Some Things Asheron’s Call Did/Does Right

[Asheron’s Call] Asheron’s Call, my first MMO. We spend years hoping the next game will give us back that sense of fun, joy, and wonder at our first game. Our first anything. The newness itself is probably what we are seeking.

On Dereth, we were all humans, visitors from the next dimension over who fought monsters to reclaim another race’s lost lands. Our souls bound to lifestones, we fought to the death and beyond against monsters that returned to plague is in a cloud of purple smoke. We began our days with Drudge and longed for the day we could meet the deadly Olthoi. And, over time, we went hunting for phat lewts and tried to keep on leveling.

Dereth

Dereth is a good setting. The world is an interesting place with much to explore, varied geography, interesting history, and fun content.

I still think fondly of Fort Aimaru, of Mayoi beach, of that valley where the South Direlands portal drops you. Running across the plains, over snowcapped mountains, through swamps and the Obsidian Plains. There were books on Sho history, and our monarchy was based out of the Hebian-To library. There was a popular archmage who apparently failed in her seclusion in that lighttower. There were abandoned towns or ones that had been taken over by monsters.

One nice thing about Dereth was the lack of zones and walls. Unless you got to the edge of the world, you could just keep running. There were not walls of mountains hemming you into a small path. If you could see it, you could probably run to it and jump on it. There are many game worlds that look at a lot more open than they are, which you realize when you get to the invisible wall in the river or the 20 degree incline that you just cannot climb.

Skills

I liked the skill system. I have mentioned elsewhere my fondness for skill systems over class systems. Asheron’s Call gives you skill points, with which to buy skills, and then experience points with which to improve them. Practice points are a subset of experience points. Hmm, that explanation seems too complex for a simple system.

Skills are in three categories: untrained, trained, and specialized. You pay so many skill points to move an untrained skill to trained, and you can spend more (at character creation or through respec) to specialize a skill. The only benefit of specialization is that it costs less to improve the skill, with a slightly higher skill cap. You start with many skill points then get more as you level, starting with 1/level then increasing to 1/5 levels. You pick which skills you want to have and how much emphasis you want to place on them.

You level by gaining experience. That is not just a bar that fills up, though, it is a pool that you can apply to your skills. This is how you improve as you level: you pick which skill gets better. Want to dump everything into Strength, Dexterity, and Sword? Great, you are the best swordsman on the planet, though sadly a lucky hit from a rabbit will knock you out.

Most experience goes into an unrestricted pool, but there are also practice points you gain from using your skills. These are bonus experience points (which still count towards leveling) that are automatically assigned to your skills as you use them. They relate to the difficulty of the task and how recently you gained practice points, in a formula I still half-remember. You could level (fairly slowly) just by cooking or fletching or healing. Not by jumping or running, though, which is for the best.

I like the open-ended flexibility the system allows. My favorite character had no real offensive abilities until level 60. She was a specialized healer, buffer, and debuffer, who then became pretty effective once I could dump experience into War Magic late in life.

Of course, that was “late in life” for the time. Now the game goes hundreds of levels past the old cap. If you have been playing the same character since 1999, you probably have every skill, and Turbine recently added new ways to spend experience points on permanent improvements. I like that you can keep getting better, although due to diminishing returns the value of “better” shrank over time. When it costs 100,000,000 experience to get another point of Dagger, someone 20 levels lower than you is not far behind.

We had a lot of flavor of the month classes, but most of us did not change over our lives to play them. Many of us also made one of those, then returned to our favorite character(s). I like that a primary determinant of the FOTM was level. When level 20 was high level, certain things were effective, but once you had another 40 levels worth of skills and experience points, something else worked best, and so on. Archers, for example, were seen as needing fletching and alchemy early on, then soon came to view it as a useless waste (get a fletching mule), then started taking fletching again in higher levels. There were levels where an untrained bow could be your most effective weapon. Flexibility in the system allows that kind of give-and-take. Oh, and content changes over the years, so the ascendence of melee characters was a wonder to behold.

