Try-It Tuesdays is a (semi) regular weekly feature in which I take a break from my current roster of games to play something new (to me) for an evening. You can check out past Try-It Tuesday adventures here or submit a suggestion for a future title in the comments!
It’s 2017, and I am playing Asheron’s Call, an MMO from 1999, for the very first time. And, considering that it’s due to be shut down at the end of the month, this will likely be my last time in it too.
Reader Joneseh sent me a tweet a couple of weeks back offering me the use of his account to check out Asheron’s Call while it was still up and running (something I could not do on my own, since you can’t make a new AC account these days). It’s always been on my MMO bucket list to check out — and if not now, then never. So I carved out an evening and went exploring in this member of the class of first-generation 3D graphical MMOs.
Right from the get-go, you can tell that Asheron’s Call is a different sort of fantasy MMO. For starters, look at its racial options here. There’s a clear lack of boring fantasy tropes and a whole lot of alien weirdness. I went as weird as I could and chose an Olthoi Soldier, because who WOULDN’T want to play a giant bug?
As much fun as it was chittering around (my son got a kick out of seeing me be a bug), I had no idea what I was doing and soon got natural selection’d by a bunch of bigger insects. Serves me right for choosing an “advanced” class. Time to reroll something a bit more basic!
This time I went with an Umbraden, which were notable for their completely black skin and absence of legs. Instead, my character just has a cloud for buttocks, genitals, and lower limbs, which is another oddity in my MMO experience.
AC doesn’t have classes, as its a free-form skill-building MMO, but you can choose a set template to get started. I went with a Bow Hunter, because I figured winging things with a crossbow sounded simple and satisfying. I was kind of right in this regard.
From there, I went into a proper tutorial zone, completely with much-needed walkthroughs of the game’s various systems and controls. I’d say that a bulk of the stress that comes with picking up and trying to play a classic MMO for the first time in a modern era is trying to figure out how everything works, as none of these games followed the same sort of control scheme that most MMOs we know today typically do.
About half of the keys and controls functioned as I would’ve expected, although I didn’t quite have mastery over the camera as I would’ve liked, and having to click on an icon to enter combat mode and then clicking to select a type of attack was kind of off-putting. Slow, too. And it made me wonder if characters ever got special skills or if this was a game of auto-attacking and little else when it comes to non-magical combat.
“You see, we have ways of making NPCs talk. Mostly by threatening them with a crossbow bolt to the head.”
Sometimes the game threw rainbow fireworks shows for my entertainment. I think this was when I accomplished something or ate a unicorn.
By the end of the tutorial, I was starting to get a feel for Asheron’s Call. Zipping through an insect hive, I was taking out bugs left and right while searching for the one that had this protection orb I needed.
One thing I noticed that’s different about AC is that there’s absolutely no music. It’s sound design isn’t too shabby, although in the absence of any other noise, the periodic sound effects can be startling.
Eventually I graduated the tutorial and entered the world proper. At no point did I encounter any other players or see any in chat, so it felt kind of lonely. Still, there was a huge landmass to explore and I had nothing keeping me bound to any particular area. Let’s go on a road trip!
This was a neat find: a playable in-game chess set using monster models for pieces. Alas, there was no one around to play with.
Asheron’s Call has remarkably crude graphics and has aged a lot worse than EverQuest (which has gotten graphic upgrades over the years) and Ultima Online (which always kind of looked great due to its isometric sprites). Yet I found myself kind of charmed by them. I think it’s because they are very colorful, that this isn’t a dull fantasy setting, and that this world invites exploration. Even with all of the fixtures popping into existence, I kept wanting to see what was over the next hill.
I encountered this “reformed bandit” who politely shooed me away as he was expecting company. What was THAT about? I wanted to know more of his story!
And when I went in his house, suddenly I started hearing these thundering footsteps like a stampede rushing at me… but there was nothing in or outside that I could see. Weird.
The further afield I got, the weirder and more aggressive the creatures became. Here I am, going about my own business, being karate-kicked by a furry and chomped on by a floating doll mask. Excuse me, a virtuous doll mask.
In Asheron’s Call, 10 rats kill you!
After being slaughtered by very aggressive rodents, I felt like my visit to this game was at an end. Fare thee well, Asheron’s Call. You seemed kind of odd and interesting, and I regret not having played you back 2001 when I picked up a copy of you in Media Play and contemplated entering the MMO scene. At least I can see why I like Project Gorgon so much, since it has this same spirit of exploration and mix-and-match character building to it.