Games like Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate are always labelled as RPGs but that's more to do with their AD&D heritage than any true role-playing element. Let's face it, role-playing isn't deciding whether you want to be a magic user or a thief, or tough or intelligent or whatever. It's about creating an imaginary character complete with its own strengths and weaknesses and then playing a game with those choices in mind.
To have any chance of doing that in a computer game, you have to be able to interact with other human-controlled characters. Take multiplayer online games like Everquest and Ultima Online. You create a character and then wander about in a virtual world, meeting thousands of other players and monsters, and hacking and slaying your way to wherever you want to be. You can fulfill in-game quests or help other less powerful characters. Or you can rob, steal and cheat them until you go blind.
While Asheron's Call sits squarely in the same round hole, the graphics are at least a generation ahead. There's not much new in terms of gameplay, but the 3D accelerated views, rapid scrolling and distinct lack of lag make it spectacular to look at and wonderfully smooth to play.
Till Dereth Us Do Part
Asheron's Call revolves around the world of Dereth, an island continent complete with towns and tunnels, doors and dungeons, and populated with varying grades of monster, from the downright weak (like the common rabbit) to the all-powerful (the fearful olthoi). It even has different geographic regions from dry deserts, rivers and lakes to wooded hills and snow-covered mountains. Even the underground locations all look different, whether they're rough caves or purpose-built dungeons.
Dereth is a huge place with around 25 towns in all, each with at least half-a-dozen shops. Dotted around the towns are magic portals, which offer a safe, rapid form of travel between the towns. Wandering across the country as a low-level character isn't a good idea even along a road, as it's easy to get overwhelmed by monsters. Also in the towns are non-player characters or NPCs who will hand out quests or give you cash in exchange for trophies - bits of dead monsters. The quest items - and almost all the monsters - respawn within a certain time frame, so everyone has a chance to complete a quest.
Your online persona can be one of three slightly different human races and seven professions: archer, blademaster, enchanter, life mage, sorcerer, vagabond or warrior. Sorcerers use ' attack spells, enchanters cast spells on items or other people, and life mages are healers-the equivalent of AD&D's clerics. Likewise, blademasters are specialists in swordplay, warriors use several weapon types, and archers, unsurprisingly, use bows and arrows. Vagabonds (alias thieves) are probably the weakest class and use stealth and deception to get by.
If one of these classes doesn't appeal, you can adjust your character's vital statistics and play as an adventurer, choosing the skills you want to specialise in. That way you can create custom characters - a mage with healing skills, a warrior with spellcasting ability or an archer that can pick locks. Other skills include alchemy, cooking and fletching, which allow you to create various things and sell them on. For example, you can turn a dead cow into stew, sticks into arrows and gems into powder for use as spell components.
There are several hundred spells available to magic-users, just as there are several hundred weapon and armour types for fighters, some magical, some not, some puny, some godlike. The interesting thing about using magic is that you have to use spell components. You start off with a handful of spells in your repertoire and have to learn others by experimenting or finding other players who will help you out. While the graphics in Asheron's Call are reminiscent of many of today's online shoot 'em ups, there's one big difference -you can't harm other players.
It's probably the right decision because it means the newest of all newbies can stand there in a crowded marketplace without worrying whether a passing 33rd level wizard is going to use him for target practice. Actually, he could but the spell wouldn't have any effect.
Role On Up
Is this real role-playing? I doubt it very much. For every player who takes it seriously, there's another who takes the piss completely. Some players (bless their little cotton socks) talk in archaic 'fantasy world' language, while others talk only about their stats and easy ways to beat the system. If you're serious about your RPGs, you might find other characters' behaviour annoying. Likewise, if all you need are the co-ordinates for the nearest dungeon, and you don't want to wade through lines of chat, spiced up with 'pray', 'thou' and 'art'.
Announce yourself in the local tavern as Haggard the Grimm, a mage of some repute in these parts, and it's ten-to-one someone will tell you he's a level eight mage and only needs 800xps to go to the next level... Tell them your sword is a mighty weapon for truth and justice and some smart arse will always point out it has +10 melee defence and 120 mana. Happily, both types of player - and everyone in between - are catered for in Asheron's Call.
This game is just as addictive as any other online multiplayer game, if not more so, thanks to the variety of spells, monsters, and terrain. The graphics are beautiful with stunning weather effects and a variety of textures and landscapes. The drag-and-drop interface is well designed, but if you prefer the keyboard, virtually every action can be carried out at the press of a key. You can also customise the controls.
Enterthe Expensive Zone
Access to the game is via the Microsoft Zone and at present there are six different servers running Asheron's Call, each with the same game world, but different player characters. You can have up to five characters on each server, but can only play one at a time. Obviously. There's also hardly any lag on any of the servers despite there being upwards of 1,500 players on each at the time of review.
On the minus side, the combat interface is awkward and the auto-targeting of monsters is a bit hit and miss. Ha, ha, get the joke? Travel between towns is hard for anyone under 6-7th level, as the open countryside is filled with difficult monsters, and it will take you many hours to get up the levels. If you're prepared to sit and bash re-spawning monsters for hours on end, you'll move up the ranks, but my first character (admittedly a badly thought-out one) took 17 online hours to get to 6th level.
That also makes it expensive. Aside from your telephone and any ISP charges, you'll also have to pay Microsoft Pound-9.99 a month to continue playing after the first free month and you can't do anything at all - even move items from one slot to another -without being online. How high you can reach I don't know, although I've 'met' a 44th level mage already. Oh, for free local calls...
What we thought
"Not the best online RPG, but still a good romp."
What you think
- "I noticed you ranked Ultima Online and EverQuest higher than Asheron's Call. I failed to see why though. One of your main arguments was that you have to pay $9.99 (that's dollars not pounds). But you have to pay a subscription fee for EQ and UO. You said that targeting is "hit or miss". That is completely based on your skill and the skill of the monster you're attacking. This game is heavily dependent on what skills you pick and how high you put them. What you didn't mention (understandably since it was only recent) is that Turbine has recently introduced several new monsters, some medium, some hard, some god-like. It has also introduced guild halls, wedding halls, new graphics engine and claims it will soon introduce houses and banks. Monthly patches are the norm now, which shows Turbine didn't sell the game and then give up on it. You completely skipped the social system, which is better than FQdue to the ranking system. In my opinion, this is a very good game that had a 'rushed' review. It takes time to level up and figure out the ins and outs. (I've been playing for a good two months and still don't know it all yet.)
If anything, I thought we were very generous with our score. Ultima Online has more depth than Aslteron's Call will ever have, and EverQuest is a much better-looking and more accessible game. By comparison, AC looks like a compromise between the two 'big boys' and as a result fails to significantly impress on any major level.
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode