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Asheron's Call 2

Wednesday, February 12, 2003 by Helly

Asheron's Call 2
Overall: 4
Graphics: 5
Interface: 3
Multiplayer: 4

The world of Dereth, where Asheron once summoned champions to fight off invading hordes of Olthoi and other nasties, is in ruins. The world has been broken and the various races have disappeared underground in order to survive. Many years later, scouts have returned with the news that the world above, though ruined and infested with aggressive creatures, is livable again. It is time for the inhabitants of Dereth to rise to the surface and reclaim their world.

That’s where you, the player, enter. As a member of the population of Dereth, you can explore the land and discover the reasons why it has become a wasteland. The in-game quests actually lay the story out for players, and as time goes by character’s actions will begin to affect the developing landscape of the world.

As one of the first so-called “second generation” MMORPGs, Microsoft and Turbine, the team behind Asheron’s Call, have teamed up to bring a visually stunning, interactive, and player-driven world to life. Although set in the same world as the original, Asheron’s Call 2 takes place hundreds of years later and the world is broken into three continents. Other changes abound, but there are enough reminders of the old Dereth to bring back fond memories for AC veterans.

Mooning the World

Dillo Huntin'

When you first login to Asheron’s Call 2, you’ll be given the opportunity to create your character. Much like many other MMORPGs on the market today, creating your character is a relatively straightforward task. However, AC2 has streamlined this task significantly. No longer do you choose skills or attributes to raise, freeing the character from picking a particular path (eg: melee vs. magic) at character creation time. Instead, you simply choose one of the three races and play with your looks; changing hair, skin tone, etc.

The three races are the large, muscular Lugians (formerly enemy creatures in AC), the lizard-like Tumeroks and the standard Humans. Oddly enough, no matter what character you start with your basic stats are the same. Therefore, a small human swinging a sword will do exactly as much damage as a muscular Lugian with the same sword. While this may seem odd at first, it all becomes clear when you first investigate your skills.

AC2 approaches skills in a unique fashion, and takes quite a departure from the skill system available in AC. Instead of providing an abundance of skills, many of which aren’t particularly useful, that your character can raise, AC2 provides their skills in a tree structure, requiring players to train prerequisite skills in order to gain other, more powerful skills. These skill trees also provide unique character development opportunity. For example, a Lugian could choose to train up the melee skill tree and then choose to follow one of the Lugian melee-specific trees such as Berserker or Juggernaut. Each tree, be it standard melee or one of the alternate trees, has its strengths and weaknesses, and also contains it’s own branching paths. For example, a Lugian Berserker could focus on developing area-effect melee skills (which is an interesting concept), or focus more on the multi-hit chain attacks. And there’s nothing to stop a melee character from training up some Magic skills, should they so choose. Training skills is performed with skill credits – you earn one per level. Increasing your trained skills is done with the experience points you earn in game for killing monsters and completing quests.

Tree City

Rebuilt Town

Perhaps the most exciting thing about the skills in AC2 is that, should you decide later on that you didn’t like the way a skill works or even if you want to try a whole new skill tree, you can simply untrain your skills. This is a unique concept in MMORPGs and merits attention. Each skill you train can be untrained and, when completely untrained, returns all the skill credits and experience points you invested. Of course, it’s not instantaneous – you must actually earn XP in order to untrain a skill. Once you’ve earned enough (and the skill description will tell you how much), you get back all the xp and skill credits you’ve spent. Another drawback is that you cannot use the skill while untraining. At higher levels, it takes longer to untrain as the amount of XP you’ve put into a skill gets increasingly higher. However, the opportunity to take your character down a completely different path at any point is an excellent feature, and allows players to experiment, make mistakes and correct them all without having to reroll their character.

So once you’ve got your character running around, what’s there to do? This is another area that I believe Turbine has handled quite well. When I first reviewed Dark Age of Camelot, I was new to the game and excited about the excellent graphics and potential of the game. Had I written that review when my character hit level 40 (characters can only go up to 50), my review would have been significantly more negative. There was nothing to do, and no content development at all in DAoC. Turbine, on the other hand, has the benefit of a pre-existing world on which to base their game. They have developed a significant back-story for their game and provide an engaging way for characters to learn about the world they inhabit. Now that I’m level 40 in AC2, I feel I can be a bit more impartial.

