Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings
The very concept of a sequel to a persistent world game is a strange one. Quite plainly, one of the key strengths of MMORPGs is that they are continually developed; growing in size and richness all the time by way of expansion packs, engine tweaks, and limitless player feedback. To throw all this away and start from scratch frankly seems a little idiotic, smacking of fat senior management types too busy playing grab-ass with the secretary to see past their blinkered sequel mindset.
Let's not get carried away though. In fact, let's give this crazy idea a chance, as there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Microsoft’s recently unveiled Asheron’s Call2 is a lot more than just a cynical cash-in. It could even be the game that finally delivers on the broken promises of massively multiplayer and propels the form into the next generation.
Before we get to that though, a few vital stats. Hugely evolved in some areas, Asheron’s Call2 will nevertheless be very much recognisable to existing AC fans (and if you’re wondering: yes, the original game will still be made available if enough people keep playing it). The setting, storyline, alignment system and basic rules of the original game will remain intact, but thrown hundreds of years forward in time. A great magical cataclysm has left the world of Dereth torn and ruined, and along with the usual fighting, party questing and trade, it's up to players to rebuild their shattered land.
Making Your Mark
Emerging from safe havens below ground are three unique playable races, all sharing an uneasy truce. Humans are specialists in ranged combat, the new Tumeroks are magic specialists and the brawny Lugians are best suited to brawling outside the local pub on a Saturday night. Combat itself is also to be fully reworked, with a greater choice of moves, more tactical options and a lot less repetition.
Then there’s the new engine. It's called Turbine Engine G2, and as you'd expect it's a veritable bag of graphical tricks. Real-time shadows and lighting, highly detailed character models, realistic shimmery-reflective water, foliage that sways in the wind - it may even give Star Wars Galaxies a run for its money.
But where things really get interesting is in the dynamic and constantly evolving nature of the world. According to Microsoft, players will actually be able to help restore the world of Dereth by creating new settlements, interacting with the environment and "genuinely affecting the landscape and story of the world."
Equally, the landscape will be subject to further damage from disasters such as volcanic eruptions and blizzards, and players will even be able to instigate such events themselves once they've attained sufficient power. This hugely refreshing level of player control extends throughout the design of the game - master craftsmen can fashion powerful magical items, weapons can be melted down and reforged... the list goes on. Coupled with stunning graphics and shrewdly streamlined gameplay, Asheron’s Call 2 could be set to make EverQuest look positively medieval.
Download Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
It was with some trepidation I entered the world of Asheron s Call 2 for the first time. Online RPGs have something of a notonous reputation for botched launches, bug-ridden code, server crashes and of course our ever-present companion: Mr Lag Fortunately, the early good news is there are no such problems with AC2. at least not to begin with. The install and patch download were clean, and in no time at all I was creating a character. You can choose from only three races: humans, lugians and tumeroks. It doesn't matter one whit what you do here apart from messing about with hair and features to make yourself look as stupid as possible, because your character will change dramatically at later stages in terms of stats and skills, so simply picking a basic persona (complete with silly name made up of at least ten apostrophes) and entering the gameworld is as taxing as it gets at this point.
When you first enter the game you will be placed in a training ground which is dnven by a series of easy quests. Learning stones provide information about the environment and the interface. This is an excellent introduction, particularly for people who have never played an online RPG before. The simple series of quests does not take too long and by the time you leave your training ground and make your way to the nearest town (the town you start near is dependant on the race you choose), you'll pretty much know what you're doing. First impressions were positive then. The graphics look beautiful and detailed, there's no lag. and you are eased into the game mechanics in a timely fashion.
The Good, The Bad, And The Inexplicable
But don't get too excited yet. It's not all this good. Given that space is limited here I am going to take you on a whirlwind tour through AC2 and highlight the ups and downs you can expect to find. Fasten your seatbelts, here we go...
The quests are excellent, and there are many of them, each yielding a great deal of experience points. AC2 is similar to most RPGs in this respect - gain experience and level up - we've all been there. The maximum level is 50. but trust me when I tell you that it's going to take you a hell of a long time to get that high.
