Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wings Over Atreia: The Official Aion Magazine Issue One impressions

We here at Massively rarely 'review' MMORPGs, mainly because they're such sprawling, ever-evolving games that by the time we finished penning our initial impressions, they'd likely be out of date. That said, we'll happily give you our review of magazines based on MMORPGs. Under the microscope today is the debut issue of the The Official Aion Magazine.

Crazily enough, this e-zine focuses on NCSoft's Aion, and much like its namesake, the publication is a glossy, heavily produced affair crammed with beautiful avatars, absurd amounts of eye candy, and a gorgeous layout. The similarities end there, however. Whereas the game has a bit of depth and offers a multitude of ways for players to wile away the hours, The Official Aion Magazine's beauty is skin deep, and leaves a little something to be desired in terms of insightful original content.

Fly past the cut for more about the debut issue.

The good

As noted, the magazine looks gorgeous. Cranberry Publishing clearly has some talented graphic artists on staff, as the publication makes fantastic use of both screenshots and concept art to draw the reader into the stylized world of Atreia. Font and page design are equally impressive and complement the images well; the entire affair is easy to read and slickly professional all at once.

The breadth of content is also a plus, as is the three-pronged focus on news, tactics, and community. Additionally, individual players and player legions are spotlighted, including images, interviews, and commentary on everything from server firsts to leveling strategies.

A lengthy interview with NCSoft's European community team was also a highlight. Though the questions were somewhat generic, the interviewees came off as appealing folks who genuinely enjoy their work, and the ability to put faces with names goes a long way towards humanizing development teams from a player perspective.

The bad

Those of you who remember the pre-internet days of scouring the local bookstore for copies of PC Gamer, Nintendo Power, and Cinescape may feel a bit of nostalgia creeping up on you as you flip through the pages of Issue One, but you'll just as easily banish such thoughts with a quick Aion-related Google search. Therein lies the rub with The Official Aion Magazine. All of the visual horsepower in the world can't quite overcome the lack of fresh content. If this were a print publication, a bit of dated and/or glossed up info might be more forgivable, but a digital-only magazine that doesn't offer anything different from what is freely available across many forums and fansites is a bit of a head-scratcher.

As an example, the cover and the contents page pays lip service to the Aion Vision trailer, breathlessly hinting at questions being answered and new insights abounding. Unfortunately, neither comes to pass as you read what amounts to a rehashing of all that's been said about the Visions trailer online over the past several months (which is to say, not much), complete with a paused-frame speculative analysis that has also been done before.

"We'll bring you the official word about the availability of the various innovations showcased in Aion Vision as and when. In the meantime, let's take a look at some of those amazing highlights," proclaims the article, not quite living up to the 'future of Aion revealed' text prominently printed on the cover. To be fair to the magazine publishers, the lack of concrete information about Vision likely stems fromNCSoft, but it is still disappointing to see the lead cover article turn out to be completely devoid of information.

The magazine's guide articles are similarly light on substance, or at least, new substance. The Ultimate Guide to Manastones article does contain some useful information for those new to the world of Atreia and wondering what the heck sockets, criticals, and +60s are all about. There are also some spiffy looking tables detailing success probability and complete manastone lists. However, these things have been discussed and archived ad nauseam over at Aion Source and other online hot spots.

The ugly

Something this beautifully produced cries out to be made manifest in physical form rather than existing solely as a stream of ones and zeros.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm growing increasingly weary of the move to digital distribution across all forms of media. I'd love to hold a copy ofThe Official Aion Magazine in my hands, as you can almost feel the slickness of the pages and smell the fresh print. Something this beautifully produced cries out to be made manifest in physical form rather than existing solely as a stream of ones and zeros subject to the whims of its host server. NCSoft and Cranberry no doubt saved a ton of money by not producing an actual magazine, but, putting on my collector/fanboy hat, I'd prefer to pay more for a real product that I can put on my shelf.

Now, before all you under-30 technophiles burn me at the stake for being a Luddite, understand that I used to write code for a living and never take more than three steps without access to some type of computer. It's not the technology that chafes but rather, the wasted opportunity for expanding the memorabilia collection.

Finally, accessing the magazine during Eastern Prime Time on a weekend was an exercise in frustration. I spent far too long staring at the swirling circle 'loading' graphics as my poor cable modem attempted to suck down the meat of the magazine. Eventually I gave up and decided to try off-peak hours and was finally rewarded with the ability to load all 102 pages. Whether my 6Mbps connection is to blame or not, the point is that this highlights one of the annoyances inherent in digital-only distribution, and should be addressed in the form of subscriber download options.

Final Analysis

At the end of the day, The Official Aion Magazine is exactly what it sets out to be: a fanzine for those hardcore folks who want to collect absolutely everything related to their favorite franchise. For the rest of us, it represents a questionable value, at least judging by the maiden voyage. There's nothing here in terms of content that isn't freely available elsewhere, a fact NCSoft seemed to acknowledge by bundling desirable in-game items exclusively with long-term subscription purchases. While the basis for a good range of coverage is in place, here's to hoping that future issues focus on depth as opposed to breadth, and ramp up the relevant content to match the level of polish.

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