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Chinese MMOs FTW? (Aion)

So yeah, Aion. Um. It's pretty sweet. Like, really good. Bonus points for having hot asian pornstars show you how to set it up.

Wait... what?

I've casually heard about Aion in the news, as some up and coming 'next big thing' many times, but never really paid it much attention. The only thing that really gets my interest in a title is being able to download some (usually huge) client, and get my feet wet. I signed up for the Aion beta (I'm pretty sure), but never heard back, so meh.. Aion Schemion, right? Then I got some email from 'some random Matt' tipping me off to said asian pornstar's blog (nothing horribly unsafe for work on the front page), with instructions on how to get a ghetto english version up and running. I was intrigued to find out more about this half Japanese, half Chinese hot video gaming chick Chinese MMO.

There are basically two (1) links (2) you need to concern yourself with, don't bother digging into pictures of her wearing impossibly tiny underwear while picking up dropped items... it uhh... ahem... it won't get Aion installed any faster. Not that I would know. I'm just saying.



So yeah. After downloading the client overnight, and not looking at any screenshots or anything before hand, I awoke in the morning to find the installer ready to go. What we're basically doing here is installing the full chinese client, and then borrowing a handy file someone graciously hosted on Rapidshare that's basically the entire English version language pack (hijacked from an install of the English beta, I imagine). So we end up in the Chinese version of the game, and everyone's name is kanji, and the only way to communicate with the populace is thru emotes (think: alliance/horde "communication" in WoW), but we can read quests and our interface! Hooray! It took me a while to actually get the client launched, but only because I was hammering some EXE int he folder itself, and not using the icon that was created for me on the desktop. I kept getting a Chinese error message, it probably said something like 'hey dipshit, WRONG ICON'.


At this point, the best thing to do is just show some pics, so this post is going to become a powerpoint slideshow here, with a few comments in between to illustrate what I'm showing. I've resized the pictures to 66% of my screensize (1650x1080 native, screenshots sized to 1109x693), but otherwise I'm not really going to bother cropping them or anything. You can click the 400px 'blogger' sized images for the full (well 66%) resolution images. Do yourself a favor and indulge one or two, the graphics are really frigging good.

So let's get rolling! First off, as I said, hot damn! This is what an MMO should look like. Darklol looked okay in certain areas, but Aion has every MMO I've seen thus far beat, hands down. It uses the fucking Crysis engine for chrissakes. Um, it looks nice. The client we DL and set up gives us 4 hours of play time, before it tells you you've run out of time and need to buy some. You're free to just make another account and play a different class or try the other race, whatever. This is, for all intents and purposes, a demo. You're getting a sneak peek. Be happy.

Let's start with the character creator, and let's make oh... I dunno... a cute girl? I'm sure tough guys in the audience are upset already, but suck it up. There are two races, basically the angels and demons. I rolled angels. The screenshots from the main prtion of the article are my preist, but I went back and took some SSes of the creator for you guys, so here's me making a warrior. The other two classes area mage, and scout (rogue). So like: tank, heals, melee, and ranged. Four classes, mirrored on the two factions. Let's go.

The character creator itself shows what you're eventually gonna look like, and everyone looks pretty bad ass! Once you select your class, it's into the customizer.

You can display your body in beginner clothes, undies, or tier 72. It's kind of a nice feature. There are 5 presets to choose from... short with little boobs, thin with big boobs, you get the idea... or you can customize everything yourself. The body sliders are all draggable, and you can create some freakish tall chick with overweight everything, but a tiny little head, if that's what floats your boat.

Then you choose your 'head'. Again, 23 presets, or a buch of different pieces to mix and match...

You can choose from 30 hairstyles, about 20 different faces, and the color of your lips, skin tone, and hair (but not eyes, oddly). Or you can just make one yourself. I LOVE this kind of crap. Even though people will rarely stop and inspect you close enough to actually see how much time you put into making your face, it's THERE.

In game, I found myself stopping to swing around and watch my toon yawn, and there are emotes like /smile that actually have you smiling. The face creator (and body creator) are top notch. Going back into WoW, and being like 'female orc, green like the Hulk, with a nosering' just feels lame. Every single orc has the exact same body. You can choose the skin tone, and one of eight 'face decals'. Aion really drives home that this is what a character creator looks like now. WoW is like a billion years old, and it shows.

