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Asheron's Call 2 Review

by Ekim, 2002-01-29

The first MMORPG I ever played was Asheron's Call. Well, technically it was Ultima Online, but then again I only played it for 2 weeks before deciding I didn't like being killed by grief players who jumped on me as soon as I logged in… But Asheron's Call held my interest for close to a year before I finally let go of it, and to this day I remember it fondly.

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Asheron's Call 2 (AC2) takes what made the original game so appealing, and improves on many aspects to create a simple experience that holds more fun than many of its competitors. It does to the genre what the Lord of the Rings movies did with the books: make it more accessible to newcomers, but also kept it enjoyable enough for hardcore fans of the genre. In short, AC2's simplicity allows it to add fun where there was complexity before. The real question of course is whether the fun sticks or not. And unfortunately AC2 doesn't offer anything new to the genre, which in turn means that it doesn't hold much to convince players of other MMORPGs to quit their current game, although newcomers will feel eased in a sometimes alienating genre.


AC2's launch was uneventful. I joined about 2 weeks after launch, and things had been stable up until then, and remains so to this day. Although stable, the game didn't come without bugs, some of which are still present today. Things like text windows stopping from scrolling, making you miss important messages from other players in your fellowship or alliance. Also some bugs involving keys that are supposed to open chests in dungeons that didn't always work, or portals that sucked you back in right after you came out are just a few examples. They were not show-stopper bugs, mind you. Still, annoyances such as these never make such a good first impression.

Creating a character

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Character creation in AC2 has been simplified to its bare essential. In fact, hardcore CRPGers would cringe at the idea of a game without stats, but there it is. Gone are the likes of strength, agility or intelligence. Your options at character creation are simply which race you will be (Human, Tumerok or Lugian), and how it will look (face, hair, height and size are all customizable). Once you are done fiddling with your character's looks, you are sent right into the game. Once more, although this might sound overly simplistic for anyone remotely into RPGs, it is a testament to the developer's dedication to making the game as fun as possible, as soon as possible. You don't spend 30 minutes creating your character. You create your character within the game, as you level up. At first level, all characters are a basic melee, missile or magic class. Players can try out each skill before making up their mind as to which path they will ultimately follow, or they can even decide to be skilled in all three. The early portion of the game is spent in an underground Shelter Holding, a training hall of sorts that will carefully teach new players the basics of the game, as well as give the player their first 2 levels.

This system is very well made and brings out one of the more interesting aspects of the Asheron's Call concept: the story. Turbine is dedicated to advancing the story they have planned for AC2 through monthly episodes. And they prove how well they can handle this with the early game as you first come out to the surface after your training. Let's face it, after a month of existence the game's population wasn't that great. But Turbine carefully integrated this in their story which says that the players are the very first scouts to manage to survive in the outside world that has been overrun by terrible beasts. As the game progresses, more and more people come out of the underground shelters (new players) and slowly the world will be rebuilt. This sets out the ongoing story in a very clever way.

Graphics & Game World

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Graphics certainly don't make a game, but they can boost the level of immersion. In AC2's case, graphics play a very important part on a very subconscious level. Stepping out of a forest to find oneself on the edge of a steep ravine and looking out over a vast plain stretching out as far as the eye can see on the wake of a beautiful sunny morning is quite common. Moments like these further make you believe in this world the developers have created.

There's a good reason that so many have praised AC2's graphics. They are quite simply gorgeous, some of the best in any CRPG. But this visual quality comes at a rather hefty price. Even a mid-range system will be brought to its knees with only medium graphic levels activated. The variety of visual frills and eye-candy available to display have to be sacrificed to get an acceptable frame rate. I've heard reports that even some higher end systems have trouble when everything is activated, which is a little disappointing to say the least. Still, tweaking with the available options will grant you a visual experience quite above most other available games in its genre even at the lowest settings, although client-side lag will still remain a huge problem as your hard drive loads up the different textures.

The game world is quite large. Dereth was split into three continents after a great cataclysm, and the variety of landscapes available goes from plains to forests and jungles with tall trees, cloudy wastes, watery marshes, and more. Portals are used to travel from one city to the next since running from one end to another of a single continent would take much too long. The landscape is populated with many different beasts, although some parts of the world sometimes seem barren and empty. Cities are the most disappointing right now as there are very few NPCs and only a few cities have enough players around to be considered busy. But the game cannot be judged by it's relative emptiness around the cities since it's effectively part of the story and I'm sure that they will soon start to be rebuilt as time goes by.

Sound and Music

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Music in games, like in movies, can be very important in setting a mood, an ambience. In the case of MMORPGs though, the music takes on a very different role as players will be expected to play long hours at a time, and many times every week in most cases. The music can be quite redundant, and so it has to be carefully tailored so as not to be intrusive. In that regard, AC2's music achieves what it needs to do. It is neither grandiose, nor is it minimalist in nature. It is a soothing music that plays softly in the background. It blends in with the environments, and switches to a dramatic tone when entering combat. Without being extraordinary, the music never makes itself too obvious, which is a good thing.

