I’m not usually a big fan of massive multiplayer RPGs. Most of the ones I’ve experienced have been light on plot and heavy on “killing stuff and taking its treasure”. Now, I have no problems with hack-n-slash style games, in fact I find them quite enjoyable. But most MMORPGs I’ve played have been nothing more than hack-n-slash with the added “bonus” of laggy connections, buggy play, a monthly fee, and a hoard of power-gaming uber-characters that happily pounded my measly little beginning character to dust the second I ventured into the world. Needless to say, I wandered into Asheron’s Call 2 with some trepidation. And I’m quite happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.
The first thing I noticed as I booted up AC2 was the graphics—they are the best I’ve seen in this type of game. Even on my slightly outdated video card everything looks very, very good. The game runs a diagnostic and sets a default video quality for the computer’s configuration, but I found that I was able to pump up the detail quite a bit above recommendation and still not suffer any loss in game play. While good graphics do not a great game make, they certainly help immerse the player in the world.
After playing for a while, I also noticed something else quite remarkable about AC2—very few, if any, bugs. My experiences with MMORPGs in the past have been bug laden, but AC2 was almost bug free. I never experienced a single crash in then entire time I was playing. In addition, except for the occasional hiccup from lag and one problem with the current monthly quest involving some chests (which is being addressed as I write this), I saw no problems to speak of. Speaking of lag, there was thankfully very little. I never had a problem connecting or staying connected, something else that is a rarity in my time spent with MMORPGs.
The story behind AC2 is fairly open just now, but that’s a necessary tactic in this type of game. Set many years after the happenings in the original Asheron’s Call, Something Evil wandered into the world and sent all the goodly races into hiding underground. After a while of this, the Good Guys decided to make a go of it back on the surface. This is where AC2 picks up. The players take on the roles of one of three races trying to take back their world and rebuild their society in the face of Great Evil. Not much more is given to new players as they begin their journey, and not much more is needed. Games like AC2 are about exploration and discovery. Plot is advanced as players fight their way through various dungeons called “vaults”—once each vault is completed, a cut scene plays to elucidate what is happening in the world of Dereth.
The world in AC2 is a constantly changing one, which should keep things fresh for players in the months to come. Each month (or so), a new event happens that will alter Dereth. In their first monthly event, all of the beginning dungeons were restructured, giving new characters a different set of challenges to face. In addition, some new locked chests popped up in various dungeons, and their keys began to show up on corpses of the general monster population. It is the promise of new monthly events, constantly altering the face of the world, that can keep AC2 from becoming just a typical hack-n-slash affair.
But there is still plenty of hack-n-slash to go around. Combat is a major part of the game, and in addition to completing quests, is the only way of gaining experience and advancing characters. Combat is a fairly simple affair. There are basic melee, missile, and magic attacks, which can be spiced up with some special attacks or spells. Fighting is essentially a matter of double-clicking the enemy and watching the character attack, with the occasional special-attack hotkey thrown in for good measure. Nothing terribly exciting, but not terribly dull, either.
Character advancement is done primarily through the selection of skills. As characters level up, they gain an increase in vigor (useful for special attacks and spells) and health (useful for not getting dead). In addition, they gain skill points and experience points for advancing along the various skill trees. Each race has a melee, missile, and magic skill tree, with specializations in each. One can pick and choose from each tree, but many of the skills have prerequisites that make specialization in one area a more efficient use of the skill points. One very nice feature in AC2 is the ability to “untrain” skills. If you find that a particular skill or branch of skills just isn’t working out, you can choose to untrain it, eventually getting back all the experience and skill points spent. This is especially great for those (like me) that like to experiment with a character before finding just the right style of play. We can try something else without resorting to starting over with a completely new character.
Item acquisition is also quite interesting in AC2. There are no NPC merchants, no stores to visit. If you want something, you have a few other choices. You can try to randomly find what you’re looking for on the corpses of your fallen enemies, you can trade with other players, or you can make it yourself. Each item you find in the world of Dereth has certain ratings in various resources. For example, a shield found in the pockets of a giant wasp might be made of iron and wood. Each character has the ability to make new items from resources gleaned from this pilfered booty. If you want a good sword, start looking for loot that has the appropriate resources, and make it yourself. Of course, as you craft more items, you get better at the task. At first, each character can only make rudimentary items, but as mastery of a particular type of crafting is gained, new recipes open up for the making of even more powerful items. The Crafting aspect is quite a bit of fun, and is admittedly how I spent much of my time.
Adventuring can be done solo, but that’s really not the point of a multiplayer game. AC2 has several options for tackling the Big Evils with friends. For a simple daily outing, players can form a fellowship to share experience points and to be able to talk to each other behind everyone else’s back. For those with a little more time on their hands, and a more steady gaming schedule, allegiances can be formed, with less-powerful characters swearing fealty to those more experienced. In addition to forming partnerships with other players directly, characters can choose to join a one of the kingdoms of Dereth, opening up another suite of options (and a series of skills). Choice of kingdom shouldn’t be taken lightly, as kingdoms don’t necessarily get along with each other all that well. While you instantly gain several compatriots when joining a kingdom, you also gain several potential enemies.
For those tired of roaming bands of Player Killers, AC2 has a decent solution. Each area in the world is rated either a peace area, in which there is no Player vs. Player fighting allowed, a kingdom area, where players from different kingdoms are free to attack each other, or a free-for-all area, where players are free to attack anyone they choose. This division of area types hopefully will appease all players, from those who just want to wander around, adventuring and exploring, to those who wish to show everyone just how big their sword really is.
Asheron’s Call 2 is the best MMORPG I’ve come across. It looks great, it plays well, and it is very stable. The plot looks to be an interesting one, and with the continuation of monthly events promises to remain fresh for new and more experienced characters alike. Veteran MMORPGers are sure to find something they like here, along with those wanting to try out the genre for the first time.
A very good MMORPG. It looks great, itâ€™s quite stable, and itâ€™s quite a bit of fun to boot. Now if someone would just explain to me why a giant wasp needs a magical drum...