Asheron's Call - game review

Author: Soulcatcher
Date: 2000-12-22 16:10:00
The review was based on the PC version.

Microsoft has always aroused a lot of controversy and, to be honest, despite its undoubtedly great contribution to the development of microcomputers, it is rather disliked in the world of computer "stagers". My personal attitude towards Microsoft is very unprofessional because I like their software very much, and in MS Office 2000 I am almost in love :). Therefore, I was able to approach Asheron's Call, the last product of Microsoft (and Turbine Entertainment) in the field of family entertainment, without prejudices, such as: "... that there will definitely be walking slowly and will hang, and besides, they will they can't write games anyway ... "This review was written based on playing the Beta 2 version, which has just ended and is virtually no different from what we will be able to buy in two to three weeks in US stores. In this review I did not include many interesting aspects of the game and I made some shallower, but you could write about Asheron's Call for hours, and I'm not going to bore you.

INTRODUCTION: Asheron's Call is a Massive Online Multiplayer cRPG game - a huge, interactive world accessible only via the Internet for a large number of players at the same time. The game works (24 hours a day) on dedicated servers launched by MS Gaming Zone. The gameplay takes place in real time. Our character is present in the game only when we are logged in to the server, after logging out, we disappear from the game (after automatically saving our parameters and the last location) and the game continues. Up to several thousand players can play on one server at one time. There will probably be a dozen or so servers, and at least in the first phase they will be located in the USA.

CLIMATES: AC is set in the realities of the world of magic and sword. It can be considered a cRPG game, although we can also find Adventure elements here. The technological world of AC is the equivalent of the Middle Ages. Monsters, spells, and weapons are AC specific and are not based on any known cRPG game system. While the game itself is not easy, it is written in a player-friendly way, and from our beta experience, we have more pleasant than annoying events. It is a good change after e.g. UO where 90% of the time, instead of fighting monsters, we are killed by other players, robbed, cut into pieces, killed again, resurrected and killed, robbed, disconnected from the server and sleeping while waiting for reconnection :) . I don't want you to get the impression that AC is a game for little girls, on the contrary, as the action unfolds, the opponents are more and more scary (I really regret that I miss the battle scene with a monster of 10 players that I saw). Contrary to, for example, the UO in AC, the land is so full of enemies (monsters) that there is no time to deal with fighting other players, which has been severely limited.

STORY: There is no clear goal of the game. Most of the players enjoy developing their characters and exploring the land, as well as socializing with other players. Of course, there are also a lot of quests that can be ordered by NPCs. The specificity of online games lies in the ever-evolving world, so I can certainly write that after the official opening of the servers, we will be able to participate in many interesting events that will be related to the course of events imposed by Game Masters, e.g. the attack of an army of monsters on a city requiring greater cooperation the number of players when repelling an attack. It can be said that in this type of games the story is created by the players themselves.

LAND: The land is GREAT, it's hard for me to judge exactly, but to circle the entire island around the coast you need about 20 hours of real time for my taste. There are several dozen cities, villages, houses, forts, temples, towers etc. There are over 100 (non-random) labyrinths. Perhaps the data he gives are understated, because he gives them an estimate because during 10 days of playing we managed to visit only a part of the game world. The advantage is that the geographical layout gives novice players time to develop, before they get to the places of great skirmishes, they are no longer beginners J. Teleports or advanced mage spells are used to quickly move around the map.

CHARACTER CREATION: You can only play one character at a time, we can create five characters on each of the servers. During the process of creating a character, we can assign to her the following external appearance features such as: race (we have three races to choose from), gender, hair color and length, facial features, skin color, clothing cut, etc. Before starting the game, we also select exact characteristics describing our physical parameters and mental. All items of equipment and weapons acquired during the game, both their shape, texture and color, also have an impact on the appearance of our character, which makes each of them look unique.

CHARACTERISTICS: Characters are described by parameters known to us from cRPG games, i.e. Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Concentration, Focus and Self, and by about thirty skills (divided into four professional groups) such as sword wielding, lockpicking, running speed, etc. Parameters these can be set at the beginning of the game by dividing points from the available pool. Then, while playing, the skills used increase slowly automatically, plus we get a pool of points resulting from experience, which we can assign at our discretion. Of course, by using armor, weapons or magical items, we can also influence our performance.

PLAYER KILLERS: AC has practically solved the Player Killers problem and I love AC for that. But let's start from the beginning. Who is PK? Here's my definition: Player Killer is a player whose goal is to kill other players and add a role-play envelope to it. Probably many of you will say that there is nothing wrong with killing other players. Sure, Quake is a great example of a situation where CP is even required and brings great fun. But you have to believe my online gaming experience that PK in practice ruins the game. Why? Please, I am already writing. Fighting another player makes sense when the odds are 50-50, or 30-70, or even 10-90, but if the odds are 0-100, it becomes a farce. And when it comes to fighting a True Professional CP in Ultima Online, the odds were just 100-0 for CP. Why?. Well, because it has an unattainable in Poland fiber-optic connection to the server with virtually no delay and it moves 5 times faster than we do. Besides, PKs never attack individually, but in whole herds. It is true that you can also defend yourself with several people, but all these theories do not work in practice, because PK when they feel that they are weaker always run away, and return when the crusade of the good goes home. Generally speaking, instead of exploring the land, discovering labyrinths and cities, looking for treasures, etc., the game turns into a game of cat and mouse, with PK.

Everyone can stay in AC PK, just pray to the appropriate Shrine. But PK is very little because they have been stripped of the goal of being PK of killing beginner weak players. In AC, the only fighting mode between people is PK vs PK. When playing as a normal non PK, you shouldn't be afraid of anything from the other players, as no human can even hurt you. And this is Cool, because if you want to kill yourself, you will be able to do it with other PKs without disturbing other players who want real cRPG fun. There will probably also be special servers where everyone will be obligated to PK, hehe, I have to see it sometime.

COMBAT: There are two combat modes: basic and advanced. Advanced is a bit like fighting in arcade games, where with the mouse movements in real time we regulate the strength of the hit and aim what part of the opponent's body is to be hit. But this is a mode rather reserved for people with strong nerves and a very fast connection. So maybe I will focus on the description of the fight in basic mode. After entering the combat mode, we can click on the target with the mouse or select it automatically with one of the buttons such as "select the closest target". Then we choose at what height the blows are to be dealt. We have (approximately) a choice of legs, torso and head. We choose whether the blows should be repeated automatically or the next target should be automatically attacked after the fight is over. The next step is to set the balance between the strength of the blow and the speed of attacks for slashing weapons or between precision and speed of shots for small arms. And then to fight. It may sound complicated, but this system suits me very well because it transfers some control over the character to the computer, which is very useful in online games in the case of lag. Depending on the combat school we represent (sword, dagger, bow, ax, spear, mace), the fight may take a completely different course from the parameters and opponents set. Fighting with magic is very similar.

DYING: Death is an inseparable element of every role-playing game. In AC, death is associated with the loss of the most valuable item in one's possession and half of the gold carried. They do not disappear, but remain with our body when our spirit flies to the point of resurrection (there are several dozen of them). There we get a new body and if we are close enough to return to our leftover body in about a quarter of an hour, we can recover the lost items. An additional penalty is the loss of a certain percentage of our artifacts and skills. We get them back as we earn more experience points.

MAGIC: Magic, especially spellcasting, is an indispensable component of any fantasy-themed cRPG game. There are four schools of magic in AC, each with its own specific spells. Each spell must be researched before it can be cast. Discovery consists in arranging the reagents in the appropriate sequences. We can find these sequences on scrolls, watch while listening to others cast spells (accompanied by saying words) or get recipes from friends. The latter may not be that easy, because the rules of the world say that the more often a spell is cast in a certain time segment, the less it works. So you should be afraid that really strong spells may be difficult to obtain. And there is really a lot of magic to be created.

FLAY SUBMIT: In my opinion, the most innovative (and coolest) idea in the game is the introduction of a voluntary fief system. In practice, this means that if, for example, you meet a great strong player, you can stand as his vassal. You lose absolutely nothing, everything remains the same, but he gets a small percentage of the experience you gain (you lose nothing). You can create entire feudal structures in this way, because the king at the top of a given caste gets a small percentage of all exp points. conquered by all their vassals and their vassals etc. For me - Cool. Of course, such submission has its advantages also for the subjects, because something will always fall off your table.

TEAM FORMATION: One of the unique features is the ability to temporarily form a team from random players encountered in the game. This possibility is primarily aimed at fair sharing of the experience gained. Here is an example: a team consists of two warriors and a cleric. Warriors kill monsters and a cleric heals them during combat. Experience is then distributed equally (depending on the level of the character) among all team members, also the cleric, who, although he does not participate directly in the fight, helps a lot. This rule makes the fights look reasonable and no longer rely on the race like in other games, who will give the dragon the last blow and get the whole experience for him.

OWNERSHIP: Property rights are very carefully respected in AC (which makes me very happy, a supporter of the rule of law). No one can rob you (as long as you are not CP), no one can take items and gold from your corpse for about 15 minutes after you die (as long as you are not CP), no one can take the treasure from the monster you kill for about 5 minutes . And of course, no one but monsters can even tease you (as long as you're not CP).