Graphically. AC2 is stunning, and you can vary the level of detail on the startup screen to surf your PC. Even at lower resolutions the graphics are hugely impressive. The storyline also offers plenty to get excited about. The world of Dereth is barren. Humans, lugians and tumeroks have come out of their underground hideouts to discover the towns have been ruined by an unknown evil. A series of major quests in which you enter vaults (ie dungeons) reveals the story slowly, keeping you gripped and guessing throughout. And at the end of each vault you get a slide show with a voice-over unfolding the tale even more. And while it may occasionally verge on the corny, it works surprisingly well.
Monster Al is absolutely abysmal. Often you can stand right in front of them and they won't move. That is. when they're not stuck behind a tree and can't find their way around it.
Gold plays a much smaller role than it should, when you loot things from monsters you can turn the items into gold (which is handy since there are no NPC merchants around to sell to), but the only thing you can do with your gold is buy things from other players, or use it to finance trade skills.
The lack of any real towns may well suit the storyline, but it makes the game world feel desolate and barren, which stinks of a total cop-out and an excuse to minimise lag by making the gameworld largely featureless. It's hugely disappointing.
The guild system in which players hand over experience to players higher than them in their monarchy in return for items works well for some people, but it encourages lower levels to beg from higher levelled characters who, for their part, earn experience for doing nothing but handing down things they no longer need. It also encourages guild members to admit just about anyone in the interest of getting expenence for free, so guilds full of idiots are commonplace.
Bugs: oh yes. they are there, but in fairness AC2 is largely bug-free in comparison to its counterparts. Downtime: While I was reviewing this game. Dawnsong, the UK server, was down more often than it was up. The only concession made on the official website towards this was that Dawnsong had been down for 30 minutes when it had in fact been down for the best part of two days, and secondly an admission there were problems but no explanation as to why, and no ETA on a fix. A tip to Turbine and Microsoft: taking servers down with no warning whatsoever and then ignoring your user base when they try to find out what's going on will lose you customers in a big way.
Hopefully this is only a temporary hiccup; visit an unofficial' website to get the actual situation on UK server stability, with any luck they will be back to normal by the time you read this.
There are no banks in the game, and no bags or containers to store your things in. The inventory system is the worst in known history. You never have enough room to store all the things you need in the normal run of play, and if you are working on trade skills, forget it. Turbine says it has no plans to increase the capacity of the inventory, but banks or something similar may appear sometime in the future. For now they are working on more important things, such as 'flying mounts'. Please!
Trade skills: armour-crafting, weapon-smithing, you can do them all, and mostly with components you find on the monsters you kill. However, it costs gold to make things, and even when you have allegedly 'mastered' an item to its highest value you can still make completely crap things which are useless to you and anybody else, and all your gold goes down the pan. It doesn't matter how high your overall skill is, you can. and will make worthless items far more often than useful ones. It's entirely possible for someone with trade skills far inferior to yours to make something much, much better due to the random stats generated when components are combined to make an item, regardless of skill. The January patch was released just as we went to press, and it has made things significantly worse, to the point that most people in the game no longer craft at all. If you are more of a craftsman than a fighter. AC2 is currently the worst choice on the market.
AC2 has had a smooth launch and features some of the best graphics ever seen in an online RPG. but in terms of actual game content it falls way short of the competition, and the fact that things like the inventory management problem even exist suggests the developers have never played their own game. Our advice is to check the unofficial websites to keep an eye on how the patches affect the gameplay and gauge player reactions before buying this game (the official forum is heavily moderated and posts are read before they get put up. so you never have any idea what the general community really thinks since many comments aren't posted). A good place to start is: ac2hq which has a good forum community and also contains a wealth of information on all aspects of the game. We'll be revisiting AC2 in a couple of months time to see how it's developing. Till then, think hard before investing your time and money on an RPG that falls well short of the likes of Everquest and Neocron.
