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Can It Deliver Today?

Krystina Balogh Posted:
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Asheron’s Call is a fantasy MMO set on the island continent of Dereth, in the world of Auberean. You are an adventurer who answers the call of the mighty wizard Asheron to come to Dereth and fight the evil that lives there. This fight takes place in a seamless, persistent medieval fantasy world full of unique monsters; you won’t find an elf anywhere! The game’s immersive storyline, extensive lore, and unique questing system create an interesting gameplay experience. We’re going to look at this venerable classic today through the eyes of a first-timer, and as someone who wants a new MMO home. Can Asheron’s Call stand up against other games in this day and age? Read on to find out what we think!

Asheron’s Call is an older game so the aesthetics pale in comparison to today’s MMO. Even though Turbine updated the graphics engine when it released the Throne of Destiny expansion, the game still looks its age. The textures are low resolution and repetitive. The 3D models are simple and blocky, reminiscent of days when graphic cards could only handle low poly models.

The game’s sound effects and music suffer from aging, also. They are on a repetitive loop and, while it may have been state of the art in audio 13 years ago, sounds tinny on modern speakers. The NPCs don’t speak to you, nor does what they have to say pop up in a box near them. Instead, any conversation you have with them is printed out in the chat box. If chat is flying by then it is very easy for anything the NPC says to quickly get lost.

The User Interface is clean but could use some updating to streamline it. Mouse-overs would be a good addition to help newer players familiarize themselves with it. It is not readily obvious what the buttons and slot area to the right of the chat box are for and clicking on them doesn’t solve the mystery. In some cases, their use was discovered by simple trial and error.

The gameplay options area is full of settings to allow for easier gameplay as well as optimizing the game for today’s computers. The higher settings do smooth some of the graphic issues but the low-resolution textures and 3D models do not benefit from them. Most of these settings do have mouse-over descriptions to help the player make the best choices to optimize their game.

The pre-set key bindings are old school to say the least. They were assigned before the MMO genre informally standardized them. Unless you are a quick learner or a veteran player, it is best to go into the gameplay options and reassign them to more familiar bindings.

Camera settings could be more intuitive. The camera clips into the environment in close quarters and runs up walls if you are near a slope. This can cause motion sickness for some. The player loses control of the camera in combat if they have the option to “keep combat targets in view” turned on. This adds an element of frustration because you can’t see what’s going on around you in a fight.

Asheron’s Call offers both PvE and PvP gameplay. While both styles offer the player a unique gaming experience, they both start off in the same way, at character creation. There are a variety of different races to chose from, each with its own mastery and augmentation. While there are no set classes, such as Healer or Warrior, there are basic skill templates available that can help you create fighter, healer, or caster type characters. Using one of these templates does not set your skills in stone; you can still completely customize your skills. So, if you’d like to play as a Swashbuckler just pick the Swashbuckler template, tweak it if you want, and jump into the action!

The Nuts and Bolts

The first area you encounter after character creation is the game’s tutorial. This tutorial is helpful for new players although it is rather old school in its presentation. You can skip the tutorial but that is not recommended if this is the first time you’ve visited Dereth. The tutorial teaches you basic gameplay mechanics by telling you how to do something and then letting you fumble through the process of translating the instructions to game actions. It is easy to miss some of those instructions as they are in book form on a table behind the main combat training area. For this reason it is important to explore the whole area and read everything you find. While the tutorial won’t lessen the game’s learning curve, it will help take some of the pain out of it.

When you’ve completed the tutorial you are transported to the starting town of your choice. Each race has it’s own starting town but that doesn’t mean you have to go there. Once you arrive, the world is open to you. You decide where to go from here, what to do, and how to do it, whether through PvE or PvP.

PvE offers the player a large, diverse world to explore where you can do just about anything you’d like. You do not have to follow a specific path from level 1 to 275. If you want to do nothing but quests, then quest to your heart’s content. If you want to do nothing but kill monsters, then that’s fine also. How you play the game is up to you. . In fact, it has a treasure system that rewards you for playing solo or as part of a group. Asheron’s Call does not hold your hand or force you to follow a predetermined path in order to progress

While PvE is the standard in the game, if you prefer PvP then you have a number of ways to engage in it. You can roll your character on the PvP server or you can engage in full world PvP on any of the PvE servers. In order to PvP on a PvE server you must use a special alter to flag (and unflag when you’re finished) your character as a Player Killer (PK). While flagged as a PK you can only attack other PK flagged players. Be aware that while flagged as a PK you will drop items and lose vitae if you are killed. A second option is available for those who like to engage in PvP but don’t want the risks (or rewards) associated with being flagged as a full PK player. That option is called Player Killer Lite (PKL). The same rules apply as do to a full PK player but a PKL does not lose vitae or drop items on death. The final option available is to create an Olthoi character, which allows you to jump directly into the higher levels of PvP without worrying about gear or levelling up.