Quests and Dungeons

Those things were everywhere. There were little stories just scattered around Dereth. Lacking a quest log, you could get lost in all of them, or find yourself running one without realizing it. Dungeons or chains of dungeons had links running through them. Some of it was more suggestive than spelled out. Lacking NPCs with !s over their heads, everything needed to be integrated into the world.

What was going on beneath the banderling-conquered town of Collier, where its Baron still reins beneath the ground? How do the waters of Lethe connect to that active volcano? What is the why behind this dungeon or any of a dozen?

Of course, many were just simple and story-less. “A cave” had drudge. There were wasps in the wasp nest. But occasionally “a cave” or “a ruin” was something very interesting.

The revamp of lower-level content did a good job of linking up various stories and refurbishing dungeons. You had a coherent reason and path through a lot of early places.

It is funny that I think of all the little things and not the really big quests like Aerlinthe or Frore. Dereth had a lot of strength in little set pieces that you could take or leave as suited your whim. It seems fairly primitive now, but it was effective.

Third-Party Apps

This is a very debatable point, but I frequently enjoyed AC’s approach to third-party applications. Many hated Decal, but I liked that you could add things to the game. Other games have done this on a lesser scale with UI alterations. Developing new toys and making (non-combat) macros was like another game activity outside the game. You could actually play smarter! Things might have gotten rather tedious at points without Nerfus Buffus.

How much third-party stuff is still going on there? It was a double-edged sword that allowed developers to ignore some player-fixed issues while creating “other issues.”

Monsters

AC has some great enemies. The character of a beloved enemy can be as simple as a particular animation or sound, but of such simple joys were great times made. The Drudge dance and sound (I miss an old song done with Drudge sound effects), plus they were all the early enemies. The Ursuin death animation. Tuskers were a lot of fun at times, just hordes of giant monkeys. The Olthoi had a great effect when the hives were over-spawning Soldiers, such that we had hallways of infinite tides of Olthoi; it created an effect like the backstory, where you kill a hundred of them but they keep piling out of the tunnels in an endless wave until you eventually fall before them (good xp, too).

Lugians were popular enough to become a player race in the sequel. There was a good amount of Lugian content, and it was always satisfying to hear an annoying player get squished beneath giant rocks. Also, I liked using that lightning sword.

Also, most enemies dropped trophies, and there were crafters for them. Sure, most of them were so much trash loot, but there is something satisfying about having that in the world. Yes, you can make something from that Ash Gromnie Tooth. There are Phyntos Wasp wing collectors. You could make a hat out of an Ursuin scalp. There was a special place in my heart for monster trophies.

Portals, No Zones

Dereth was just one big world. You did not walk between two hills and get a loading screen. I am sure that there are plenty of good programming reasons why you might want zones, but the world certainly feels more like a world without them.

How do we traverse a world that you could spend hours running across? Portals! Instantaneous teleportation, allowing you to get almost anywhere swiftly if you know what you are doing. We do not wait 20 minutes for a horse or a boat or something — we teleport straight there through the glowing magic portal. Travel is only a timesink if you are on foot.

Dungeons were their own zones, with entry portals, but most of the world was one huge, continuous area. I like that.

Monthly Updates

Every single month, new content. Check out Maggie the Jackcat for updates. Or better yet, check out the patch history there. Better still, look around the Jackcat’s site a bit, since it has all sorts of AC information. Yes, spoilers abound, but if you want to know what has happened on Dereth in the three years since you left, this is your place for one-stop shopping.

Content expanded and stories developed every month at no additional charge. This is the best model ever. It need not be every month, but you should keep developing your world. MMOs give us worlds, not just static pieces to play with. I could buy a single player game if I wanted a world that never changed.

Also, we love free new toys. We love new quests, monsters, new anything. Let a thousand flowers bloom! Give collectors something new to do for a week until they burn through the new content!

