As Aion’s North American Closed Beta ends, the question remains will it fare better than all other MMO games that are popular in Korea but are rejected in the western hemisphere. For me the issue of Korean Massive Multiplayer Online games is a very interesting one. While they tend to receive insane popularity in their homeland, when they come to the west they get bashed, chewed and spit out on the garbage pile of fails. To some the reasons are pretty obvious but are they really?
Why do Korean-developed MMOs fail?
People have all sorts of problems with Korean games and to be honest for some of them I have to agree, on others to a less degree. First off, their games get little respect because they are not made in the west, which seems like a ridiculous thing but sadly – that is the truth.
Then we have the issue of game’s art design that is really a case of having different viewpoints on what actually looks good. For example, many westerners view male characters in Korean MMOs as feminine or just plainly "too gay" to pick as their own. As a westerner I must admit that I am sometimes appalled by face and haircut choices that games like this usually have. Boy toy or just right out of the box female faces for men and obviously too emo or laidback hairstyles that are just not popular with the majority of MMO players.
Thankfully, you don’t have to look like this in Aion
We also have problems with armor designs that we like too call "too fruity" or anime but forget that today’s most popular western MMO World of Warcraft has gear that I would not sell even on Barbie dolls and anime well sometimes it is better than anything we can make.
Of course the biggest issue we have with Korean games is THE GRIND, the massive long lasting grind fest that seems to last forever. This complaint does have some merit because grind is very annoying but frankly there are worse things than that in MMOs. To add to that there is also a fact that we are just plain lazy and want to get everything fast and easy.
We bash grind in Korean games yet have embraced it so much in our own games that I find the whole complaint meaningless. From World of Warcraft’s crazy boring level and honor/arena rating grind which some will say is eased with patches [I'll say Stranglethorn Vale and Desolace anyone?], Age of Conan’s well pure fail to Warhammer Online’s post rank 40 [WAR's level] 80 renown ranks of pure grind.
At the end the only question is does the game deliver on what was advertised? World of Warcraft has no war in it, Age of Conan is almost not worth mentioning and Warhammer Online is well just okay only because it’s barely better than the rest.
In all truth there is one thing that Korean games do great and that is infact PvP [Player versus Player] action. Lineage 2 http://www.lineage2.com/ while it has its quirks is the best example of it. If you have no guild you will be eaten alive. If your guild is weak it will be eaten alive. If you are a part of great guild you will kill enemies, claim keeps and the most powerful member of it (aka the Guild Master) will get to ride a freakin dragon to show his power. That my friends is what I call PvP and the best portrayal of medieval warfare. Not farming honor points or some moronic tokens in a small instanced area.
From what I have seen during the Closed Beta Aion seems to blend good aspects of both western and Asian game aspects. Overall game design that some say is a blatant WoW copy seems more like a mix of classic good anime [not the Pokemon stuff] and Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Blood Omen 2: Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver 2 serial. Therefore, we have a sort of post-apocalyptic horror fantasy feeling with few more colors than some would like.
The breathe of fresh air in stale MMO business: CryEngine powered Aion
Editor enables creation of a truly unique character, courtesy of Korean creativity and German CryEngine capabilities
There is one thing I must applaud Aion compared to other Korean games though. Character creation is by far the highest quality seen in an MMO game and can only be compared to great editor from City of Heroes. Aion offers crazy amount of customizations that no one say you are being forced to play a weak, elf or gay looking character [unless you want to]. While the basic races Elyos and Asmodians in theory look like typical angels and fallen angels/demons/gargoyles there are many many ways to make them unique. I have seen everything from dwarves, gnomes and angels to orcs, ogres, trolls, vampires and demons all made from two offered races. My fighter for example is a classical anime lunatic, nothing girly about him. They really went to town with this and anyone who takes the time to check out all the sliders and options will start the game with a character to his liking.
How about coloring my armor to look mean or keeping the skin of a previous weapon that looked better anyways?
They have also solved one of my pet peeves with these games. It is always said you play a unique individual in a huge world but in later levels you all look the same. Along with dyes for gear coloring which should be a standard in MMOs by now but is for some reason not they have made the ultimate step. No longer must you replace your great looking but lower quality gear with powerful lollipop, power ranger, glow in the dark moronic gear. In game there is a NPC that allows you to break your old gear and apply its skin to new. This applies to both weapons and armor and it’s a feature gamers have asked for a long time. One that should have for example been in Warhammer Online since not having it kills the Games Workshop feeling in it [online game about highly customizable tabletop models without the customization part].
Now, how’s this for a character from a Korean game?
With the issue of classic Asian looks for characters resolved remains the one of grind. From what I have seen the game is not so much grindy as you really need to do quests if you want to level. While killing random stuff will make you feel like you grind, doing quests will make you feel like you are leveling at a certain pace and earning good kinah (gold) from it. There are many quests in the game, some with nifty short game engine cinematics or even huge epic ones and supposedly with release there will be hundreds more. The only thing that slightly kills the feeling for me are the classical early kill ten boars/wolves/rats quests that are too present in these games. City of Heroes and Warhammer Online got rid of that by introducing humanoid enemies from very start. In fact CoH has no critters in it.
Classes start as their basic type warrior, scout, mage and priest butat level ten specialize in higher class according to player’spreference. Except this choice there are no specs (different same classgameplay setups) and classes are what they are said to be. If you are agladiator it is obvious you don?t care for tanking and will not need tochange spec as soon as someone cries "use sword and shield noob" andprefer to slay with massive oversized weapons.
Unreal Tournament zero-G maps meet MMO world? You bet’cha!
Advertised wings are not too impressive at first as they have limited amount of time you can use them before they tire but they sure look great. They can be used for flight only in certain areas or hovering off cliffs but it is a bit of a shame that you can be a winged creature and fall to your death because wings are on cooldown.
PvP in the game is thankfully not some instanced scenario or "ugh gag a maggot" arena but rather fights in a crazy limbo like area called The Abyss that can be accessed via rifts that pop all around the world. The Abyss itself holds both PvP and PvE content with great risks and rewards for those brave enough to enter it. It is also a home to third faction Balaur who are computer controlled PvP balancing factor that should be present in other so-called PvP games.
Beta conclusion: Promising
At first I was quite skeptic about some Korean game with pansy angels fighting among themselves but this definitely feels like something else. It is my hope it succeeds in both keeping their promises and players and does not end up like one other unique and interesting Korean MMO: Requiem Bloodymare which has turned into a lifeless free to play.
The game has already acquired a high amount of hype and faithful players who are playing Korean and Chinese version until the western one comes and time will tell if it is enough to keep it alive and attract more. With all the horse manure MMOs that have been released lately, the online gaming community has rightfully become a harsh and unforgiving critic.