Of the many available quests, the Vault Quests are oriented specifically for the storyline of the game. Each of the three continents has vaults scattered about the countryside. Certain creatures drop Vault Glyphs, used as keys to enter the Vault. After you’ve made your way through the Vault and killed the Vault keeper, you transported to the Vault Shard. Using the shard, you are presented with a short movie detailing a specific part of the history of Dereth. These quests help involve the character in the history of the world as well as provide information about the creatures who shaped the face of Dereth.

Turbine has also revived its excellent Monthly Update feature, also used in AC. This monthly story update and patch allows Turbine the opportunity to not only patch bugs/fix exploits, but also to drive the storyline further along. For example, as the game progresses, towns where large numbers of players congregate will be built up, slowly regaining their former glory. The fact that the game consists of a backstory, has a plot and will change over time all help immerse players within the world of Dereth. This depth of story has been sorely lacking in other MMORPGs.

Vault Quest

High-Res Swim

It’s not perfect, of course. In the higher-level areas there’s a lack of content for fast-leveling players. Perhaps Turbine did not expect so many players to hit their 30’s and 40’s so quickly, but thanks to many exploits it was not unusual to find characters jumping three levels in one quest (Icefire was my favorite). With the January patch, many of these exploits have been fixed, but so far the main thrust of development has been on the low and mid-level areas. As mentioned before, the monthly updates always provide hope for further development, expansion and changes.


Turbine learned from Asheron’s Call that having merely OK graphics at launch meant that their graphics were pretty craptacular a few months down the road, in comparison to the new games that came onto the market. So when they approached the graphics for Asheron’s Call 2, they went the other way and developed a game that can push even the most powerful gaming rig beyond its limits. Needless to say, the graphics are spectacular. Due to the relatively low system specs of my machine, I was forced to play on Low graphics quality (the game actually provides a recommendation for graphics performance based on a system scan) in order to enjoy the best mix of quality and speed. Even on the low setting, however, I was blown away by the eye-candy all around. It is, very simply put, a beautiful game to behold.

I knocked the settings up to High at one point just for a jaunt around and was even further amazed. Grasslands that had been relatively dull colored textures were suddenly fields of waving grass, skin details on player characters leapt out in sharp contrast and the spell and weapon effects were dazzling. You’ll need a super-high level system in order to play with the highest graphics settings, and even then you may experience low frame-rates. Ultimately, the developers wanted to give the game the kind of graphical complexity that could grow with advances in video cards down the road a bit, allowing players to stick around not only for the content but for graphics that don’t age as quickly as other games.

Sound is also an important part of the game experience. One of the more entertaining aspects of the sound-system is the in-game musicianship available to players. All characters can play instruments, and with every patch there more types of instruments being dropped by the various meanies all around Dereth. By entering a simple command, much like an emote, your character will play whatever instrument is equipped using a specific melody. If you don’t have an instrument, you will perform a “beatbox”, which is different for each race. There are 9 available melodies and each instrument complements the other to these melodies. It’s an interesting experience standing around in a town and listening to a small crowd playing lutes, bass lutes, pan pipes, drums, guitars and even clarinets.

Beyond the player music, the in-game music is quite stirring and changes with the game experience you are having. Martial beats for combat, or atmospheric music for the wilderness: the music is good but it’s not such a standout that it deserves more notice than a basic “me like music”. In fact, for performance I turned off the in-game music for a little boost. The in-game effects are where the game begins to show some power in the sound category. For example: running my Lugian character over a road sounds completely different than running through a puddle or in a cavern. Creatures grunt when performing some tasks and weapon effects explode forcefully upon impact. My favorite effects are the distant howls of different creatures when you’re in dangerous territory. All these different sound effects do a great job immersing me into the game world.


The initial interface of AC2 is a bit tricky for the newcomer. Not aiding this fact is the flimsy and generally useless manual that accompanies the game. A handy keyboard layout chart does provide some useful acclimation to various hot keys, but beyond that the documentation that comes with AC2 is woefully inadequate. Luckily there is an in-game help system available by pressing F1. This help system resembles the standard index-based help interface of any MS Office product and does provide access to very useful information.

