Released last year during the shopping months of November and December, one would think that this very beautiful MMORPG would do better than it has so far. The game was hit hard with brutal reviews from various magazines and sites stating that this was all flash and no meat. Four months after the initial thumbs down, Asheron’s Call 2 is making strides to change the minds of those who would doubt Microsoft. And though Turbine has made some great improvements to the game, there’s still something lacking that makes an MMORPG great: players.
The One Player Army.
If you’ve ever played an MMORPG, you're familiar with the routine: you create a character, give your avatar some gear, and go find some monsters to kill. Now the only changes to this formula is how things are done.
Creating a character in Asheron's Call 2 is made much simpler than most other MMORPGs. Players choose a race, make their avatars look as cool as they want them to be, and they're on their way. Gamers won’t even have to play with their stats, as there is no ability points to allocate. In fact, you don’t even choose the path you want to take. That’s right, unlike almost all MMORPGs on the market, Asheron’s Call 2 lets players decide what they want to be after they actually start playing the game.
Of course, I’ve always been a fan of elaborate character creations, but this is a refreshing twist to the genre. We certainly could use some new ideas to the ever-stagnant palate of modern MMORPGs. Sadly, what is gained in innovation, is lost in the inevitable prison of character classes. While players are given 15 levels to decide what they want to be when they grow up, they are still forced into the mould like every other MMORPG on the market.
Using What You Make.
No army is complete without some arms. This is where Asheron’s Call 2 shines and fades at the same time, again. To craft an item, players must gather items from enemies. These items will have specific traits (wood, iron, stone and so on) and a value associated to them. Players follow a specific recipe to create specific classes of items using these goods. Though, each recipe belongs to a tier that has specific requirements to be met before the item can be made. Players must master the lower tiers in order to advance within the respective recipe. That’s all nice and dandy. What Asheron's Call 2 does wrong is implement a crafting level restriction. This eliminates the possibility of the “crafter” class.
While it would have been nice to be able to sit back and be the “Guild Crafter” at level 1, this restriction prevents any low level character from being very useful at item creation. Many of the players who are crafters are annoyed by the fact that they must gain levels in order to advance to the next recipe tier. While its understandable to have a crafting level restriction so lower level characters can’t create amazing items from the outset, there’s already a level requirement to use specific equipment. So why punish crafters? Unless players join an Allegiance that provides gear for members, budding crafters are stuck crawling up the slow leveling ladder.
Armors and weapons aren’t the only items players can make. The options range from purifying silver to making antidotes for poisons. Players can turn practically any item into gold with alchemy. Anything seen in the game could, and probably is, made by players for players. Looks nice on paper, right? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The implementation of almost no non-player characters (NPCs) is a strong indication that Microsoft wanted Asheron's Call 2 to be player driven. This seems like a fad with the recent MMORPGs due out this year and is a really bad idea. What Microsoft failed to foresee is the low number of players each server has. In order to be be a player-driven world, there needs players.
Battle Evil’s Minions!
What Asheron’s Call 2 does well is add a bit of strategy into the combat. No longer will players have to hit one button and pray that their hard-boiled polygon avatar will guide them to victory. Depending on which weapon is used, the player will be given a set of abilities that can be learned and eventually mastered. As more abilities are learned, the more versatile players will become and as they start to master them. This will enable players to do more damage and take down bigger and more rewarding foes.
Also, just to keep your mind on the fight, some special moves require the sucessful execution of an ability in order to maximize damage. There are even some attacks that require waiting for the right moment to strike down your enemies. Players will have to be cautious and not go around flashing these abilities at their leisure. Each skill has a set amount of vigour cost. So flaunting your prowess will make you so tired that swinging the sword becomes impossible. This combat variety is a nice change, one many up-and-coming MMORPGs will surely use to lure the masses to them.
Another nice addition in Asheron's call 2 is the auto-attack tracking feature. Players will no longer have to run after distant or fleeing eneimes, the computer will do the running for you. Though this can be both good and bad. Used in an open area, this saves time and effort, but in small dungeons, the computer may drag the unalert into a horde of monsters.
Players are also equipped with an in-game map and compass to help them travel the vast world of Dereth and find the varmints who dare threaten the land. This is a great tool which gamers will be making use of very often to find their way around. There is also the "Examine" Window which helps identify creatures of a similar level to play with. One flaw in the map is the compass. Since the device doesn’t indicate altitude, this makes pinpointing certain targets difficult. In multi-level subterranean dungeons, this makes for a very confusing run around the tunnels.
Kicking Evil’s Butt and Looking Good Doing it!
One cannot contest the sheer beauty that is Asheron’s Call 2. With an awe-inspiring graphics engine that generates some of the most stunning landscapes ever to grace a monitor. The water effect alone is truly something to behold. But, therein lies the ultimate flaw: eye candy can keep players around for so long. Brilliant visuals will fade without gameplay substance. If Microsoft had delayed Asheron's Call 2 for a couple months to concentrate on content, the game could have been much more than just another pretty face. But instead, they opted to release the game filled with annoying bugs, little to no content and a powerful engine that will visually amaze you. Sadly, the reverie dosesn't last long before you to realize all you were doing is staring rather than playing.
If graphics were the only thing an MMORPG needed to be a mega hit, Asheron's call 2 would take home the gold. But sadly, stunning graphics are not a only requirement for "Game of the Year" and Microsoft certainly didn't make the right decision. Even to this point, Asheron's Call 2 is little nothing more than a visual benchmark program with a chat interface. No thanks, I'll just download 3DMark 2003.
Enjoy the melodies Dereth has to offer.
The music in Asheron’s Call 2 is well composed, though sometimes over dramatic. Many of the songs are noteworthy, but are mainly overshadowed by plain, overly repetitive scores. The sound effects are done well, but players will hardly notice they’re there.
Not As Bad As I Feared
While far from perfect, Asheron’s Call 2 was not as bad as I feared it would be, though some major issues need to be dealt with. The lag needs to be managed. With such a small number of people on each server, there's no reason for the game to lag as often and as it does. Also, they need to merge servers to increase the average number of players per server so that the player-driven community can truly start to flourish. With 10 servers running at less than 500 on average (the highest populated server, “Frostfell” only boasts approximately 900 players), Asheron's call 2 is a very lonely world waiting for people to realize it's evolving.
With monthly events to help push what little story there is, an easy to use GUI and some interesting twists to the genre (vaults, for instance, are similar to missions in Anarchy Online), this might very well be the MMORPG that could. Until then, the verdict stands.
© 2002 Turbine Entertainment, All Rights Reserved.
© 2002 Microsoft Game Studios, All Rights Reserved.