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Aion: The Tower of Eternity is a beautiful and amazingly detailed Massively Multiplayer online Role Playing Game that shows it's possible to mix stunning visuals and strong story-based quests in a PC online game. With a celestial war raging, players will take to the skies wielding divine powers and using tactics and strategy to force an advantage for their race. As the balance of the world is at stake you must choose your side, deliver your people and enter into legend.
Battling as either the Asmodians or Elyos, Aion combines the beauty of many Eastern MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XI, with the story-based quests and quick-levelling structure of the Western online games such as World of Warcraft or Age of Conan. This blend of stunning visuals and a deep story-based design mean that Aion creates an enticing world never seen before in the MMO genre. At times it can look more like a Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 experience, although these consoles don't have a release date - not being suited to the massively multiplayer online games.
Usually the ability to fly is held back as an elite skill in many online games, but Aion: The Tower of Eternity makes flight the crux of its game play. It's not just a way of travelling around the world, it's an integral part of the strategic combat which adds so much uniqueness to the game. Soaring high in the Abyss and fending off attacks makes Aion feel like an immersive action game rather than the usual tropes that MMOs fall into. In a crowded market and one dominated by World of Warcraft, this simple mechanic helps Aion: The Tower of Eternity to stand out and provide some individual attraction.
The world itself is dramatic in scope and story. Aion's world isn't just a simple globe or landmass, it's actually split into two hemispheres permanently in light or darkness. These sides were once connected by the Tower of Eternity that adorns the game's name, but is now replaced by the dark Abyss after the Tower was shattered after a holy war.
Occupying this unique world are the two races pitched in battle and these are visually very interesting, giving the world they both inhabit a very definite character. The Elyos occupy the light-filled side of the world whereas the Asmodians live on the perpetually dark hemisphere. This leads to some incredibly strong art-styles for both home world areas and gives the individual character designs a distinct air that can't fail to impress.
In terms of the game mechanics one very interesting addition is the Stigma system. This allows all players to equip skills from other classes no matter what type of player they are. This leads to some very interesting combat dynamics when you have a Mage equipping heavy armour or seeing a spell blast out of a Warrior's hand. Putting the cat amongst the pigeons like this is an excellent way of changing the formulaic format many similar games have. Aion's strength is definitely in its visuals but the unique world and new mechanics certainly offer a different experience to the norm. We expect not a few guides, tips sheets and walk throughs for these nuanced mechanics will spring up both online and in stores before too long.
The combat system also improves the genre's staples of merely pressing the appropriate hotkey by adding in a system of skill combo's. Some of these will trigger chains of abilities allowing a level of depth not seen in an MMORPG since Age of Conan. This new type of combat engine really pushes the edge in online games and gives a tactical and strategic layer that's cool to learn and satisfying to master. When this is combined with the Stigma system, the combat becomes unpredictable and exciting - exactly the way it should be.
What I like most of all about Aion: The Tower of Eternity is the way it brings the two worlds of the online game together. NCSoft's previous effort - Guild Wars - was similar in approach and had its own unique non-subscriber model. Aion feels like the perfect balance evolution of this with some beautiful characters and a stunning world - but with a deep and interesting story still at its heart.
The level of polish and attention to detail in Aion is impressive and it gives the game a certain quality right from the start. Time will tell if the community will make it into a successful game but given Guild Wars success and the respect held for NCSoft, I think this will go far.
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