Wings: Original Recipe Or Extra Crispy?

I'm not really into MMOs (gasp!), though I always seem to wind up writing about them. After the first five or so, I developed the bitter attitude most post-Ultima Online elitist gamers have towards MMOs: "Psh. WoW clone." But when I sat my skeptical self down for some hands-on time with NCsoft's Aion: Tower of Eternity, I was surprised to find that I actually wanted to keep playing when it was time to pack up and go. This MMORPG might look like a World of Warcraft copycat, but there's more going on here than meets the glazed-over eye of a cynic. It's got PvPvE which kicks your old school PvP/PvE in the butt, incredibly flexible character customization, and – instead of some lousy mount at level 20 – you get freaking wings at level 10."What the hell is PvPvE?" you ask. It's exactly what it sounds like: you're a player fighting a player fighting an environment. The crux of Aion lore is that the world has been split in two and there are three factions warring for control. The Eylos are the "light" guys (bright colors, sparkling costumes, angel wings) and the Asmodians are the "dark" guys (bruise-colored skin, glow-in-the-dark costumes, shaggy wings). These are the two factions you can choose from in the game and the third faction, the Balaur, is entirely AI-controlled. So while you're Eylos fighting Asmodian, you're also fighting the Balaur and so are the Asmodians. The classes are the same for the Eylos and the Asmodians; you start out with your basic Mage, Priest, Scout, and Warrior. This means that there's no learning curve if you want to change sides. Eventually, the classes branch off into two sub-sections that are either ranged or melee (Scout becomes Assassin or Ranger, etc). When you hit level 10, the real game gets going. You go through the "Ascension" and gain godlike powers and wings with which to fly around like a badass. (However badass you are, though, mind your 60 second flight gauge or you'll do a lot more falling than flying). After getting your wings, it's off to the Abyss to experience PvPvE firsthand. It was the wings that won me over – WoW doesn't have anything quite like them, even if it does have battle zones that look like the Abyss what with the purple and the lighting and stuff. I was too busy flying around (plummeting to my death) to actually fight in the Abyss, but I did do a lot of fighting on the ground. As with all MMOs (don't even pretend otherwise), the early levels are all about fetch quests and map exploration. I stabbed flowers, collected rat butts, and shanked grave robbers for a good twenty minutes before it dawned on me that while the combat system might look prettier than some, it's the same damn select-attack-hot-key-spell-wait-for-cool-down-attack pattern I've seen since EverQuest II. You know what they say – if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The other thing that stood out for me was the character customization. I'm used to dragging sliders back and forth and seeing barely any change in my character (unless it's a boob slider – those changes are always visible); so I was shocked when I dragged the height slider down and my character actually got smaller. Then I bumped up her hips, legs and torso sliders and she actually got fatter instead of a bigger version of skinny! I picked a random face model and suddenly had the option to open up a face modification window; wherein I made her look like the bastard child of Katherine Hepburn and Tinkerbell if such a thing were possible. The customization is so detailed that other journalists were making David Bowies. A few of the customization features were MIA (most notably tattoos), but it looks like NCsoft was serious when they said that there was no way that any two avatars would ever look exactly alike. Aion: Tower of Eternity is slated for release sometime in 2009. I could have hugged the production guy that declared the full game would be out – not a crappy skeletal version that requires half a dozen patches in the first month of the release – but then I remembered that I'm a cynic with no faith in release schedules and that they won't give a more specific date than 2009, so I covered by hugging a nearby lamp. There's no official word on a US open beta anytime soon, but a closed beta is well underway in Korea (where the game is being developed), so maybe we won't have to wait too long before we get our wings.

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