Last month we gave your T. Striker’s impressions of his return to Asheron’s Call. However, AC being an MMO and all, we figured, it might be best to talk about the game from the multiplayer perspective. Since Striker and I have played several MMOs together over the years (though nothing new since WoW‘s Cataclysm), we might be able to provide some insight as a pair of MMO and AC veterans. We decided we’d do a sampling of gameplay together, similar to Striker’s solo experience. We’d start with the PvP Olthoi option, move on to newbies, and then move on to character that are a little more developed.
I. Olthoi PvP: Getting Squashed
>One thing Asheron’s Call has been famous for is it’s free for all PvP server, Darktide. I’d think any new FFA PvP that opens will see an influx of the old DT guilds, who are better able to raise numbers than many raiding guilds simply because, even after aging, these guys tend to be really hardcore (so much so that I was removed from one for choosing to study in college over participating in a territory battle!). Striker and I decided that, if we were doing to PvP, it had to be on Darktide.
This was partially also true because the regular servers don’t have many PvP players on them. As a non-instanced, old school game, there’s no battlegrounds, no safe zones, no guards, and no factions. This was the appeal of Darktide and the reason few people “went red,” meaning that they opted in for PvP (which involved a bit of a quest). While olthoi are a sort of faction, they’re still free-for-all PvP, able to kill their “faction” mates, but not able to team up with the other races. They also don’t gain levels and are limited in their customization, so few people play them. On the PvE servers, we found 0 PvP and 0 fellow Olthoi. However, on Darktide, things were different.
Again, it was nice to be able to be a higher level on Darktide, where people have been playing the game for nearly 14 years, people have a big lead on you. Even though your fresh character is a very high level, it’s not at the max, and it never will be. The character feels more like a rental than one you own. What’s even worse is that you can’t group up at all, so we sometimes ran towards enemies on the radar thinking it was our ally. Oops!
However, finding PvP was actually a small challenge. Again, this is an old, small game now, and there are no battlegrounds to teleport to. I was able to predict a few places where we could find people to fight, but we were almost always outclassed. Even in 2 vs 1 fights we felt rather weak. We either fought people far too powerful for our combined might to kill, or players so weak there was almost no fight. However, learning the world again gives us a small advantage over a true new player, since a new player would probably think the game was dead and simply shut down.
To note, starting a non-olthoi character could make for a rough experience. Remember, in Asheron’s Call, players who die lose their items and some gold. There’s no “waiting to be resurrected,” you’re just whisked away to your lifestone (place you choose to respawn when you die) and run back. If you have a friend, they can grab your stuff for you, but if you’re on Darktide, other players can loot your body. Olthoi don’t lose items on death, which is nice, but they also can’t do anything with normal items: you can’t use them, sell them, or put them down, so don’t plan on killing low level players (if you can find them) and taking their stuff for your alt.
A few odd things happened while we were playing though. First, I kept getting kicked for a “CoC Violation” after a hacker speed hacked away from us. I tried reporting the bug urgently and I got a message that it would take 3-5 days. Their customer support, when they finally got back to me, was of no help. The problem cleared up a week or so later when Striker and I moved on to phase 2, but that was too long.
The other thing that bothered us was that lots of portals were broken but remained in place, as if teasing veteran players that the knowledge we held of the old portal system has been rendered useless. Imagine if, in World of Warcraft, you could see the queue for dungeons you did in 2004-2006, but you were told you couldn’t queue for them at all. Instead, there were new versions you could do, but the old dungeons were listed anyway. It’s a similar feeling.
II. New Characters: A Whole New World
For our next play session, we decided to make new characters. When the game was released, the only options were essentially Europeans, Middle Easterners, and Asians. The second expansion added… blue Frenchmen, from what the lore seemed like to me. However, after that, races that were previously enemies started to be released, with the final race being that of Asheron’s people, the Empyrean (humans that float). I figured I’d give that a whirl, and that we’d see a little bit of the newest newbie zone.
Truthfully, the tutorial was largely the same. I don’t quite have as much patience for questing these days, especially without a quest log. Maybe that’s why Turbine added windows popping up telling you explicitly what to do next. The decorations in the tutorial area were cool, but it might have been nostalgia.
One thing Striker and I forgot about was making an impermanent group with a name (a fellowship). I totally forgot that this used to be more common in MMOs and was left wondering why something small but fun like that isn’t still done today, even if you want to leave out the experience bonuses for grouping together.
Leveling was pretty fast, and we upgrade our gear very quickly as well. This isn’t one or two pieces of gear, but 10+. You actually upgrade your newbie gear for better new newbie gear as soon as you leave newbie training, and the enemies in the first dungeon already give you items that are sometimes for level 40s. It’s all very quick and really made me wonder what’s the purpose of the level cap increase and what not, almost like with World of Warcraft. In fact, I realized that we were pretty much playing this like a theme park MMO.
To note, there are no yellow exclamation marks in the game to guide us. Even new players sometimes learn to dread these. Instead, like in classic RPGs, you need to talk to everyone in the town to see what they have to say. Generally, in the old days, you might get clues for quests, but these days, they’re fairly blunt: go get me this item, and I’ll reward you. In fact, we learned that dungeons that were once spread across the map now can be accessed from a single portal hub, with descriptions of what’s inside and, sometimes, with an NPC outside telling you to bring them something for more experience. This drastically cuts down on travel time but… feels wrong.