However you choose to play, you will have to enter combat at some point. The combat system is awkward in just about every respect. The system leads a player to be either a fighter or caster but is not conducive to hybrids. The combat user interface is not player friendly. It is click based, not key bind based, and this is difficult to get used to. It does have a unique attack feature where you have to choose an area on the mob’s body to target. Different mobs are more susceptible to attacks in different target areas.  For example, you’d choose to hit a flying mob in the ‘high’ target area because they are flying and more susceptible to that area of attack. This is different than any combat system I have experienced before. It is slow, unintuitive, and not very fun when faced with multiple enemies.

The Import of Asheron’s Call in 2012

Asheron’s Call is innovative in quite a few areas. One area is that it has no level specific zones outside of the tutorial. Another area is that a character’s level does not determine the outcome of combat, their skills and gear do. A third area is that the game uses a unique treasure system that rewards players whether they solo or play in a group.

The game also takes place in a completely persistent world. There are no instances, no loading screens, and no zoning. There are portals to distant areas but you don’t have to use them. You can run from point A to point B if you want. This is rare even in today’s offerings of MMOs.

The most notable innovation is the game’s allegiance system. This allows a higher-level character to mentor a lower-level one. The higher-level character gains a percentage of the experience points the lower-level character earns in return for showing them the ropes. The higher-level character may also provide the lower-level character with weapons, potions, armour, or protection although this is completely at the discretion of the higher-level character.

Turbine has had over a decade to polish the game and it shows. I experienced no bugs or glitches in game aside from a few graphics related ones. One notable graphics issue is that the character’s textures will disappear if you alt-tab out of the game. In order to restore the textures, you will need to exit the world to the selection screen and re-enter.

I did have an issue with my account before I even signed into the game. It was telling me that it could not reach the authentication server when I knew there was nothing on my end blocking it. I immediately reported the problem to Turbine and they resolved it within 24 hours. While I was waiting for Turbine to fix the problem I browsed the game’s official forum and found that I’m not the only one who has experienced this issue. It seems to be a long-term one that they are working on fixing.

So Much to Love Over 13 Years

Asheron’s Call has already proven that it has longevity simply by lasting for 13 years. Other MMOs have come and gone in the blink of an eye yet this one perseveres. That is mainly due to its loyal player base and a constant stream of updates from Turbine.

Will it last another 13 years? That is anyone’s guess. The game has a very loyal, established player base but, as happens in older games, new players are not flocking to explore Dereth. When I exited the tutorial there were plenty of other player characters around but they were all bots (allowed to an extent in Asheron’s Call) and unattended. I was the only player actively playing their character in the area. If this is the norm, and it seemed to be, then I’m not sure how Asheron’s Call will last in its current pay-to-play model. While Turbine is offering a 14-day free trial to lure in new players, it’s obviously not working.

Asheron’s Call has a well-established player base that is basically friendly. As a new player, I found a couple of people willing to answer questions in General chat but most referred me to the Asheron’s Call Wiki. Area chat was always empty except for a few bots that were advertising portals or items to sell. There was no one in the starting town to party with for quests or to ask for directions. In fact, I had to buy directions from the NPC barkeeper in order to find my way to a quest destination.

For a new player in the starting areas of the game, the social element is just not present. If you are an established or returning player who has access to end game areas, you won’t have a problem finding others to party up with. As a new player, though, you’re on your own. Be prepared to quest alone or get a friend to play with you if you feel you’ll need help.

Is it Still Worth It?

Asheron’s Call is a subscription-based game. There are currently two ways to download the client. You can pay $9.99 in the Turbine Store for the digital download or you can click on the 14-day Free Trial button on the game’s main page and download it for free. Either way, a monthly fee of $12.95 will be charged to your account if you do not cancel your subscription before the trial ends.

Is the game worth $12.95 a month? I don’t believe it is for a new player. The quality of the graphics, the emptiness of the staring areas, and the awkward combat mechanics are not worth the subscription price. If you are a returning or veteran player then the $12.95 a month is worth it, especially if you’re heavily invested in the game with a high level character and active friends to play with.

Asheron’s Call is an old school MMO that veteran game players will love. It pioneered MMO gameplay mechanics that have become standard in today’s MMO arsenal. Sadly, this is not enough to lure new players to explore Dereth. It lacks the graphics, audio, and gentle learning curve that are standard in today’s MMO line-up.


Krystina Balogh