Try-It Tuesday: Asheron’s Call

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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“You see, we have ways of making NPCs talk. Mostly by threatening them with a crossbow bolt to the head.”

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Sometimes the game threw rainbow fireworks shows for my entertainment. I think this was when I accomplished something or ate a unicorn.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Could Asheron’s Call 3 interest MMO gamers today?

ac2The other day Talyn took a somewhat pessimistic look at where Turbine is and what might happen to the company in regards to its IPs.  I think there are some valid points to be had here, but what got me thinking is how three of its four games are tied to specific intellectual properties, with all of the blessings and pitfalls therein.

Talyn went on to speculate about Asheron’s Call, the least-of-the-least game in the Turbine library and the only one that is wholly owned by the studio in terms of IP.

The interesting question to me is, what if Turbine was working on a possible Asheron’s Call 3?  The resurrection of Asheron’s Call 2 was really bizarre for many reasons — it came out of the blue, it was and continues to be downplayed by the studio, and it’s only available for those who sub up to AC1.  I have tried several times to get Turbine to talk to me about Asheron’s Call 2 and each time they’ve claimed to be too busy or not interested in discussing this subject.

It’s just a weird, under-the-radar type situation that could very well be nothing more than a pet project that the studio allowed, figuring that if it gained or retained more subs, why not?  But there’s also the theory that Turbine might be gauging interest in the franchise and fiddling around with both games as a prelude to a much more modern sequel to AC.

If they’re working on such a game, I haven’t caught a whiff of it yet.  There’s good reason to assume that they’re not, since they’re probably not rolling in as much revenue as they were a few years ago and their potential big moneymaker is with Infinite Crisis.  But perhaps there’s a small team working on AC3 somewhere, which makes me wonder if gamers would really respond to a new Asheron’s Call in this day and age.

On one hand, a new MMO done with any semblance of skill is noteworthy, sequel or famous IP or not.  I always thought that AC has one of the most original game settings that tried really hard not to be just another generic fantasy MMO, and that would be most welcome today.  Plus, we’re in an era of MMO sequels, from Guild Wars 2 to EverQuest Next to RuneScape 3.

On the other hand, if Turbine doesn’t have the resources and manpower to pull off a really big MMO, an Asheron’s Call 3 could be dismissed outright before gamers even saw it.  It would have to provide more than just a graphical update to the old game worlds to be considered as a serious contender for gameplay time.  And there just might not be an audience out there at all for such a game.  AC2 tanked back when there weren’t a billion fantasy MMOs out there, and resurrection or not, that thought has to weigh on any decision that the studio makes.

So this might just be a flight of fancy.  AC3?  Probably will never happen.  But… it’d be pretty cool if it did.

Asheron’s Call 2: The Returnening

ac1Days like yesterday are what keep me hooked on MMOs; you really never know what might happen next.  I guess Asheron’s Call 2 was probably one of the best candidates for resurrection, still being Turbine’s property and all, but… dude, it’s been dead for seven years.  World of Warcraft hadn’t even put out an expansion yet when AC2 bit the big one.

It’s not just unexpected to see Turbine suddenly go, “Hey guys?  Yeah, we’re turning the server back on.  Have fun!” but it’s completely surreal too.  I never played AC2 back in the day nor had any strong attachment to it, but I did spend a good month last year researching it for the Game Archaeologist and always thought it looked pretty cool.  I remember really liking the idea that this was some sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy world that wasn’t just a clone of medieval England.  So even if there’s no nostalgic reason for me to be thrilled, I’m excited for the historical perspective and just because, dude, it’s awesome when a dead MMO comes back to life.  Really, we kind of needed to see this this year, even if it wasn’t the game that most of us were missing.  Going through SWG, COH, Glitch, and so on was rough for a lot of folks.  Maybe this can be a substitute win.

Anyway, I’m just jazzed.  I was beside myself writing up the story on Massively, and the second I got free time last night, I subbed up to AC1 to get access, downloaded the client, and jumped back into 2005.

Really, how could I miss the opportunity to see the first day of the resurrection?  This news just caught everyone, everyone off guard, and the reactions on blogs, on Twitter, and in the game were so much fun to read.  People were stunned in a good way, not quite believing that it wasn’t April 1st.  General chat was full of folks saying that they had done as I did and signed up for AC1 that very night just to see AC2.  I sensed worry that this might be a very temporary thing, and there were a lot of questions that have yet to be answered (like, will these characters be wiped when or if this version of AC2 leaves beta?).

But as I said in chat, it almost doesn’t matter.  How can we complain, really, when we’re given a cool gift like this?  What gamer wouldn’t, if he or she lost an MMO they really liked or always wished that they could’ve played once before it got cancelled, jump at the opportunity for just one day to check it out?  Even if it was just a day.

I spent a couple hours getting acquainted with the game, and it was pretty dang cool.  I was prepared to have to struggle with a lot of archaic features, and while AC2 does have them, it’s pretty easy to figure out and work with.  Better yet, the graphics still hold up, most likely because they have a cool stylized, alien look to them and pop with color.

I didn’t do much more than get through the tutorial, finish one quest, and then get killed after a long journey to the second quest.  But I dinged level 5, started fleshing out my mage’s abilities, and found myself looking forward to the next time when I logged out.

Maybe this is some weird experiment on Turbine’s behalf, a way to bolster Asheron’s Call numbers or just have some fun before it all gets shut down.  Maybe — and this is a thought that’s been bouncing around my head — it’s a prelude to an announcement about Asheron’s Call 3.  Kind of a way to reinvigorate the fanbase and drum up publicity and familiarization with the game world before the really big news hits.  I know that’s a lot more unlikely, but thoughts come and go as they will.

Anyway, what a cool way to end 2012.  Whatever the reason that it did this, Turbine gets some respect and applause from me for pulling off this hat trick.  The studio made a lot of people happy yesterday, for sure.

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Blogsplosion2011: The first time I fell in love…

To kick of Blogsplosion2011, I asked Murren “to write about the first time she fell in love (or, barring that, in “like”) with an MMO.  Romantic language usage a must.”  You can read more about her daily adventures over at Murren Pursues the Dream.

There is so much to be said about my first love, it is hard to know where to begin.

When we were first introduced, I didn’t know what to think. He struck me as attention hungry and a bit boring. Over time I came to know him, he drew me in and consumed me. He made me feel important; like I could make a difference in the world. I know I made a difference in his, when I helped to battle his shadows.

I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning, playing his games and exploring every inch of his landscape. Whether we were sitting on the Holtburg’s rooftops talking with Theeta, Rhalina, and Creature, or walking on the moonlit shores of Dereth, his presence was intoxicating and leaving side was always difficult.

When I would wake in the morning, groggy from our late night adventures, my walk to work enchanted by memories of my night with him. But while I felt his call, I was also plagued by the reality that people wouldn’t understand.

How could they understand my love for Asheron? Err… I mean, Asheron’s Call.