priest, Mage. The world of Atreia is filled with quests that give beginners a creature to fight around most corners. The interface shows the locations of quest-related NPCs and creatures, making it purposely friendly to new arrivals. When you reach Level 9, you can become one of two classes that are linked to your chosen class; for instance, a scout can become an Assassin or a Ranger. Its high-end appeal lies in battles in a PvP area known as the Abyss, controlled by players who join groups known as Legions.
Balaurea gives a current player enough of a reason to stay in. There are some new instanced dungeons (which include some solo ones) and increased quest experience for those players Level 26 or higher. The solo instances aren’t too boring and worth a look. One thing players are excited about with the expansion is pets that actually serve more of a purpose than just looking good. That’s right, your baby panda can hold onto things you don’t feel like selling or going to the warehouse to store. The crafting system remains as easy as it once was, with a bookmark function for faster combining possibilities. For those who are in a crafting frenzy, you can now master in one profession, giving a chance for eternal-grade items. One neat function that wasn’t noticed is that untradeable items that drop when in a group can now be temporarily traded, solving the curious case of the ninja looting. This is how it should be in MMOs, and for Aion it seems to be working out so far.
The expansion doesn’t really give a lot of love to the new player. You can grind as fast as you like, but the only thing you really have to look forward to around Level 20 is the solo instance in Haramel. That’s the first real part of the expansion that is experienced; it’s great, but it just isn’t enough. A new player can easily see the expansion as more or less geared for the high-level Daeva. Those who play alone won’t really get to experience much of the focus of the expansion all by themselves. With the lower-end populations depending on your faction, some players could find it hard to group at the lower levels, as most players are running on their mains. It’s a small downfall of the gameplay, but it factors in nonetheless. The game remains a grind-fest at lower levels, and sometimes you have to take a break from the Blackclaws and Maus to craft something. You could also bathe in this period of time, but whatever your preference happens to be, a break could well be worth it from time to time.
I give Aion credit for it’s first expansion. It’s almost reminiscent of when Lineage II released its second chapter. NCSoft saw that other MMOs put out bum expansions just to serve as filler, so they made something worthy and learned by listening to what players wanted. Aion is a beautiful game, which you can always expect from NCSoft. They have managed to balance all the right elements for many different gamers’ styles. You can battle players and monsters, or you can go gather and craft, and if you’re a social butterfly you can make the occasional joke with someone about Chuck Norris. Alone the expansion isn’t enough for a mass exodus of players from other games, but it’s heading in the right direction again, about which most players can be pleased. It’s worth stepping back into this world, and you can see some of the change yourself.