Chat in-game is a clunky affair and was made even clunkier with constant chat-channel crashes introduced, obviously unintentionally, with the January Patch Event. There are several channels that show up in your chat window, differentiated by their color. Default settings include white text for world messages, yellow for private tells, green for fellowships, and light blue for allegiance chat. These can all be customized on the fly, as can font sizes. You can have up to 4 chat windows on-screen at any time and can actually assign a channel specifically to any window you so choose. However, unless you can play at super-high resolutions, desktop space is at a premium. Having more than a couple of chat windows open proved difficult and distracting for my settings (1024x768). A nice addition to the chat settings is the ability to change the opacity of the windows, helping to minimize their impact on desktop real estate at the price of legibility.

Eye Candy


The radar system is a relatively standard affair and navigation by compass points, a holdover from AC1, is back in play. I find this to be a very precise way of determining where specific locales, items or monsters exist in the game world, and it’s relatively intuitive as well. However, the average gamer may want to avail him/herself of any of the number of available world maps on the fan sites as these will ease your navigation greatly.

The main problem I have with the radar system is the way that enemy creatures and other players are displayed. Any creature within a certain range above and any range below your level is displayed in a mustard yellow. A so-called group creature (one with so many extra hit-points that it’s recommended you fight it with a group) is a dark-orange color. Creatures a few levels higher than you are Red dots. That’s it. That’s all the differentiation available to you. Players are either white, blue if they’re in your allegiance, green if you’re in a temporary fellowship with them or (at least in the case of Order) pink if they share your alignment.

Very simply put: with the whole spectrum of the rainbow available to them, a little differentiation could have gone a long way. For example, DAoC’s detailed color representation of creatures on their in-game radar is a simpler to decipher on the fly (eg: gray for too far below your level, Green for way below your level, blue for a few levels below, yellow for even, red for above, if I remember correctly). Another note that AC2 could have lifted from the book of DAoC is creature aggression: as a level 40 Berserker, why am I being attacked by level 4 creatures when I’m visting the lowbie continent of Osteth? Shouldn’t these creatures know better than to tangle with someone that many levels higher than they? It’s less a question of AI then of annoyance – I don’t want to be running around ignoring herds of lowbie critters chasing me and accidentally train them into a group of new players.

Another big change from AC1 is the lack of insane amounts of space when carrying loot. Back in the day a player could own many backpacks and carry ridiculous amounts of gear. In this game you have a set number of slots to hold loot. Another interesting bit is that instead of merchants (at least at this point in the game – remember: the world is a wasteland, no such thing as a store yet), you can transmute your items into gold. So when you fill up your bag, you can change it all into gold, each item having a value associated with it and displayed on its information sheet. Items also have interesting values such as Iron, Stone, Wood and Crystal ratings (as well as other subsets). These numbers relate to crafting.

The crafting system relies on recipes. Each recipe requires several items with specific ratings, eg: Iron of 60, Stone of 60 and Silver of 20. Items that creatures drop, be it armor or jewels or weapons, all contain specific ratings of the materials above and can be used as items in your recipe. Other recipe items are unique creature drops such as wasp stingers or reedshark spikes. Once you’ve successfully managed to use a recipe a set number of times, as designated in the info screen of the recipe, you achieve mastery and are given a new, more difficult recipe for higher a higher level item. You can also craft tools that will give you bonuses to your crafting. Major towns also have forges which, when properly fueled (eg: give the forge iron items to give it fuel), provide bonuses to anyone crafting nearby. Recently introduced to the world of Dereth are dye plants (a holdover from AC1 – the model is even similar) that can be used in a dye recipe to change the look of your armor. Save yourself some gold though, as many of the higher level crafting recipes require an investment of gold to complete. You can even take some of your gold and “gamble” it on random spell effects for your weapons or armor. Crafting can become quite an intensive and consuming hobby in-game, and many Allegiances have players dedicated only to crafting while the rest of the guild supports them with gold, unique items and base materials.

