Here is a review from MMOHut's Erhan Alay for the game Asheron's Call.
Asheron’s Call Review
By, Erhan Altay
Released way back in 1999, Asheron’s Call is ancient by internet standards. The game was developed by Turbine and initially published by Microsoft. It was the third major MMORPG release, with the first two being Ultima Online and EverQuest. AC, as it is known, can best be thought of as a mix between its two processors. It has 3D graphics like EQ but emphasizes player vs player combat and has a player housing system like UO. Two expansion packs have been released for Asheron’s Call with the latest in 2005 which included a graphic update. Even with continued development, Asheron’s Call has not aged well. The blocky graphics and confusing interface make it a difficult game to penetrate. For old school MMORPG gamers looking for a trip down memory lane, the Asheron’s Call 14 day free trial just might do the trick.
Spin the Turbines
The free trial isn’t easy to sign up for; players must enter valid credit card information and immediately cancel their subscription to avoid being charged the monthly $12.95 fee at the end of the 14 day trial. I tried using dummy credit card information but unlike the Dark Age of Camelot account creation process, AC’s just didn’t buy it. The client download is a paltry 369 mb which shouldn’t take long but the patch process can be grueling. Oddly, the game patches before and after it launches. It took me several hours to patch the game fully on a broadband connection. Additionally, AC suffers from several long standing connection and graphic glitches. Issues with the patch process and random disconnects are common complaints on the board. I experienced a single crash after character creation but haven’t had problems since. Character creation is a simple affair; there are 9 servers to choose from with one of them being a PvP server. Asheron’s Call has four races but they can better be described as human ethnic groups. The Aluvians have a personality similar to Britons, the Charu’ndim are obviously styled on Arabs, the Sho are Japanese and the Viamontian resemble Vikings. Appearance customization is limited, there are several face and hair styles but everything looks so blocky that it really makes no difference. While there are no classes in AC, players can chose from six templates, each representing a different distribution of six stats. Veteran players can customize their stat distribution themselves.
You Have Much to Learn, Young Grasshoper
Each of the four races has its own capital city though players can choose any of them as their starting location. While Asheron’s Call doesn’t have a traditional ‘zoning’ system, players must travel through special tunnels when crossing large distances. The first of these tunnels takes players to a special tutorial area where they can learn the game’s basics. Movement in AC is done with the keyboard but the mouse is important when interacting with NPCs or the environment. The tutorial is optional and can be skipped by talking to one of the first NPCs encountered. AC is not an easy game to understand, mainly due to its age and archaic interface, and for this reason alone it is worth running through the tutorial at least once. The first half of the tutorial explains movement, combat, and the interface. Players should be aware that order to hand items to an NPC in AC, they must physically drag it from their inventory and drop it on the desired target. The second half of the tutorial introduces the Olthoi which are an insect-like race. Players must venture into an Olthoi den and slay its leader. After this feat is accomplished, players complete the tutorial and are free to take one of the teleporters to their preferred city.
A Long Way to Go
Asheron’s Call was released in what I like to call the open-ended era. MMORPGs were distinctly different than their single player cousins, there was little in the way of direction and ‘quests’ were minimal. New players are left to roam the large game world on their own, making friends and forging alliances on their own. This style is distinctly different when compared to WoW or other recent games where a string of quests seamlessly connect the dots from level 1 to infinity. There are strengths and weaknesses to both systems; the open ended style has far more possibilities but requires more time to become immersed in. Unfortunately, the game’s graphics don’t help the immersion factor. While there are plenty of resolution options and the ability to play in windowed or full screen mode, the graphics just haven’t kept pace with the times. Even at release, AC had poorer visuals than EverQuest and even the 2005 expansion wasn’t enough to change this. As MMORPGs age it is important to constantly upgrade their graphics, Dark Age of Camelot and even the relatively new World of Warcraft have done this. Remarkably, Asheron’s Call still does get content updates on a monthly basis but with a low, stagnant subscriber base players shouldn’t expect another graphic update.
Ahead of its Time
When playing Asheron’s Call it is always remarkable to see how versatile and feature rich it is despite being over a decade old. The game has a full featured player housing system which blows away the instanced or special housing zone system more familiar in the MMORPG genre. Even the guild system in AC is superior to the stuff we see today. Players must swear allegiance to a guild leader or officer and sacrifice a small percent of all experience they earn to him or her. In return, the guild is forced to look after the interests of its members by offering them items and help in-game. Another way AC stands out from the crowd is with its unique fantasy world. Players won’t find elves or dwarves here. Instead, the Asheron’s Call develops have created a fantasy realm from scratch. Epic creatures like Dragons make an appearance but the world is otherwise populated by original monsters like a special race of insect and lizard men. One area that AC dropped the ball on was sound and music. Sure monsters make various grunts and there are combat sounds but the game is otherwise silent. EQ benefited strongly from its iconic loading music and I’m sad to see that there isn’t something to match that here.
An Endless Adventure
The experience rate in Asheron’s Call is rapid but with a max level of 275, don’t plan to max out anytime soon. Veteran players argue that the game only ‘really begins at level 145+’ which just goes to show the time commitment required to enjoy AC. Experienced players claim to be able to hit level 140+ in a few days but for newbies this is an impossible feat within the 15 day free trial time frame. Each level, players receive experience points to allocate into various skills and attributes. This allows players to create unique characters rather than the cut out fantasy templates available in most MMORPGs. The ability to reallocate these experience points gives players the versatility to experiment with multiple play styles without the need to reroll and grind a new character. While there are endless variations, players will inevitably fall into a few categories. Melee fighters must have high strength and endurance while casters rely on focus and mana. Players can opt for a sword & shield combo or concentrate exclusively on offense with a two handed weapon. Interestingly, players can select how hard they want to swing their weapon or how much strength to put into their bow before releasing. A slider displays the current strength and corresponding accuracy of each swing. Obviously blows with more strength behind them deal more damage but the tradeoff is that they take longer to pull off. The versatility in the skill based progression and constant decision making involved in battle are the primary reasons why Asheron’s Call is well known as a classic PvP MMORPG. It is player skill rather than level or gear that determines the outcome of PvP combat.
So Much Left Undone…
There’s so much more to say about Asheron’s Call and it is a shame that many of the concepts it pioneered are destined to sail into the sunset with it. An amazing ‘spell discovery’ feature was included when the game debuted. Players had to spend hours figuring out spell combinations to unlock new spells. Top guilds would jealously guard their discoveries since the game automatically adjusted the relative strength of spells based on how commonly they were cast. Unavoidably, third party programs quickly arose to kill the sense of mystery and the developers scrapped the feature. Today, Asheron’s Call has embraced third party programs that enhance the experience for the mainly veteran player base still around. The most popular of these add-ons is Decal which any serious AC player should have a working knowledge of. Mastering this program simply adds to the game’s already high learning curve but it frees experienced players from many of the repetitive gameplay tasks involved.
Final Verdict: Fair
Asheron’s Call may have been ground breaking at release but it has not managed to keep pace in the ever evolving MMORPG genre. With few players still around and a steep learning curve, AC just doesn’t offer much to new players. On the other hand, the 14-day free trial is a great excuse for old players to experience some nostalgic adventures.
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