While my girlfriend lamented travel time in her ArcheAge experience, one thing about Asheron’s Call, even as a new player, was finding random stuff while you travel. Dye plants, high levels creatures with special items, portals that constantly changed their locations, and yeah, an adventure. I can’t tell you how many times killing a “lone” mob ended up bringing his off screen friends from beyond my sight. Now though, it’s all very civil and sanitized. Traveling was good for nostalgia and screenshots, but I never felt like we discovered something big, especially since we often felt alone in the world.
III. Established Characters: Things Change, You Change
The hardest part about our return to the game was, well, returning. Striker’s article covered a good amount of this, but to be brief, I felt like I lost spells I used to have. I couldn’t remember where all my items were. I didn’t know where to go, where to get, or… anything. The game descriptions were vague and if I hadn’t really wanted to see how the game changed, I probably would have given up.
Preparing to get back into the game was rather long. Not only did I have to remake my character’s stats and choose new skills, but I had to have the right items to fight, arrange my spells, and get my consumables. That last part is important because magic needs components. You can’t just conjure fireballs out of thin air, but you need the right materials! Even if you have the materials, you can fail to cast your spell. That includes failing to attack, failing to heal, and even failing to cast a buff.
Ranged people need to worry about some of these issues as well. Both magic and ranged weapons are actually items in the world. They have collision. You can jump in front of a fireball to save your friend from taking damage, and that feels damn heroic, but it also means people can side step arrows. In the old days, if your arrow missed, people could pick them up off the ground. This was especially nice because the best ammo in the game was crafted. However, you could also abuse this mechanic to crash the server and dupe items. I understand why it was removed from the game, but I don’t like it.
Before finally playing, I ran into a bit of a problem: I didn’t have armor for my body, arms, or “man spot.” Striker said it’d be ok, and because he was about 85 levels higher than me, it kind of was. His magic made up for it. It didn’t make me godly in the least, but partially because we didn’t go all out. Again, our spell books were looking rather empty, and each item in the game can be buffed. If you take your time, you really can make a low level player quite powerful, but buffs don’t last forever, and are fairly time consumer if you’re casting on multiple pieces of armor. We actually wanted to play the game, so we just went with quick and dirty buffs so we could jump right in.
Now, to note, Striker hasn’t played any MMOs since Guild Wars 2, and he mostly did instanced PvP. He’d forgotten about how to use collision detection, how experience worked in the game (player has to hit mobs for xp even in groups), and how to share loot. That is, since only one person could look in a corpse, and since he was in melee range as I was trying to stay back with my crossbow, he always got to open the bodies first. Jerk.
Striker also never really tanked in an MMO, so he didn’t have a lot of experience with positioning. On my end, I’m usually the tank, sometimes a healer, and rarely DPS, especially ranged. We still made it work though, despite the mismatched “clown armor” that’s disappearing from the MMO world.
Since I was barely able to access the dungeon, the creatures were hard for me. Striker acted as both tank and pillar, in that he would place himself so that the bugs couldn’t run past him to get to me, allowing me to fight safely from a distance, when we got the positioning correct. I had a few deaths, despite Striker’s powerful character trying to save me, but after awhile, we got a rhythm going. I’ve missed collision detection and strategizing around it, especially since, again, this was a feature from my first MMO.
And that’s when it hit me. Combat. This is something I’ve railed against for awhile now. I’ve been playing MMOs for years and feel tired of always fighting, yet here we were in our first MMO doing what we’d always done. Yes, there was housing and customizing armor, but we didn’t really touch those. They felt almost inaccessible, both in terms of learning and materials, even for returning players (though Striker did have a home, he just didn’t bother decorating much).
Striker felt it was just because it was innate to AC. For me, I wondered if I was having fun partially because this was the first time in perhaps two years where I’d been playing an MMO with someone I knew in real life. I felt like, if we’d been playing, say, ArcheAge, it could be more fun in some ways since the world’s got more interaction. Just the same, the combat felt more interesting probably due to the stakes.
Again, I was a little nude at the start. I was far weaker than Striker, and we were in an area I could barely access. Death was very real, and when I did die, I lost items and became weaker. I honestly needed Striker’s help, and that reliance on another person, while slightly shameful, also made me appreciate his help so much more.
IV. Final Thoughts
You can’t return home. The Asheron’s Call of today is still different from other MMOs, but in order to stay relevant, it’s had to make changes. New skills can be fun, but disorienting. Having characters in the game to come back to certainly gave me a stronger desire to revisit the game, but in some ways, also made my return even more difficult.
The new races are cool, but one thing you might have noticed was that we didn’t interact with a lot of other players, mainly because… well, we rarely saw any. Oh, they were there in chat, but rarely face to face. Perhaps the way the game’s been restructured and emphasized on streamlining leveling has moved players to the “end game,” and those of us not yet there are simply left to fend for ourselves.
This wasn’t the game that originally got me into the genre, but shadows of it remain. The punishing death mechanic and need for other people, oddly enough, is what would glue me to the game if it wasn’t for the dated graphics and fact that, truthfully, the game now seems like a grind instead of a world due to the absence of game updates.
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