Some games are not so much games as a way of life. To certain people, that is… sad lonely individuals, who spend long hours hunched over their PCs in their dimly lit bedrooms, naught but decaying pizza boxes and half-empty coke cans for company. Certainly no-one who writes for IT Reviews could fit this description. Ahem…
If there’s one style of game that can become a kind of alternative way of life, an after-work alter-ego, it is the MMORPG, as it is known. The Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. In other words, lots of people all logged on to a virtual server hitting dragons and a variety of foul beasts – or indeed each other – with flaming vorpal swords of accuracy +6.
Asheron’s Call is one such game, letting you live the life of an adventurer in the lands of Dereth, along with another thousand people (although the population on the server can rise to two thousand at peak times in the States).
Everquest is the obvious game to compare it to (the current big MMORPG from Sony), and the Microsoft game is stronger in some areas, yet weaker in others. One definite plus is the excellent character generation system Asheron’s Call possesses, allowing you to really tailor your persona and skills to your heart’s desire. With every level you gain, you can spend the experience points as appropriate, so if you want your hardened warrior to learn healing magic, so be it.
It’s a highly flexible system, as is the way the landscape is put together, without zone loading – it’s just one continuous world that loads ‘on the fly’. Other plusses include a general lack of ‘camping’ (sitting in one spot where good treasure appears), due to largely randomised loot drops. Also worthy of note is the allegiance system: you can set yourself up as a monarch, with vassals who will earn experience for you, in return for a helping hand from the higher level monarch.
It’s a shame that Asheron’s Call also has more than a few faults. The interface isn’t great, particularly sluggish is the chat system, and there are no trade windows or anything like that should you want to swap stuff with other players.
The monsters aren’t particularly convincing in the way they attack or behave, and the graphics aren’t great – unless you have a really top spec machine and can turn all the details on full. The grouping system isn’t brilliantly implemented either; you can’t tell what health the rest of your party is on and other such handy information.
As a final note, you have to pay $10 a month to play Asheron’s Call (just like Everquest), so a year’s worth of play is going to cost you 70 quid or so (plus the phone/ISP charges, of course).