Unlike many other reviews you will read, I will not start this review off by comparing MMORPG's to drugs and the players to drug addicts. That being said, the original Asheron's Call managed to dig its hooks into me for two solid years. My visits to Dereth have become more infrequent over the last year and it is a rare occurrence when I log in to the game these days. Along comes Asheron's Call 2 and its attempt to coax me back into the world of Dereth and forgo sleep once again.
The original Asheron's Call attempted (and succeeded on some levels) to create a completely wide open experience, including its skill system, where gamers could tailor the game to their own unique play styles. Asheron's Call 2 has shifted toward a skill tree system, removing the ability for a player to take any skill at any time. The skill trees are determined by your selected race (there are three different races to choose from). Additionally, the player can train and un-train skills in the skill tree system at any time. Perhaps the developers felt the need to add a buffer to protect players from themselves and their poor choices. Personally, I prefer the new system because it allowed me to test a new skill and if I was unhappy with the skill, I was not permanently stuck with it. The skill tree is well done and adds a completely new dynamic to the series that should help new players advance more quickly. Veteran AC 1 players, however, may feel a bit constricted.
Another new addition to the series is special attacks for melee characters. The melee combat in AC 1 was limited to setting your character on automatic and selecting to attack the monster with a low, medium or high attack. In AC 2 you can select auto attack and stand back and watch your character attack your selected monster but you will not be using your skills to their fullest potential. Your skill tree allows you to train special melee attacks that inflict significantly more damage than a normal attack. On top of this, monsters become vulnerable at times during battles and if you select your special attack at the moment the monster is vulnerable, you will inflict a mighty blow. This seemingly small change keeps combat fresh and the player remains involved in all battles.
The third major deviation from AC 1 comes in the economic structure. The Non Player Characters (NPC) in the game only serve as quest starters or providers of information. There are no stores or vendors to sell your loot. All loot can be salvaged into gold or used for crafting. Crafting is a key component to the economy. All characters can craft items (weapons, armor, etc) without needing to spend skill credits or experience points. The more you craft, the better your skill becomes and the better equipment you can create. The higher the level you are trying to craft, the higher the material requirements become, so you will always be compelled to continue collecting the high level crafting materials to make that next level sword.
The final major game structure change is the quest system. The quests in AC 1 were very vague and normally one person would solve the quest and post a walk through so everyone else knew what to do. AC 2 has a quest log that actually shows you when a quest is initiated, what the quest is, and what is needed to complete the quest. As your quest progresses, your quest log will updated, reflecting your advancements. Also, the game features vault quests which reward the player with experience points and movies about the history of the AC world.
The graphics and audio are nothing short of breathtaking. This is one of the best looking and sounding games you will find on the market today. Unfortunately, this beauty comes at a price. I run a P4 2.2 Ghz, with 512 MB of RAM and 128 MB GeForce graphics card. When playing on the auto-detected settings, I find the lag to be unbearable at times. It is not traditional lag like you see in a FPS, but more so like a frame rate lag where it feels like you are running in knee-deep mud. With each update, I can only hope they optimize the network code to help fix this problem.
Ultimately, this is a great game that will be very user friendly to new players and AC veterans alike. Some people will really like the changes and others will hate them. The first monthly event has already addressed a number of the complaints I had with the game, although I still find a large part of the game to be random hunting which gets a little old at times. If your system is at the minimum listed specifications, you are probably going to have a difficult time with the game but if your system is current, you should do alright, provided you scale back a bit from the recommended settings. Even if you are not floored when you first start playing, give the game a chance and explore some of the nuances and you will be hooked before you know it.
Snapshots and Media
- Dark Cloud 2
- Earth and Beyond
- Enchanted Arms
- Final Fantasy VIII
- Front Mission 3
- Grandia Xtreme
- Lords of EverQuest
- Phantasy Star Online
- RPG Maker 3
- Tales Of Destiny
- Tales of Legendia
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
- The Granstream Saga
- Wild Arms 3
- Ys: The Ark of Napishtim