Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings Review
Asheron's Call 2 is a highly streamlined, highly accessible online RPG. Yet the world of Dereth seems bare for a number of reasons.
So-called massively multiplayer online role-playing games have roots in text-based multiuser dungeon (or "MUD") games, but they've since evolved into one of the most prominent and most fiercely competitive PC game markets around. These games let players create characters to adventure in a huge online world with other players, and they get thousands of subscribers hooked on their addictive hack-and-slash combat and lengthy quests. And though these players always keep coming back for more, it seems like some of them are never happy--they constantly complain about how certain aspects of their favorite games are tiresome or even infuriating. Play Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings for a while, and you'll realize that developer Turbine Entertainment clearly wanted to avoid as many of these problems as possible. Such nettlesome issues--like losing items after your character dies, or being forced to run back to the nearest town to sell off burdensome loot and replenish supplies--simply aren't in the game. As a result, Asheron's Call 2 is a highly streamlined, highly accessible online RPG. Yet although the developer plans to add plenty of new content to the game in the coming months, the game's world of Dereth also seems bare for a number of reasons.
Then again, when you first step into the world of Asheron's Call 2, you'll immediately find something that the game can't be faulted for: its superb graphics. Asheron's Call 2 makes excellent use of new DirectX graphical features to create spectacular effects like animated water, colorful magic spell effects, and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Asheron's Call 2's impressive graphics engine also allows for massive architecture in both indoor and outdoor areas, including gigantic statues, huge towers, and truly bizarre structures in the game's various dungeons. And the game has highly detailed, colorful character models and monsters that look considerably better than those of practically any other online RPG on the market today. Unlike most online RPGs, Asheron's Call 2 uses an offbeat, completely original fantasy setting (rather than a traditional medieval fantasy backdrop, the way games like Dark Age of Camelot and EverQuest do), and the game's powerful graphics engine has really let Turbine's team of artists articulate this unusual setting. These excellent graphics do come at a price: In order to fully appreciate the way Asheron's Call 2 looks, you'll need a good computer, preferably one equipped with at least 512MB of RAM and at least a decent midrange graphics card, like a GeForce3 Ti200 or higher.
Most online role-playing games tend to have rather sparse sound to help players really feel as though they're exploring a vast, open world, but Asheron's Call 2 has a subdued, ambient soundtrack that plays constantly in the background. It's not the least bit offensive, but it's indistinct enough that it can be easily ignored. Though the game has a dynamic music system that changes the music depending on various factors, it's really not noticeable except for when player characters get together and use instruments to play music. Players can use Asheron's Call 2's emote system to make their characters quietly laugh, wave at each other, or play up to 10 variations on the game's musical instrument melodies, which sound different depending what sort of instrument (such as a lute or a drum) each player is using. It's not uncommon to see players standing about a crafting forge--a special area that can enhance players' item-crafting skills--playing musical instruments in a group when they're not out hunting monsters.
Unfortunately, as things are right now, there isn't much to do other than fighting, crafting, and occasionally playing music. Though Asheron's Call 2 has a seemingly complex story that involves the destruction of Dereth (and the impending reconstruction of the world in the months to come), you'll uncover it only by clearing out the game's vaults--huge underground dungeons full of monsters presided over by an especially strong monster. For the most part, you can complete a vault by killing the vault's boss monster. Once you do so, you're rewarded with a brief cinematic sequence and quest points that will count toward something eventually, but currently have no in-game value. You can also try to complete a normal, non-vault dungeon, or an aboveground quest, which will usually require you to kill certain monsters to collect specific items off their bodies. Or, you can try to find a spot where monsters spawn aboveground and hunt them for experience and items. Either way, you'll be fighting monsters quite a bit--especially since fighting is the main way to gain experience points and pick up monster loot.