Another funny thing: despite the tiny write-up at Maggie’s, the Heroes’ Respite was one of the bigger and more dynamic updates. The first update advertised as “take a month off” was actually filled with all sorts of exciting things. I wish I could recall what more of them were, but some obvious ones were the new quests and town.

Try the later patch write-ups, since they are chock full of details, more than you probably need. Where many games roll out new content occasionally and often charge for it, AC gives you extra value for your gaming dollar by bringing the goods.

Housing

I liked my cottage. When I left Dereth, I left my character holding my Garden Drudge in case I ever came back.

Space Bar

You could jump. Don’t you hate RPGs where you cannot get off the ground? What is the point of fake 3D worlds? Dereth was mostly 2D, but you could jump as high as you trained that skill. No more being blocked by crates and invulnerable tufts of grass.

There must be more

But it is not striking me at the moment. I liked my magic potato. I liked that items could vary, and that I could make a mage who mostly ignored items. I may edit more things in as they strike me, but part of the joy of blogging is you the reader. What makes your heart sing when you think about Asheron’s Call?

: Zubon

(Please remember, comments may be moderated for Shiny Happy Week posts. This is a festival of joy, not complaints.)

19 thoughts on “Some Things Asheron’s Call Did/Does Right”

  1. I was also a fan of the ability to create and read notes and books in AC. It allowed players to participate in the lore and create their own. I also seem to remember it being used in a lot of player-created games (as tickets, for instance). And how many other MMOs actually had _libraries_ like AC did/does?

    I also liked the way the geography felt so much more unique than any other MMO I’ve played. My old stomping grounds were Tou-Tou and Baishi, and they FELT different than Cragstone, Nanto, and Hebian-to. Even AC2 didn’t seem to nail that in the same way for me.

    You could pick a direction and just start running and find something interesting. Maybe it had to do with a quest, maybe it was just a guy selling apples in the middle of nowhere. But having seemingly irrelevant stuff to populate the world made it feel so much more complete than (say) WoW, where it seemed to me that very little exists if it’s not part of a quest you’ll be doing eventually.

    Ah, I could go on and on about how awesome AC was. Maybe I’ll do a podcast about it. It was such a wonderful experience that it bums me out to think that there will probably never be another MMO that really captures the same feeling for me.

  2. Books! I would carry a large book with me so that I could have all my notes handy, no matter which character I was on. New monarchy member needs to know important locations or protocols? Copy the book, hand it off. A simple but valuable item was a book that had an abnormal number of pages for its weight; I forget which quest gave it, but you wanted to keep that book. Wasn’t it part of a quest, and if you prefered the book to the quest reward you never turned it in?

  3. Honestly, I don’t remember that book. It’s been a few years though, so my memory is a bit spotty.

    Another awesome thing about AC that I just remembered was how well they simulated some of the objects in the world, such as arrows. I think just recently I heard about a new MMO that would let you pick up arrows if you missed your target, and I thought to myself, “hell, AC had that seven years ago!” And no heat-seeking arrows or spells either.

    And the items system. Oh, man. AC was the only MMO I’ve played where I actually ENJOYED shopping. Because you never knew what to expect. Different types of items with different materials and different enchantments, and everyone hurrying to buy something they liked before someone else snatched it up. In AC, your items were actually kind of special to you. WoW brought back a little of that in the auction house, but it wasn’t nearly as compelling IMO.

  4. Must be walk down memory lane week. I played AC2 which had many of the features you liked except player housing. We had guild hall which was awesomen. I miss that very much. AC/AC2 did dungeons right imo – the best so far. They were REALLY MMO. There was excitment in the madness and chaos of getting what was it like 60 people pick-up to do Eidleon? What about the first time did a master vault and oh how I loved the vaults you completed in each zone to get your recall. I can’t however agree with the skill system where an Enchanter is an Enchanter, is an Enchanter, or Sorc is a Sorc, etc – very little variablity by the time you got all your skill points.

