Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty is the first official expansion to Turbine Entertainment's online role-playing game, Asheron's Call. And the most obvious and appealing feature of Dark Majesty is that it's cheap. Or rather, that it's a remarkably good value for your money. Though it's been called an "expansion," Dark Majesty actually features as much new content as you'd expect from a retail expansion, plus the full version of the original game and a month's subscription fee (a $10 value), all at a retail price of $20. So buying Dark Majesty basically lets you jump right into the game's huge online world of Dereth for a month at a price of about $10. And if nothing else, Dark Majesty's extremely attractive pricing goes a long way toward keeping it competitive with newer, more expensive online role-playing games.
Asheron's Call is an online role-playing game that was released shortly after Sony's EverQuest back in 1999. Both Dark Majesty and the original game let you create a human character from one of three ethnicities, choose its ability scores and skills, and then set off into the world of Dereth to explore, fight monsters, and increase your character's power by gaining experience levels. If you take a quick glance at the world of Dereth, you may not think that Asheron's Call has changed much since it was released in 1999. For starters, the game is almost as quiet as the original Asheron's Call. Dark Majesty doesn't have any in-game music, and other than the occasional sounds of monsters' and characters' war cries and magic spells, as well as some ambient noise, there's little sound to speak of. And as far as graphics go, time hasn't been kind to Asheron's Call. Though the expansion is optimized to run at higher graphic resolutions, most of Dereth's character models, buildings, and scenery still look blocky and simplistic. Two other online role-playing games that were released earlier this year, Dark Age of Camelot and Anarchy Online, both look much better; and Asheron's Call's old archrival, EverQuest, is scheduled to receive a graphical update later this year. Even with the expansion's new structures, monsters, and scenery, Asheron's Call has become a lot harder to look at in comparison.
Fortunately, the game hasn't gotten much harder to play. That's definitely a good thing, since Asheron's Call has always had one of the most cluttered interfaces you'll ever see in any online role-playing game; and this hasn't changed in Dark Majesty. As before, you'll need to use several of the game's less-than-intuitive keyboard shortcuts to really get the most out of the interface. However, as with the original game, you'll also find that Dark Majesty's interface will tell you all the information you need to know: your character's life points, stamina, spell power, current experience points, and more. And over the course of the past two years, the actual core game of Asheron's Call has received a considerable number of additions. For instance, the game's secure-trade system, which lets players trade items without fear of being cheated, was implemented some months ago and is fully functional and included in Dark Majesty. So were the Vesayen Isles, an area that was added at around the same time as the trading system. So were dyes that let you color your characters' clothes to help distinguish them from other characters, which are all represented by otherwise generic-looking humanoid 3D models. And so was the composite longbow weapon. And Turbine continues to support the evolution of Dereth with regular monthly events, which routinely add new monsters, quests, dungeons, and items to the game.
Buying Dark Majesty will get you two specific new additions to Asheron's Call. The first is the enormous new island of Marae Lassel, which is populated with all-new enemies, such as colorful peacocklike siraluun birds, crafty human pirates, and a dangerous new breed of olthoi, the race of giant insects that had invaded Dereth previously. Marae Lassel is suitably huge, and, if you're careful enough in scouting out your surroundings, it's a safe new hunting ground for characters of all levels, not just high-level veterans. Dark Majesty's other significant new feature is player-owned housing. This actually lets your character purchase an in-game house--after you complete a lengthy series of quests to collect a set of certain key items. The expansion actually offered about a thousand houses per game server at launch on a "rolling" basis so that they wouldn't all sell out immediately to the highest bidders. A house not only lets you meet with friends in complete safety and privacy, but also lets you store items safely. The biggest houses are impressive-looking multilevel mansions that are intended for organized player guilds and are easily big enough to accommodate guild events of all kinds.
Are these additions enough to keep Dark Majesty up to speed with other, more recent online RPGs? That depends on what you're looking for. One of the most interesting and intriguing new trends in such games is team-based player-vs.-player combat--that is, players who all belong to a certain faction, player race, or geographical area act as a "team" and do battle with opposing teams that'll often be equipped differently, have different abilities, and use different strategies. Dark Majesty doesn't have anything like that at all; currently, the only player-vs.-player option available still takes place on the Darktide player-vs.-player server and tends to take place either between individual players or organized guilds. However, Dark Majesty's non-player-vs.-player gameplay, much of which is focused on building up and equipping a powerful character by fighting monsters and gathering powerful weapons and armor, is about as engaging as Asheron's Call's ever was. As in the original game, Dark Majesty's characters are based on individual skills, not professions, so you can either choose a predefined template or create a character completely from scratch with whatever combat, sorcery, and trade skills you want. And since Dark Majesty includes both the island of Marae Lassel and all its new quests and dungeons, as well as all of the previously added weapons, quests, and monsters from prior monthly events, you'll find that if you're looking for classic online RPG hack-and-slash gameplay, Dark Majesty has more than enough to keep you busy for quite some time--and at a price that's more than reasonable.