So I've made my girl and she's out in the world. Now, here's where things reach familiar ground. It's been noted, and I'm not one to say otherwise, that Aion fits the mold set forth by WoW pretty comfortably. We have to remember that WoW didn't invent the MMO, it just refined it, and Aion isn't breaking any huge ground here. That doesn't bother me.

The UI feels solid and, most importantly, tight. I click a button, and have immediate feedback that something is happening. Global cooldowns are visibly displayed on the action bar, and in general, the UI is uncluttered, and things are where you expect to find them. For a while, I just used the UI as it first appeared, then I began to poke around a bit, and realized you could have the minimap up at the top of the screen, along with your healthbars, etc... the first ten pics here use the default, and then I switched it after a while (right around where I first saw my "wings"). A little tinkering in the options panel had me disabling 'click to move', and rebinding a few basic keys (click once to keep running forward, etc).

Mobs are detailed, and while the first bugs won't blow your mind, they're good. They feel right, animate smoothly, and combat isn't ... like... strange at all. The timing flows. This is something I always touch on in any of my reviews, and Aion nails it perfectly. Conan was awkward, and LotRO felt sluggish, but I grew used to it eventually. Aion requires no 'transition'. It just works. Both melee and casters. It's your standard 'autoattack, and push specials' system. In fact, everything feels standard, so I'm going to stop pointing that out from now on.

My healer was able to do battle proficiently, and in many cases being able to heal kept me alive where I would have otherwise died horribly. In fact, I never died in the four hours I played, but I came across stones you can 'bind' to should you die, so I imagine it's similar to Conan in that regard (rezzing at a 'spawn point'). An NPC also explained that rez sickness cuts into your damage done (and XP gained). But yeah. I'm leet. I didn't die.

The emotes were my main source of communication with the world at large, so I dragged few onto my bar. Things like /point, and /beg would indicate that I wanted help killing yon monster. There are a ton of emotes, and they're all artfully animated. You can even summon a chair to sit on. Hm.

I'm not a huge fan of RPing or /dance commands, but it all just ties into the art level of the game. Everything is done right. WoW machinima has about 4 different 'moves' at its disposal, so you always see humans doing that 'the fish was THIS big' arm motion, or dwarves shaking their ass. Aion has a ton of animations, and when you character just stands idle, their facial animations change from bored to curious to whatever. Again, this just feels like a game released NOW, not a billion years ago.

I didn't try any crafting tradeskills, but the basic 'gathering' profession covers everything from plants to ore to whatever. You start able to pick basic flowers at level 1, and can skill up to 10 where you can harvest fruit trees, and then 15 where you can mine ore. Didn't see too much past that, but I like that it's all one 'bend over and pick shit up' skill, instead of being like 'oh herbs are cool, but no rocks for you'. There's also a fail meter incorporated into the gathering. Two meters fill up (pass / fail), and depending on which one reaches the end first, you pass or fail. Pretty straightforward. It's a change, but not interactive, which sucks.

The macro window, which I stumbled across just pressing random buttons trying to figure out keybindings looks pretty involved, and this seems a little scary at first glance. Timings are programmable, which means you can execute move A, then wait 3 seconds, and then input move B. Click the next screen for a closer look.

This is because combat eventually builds into chains (which I didn't level high enough to explore). Similar to a Rogue's Sinister Strike > Rupture, certain moves lead into others. It's actually more like Warhammer's Black Ork, where Move A unlocks Move B, which unlocks Move C, but you can't go from A to C, etc. This type of system is generally referred to as gated combat. So I imagine eventually you can make a macro that says 'do move 1, then wait 2 seconds for it to perform, then do move 2'. That sounds as exciting as pushing speed dial on a telephone, but I'll with hold judgement until I see it first hand. There are certain hooks that can't be called into macros, but I only briefly browsed the 'examples' tab, then closed it looking for my quest window.

Quests! there are three varieties. Quests (basic), Missions (longer, usually span the course of a few quests), and Work Orders (which I didn't find any of, perhaps they're tradeskill based). Quest and Mission givers use different icons over their heads so you can see who's giving what, and all NPCs that you need to see are clearly marked on your map (no need for Quest Helper, hooray). The star below is a Mission giver, quests use little chevron shaped arrows (a blue one can be seen in the far right of the below shot).

You can see the various tabs in your quest log...

The World map is pretty nicely done, and is shown with the M key.

One nice feature that reminds me a bit of Diablo is the ability to show a semi transparent version of the same map by pressing N instead. It's handy when running to turn in a quest.