Sound is a good blend of swords clashing, footsteps matching the type of ground you are stepping on, rain falling and birds chirping. They are of decent quality, never annoying, always appropriate. There is a bug right now that sometimes makes some sounds disappear completely from the game while you are playing, which can only be resolved by logging out. It does tend to be annoying, but not much, and it's something that can be easily fixed.

Gameplay & Interface

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I've already mentioned how AC2 is easy to get into. The User Interface (UI) is very nicely laid out and easy to navigate, highly customizable, with all the buttons placed intuitively. After only a few minutes of playing you get a good feeling of what critical buttons to push when you need to, and within a few hours one can have mastered the interface. With most MMORPGs having a steep learning curve, this is quite refreshing.

At least this goes for the basic commands and interface features of the game. AC2 has some quite complex functions, like the customizable "Alias" commands that are not documented anywhere. Actually, AC2 seems plagued by hidden features that should have made it into the thin manual that ships with the game. There are numerous slash commands and smaller icons that remain a mystery until you start roaming the fan websites dedicated to the game. And even then it can take quite a while to find the answers you are looking for. Small things like which weapons a certain class needs, or can use are something to be discovered on your own. For instance, the Lugian Juggernaut class has to use weapons like quarterstaffs to be able to use their specialized combat styles. That little piece of very important fact is not documented anywhere in the game, or the manual. While it could be argued that finding these things are part of the fun of discovering a game, they can be very daunting to new players who have no idea why their new combat skills can't be activated. It's not until that poor, disillusioned player finds a quarterstaff that is identified as a Juggernaut specific weapon that he will suddenly realize why he couldn't use his new skills.

The display can get very cluttered with many windows during a game. Four chat windows can be configured to receive specific messages and if all are open there isn't much space left to look at the world around you. Some information windows like the map and character inventory windows cannot be moved or resized, which makes positioning other windows a little challenging sometimes.


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Another simplistic feature of AC2 is the combat. It's not simple to the point of being boring, but it's not very engaging either. It has about the same feel to it as Earth & Beyond where you are granted special attack skills that can be hot-keyed on the toolbar and activated at key moments during the fight. Combat doesn't become a button-smashing fest, but it's still not very engaging and often feels like your just there to watch and hope you're character won't be the one dying first. Still, this is a general problem in most MMORPGs, a very ironic one in that almost all of them are primarily based on combat. AC2's combat remains on par with the genre, neither better or worse than other games out there.

Character Advancement

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Anyone that's ever played Diablo will recognize the skill tree used in AC2. In an interesting approach that brings both experience-based and skill-based systems together, AC2 rewards the player with a skill point for every level that he gains. These skill points can be used to buy certain skills in the Melee, Missile or Magic trees. When the player reaches a certain level, new skills become available to him, and eventually even more classes within the chosen Melee, Missile or magic skill trees will be available. All classes and all races are viable here. Whether you choose to be a human, Lugian or Tumerok magic-user you will be able to fare well in Dereth. Some skills have been said to be more useless than others, but the variety of them is wide enough to afford lots of customizability. You can be a jack of all trades, buying skills in all three basic classes available, or you can choose to carefully concentrate on one class and master it. There is no real limit to what your character can become. He can be a sword wielding Enchanter, or a javelin throwing healer if you have a fancy.

But perhaps the best part of the character advancement features in AC2 is the fact that it's almost impossible to ever "gimp" your avatar (make your character useless). Skills can be untrained, and experience spent on those skills regained to be spent elsewhere after a period of time. What this effectively means is that halfway through your character's life it's entirely possible to completely reinvent yourself into a completely different class and continue on from there. Of course doing this will take some time as you need to regain the XP spent on those skills before you are allowed to use the skill points. The system is so elegant that it makes me wonder why other developers are so reluctant in allowing character "re-specs". I've never been a fan of re-specializing, and I've never been among those asking for it in other games. But this brings in a whole new perspective to the genre, and it should be adopted by upcoming MMORPGs as it truly gives players the freedom of mind that their early choices are never set in stone. It gives a wonderful feeling of security.

The early life of any character goes by fast. It is very easy to get to level 10, although the curve gets much steeper afterwards and getting up to the mid levels takes much longer. Still, the fact that you can spend your experience points on your different skills as you go along makes it always worthwhile to advance, even if you don't gain a level.


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Turbine made some big changes to their death system from the first game. Dying now only incurs a small Vitae penalty, which means that you are weakened and need to regain a few XP points before getting back to full health. Each death will cost %5 Vitae and will accumulate if you die repeatedly unless you gained it all back. Ended are the days where you lost your best loot, and you do not need to worry about finding your corpse. You need only deal with death and move on.

