Hello, you have four messages:
Hi, this is Asheron, please call me back ASAP. Lives are at stake! - 10:05 am
This is Asheron again. Where are you? The land of Dereth is in dire peril and needs your help! Monsters are running rampant, villages are being overrun, corpses are littering the countryside, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. Please contact me as soon as you can at http://ww - 2:17 pm
Hello occupant, are you happy with your current long distance service? We'll offer you $0.01 cent a minute rate for the low monthly fee of $5,000. If you are inter... [Erased] - 2:19 pm
This is Asheron, your stupid machine cut me off. As I was saying, in order to save Dereth, you have to go to the Microsoft Gaming Zone. I know it's a time-consuming hassle and a waste of system resources, but it's the only way to join the fight for good. Let me know! - 2:21 pm
That was your last message
Asheron's Call is the latest online RPG to be released to the gaming public. After seeing the large monthly profits made by both Everquest and Ultima Online, it was only a matter of time before Microsoft jumped on the massively multiplayer RPG bandwagon. However, unlike Ultima Online or Everquest, Asheron's Call tries to bring the genre to a much wider audience, but may have lost some of the original core audience in the process.
When reading the review of any online RPG, you must remember that the information contained herein was true at the date of publication. Because of the ability to constantly patch and improve the game, many minor details may change over the course of Asheron's Call's life span. That said, on to the review.
One of the first things to consider when playing any online RPG is the cost. Asheron's Call has adopted the now standard practice of selling the game retail for about $40 with one month free. After that, the monthly charge is about $10. Depending on how often you play the game, this setup can either be a good deal or a rip-off. Considering that it now costs $8 to see a 2 hour movie, most folks don't seem to mind the $10 charge.
The other main point that has hindered all online RPG's when they first start has been Internet and server lag. Unlike its predecessors, Microsoft opened the last week of their beta test to the public, allowing anyone and everyone to play for free, thereby testing the internal lag of the game. Lag still does occur when playing, but most of that is due to Internet noise rather than Asheron's Call's servers. Though this may change as more and more people play the game, right now the lag isn't that bad. We can only cross our fingers and hope.
The graphics in Asheron's Call are decent and practical, just not very pretty. The designers at Turbine went with the polygonal first / third person approach that we saw in Everquest, rather than the isometric sprites we saw in Ultima Online. When compared directly to Everquest, the graphics in Asheron's Call just aren't as good. The reason for this lies in the audience that Microsoft wanted to capture. Unlike Everquest, Asheron's Call doesn't need a 3D accelerator card in order to play, but having one does help. While this does make the game more available to the general population, it noticeably hinders the graphical capability of the game.
Though the graphics aren't the best, the interface is where Asheron's Call shines above the other online RPG's. This is the first online RPG that isn't utterly confusing when you first start. In fact, it was fairly easy to begin killing monsters within 15 minutes of starting the game. After the cumbersome interface of Everquest, the simple controls of Asheron's Call are a blessing.
Add to that a logical skill/attribute setup, and you can almost ignore many of the drawbacks. Like original D&D, characters have specific levels in Asheron's Call. There are also several types of experience points to earn, and while this might sound confusing, it's amazingly easy. For every creature you kill, every skill you successfully use, and every quest you finish, you earn general experience points. Besides using them to raise your level, these general points also fall into an unassigned experience pool that can be used to raise specific skills or attributes.
Besides just using the unnassigned experience to raise skills, your skills also gain experience by themselves. Say, for example, you kill a monster using a bow. Besides getting the general experience points for killing the creature, your bow skill will also earn experience. Unlike Ultima Online where you had to mine or make chairs all day in order to raise your attributes, Asheron's Call gives you significantly more control over your character. If you don't want to raise a skill, you don't have to, plain and simple.
In order to promote more character cooperation, Asheron's Call has two additional ways to interact with each other. Fellowships can be formed and broken at any time, and usually are made when people are hunting together. For as long as the fellowship is intact, characters share any experience earned by killing monsters and completing quests. For a more permanent alliance, you can also swear allegiance to any character of a higher level. The lord will then gain a small amount of experience every time one of his vassals earns experience. Of course, the vassals can also have people swear to them, leading to a giant pyramid scheme with one guy on top. It's good to be the king.
Speaking of Kings, one of the biggest drawbacks for Asheron's Call lies not with the game itself, but with the Microsoft Gaming Zone. After you install the game, the hassle begins. When you click on the "play" button (with the false subtitle "Enter Dereth with no more delay"), your web browser gets launched. Now, you have to download and install the Microsoft Gaming Zone software. If you thought web browsers were easy to crash before, the Zone will show you just how easy it can be now! In fact, one of the computers at the Game Revolution office was totally unable to ever install the Zone software, and we're supposed to be the professionals.
After getting the Zone software installed, you now face the tedious task of finding a user name. Because I didn't want a name like colin857, it took me about 15 minutes to finally get a Zone ID. The Zone requirement wouldn't be as bad if it actually served a purpose. Unfortunately, all it does it take up your system resources and offers almost nothing in return. Of course, I suppose that's nothing new for Microsoft.
As with any online RPG, it's impossible to fully describe the game in a single review. Suffice to say, Asheron's Call is a fun, semi-addictive game with a fantastic interface for people new to the genre. However, some drawbacks and the lack of complexity may drive Everquest and Ultima Online fanatics bonkers. If you happen to jump in a portal to Dereth, look me up and swear allegiance to me . . . I'll be a good emperor, I swear.