The last you heard from me I had embarked upon my great journey to the unknown. Many moons later now I return unto you, broken and scarred from my travels, to delight you with tales from the fabled Abyss itself. (Ok, only one moon later... I've been listening to a lot of Dragon Age cut-scenes lately and accidentally break into melodramatic fantasy monologue from time to time).
In the earlier review I told you that Aion is a game of much polish, much prettiness, and much grinding. I was willing to bear the grind so that I could see the Abyss - that ginormous PvEvP area of theoretical MMO perfection. My thoughts:
The Abyss is the coolest looking area in the game, by far. It's a bizarre, abstract, twisted area that almost feels like you're in space. A giant red sun, asteroids hurtling randomly at you from nowhere, jagged platforms drifting aimlessly around, and stargate-esque devices that recharge your flight timer. When I arrived I felt that it had all been worth it.
This feeling was enhanced when I got my first sniff of RvR. Running around with a giant group of people and being part of a mindless zerg is undeniably fun sheerly for the epic nature of it all.
Unfortunately these feelings of epic grandeur did not last. Being in a massive zerg was a performance nightmare, with framerate dropping to something like 2 fps. I had to turn all my graphics settings to minimum to avoid the frequent crashes that otherwise plague all who would attempt a fortress raid. Bear in mind, my computer is moderately beastly and handles other newly released games on maximum settings just fine. This is the only area where the game does not feel "polished". I'm beginning to wonder if anyone will ever release an MMO that can support a large number of players all doing things at once.
The performance issues were probably exacerbated by my ~700 ping to the American servers, playing from Australia. When I played Guild Wars on American servers my pings were less than half this - I'm not sure exactly what is up with their net code, but it does not seem optimal for overseas types.
Performance aside, fortress raids are relatively few and far between. It is actually advantageous to NOT capture fortresses since one of the best sources for XP and higher levels is to kill the repeatedly respawning fortress guards of the opposing faction. Capture the fortress and you lose that ability.
When I actually did get to go to fortress raids and manage not to crash, I discovered that my contribution to the attack on the NPC's was laughably pathetic. Even at level 32 my auto attacks did literally 1 damage at a time to the elite fortress NPC's. It made me feel so pathetically worthless - the whole point of an RPG is to create the illusion that you're a superstar ("wow, you reached level 12, you can now cast mega fireball of raining death, congratulations!") as opposed to making you feel like an insiginificant gnat. The level disparity is just as bad when fighting other players - when you see one fellow effortlessly slice through a dozen "lesser" players, you just have to shake your head and wonder what the designers were thinking.
I'm sure things would feel better at high levels. But the grind... oh, the grind. If I thought it was bad at the lower levels, that is nothing compared to the situation now that I'm over level 30. Do I want to punish myself that much to get to the maximum level? Is it really that important to me to then be the one that can one-shot a bunch of "n00bs" and feel like I'm so amazingly talented at the game, when in reality I am pushing the same 1-2-3 buttons as all the other players?
The answer is no. If the levelling was faster, if the level disparity was not so important, if RvR happened more often and without crashing my computer, then I would probably be all over it.