Of course, this simple system makes death almost uneventful and, like it did for Earth & Beyond before it, the fear of death quickly becomes an afterthought. Running through a group of high level monsters is not quite that frightening anymore since at the very worst you will be sent back to your last lifestone and will simply need to make your way back to where you were. No one fears death very much. Although this has a good side, it also tends to create a generation of fearless (not to say foolish) adventurers ready to sprint head first straight towards doom without a care.

Community (Grouping & Guilds)

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AC2's community features are a carbon copy (or almost) of what already existed in the original game. Players looking for a temporary group to take on special quests or hunts create fellowships and set off towards the horizon. But players can create special bonds and decide to swear Allegiance to one another and form permanent Allegiances. The Monarch (Guild leader) can have up to 12 vassals below him, who in turn can also get 12 vassals of their own and become Patrons. It creates a dynamic pyramidal structure that alleviates some of the hassle sometimes associated with leading a guild. Vassals tend to look up to their Patrons, but seldom higher unless specifically needed.

AC2 also encourages forming Allegiances since Patrons receive a tithe from their vassals in the form of XP passing on straight up to them. This fortunately does not affect the vassals' own XP gains at all. The Patron helps out his vassals by giving them better equipment or help, and in turn he receives helpful experience points for it. This is the best guild system I've seen so far in my opinion because it has obvious benefits for both ends of the Guild structure.

The only downside to AC2's Alliances is that they can become quite big, quite fast. When entering an Alliance with over 200 members, the Alliance chat channel can become overwhelming as dozens of people try to get through all at once. It's a minor picking, but it can put some people off.


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I must admit that I was very apprehensive about AC2 from the very start. Of course, some said that AC2 couldn't be judged before the actual story started. And in a way they were right. It's clear already that Turbine has an engaging campaign in store for their players, and one can only be excited about the possibilities in store for this MMORPG.

But let's just look at what this game is here for a moment. For an MMORPG, AC2 is fun. It's simple, it's elegant, it's easy to get into, it doesn't pretend to be something that it's not. Now, that's not saying that AC2 is anything revolutionary. In fact it isn't, there's nothing really new here. The best aspect of AC2 is that it's story-driven, which no one else, perhaps aside from Anarchy Online or the first AC game, can claim to be. The monthly patches will add story-related content that is the drive of this game, and quite a nice one at that. There's no limit to what the dev team can come up with, and it's readily apparent from the very start that there is an engaging epic hidden there.

Where AC2 loses points (and a lot of them) is in it's rather irritating bugs and other technical and not-so-technical issues. For one, the lag in this game is some of the worst I have experienced since my first few short days on Ultima Online. Both client-side and server-side lag are terrifying. Although in the last few weeks some of the server-side lag has been fixed, there is still some serious issues regarding some dungeons and critical areas in the world of Dereth even though the server populations still have to hit a critical peak. Client-side lag, unfortunately, is something that's heavily dependant on the type of machine you have. But even on a mid-range system, with a lot of graphical options turned off, the game stutters badly at times. Of course, a memory leak bug doesn't help this. After playing for a couple of hours you start noticing the performance of the game dropping drastically and you need to log completely out of the game and restart it to get some better frame rate. Sometimes a complete system reboot is even recommended! From a second generation MMORPG this is kind of hard to accept…

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Another problem that only becomes apparent after playing for a while is that this game doesn't offer anything new. There are quests and combat, some crafting, but beyond that it's hard to see what remains to do in Dereth. Hacking and slashing can only be fun for a while before it gets tedious, and this game suffers from that as much as most other MMORPG on the market right now. So for those looking for a new kind of experience AC2 really isn't it. It is more aimed at those gamers who are looking for a simpler and in some ways more rewarding experience in the same general context as other games out there, or for players new to the genre who want to try their hand at something simple and easy to get into.

It's a bit unfortunate to see these problems coming from a second generation game, from a team that has already had to solve similar problems on an earlier game. But the real issue for players wondering if they should pick this game up or not is whether the prospect of an episodic story-driven game interests them enough to pay $13 US a month. The story will be interesting to follow, that's almost certain, but in-between those monthly episodes/patches the game itself might let some players down with lack of content even before they hit level 30. For those who go in fully expecting what AC2 has to offer though, it will still be quite an enjoyable experience.

The Verdict
Graphics (10%) 95%
Sound (10%) 85%
Control (10%) 85%
Community (15%) 85%
Game World (15%) 85%
Fun (40%) 75%
Overall 82%

The ups and downs:
The StoryHigh system requirements
The GraphicsServer-side Lag
Skill TreesClient-side Lag
Huge world to exploreBecomes tedious & repetitive
Monthly episodesStill highly focused on combat
CraftingNo easy way to find...
Customizable Chat Interface...people to group with
Easy travel system

Reviewer's System
Version: Jan patch
CPU: AMD Atholn XP 1800x
RAM: 512 DDR333
Graphics GeForce 3 Ti200 Pro (128MB)
Sound Creative SB Live!
OS: Windows XP Pro, DX 9

Average Reader Ratings: 6.33 (54 votes)
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