Aion: Free to Play is a Fantasy MMORPG once known as Aion: The Tower of Eternity. The difference, as you’ll no doubt have guessed, is that the original Aion required a full purchase price of around $50 US, and a $15 per month subscription fee to play.
Aion: Free to Play, thanks to many updates and additions, offers a much more rounded and balanced MMORPG experience than the original; however, there are restrictions to those that wish to play entirely for free, as the option to become a Premium Player (and continue to pay the monthly subscription fee) is still available. Also of note, players who purchased Aion prior to its F2P switch will be automatically upgraded to a Veteran Account in Aion F2P. You can see the full list of benefits for each account type on the official website.
That said, playing for free will still give you access to all of the areas, monsters, dungeons and content in Aion; there will simply be limitations to how often you can do so. Speaking of content: let take a look at Aion.
You begin playing by selecting from one of 2 factions (which I’ll discuss in more detail later), and 4 class archetypes—Warrior, Scout, Mage or Priest (don’t worry; you get a second class change later). The customisation options that follow are magnificent. So much so, in fact, that my first hour in Aion was spent solely creating my character. There are almost fifty different hair styles, thirty or more face templates, a full colour palette for eye, hair, skin and lip colour; and then, you’re given sliders for everything from the depth of your chin to the angle of your smile, ensuring that your character looks exactly how you want it to. And that just the face. I won’t go on.
Choose a name, select a voice type, click create and you’ll find yourself watching a cut-scene through the eyes of a Daeva; a winged protector of the sky and beyond as you battle across a war torn land in search of honour and victory. Then, you’ll wake up, and find yourself a mere human, stripped near-naked with little more than a plastic weapon to your name. Then, off in the distance, an NPC. Floating above his head, a glowing white arrow. Speak with him; he’ll give you your first quest. Cancel your dinner plans.
Ten levels of questing, killing and collecting later, and you’ll be ready for ascension. Consider this the real beginning, as it where you’ll gain access to much of the awesomeness Aion has to offer. For example, it here that you’ll grow your first set of wings and get your first taste of flight, learning quickly of its time and zone limitations. You’ll also be given your second class selection (e.g. a Warrior can become a Gladiator or a Templar, i.e. a fighting or tanking class), and you’ll gain access to your home city; and all the wonder therein.
Aion is not a casual MMO, and the two things that make it ‘hardcore’ (thus requiring you to spend every second of your free time playing it to achieve success) are the level grind, and the relentless PvP. On the grind front, it really boils down to the extraordinary amount of experience required to advance to the next level. The quests that you do obtain when you level can almost always be completed before you reach halfway, and then, it time to grind. If you don’t know, grinding is the process of repeatedly killing enemies for hours at a time; and post-level 40, days.
It sounds like a bad thing, I know, but believe me when I say that compared to some of NCsoft previous titles (yep, looking at you, Lineage 2), Aion is a walk in the WoW park. Still, I’ve never really thought too negatively about it. To me, it sort of cuts the fat, ensuring that my opponents are worthy, so to speak; and too, it makes that subtle ding at the end of a level all the more satisfying.
The PvP is a little tougher to explain. You see, during some great cataclysm thing, the world of Aion was split into 3 parts (take a mango, stand it upright, slice it in half, then rip both ends off slightly leaving the seed in the middle). The top half is Elysia; land of the fruity white-winged Elyos, bathed in sunshine and rainbows, 24/7. The bottom half, Asmodia; cold, dark, awesome. Home to me, and everyone else cool.
So naturally, with the Elyos on one side, and the Asmodians on the other, PvP is ordinarily out of the question. And that where my favourite element of Aion comes into play: rifting.
In the areas designed for players’ level 20 and above, every two hours, two rifts open on both sides of the world. One is an entry point, and the other an exit. The rifts open randomly in one of 8 different locations per area (each connecting to a different, fixed rift on the opposite side), have a level restriction (e.g. level 20-35), a maximum number of players that are allowed to enter before it closes (usually around 40), and can only be located by looking for the matching rift in the sky. Thus, at any given time there can be up to forty players of the opposite faction roaming each part of your land in search of blood, and vice-versa.
Rifting works well in many ways, the most important being that it fun, fresh, and exciting; but also because it limits the world PvP aspect of Aion almost entirely to those that want it. Sure, every now and then you’ll be killed by a random group of opposing faction members as they rampage through your lands; but it won’t happen very often, and for the most part, they’ll be dead before you make it back to where you were anyway (so there no risk of being camped).
Remember earlier, when I was talking about mangos, how I told you to keep the seed in the middle? That because in this metaphor, that seed is the Abyss; the core (go, pun, go!) of not only the world of Aion, but of the PvP in Aion, too. At level 25, upon completing a series of relatively simple tests (knowledge, strength and flight) you gain access to the Abyss; a war-torn compilation of floating chunks of rock, filled with quests, dungeons, conquerable fortresses; and most importantly, the large majority of the opposing factions players. Hence, the term PvPvE. Also, unlike most of the other zones in Aion, flight is not restricted in the Abyss (although it is still on a 1 minute timer, until you upgrade your wings), so for the most part, you’ll be taking the battle to the skies.
Amazingly, battling in the air is almost exactly the same as battling on the ground. You can use all of the same skills, with none of the earthly restrictions that come with standing on your feet. The battles in the Abyss are quite plainly the most fun I’ve ever had in an MMORPG to date, stretching from the random encounter with a single opposing faction member, to battles of more than two-hundred players fighting over a chunk of land required to complete a quest, or a fortress offering economic influence and additional dungeons to explore.
Things really start to get interesting though with the addition of the second grind of Aion, Abyss Points. Put simply, when you kill an opposing faction member, or an enemy in the Abyss, you receive a portion of Abyss points. When you die, you lose some. These points serve a few purposes; firstly, they determine your rank on the server, secondly, they add to your guild contribution points to determine your guild rank on the server, and lastly, they can be spent on some of the best equipment in the game. As Aion is primarily a PvP MMO, there is a noticeable lack of dungeons and PvE content to enjoy; but with this much PvP goodness, I’ve barely even noticed.
And in the end, that really all I can really say about Aion. It a PvP centric, hardcore MMO, and it not for everyone. It boasts some of the most amazing sound, visuals and gameplay elements of any MMO to date, but in the end, the choice is, as always, up to you. So the question remains: are you hardcore?
Aion: Free to Play is currently in Closed Beta, scheduled to release sometime February 2012. Check back at MMOgames.com for more exclusive Aion coverage over the coming months!