Follow the Call
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All I can say is - WOW! If all of the next generation of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, popularly called MMORPGs, are as good as this then we are indeed in for a real treat.
Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (herein after called AC2) takes place in a land called Dereth which is comprised of three Islands. Osteth is ancestral home of the Humans. Omishan is the ancestral home of the magic using Tumeroks. Linvak Massif is the ancestral home of the lumbering Lugians. You start your life, after choosing race, sex and how your character will look; in a shelter deep underground. Many, many, many years ago your ancestors (all three races here) were driven from the land by vicious beasts. The shelters provided the necessary safety for each race to lick their wounds, try and figure out what happened and what to do next. It is finally time to exit the shelters and regain the lands lost so long ago.
So starts your adventure in AC2. In making your way out of the shelters, you will go through a tutorial on the game system and interface and even get to do a little fighting before it is all over. You emerge into the light of day at level three in your chosen race and have been given the tools with which to forge into the world and help its reconstruction.
As you exit you are told to look up a certain person who will direct you further. This starts a series of quests that will get you well acquainted with the game system and have you visiting all three of the starting cities as well as the Drudge Citadel itself. Then you will be around level 23 or so and ready to take on the next island.
When the game was first released in mid-November 2002, the world of Dereth was a shambles. The cities and towns lie in ruins and it was up to you and the others playing this huge game to begin the reconstruction. Each month there is an update to the world (ie program patch) which not only alters the way the world looks but adds new content, new adversaries and new quests. The first upgrade, in December 2002, altered the beginning tutorial so the way my second character started the game was not the same as the way my first one had only a couple of weeks before.
And the major towns started to take on a new look. Buildings (which can not be entered as of this writing) began to look whole again and a slight difference was noted through out the land. Rumors (totally un-verified) have it that player activity within the towns and cities may drive the reconstruction of that town or city - time will tell on this one.
The January episode further enhanced the major towns and some now looked like real towns and cities should, while others still lie in rubble. Plus the weather changed to winter. Snow is falling, lakes and streams froze and a completely new look was given to the island of Osteth, the starting island for all three races. The January episode also had some undesired effects that many players did not like and which the designers decided were not working as desired, which lead to a mid month 'hot patch' to correct the problem. The February episode has now started and has a new host of changes and updates. And preliminary information is out on the March episode as well that promises to further enhance game play and enjoyment of the evolving lands of Dereth.
The game looks great, as well any game being released these days should (it even looks good on my machine that needs to run in low graphics mode due to my outdated video card - GeForce 2). But there are many little things that show where the designers and programmers went the extra mile to make an enjoyable experience. One of my favorites is that a character going up hill will automatically change their view to look up the hill ahead of them. Ditto when they run down hill. The game starts with the camera in third person view but a quick tap of a key will get you to first person view, which is my favorite one. You can choose from the ever popular 'mouselook' method of controlling your character or my preferred method of cursor control of turning and moving my characters.
Upon entering the game, as said before, you did not choose a 'class' or area of specialization. In AC2 this is handled through a series of skill trees. There are three skill areas, Melee, Missile and Magic. Each of these has what is called a basic tree of skills. By this I mean at level one there are certain skill you can acquire (by spending skill points gained at the rate of one per level) and your choices at the lower level will determine the skills available to your character as you progress. All the skills are available for review prior to choosing them, which makes the choices a bit easier. Each race has a different set of skills in each of the three trees. Choices for your character do not stop there, as each of the three basic skill areas for each of the three races have two specializations that can be trained starting at level 15 (max level to date is 50, so how you spend your skill points is important).
But do not despair. The designers saw that there may be a time when you wanted to change the direction of your character and designed that into the game. Any skill can be untrained returning the skill points and the experience (which is spent to raise the level of any skill from its starting level of 1 up to level 50). This is not instantaneous but happens over time as you gain more experience. When you start the process of untraining you will be told how much experience needs to be gained to completely untrain that skill. So it is almost impossible to make a wrong decision that you have to live with for the life of a particular character.
Death does not mean long 'corpse runs' so familiar to many of the first generation of these games. You respawn (come back into the world) at the last lifestone you have used. These are spread all over the world. You can also gate back (be transported) to this lifestone and can get skills that allow you to gate back to your last used portal and even open portals to your lifestone or last used portal that others may use as well.
There are also many, many portals to further aid your travels in the lands. Some of these are in the form of 'ringways' which are a series of four portals in a given area that circle the area completely so after four ports you are back at your starting place. Some are in the form of portals between major towns. All in all travel is usually pretty quick to get close to the area you are interested in and then you get to explore or fight your way to your final destination.
The world does not consist of zones, so there is no zoning out of an area to avoid combat. Luckily, many monsters will loose interest in you after awhile, though some are VERY tenacious. This makes communications a bit difficult. Initially there were limited means of communication - talking (which only folk in the immediate area could hear) - Allegiance chat (similar to guild chat in other games) - Fellowship (group) chat and direct tells. The January episode added region wide, game wide and trade channels but, unfortunately, these ran into trouble and had to get pulled. We are all eagerly awaiting the return of these chat channels.
But the area wide talk (or say) works well. There are certain areas, and quests, where fellowships are desired or necessary. Most times getting near the destination you will find others that are headed to the same place and you can get a fellowship started to complete the task at hand.
This made me remember the 'radar' screen. There is a small screen, which shows things of interest in your immediate area as well as your location within the world in north south / east west coordinates. Other players show up as large dots. Monsters show up as 'x's with a color scheme that allows you to determine their level relative to you. So no more getting smashed by that marauding Hill Giant that you did not see or hear until you got the dreaded "Hill Giant hits you for 136 points of damage . . ."quickly followed by "reloading please wait." There are keys for cycling through the enemies and cycling through the players in this screen and information on them will pop up in the 'examine' screen on the left hand side of the play screen.
Then there is crafting. This is a developed skill that any player can participate in. Items have 'traits,' Iron - Stone - Wood - Acid - Crystal etc. There are a host of 'recipes' for various game items, weapons armor tools and many, many more. Each recipe requires one or more items that have certain trait value associated with them. Put the necessary items into the recipe box and hit the craft button. Not always a success, but in my experience there are many more successes than failures. These recipes are 'tiered' in that you start knowing only the basic recipes and as you master these new ones will become available.
Each 'tier' has better statistics and abilities than the one before it. For instance, a tier one sword may do 17 - 22 damage while a tier two sword could do 36 - 40 damage. There are level restrictions on armor, weapons and jewelry so you can not have level one characters running around with level 50 gear. It also gives a little more meaning to gaining levels and gaining expertise in crafting higher tiers of items. You can even mine material from one of the many iron mines, lumber camps, etc. that are spread over the world. All of my characters love crafting and I could probably do a whole article just on that.
I could go on and on as this game has plenty of features and plenty of content that you just have to experience first hand. This game is well deserving of the 5 GiN gems rating as it is excellent! It is the only game since April 1999 that has gotten me to change my EverQuest subscription from six months to monthly. This game is indeed for anyone no matter how much experience you have in playing online roleplaying games or any other type of roleplaying game.
Royce Brainard is a GiN product tester. He has been heard to say "If it is a game, I have probably played it. If it is a good game, then I probably own it." He can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org.