This will actually be my fourth response to Aion, the first two being profanity-laced rants (one text, the other audio,) and the third was the aforementioned World’s Shortest Review, which I admit was pretty cavalier. I have always tried, at least, to keep the tone here at Ardwulf’s Lair positive, to find things to like about the MMO hobby instead of things to bitch about. I have not always succeeded, but I’ve generally done pretty well. It was this instinct that led to the earlier “review” (a term used ironically,) getting posted rather than the rants.
So here I go again to try to describe my reaction, which is one of dismay, even disbelief, followed by outrage. Because Aion is terrible. Not merely lackluster, but comically, outrageously, insultingly awful. My expectations were very modest – I didn’t really expect to like it, but from the buzz I anticipated a slick and polished product, because lots of people I like and whose opinions I respect had said it was so.
They’re all wrong. I love you people, really I do, but I don’t know what you’re thinking.
The thing to remember is that Aion is not the typical western MMO a couple of weeks from release; it’s a fully launched title several months past release, one that presumably all the major problems had been shaken out of. Instead, here’s what we have.
The controls are imprecise and clumsy and the interface is awkward. You can move with the mouse… forward. You can’t steer with the mouse alone, nor could I figure out how to get mouse movement to work in a sensible way without enabling Asian-style click-to-move – which I despise, and this isn’t any better. It’s all very clumsy. WoW, EQ2, Champions Online, LotRO and Vanguard all have better “touch” for lack of a better term.
The localization is bad enough that race descriptions – the very first pieces of text you see when coming into the game – are broken English of the “all your base are belong to us” variety.
Questing is totally undistinguished. All the enhancements that a game like Warhammer laid on top of the standard model are missing. Quests send you to find somebody, with no description of where the guy is, and no map pointers unless you go through a popup box to put one on screen – for some quests – and all the old ones stay as well unless you remove them. The symbols over questgivers’ heads are hard to spot and harder to distinguish at a glance.
Character customization is good, but in a bad way. What I mean is that there are lots of sliders that let you modify your appearance, to the point that you can create freaks that are two feet tall with two-foot diameter heads. This falls into the “bug, not feature” category in a game like this, as far as I’m concerned; one bobblehead doll of a character ruins the immersion of everyone around them.
The game doesn’t even look very good, in my judgement. The character models are quite decent if you like the anime-type art, as long as there happen to be no freaks onscreen. The landscape graphics are extremely weak, with none of the sprawling vistas we’d see in a Vanguard, or even a WoW. Zones are bordered by plain impassable cliffs. Clipping errors are rampant, even in the character creator.
It felt like a punishment to play. I stopped midway though my half hour, and had to force myself to continue. Another fifteen minutes was enough to get me logged out and working on cleansing my hard drive of this blight I’d unwittingly afflicted on it. Say what you want about Warhammer, but at least it’s fun and engaging at first – you know, when it’s most important to be. Aion may be sunshine and rainbows midway through the game, but I’ll never know, because the first few levels suck mightily.
NCSoft has some good games in its lineup; City of Heroes and Guild Wars, most notably. But neither of those was designed by NCSoft, coming out of Cryptic and ArenaNet respectively. NCSoft’s former offerings Tabula Rasa and Auto Assault, which I think we can all agree at least had potential, were developed by Destination Games and NetDevil. NCSoft developed Lineage and Lineage II, to the latter of which I had a similar but much less vehement reaction.
Which leads me to another point of outrage; this is going to be the next big MMO? Aion is like World of Warcraft in its level of polish? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s okay to offer nothing notably new, but to offer an amateurish and unpolished experience on top of that? Pardon me for asking, in the immortal words of Mr. Hand, “What are you people? On dope?”
Maybe I just hate Korean games… but I don’t think my tastes are so atypical of the western MMO player that I’ll be alone. And you know, something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned here is that I’ve written a lot of reviews of movies and games; some professionally. I’ve studied the work of critics as they break down and analyze a work. I don’t do reviews here (except in a tongue-in-cheek way, as yesterday,) because I’m shooting for a conversational tone. I think I can detach myself enough to tell the difference between something I dislike and something that’s actually bad. I dislike Guild Wars, for example, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s an extremely high-quality game. Conversely, I like Warhammer but I think it fails on several important levels.
Aion sins in both regards; I disliked it and I think it’s a sloppy, unimaginative mess, and thus the vigor of my disdain for it.
I think – and I now believe that Aion amply demonstrates – that NCSoft’s in-house development team is simply unable to design an MMO for the European and North American audiences. Aion is much more a Korean MMO in style, tone and level of polish than it is a western game, and thus while it may be a big hit in China and Korea, I think it’s going to land face-first over here. The launch will make a nice splash and it’ll be downhill from there.
And that’s all I have to say about Aion. Here, have some kittens.