Here you can see mme looting my first ZOMG epic drop, a green sword (that my priest can't use /cry)

Overall, the armor and gear stuff looks really well done, but I didn't see enough to really get a chance to see many variations. The stuff I did see was very detailed, but I hope there aren't like 3 different 'level 10 jerkins' that everyone is wearing. That sucks when everyone looks the same. Here's my first actual gear upgrade, a new pair of boots (before and after):

I had those in my bag from a quest, but had to wait to ding to wear them. About every piece of gear has sockets, and you can equip managems with various stats in them. +Hit, +MP, etc. Pretty basic. Training is done in the form of books, and you can actually buy the books beforehand and have them in your bag to read the instant you ding, which is kind of nice.

Vendors also have a single 'buy all my junk' button, which makes emptying bags a painless affair. I bought a larger bag from some cat guy in town that just looked really cool. You can see he has a quest for me as well. And aha! I've changed my UI... unit frames and minimap up top from here on out.

The NPCs (again, this is getting old saying it) just look really cool! Speaking of cool, one quest I did had a flashback sequence where I was shown my wings...

Now, I wasn't actually flying, this was just a cutscene on a rail, but as I understand it, at level 10, you earn your wings, and can pop these out at will. The animation of the wings is everything you could hope for, they look awesome. Apparently in some zones you can't fly (lame), but even in those zones you can still glide... just double jumping pops your wings out and allows you to coast to far away levels. I reached level 7 before my 'trial' ran out, but at one point I just got up to go do something, and the game didn't kick me out for a while, so there was a good chunk of my trial wasted (it's 4 hours total). I think I could grind out 10 if I wasn't soaking it all up, but I really don't care at this point.

Another set of wings is given for the taxi service... flying between towns has some bird spirit lift you up and fly you to where you're going...

A few extra random shots... me grouped with two Chinese guys, clearing out a strip mining area... they were both melee, and I healed. I had a HoT and basic heal, plus two buffs (fort and kings, kinda). Healing felt responsive, and grouping felt solid. One thing to mention is that I was constantly bombarded with group or 'alliance' invites, only to have something spammed, then the group fall apart. I imagine this is like gold selling or something? No idea what any of the messages said, so yeah. I eventually just enabled the 'block invites' option and invited people myself that were visible in my surrounding area.

Idle pose / animation...

..and out of time :( You get reminders every so often how much time you have left, so it wasn't a huge shock when it finally happened.


Here's the big wrap up, although it's pretty basic. I like Aion. I like it a lot. If it was available in English full time, I'd sign up right now. I won't subscribe to the Chinese client, but may give another 4 hour spin on one of each class. I still haven't even tried the other faction. I'm not sure how deep the end game is, or how deep the dungeons are. I have no idea if there's any kind of PvP, but here's the BIG thing for me: In the first five and ten minutes of playing, I was having FUN. That was what initially got me hooked on WoW. The sense that 'here's a game that's fun to play, I want to see what's over there, and what new spell I get when I ding'. Many recent games feel like the starting zone is just a chore, and I don't feel like I'm interested in slogging thru some bullshit area, hoping the game will get fun later.

Aion isn't some huge revolutionary thing. It's WoW, but updated graphically (a lot!), and with brand new classes to learn the ins and outs of. Yes, you've played a warrior or priest in WoW, but this is a variation on the theme, at least... it's not Mortal Strike and Smite. I've said before that I wish WoW was like Unreal, and that they would just release their engine so companies could make WoW-mods. This is as close to that realized as I've seen. The combat feels tight like WoW, the UI is solid like WoW, but the graphics are light years ahead, and everything feels different enough to be interesting, while not being alienating. I'm getting old, so the familiarity is welcome. I don't need to learn a whole new game. That isn't a horrible thing. People will turn up their nose, but fuck those people, basically. I can enjoy the game whether they like it or not.

I think you'll find, if you give the game a chance, that it's a well executed vision. That, to me, is what counts. They know what they wanted to do, and they've done it. How the game lasts one week in or one year in remain to be seen, but I think it's safe to say I will see, when it's finally released over here.

Again, the links mentioned way up in the second paragraph will get you running an english UI on the chinese client, which means you can basically check it out right now. Signing up for the beta means you might not get picked, and even if you are, the beta is being done in lame 'weekend events' where it's only open for two days, then closed for another 3 weeks. This option is infinitely more accesible to those of us who take their gaming time when they can get it.


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