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Game Review

Wings are the thing, it seems—from Clarence trying to earn his in It's a Wonderful Life to The Rock getting a pair whether he wants them or not in Tooth Fairy. Now this massively multiplayer online role-playing game trades on their mystique too.

For the record, the characters in this game aren't any more angelic than The Rock is. But they are ascended creatures of a sort, and I'll get to them in a minute.

Like other MMORPGs, AION is one of those online PC titles that has you create a detailed avatar and then teaches you the basic game mechanics through a string of quests. As you go, you're rewarded with leveling-up boosts; you gain impressive powers and skills; you join in with groups of other online players; and you traverse gorgeous panoramic worlds, uncovering treasures and fighting a seemingly never-ending series of battles.

The Lore Beneath Their Wings
As for the story, the complicated lore of this Korean-created game world can be a little tough to follow. So to the best of my ability, I'll relate it like this: Essentially there are two races of beings—the Elyos and the Asmodians—that your customized character can call his or her own. They used to live peacefully together until an ancient betrayal by powerful overlords literally cut their world in half.

The Elyos landed in perpetual light—and, along with flowing locks and a certain glow, all that sunshine helped these handsome heroes develop dazzling smiles and fluffy white wings. The Asmodians were left in the dark—which gave them clawed feet, savage looks, black wings and generous-size chips on their shoulders. So the two groups naturally loathe each other. But they hate one thing more: demon-like overlords called Balaur.

Starting out, you get to choose from the primary four classes that usually populate these kinds of magic-filled fantasy worlds. The warriors are tank-like battlers who usually whale away with a gigantic sword on the front lines. The priests specialize in healing spells and defensive concoctions. The scouts are good at sneaking about and shooting arrows from nearby hiding spots. And the mages are sorcerers who blasts foes with spells.

There's also a socioeconomic system that allows you to improve your crafting and harvesting skills when you want to take a break from all the battles. And doing so can supply weapons, armor and personal needs or earn some extra coin of the realm through sales to other gamers.

Measuring the Span
What makes this game different from all the other EverQuests and WOWs out there? The wings, of course. Once players reach level 10, they go through a spiritual upgrade offered by a local mage. This makes them Daevas—immortal, enlightened warriors who can grow feather-covered appendages and soar into battle. Flying after that is zone specific and usually limited to a timer, but gliding through enemy territory and engaging in midair mayhem adds a whole new dimension to the play.

Another element that makes this title stand apart—but not always in a good way—is a mandatory PvP system. Role-playing games such as this always contain a PvE (player vs. environment) battle system that pits you against artificial intelligence characters and creatures. And they generally also offer an optional PvP (player vs. player) system that allows virtual to-the-death battles against other online gamers. With AION, however, PvP is ultimately mandatory. Its higher levels require gamers to form teams (called Legions) and take on opposing online gamers in castle battles.

Without question, that mandatory PvP play changes the dynamics of things. Seasoned gamers vying for victory points and coveted high rank positions can make AION a harsh place for gamers used to a more casual pace. The change also demands serious thought to strategy and group dynamics if players want to avoid repeated frustration.

Other problem areas?

The violence. It's nonstop. T-rated and bloodless, to be sure, but constant.

The magic. Although AION's spiritual story is convoluted and hard to understand, it is still a story of demigods and demons.

A few sensual aspects. The game's avatar creation system impacts physical appearance; you can end up with overly muscled male characters or voluptuous females who sport graphically defined cleavage in formfitting outfits.

And its MMORPG propensity to consume too much of your time. Needing to put in three to four hours at a stretch to accomplish the job at hand is common.

Clarence, it seems a good pair of wings doesn't always equal high-flying fun.

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Bob Hoose

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