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
Call is the latest online RPG to be released to the gaming public. After
seeing the large monthly profits made by both Everquest
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.
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.