Speaking of Allegiances, another interesting concept that is present in both AC and AC2 is the structure of the social system. AC/AC2 follow a feudal method of hierarchy, with a Patron/Vassal system that benefits both players. A vassal can swear allegiance to another character, who becomes the vassal’s patron. The patron provides game advice, assistance, monetary funds, equipment and general support to the vassal (at least that’s what a good patron does). The vassal, in turn, gives the patron a percentage of his/her earned Experience Points. This allows a higher-level patron the opportunity to gain much needed extra XP and the vassal doesn’t lose anything, as the XP generated for the patron is separate from the actual earned XP, not removed from earned XP. A player with vassals but no patron is considered a monarch and, as such, can become leader of an Allegiance. Any vassal that swears to a member of the allegiance (think of it as a tree with the Monarch at the top) joins the allegiance.


More Tyrants

For short-term grouping, the game offers the Fellowship. Any player can start a fellowship and recruit up to 8 other players to join. As long as these players are all within 5 levels, above or below, of the person who started the fellowship, everyone will share XP. You can also purposefully start non-XP sharing fellowships and control how loot is split up amongst fellowship members.

There is also the potential for player-versus-player conflict. There are areas in the game that are known as FFA, or free-for-all, sections where any player is a potential enemy. There are also areas that are known as KvK areas, or Kingdom versus Kingdom. In AC2, not only can you belong to an allegiance, but you can belong to a Kingdom aligned with Order, Shadow or the enigmatic Dominion. This sets the stage for battles between the three kingdoms (a la RvR in DAoC) which are not only entertaining in a PVP sense, but which can also allow a specific kingdom control of resources within a specific area (eg: mines which crafters can use to get high-level, hard to find materials).

Multiplayer (if any):

Multiplayer only game, so it had best be decent. There are some lag issues in certain areas, such as the city of Linvak Tukal on the Linvak continent, but generally the game seems to perform solidly during any part of the day on my cable modem.


Asheron’s Call 2 does a good job extending the franchise Turbine and MS created with AC1. It’s an expansive world with a well-developed history, story-line and plot. Add to this the promise of monthly patches with their expanded items, questing, creatures and bug-fixes and the game has the potential to entertain players for a long time into the future.

There are plenty of issues that have to be worked out in the meantime however. While I enjoy the game, there are plenty of players up in arms with the all-too-common Chat Channel crashes, server outages and rollbacks (and I’m one of those players). There are plenty of glitches within the game that cause players, and creatures, to get stuck on walls, trees or other objects and getting warped back to the stuck spot. This is particularly annoying when trying to outrun a nasty Shreth intent on eating your face. After the SQL Slammer worm hit the net, most players lost items and quests (for reasons still unsatisfactorily explained to me, as the Slammer worm did not destroy data) and were forced to redo major quests in order to get back to where they were pre-worm. Just this past week I was unable to stay logged in to the game for more than a few minutes and eventually the Morningthaw server crashed completely and reported as Offline and Locked in the world view when launching the game.

We Jammin'

Tenacious D?

Content is another issue that I’ve mentioned that must be addressed. There are many high-level players now, and in order to keep them happy (despite the fact that most of us took advantage of loopholes and exploits in order to jump so high so fast), the devs will need to start populating the high-level continent of Linvak with more detail and quests. However, in comparison to games that have been on the market for over a year, there is already significantly more content in AC2 available for players to explore. As the monthly patches continue and the world rebuilds, I have high hopes that player interactions will affect the way the world grows.

Finally, while in-game help from admins is generally useless (I have yet to receive more than a “nothing we can do, sorry” response from any in-game admin for any of the issues I’ve reported), the Devs seem to be listening to the player-base. After a disastrous change to the crafting system that lowered the value of crafted items as well as some of the benefits, making creature drops better than many crafted items (see: this thread), the devs went to work to hotfix the issue with patch (see this thread). So while there are problems, and perhaps a lack of foresight, with the way in-game items are handled, the devs do listen to the community and act accordingly.

As with any MMORPG, not everyone will enjoy AC2. However, I’ve been having a blast, generally, and expect that the game will continue to grow and develop as the monthly events are implemented. While not living up to the nearly-flawless release of AC1, AC2 has done a relatively good job of bringing a complete game to market. Obviously, there appear to be some areas where the devs thought they could let things slide until after release in order to make deadlines, but overall the game is well developed.

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