    I have been looking for a game that makes me feel the way I did when I played AC2. I haven’t found it yet. WOW comes close mostly because I’m with the same guild that I played with on AC2. But that feeling is more about those people than WOW as a game. :-)

  5. P.S. Oh yeah jumping backward. OMG how cool avatar’s looked jumping backward on AC2. You really looked like you were trying to avoid something. You looked like a super hero! My favorite move on my ranger was to pull using a leathal but shorter ranged arrow then jump back into the group behind the tank after the mob started toward me. I looked hawt doing that. LOL Oh yeah, one more thing – sledding during the winter!!!

  6. Lauren, I agree with you on AC2 skills. AC was a bit more flexible.
    From that elsewhere link above:

    I always liked the skill-based design of Asheron’s Call. You can focus on whatever areas you want to whatever extent you want. Asheron’s Call 2 tried to mimic this in a class-based system, to no great success. When the skill cost goes: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 121, 122… we can tell where you want our skills to be at any given level. You might as well just hand out the 5 skill points with each level and get it over with.

  7. I’ve got to post in support of skill-based over class-based character systems. I am entirely City of Heroes’ whore, but I can’t stand the artificial (and, in my opinion, very genre-inappropriate) limitations of “archetype” system. Meanwhile, Oblivion (and the rest of the Elder Scrolls series) uses a beautiful skill-based system that allows for great flexibility, and I honestly don’t find myself making generic, unfocused tank mages all the time. (Admittedly, things might be different in the more competitive atmosphere of an MMO . . . but by the same token, if you’ve got other PCs backing you up, isn’t there -less- reason to try to build your character as a Swiss army knife?)

    Also, total agreement of MMORPGs where you cannot jump. WHAT THE HELL, PEOPLE. Even where it’s entirely unnecessary for navigating the terrain, the ability to jump is necessary for movement to -feel- right. (Also: D&D Online isn’t doing a lot of things right, as far as I can tell, but it’s really, really cool that you can actually -climb- in it. An obstacle that’s less than shoulder height should never be impassable, folks. That’s just retarded.)

  8. Oh man….. I must’ve spent a year solid in Halls of Metos hunting down golems. Used to be that was the -only- way to make money, getting those pyreal motes they dropped.

    I spent so much time in the bottom of that dungeon farming Obsidian golems, that as a present to some friends that were having an in-game wedding, I provided enough obsidian hearts to be inscribed and used as wedding inivitations… was like 72 invites. Took me a god while to collect those. Hehe.

    And the undead in there… pure evil, and mad loot.

    Thing I loved most however was just running… having running trained rather high, it was like being the flash. I eventually got to see the entire map. And that’s saying something. Nothing like just running for hours, and finding neat stuff.

  9. I just remembered something about AC… and no other game I know of does… the sky moved. The stars, the sun, the moon… all moved like they would on a planet that rotates. WoW does not do this… The stars stay put, and it’s dark or day depending on the time. I’m not sure how many ever notice something like that, but the day I noticed it in AC, I was so taken aback. It was one of those “Woah!” moments.

    I miss moments like that.

  10. I *think* the sky moves in EQ2. At least it appeared that way to me last time I played.

  11. Ooh, new one: Stormwaltz. We all loved Stormwaltz and many of the dev team members. I have no idea if any of the fan favorites are still there.

  12. Stormwaltz pointed me here …. I worked on AC1 in the early days and for a while after ship … the races, parts of the skills systems, aspects of the monsters, the map, the very name “Dereth,” some early story background … glad to know it was appreciated and enjoyed. :)

  13. Asheron’s Call is still my favorite MMO ever played. There were some real special moments in that game that I don’t think will ever be repeated.

  14. It was my first MMO. It was also where I met my husband. So… that would be something it did right. … Right?

    Kidding. For that; for the tons of friends I made there, many of whom are RL friends now (6 years down the line); and for the fact that it was “home” in a way no game has managed since, AC will always have a favoured place in my heart.

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