COMMUNICATION WITH OTHER PLAYERS: There is something like IRC built into the game engine, the panel of which allows us to communicate with many players at the same time. There is also a method of sending information (without additional software) to players who are further away than our "voice" can reach, eg somewhere far in a maze. We also have the option of personalizing the recipients of our messages so that they are not heard by outsiders. There is communication within your own fraternity or team.

RADAR: Throughout the game we have the radar turned on, which shows us approaching monsters, special places, other players, PK, teleports, etc. It makes the game much easier, especially because there is no detailed map of the area. The exact location can be given through real-time coordinates on the general map screen.

SERVER EFFICIENCY: LAG (i.e. the delay occurring while playing and related to the poor response time of the server or a large number of lost packets) which is in AC (or rather the lack of it) is one (and not the only) thing that I am very pleased with she surprised. During the whole time of playing (about 10 days) we had practically no problems with the connection. We played on servers where the number of players ranged from 300 to 2000 and everything ran smoothly. This is a really big step in online gaming. Microsoft did a great job with the network engine. We played using a fast connection, but my friends testing AC via modems admitted that the quality of the game is much better than in other games. There were funny situations that it stopped working due to clogged WWW links and the game continued to run smoothly.

KEY SHORTCUTS: The game interface has been very well done. In addition to the ability to perform most actions with the mouse, there is also a large number of definable keyboard shortcuts. And these are functions that are very useful when playing games. For example, "select the closest target", "pick up an item", "select the closest friend", "attack the character who is attacking you" etc. It makes the game much easier, because instead of aiming with the mouse on the screen, press the button.

EXPRESSING EMOTIONS: With good quality graphics and recognizable on-screen character gestures, the developers at Turbine have given us a great opportunity to visually express our emotions. We can wave our hand, bow, threaten, raise our hands up, sit down, lie down, kneel and perform many other activities (about 20). It has a very positive effect on the atmosphere of the game.

GRAPHICS: The quality of the landscape vector graphics is quite satisfactory. It doesn't shock you with the number of details, but remember that this is an online game. AC supports most modern 3D accelerators. I got really nice effects and a good speed in 1024x768x16. For older machines there is also a software mode available (however, be aware that the game looks mediocre in software mode). AC is fully 3D with 3th Person View switchable to 1st Person View. We have full freedom to rotate the camera (as in Darkstone and Homeworld). Personally, I am very allergic to the artistic side of games and AC did not disappoint my expectations. For example, an element as insignificant for gameplay as the sky in AC is also great. The times of food and nights change, the sun and moons rise and set (as I've seen at least two moons), it is snowing, raining, lightning flashes, etc. Clouds of various shapes and colors are flowing in the sky. The characters of players and monsters are also very diverse and carefully developed. I also like the fact that traveling through changing climatic zones, we see a changing landscape from what resembles a taiga, through temperate forests and mountains to deserts and tropical jungles. To sum up: having a fast and modern 3D accelerator and a 17 ”monitor, we will certainly be satisfied.

SOUND: The sound requirements are not too high and virtually every sound card has the appropriate parameters. All dialogs are displayed in a window similar to IRC chat and there are no spoken lines. Most monsters make noises when fighting and dying. The music is quite atmospheric, but in the long run I find it tiring like most musicians in games.

THEORY AND REALITY: Finally, I would like to cool down the emotions that this review may provoke. Online games are, unfortunately, quite expensive fun for Polish conditions. The price of the game will fluctuate around $ 45, if we order it by mail, you need to add about $ 20 for shipping. After a month to two of playing as part of the free plan, we will have to pay about $ 10 a month. You need a credit card for this. For the unaware, I would like to assure you that the pirate versions will never appear, and that you will not play alone at home. And this is still to be experienced, but the telephone bills for inet are not trivial when we use a modem and PPP TPSA. From my (and my friends') experiences, e.g. with Ultima Online, it appears that if we want to play well via modem, the telephone bill will amount to 300 to 600 PLN per month. So I encourage those who have a constant and cheap Internet connection to play. Don't worry, I think that TPSA will prepare a surprise for us after the new year from Internet subscription fees.

SUMMARY: Asheron's Call is an example of games that will dominate the market in some time (for my taste it can happen quickly). For me, it's a 100% hit. You can clearly see the two years that have passed since the release of Ultima Online. And although I have always liked the UO, the AC beats it in my opinion. As soon as TPSA (# $% @ # $% @ # [email protected] #) will finally make me a permanent link to the house, I will sit in my seat and start the AC, or maybe it will be Ultima Online 2 (it will be in mid-2001, also in 3D) who knows. Hope to meet you, "My name is Soulcatcher ...".