Twice upon a time...
The land of Dereth lay in ruins. The three races, Human, Tumerok, and Lugian, all fled underground to avoid being wiped out completely. No one knows quite how it happened. However, it is rumored that deep within various vaults around the land, magic stones contain the true history of this broken world. Now, adventurers are finally journeying to the surface once again, striving to take back the land they once called home. Are you up to the task?
Asheron's Call 2 is the latest in the increasingly crowded field of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) currently available. When the original Asheron's Call was released several years ago, people openly questioned whether or not the market could sustain three different MMORPGs (Ultima Online and Everquest were the other two). Since then, however, we have seen the launch of Anarchy Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Earth and Beyond and a number of other titles, both big and small. So, what has happened to the number three game in the intervening years? Well, a heck of a lot.
Unlike other MMORPGs that are still using updated versions of the same software used when released, Asheron's Call 2 is NOT an expansion to the existing Asheron's Call. It is a true sequel in every sense of the word. Besides taking place centuries after the first game, the new game is quite different than the old. The graphics system has been completely overhauled, the quest and fellowship system has been reworked, the skill system has been modified, crafting and resource management have been drastically changed - this truly isn't your fath...um...older brother's Asheron's Call.
The graphics are the first change you'll notice. If your computer is up to par, you'll witness some of the coolest effects in PC gaming, with top notch hardware Transform and Lighting, great textures and amazing environmental effects. This is the prettiest MMORPG currently out there, but that beauty comes at a cost. In order to run at the highest graphical setting, you need a 2 Ghz CPU, 256 Megs of RAM, 128 MB Video Card and 2.5 Gigs of hard drive space. That's a lot of power. I tried a rig using a 64MB GeForce3 card and a 900Mhz CPU, and the auto-detect set me at "low" graphics setting. Yikes. The game still looks decent at lower settings, but if you ever see the game running on a better computer, you may just find yourself buying new components.
We here at Game Revolution pride ourselves on rewarding games that try something new...as long as that something new works. Asheron's Call 2 tries a lot of new things, with varying degrees of success.
The quest system is phenomenal. The first generation of MMORPGs were little more than glorified chat rooms. You could do very little to affect the world, and your role in the global scheme of things mattered very little. Asheron's Call 2 sets to change that from the very start of the game. You can receive quests a number of ways: NPCs, slaying specific monsters, drinking specific potions, etc. Upon completion of a quest, you get a lot more experience than you would just by fighting monsters.
However, not all quests are a walk in the park Accomplishing some of the tougher quests requires some help, which is where the fellowship system comes into play. You can temporarily band with a number of other players to take on a specific task together. You share both items and experience and you get some company when venturing deep into unknown lands.
The fellowship system works very well by forcing players to work together towards common goals and affect changes to the world. While there are standard quests that every player gets, the game becomes more involving as you increase in levels, with much more quests and adventures added regularly.
If a fellowship is just too communist for you, you can always swear allegiance to a player. Allegiances work like a giant pyramid scheme. The people on the top of the pyramid provide help and support to the lower level people, and in return get bonus XP from their underlings. The end goal, in an ideal situation, is that one character is eventually elevated to rule the land, but that will take a long, long time.
In addition to your monarch, you can join one of the kingdoms, which dictates the Player vs Player fighting. The three main categories are: Peace (no one can fight each other), Kingdom Conflict (you can only fight those from other kingdoms) and Free-for-all (do I really need to explain this?) Most servers don't allow PVP combat, but in those that do, it's truly a madhouse.
There are some changes to Asheron's Call 2 that, while functional, violate long standing RPG tenets and may piss off a good number of the RPG faithful. Crafting was a big part of Asheron's Call in that you could make just about anything, from broadswords to teacakes. If anything, Asheron's Call 2 makes crafting even more important as there are no stores in the land of Dereth. None. Everything you wear and use you either have to make yourself, find off a monster, or buy from another player. No other RPG has ever done this, so kudos for them for trying. Next thing you know, they'll stop hiding things behind waterfalls.
Resources are reclaimed from items that you find as well, so when you loot a monster, you pay attention to facts that previously seemed unimportant. "Yes, those sandals are made of 50 iron so I can melt them down and craft them into a sword!" Not very glamorous.
Also, your inventory is based not on weight or shape, but the sheer number of objects. Holding 50 individual feathers is the same as holding 50 pieces of chain mail. And items can be changed into gold at any time. That's right - no need to carry things back to town to sell them as you can exchange them for gold immediately.
Mind you, the system works well and has caused me to do more crafting than I've done in any other MMORPG... but I don't like to craft items. It takes a long time to learn and it's one of the least exciting things about the game. I like to run around hitting things with arrows and swords. It's what I know. I long for my characters to be able to walk into a store and just upgrade all my weapons and armor, but that won't happen. Remember, since this game is online only, they may add stores in the future (Please take the hint, Microsoft, please!), but for now you're left to fend for yourself.
Of all the things that sets Asheron's Call 2 apart, the monthly event system is probably the neatest. Carried over from the original, every month brings a new problem to the land. Be it a drudge infestation, the reclaiming of territory, unseasonable weather, evil magicians, whatever, the possibilities are endless, and the players affect the outcome. Towns may be rebuilt or destroyed completely, areas may be rid of monsters, and the players involved may learn more about the land they call home. The monthly events, combined with the quest system, give Asheron's Call 2 the one thing that most MMORPGs don't have... a point. Who knows, maybe you can help shape the land to your liking... or rule it with an iron fist! Mwahahaha! Oh, excuse me.
I could continue to write about the features of this game for ages. The elaborate skill system, for instance, consists of a lot of numbers and acronyms such as HP and XP. It works well and lets you tailor your character the way you want to, even allowing you to unlearn skills without any penalty.
No MMORPG has had a smooth launch, and Asheron's Call 2 is no exception. Lag affects gameplay quite often. The quest system is downright buggy at the moment. You can receive quests you've already completed (no, you can't complete them again) and some quest items may not function properly. Fellowships and quests sometimes don't quite work, forcing you to repeat many quests. It's definitely a work in progress, but no more so than any other game in this genre at their respective launches.
All in all, Asheron's Call 2 is a welcome addition to the increasingly lucrative genre of online persistent world gaming. It's a MMORPG that gives you a reason to play, and that reason changes month to month. With a beautiful game engine and elaborate quest system, the game doesn't disappoint. If you try it out, who knows, you may just see a handsome Lugian with a sword in each hand wildly striking monsters to death. If so, say hi. Now if only I could buy a new set of armor...