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NCsoft Aion: The Tower of Eternity review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £25
inc VAT plus £9 per month

Beautiful graphics and Eastern mythology make for a unique world, but the grinding play will put off casual players.

Aion is an online role-playing game that’s set in a fantasy world split in two – literally – by conflict.

The two playable factions live on the inner surface of this shattered globe, looking up at the floating islands of rock – the Abyss – in the centre. A third race, the Balaur, also wants control of the Abyss. Aion uses the same graphics engine first-person shooter Crysis. It looks stunning and it’s to the developers’ credit that everything runs so smoothly, given the unpredictable nature of online gaming.

As usual, you must first create a character and pick a side. Aion’s key draw is the ability to fly in certain areas, and the two races, Elyos and Asmodian, are distinguished by having white or black wings respectively. The character creation process is amazingly versatile, with endless combinations of hair, skin and body type. There are four major classes, which fit the classic fantasy archetypes of wizards, warriors, rogues and healers. No class is better than all the rest, and teamwork is essential for success.

To enhance your character’s abilities, you first perform quests given by AI characters. Although these give some nice rewards and experience points, the game demands that at some stage you’ll have to ‘grind’ to reach the next level – slang for the repetitive killing of monsters simply to gain experience points. At higher levels, such grinding is more than most casual players will endure – but the rewards are worth it for those who put the effort in.

Once you reach level 25, you can ascend to the Abyss, a player versus player (PvP) area, to fight the opposing faction. There are three levels in the Abyss, and multiple objectives to capture and hold. However, if one side wins too many, the Balaur – the computer-controlled third race – will send in their forces to retake them.

Aion focuses heavily on PvP play. While there are protected areas for players up to level 10, in all other areas, enemy players can travel through portals to the opposing faction’s lands. If being randomly killed by enemies while adventuring isn’t your cup of tea, Aion won’t appeal.

As in other popular MMO’s, such as Warcraft, players can from small groups and enter special areas to fight AI enemies unhindered – often referred to as player versus environment (PvE) play. An idea unique to Aion is PvPvE, where two teams from opposing sides are pitted against computer-controlled foes: they can either cooperate, or try to sabotage each other’s efforts.

Having long-since tired of World of Warcraft, many veteran MMO players have had an eye on Aion as their next fantasy home. The game has been going in Korea for over a year, so there’s been plenty of food for thought. The fact that it’s not a new game is a bonus, as many early bugs have been ironed out, and there’s already plenty of content. However, the grinding nature of advancement is also a key facet of Korean games.

The game’s combat mechanics are more advanced than those of many similar games. There are movement modifiers in combat – for example, if you are strafing from side to side, your Evasion increases and your Attack falls slightly. Flying is also a huge factor; some classes have limited skills in the air, while others excel at aerial combat. The character classes and skills are superbly balanced to encourage teamwork.

Aion’s landscapes are stunning, and the combat animations and effects are spectacular, comic-book style explosions of colour. The influence of Korean mythology in the design of the world and its monster inhabitants is refreshingly new to Western eyes. However, casual players looking for an hour or two’s entertainment now and then may find it too punishing: this is a game for those with plenty of spare time and the need for a challenge.


Price £25
Rating ****