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Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty (PC) artwork

Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty (PC) review

"The sun fades beyond the Mountain of Lethe, as the darkness of night sweeps over the land. The ethereal wisps can be seen fluttering throughout the night sky and the twin moons gleam a powerful glow on the cities around the world. A group of travelers leave the pub and grab their swords, shields, wands, and bows, and prepare to venture into the wilderness. As the fellowship continues on, their power can be sensed by nearly every being in the area, and enemies fall before them. As the regions get..."

The sun fades beyond the Mountain of Lethe, as the darkness of night sweeps over the land. The ethereal wisps can be seen fluttering throughout the night sky and the twin moons gleam a powerful glow on the cities around the world. A group of travelers leave the pub and grab their swords, shields, wands, and bows, and prepare to venture into the wilderness. As the fellowship continues on, their power can be sensed by nearly every being in the area, and enemies fall before them. As the regions get increasingly tougher, more and more of the group begins to falter, and before long only two remain. A merciless group of dark beings, called the Virindi, hover terrifyingly toward them. You can still do battle, but your friend is their target and he is low on health. Will you risk yourself to try to help him recover or take them all on yourself?

It is innovative, exciting online role-playing at its finest and above is just a taste of what you will experience in the midst of a real time battle. I had the pleasure of learning about this game's existence around the spring of 2001. Now most are well aware of the existence of the “MMORPG” community and some of the games that represent the genre. The repetitive game-play and shoddy graphical value of Everquest had previously turned me off to the whole online scene for a while. There were plenty other titles that came out after that, but none really could grip me any better than the previous mentioned game could. Later when I came upon this hidden gem, I had somewhat similar expectations, and boy did this one surprise me. An amazing sense of fantasy, envelops the world of Dereth, and took me in, proceeding to not let go, for several years.

The name of the game is Asheron’s Call and what makes this game so successful is the dedication developer Turbine has for this game. This dedication exists primarily in the form of expansive monthly updates. Every month the game is updated with new quests, enemies, items, and a storyline that should draw even the smallest lore freak in. Updates are a feature that most online games definitely lack, and it is because of this feature, that makes this game topple every other competitor around. Now even if a game had updates, it would not be great without a stable game-play system right? Encompassing the whole player system is a great character creation setting and experience table. Want to make a swordsman, archer, sorcerer, or life mage? Go ahead, and while you’re at it, adjust your attributes the way you want to fit your character type. Continue by adding skills to your repertoire, from war magic and healing, to crossbow and sword. You can even make hybrid characters that could eventually be both mage and melee fighters. With freedom like this it is easy to see why the game can be so enjoyable.

Though it takes a lot of dedication on the player’s part, the character improvement system is really what makes the game so great. As you play along throughout the game and defeat monsters with your variety of cool weapons and magic powers, you will get experience. You can take that experience and add it to improve the stats of any of the skills you trained and specialized. There is only one problem with the whole system of things and that is whatever you want to be, you have to train magic. Now there are several magic abilities that improve stats, weaken monsters, etc; and unless you take the time to “buff” yourself up every time you go into battle, you will most likely die. However, learning how to master the magic of the game is not boring, but actually quite interesting. There are also various ways to cast and use magic, and learning to apply it to an archer or melee, can make you really tough to beat. The challenge of the game flows quite well too. Turbine has positioned it so that no matter what level you are there is a place for you and your friends to fight comfortably. However, being mischievous is always fun and you can always break the rules and take on some tougher baddies.

“You burn Panumbris Shadow for 159 points with Ilservian’s Flame.”
“Panumbris Shadow grazes your chest for 5 points of bludgeoning damage.”
“Panumbris Shadow is incinerated by your assault!”

Just an example of what you will see when you and your team are demolishing your enemies. Your inquiring minds would like to know just how the battle system works, right? I’ll tell you anyway…for all three classes there is a slightly different system you will use. For melees you have a bar that indicates a slow and stronger attack or quick and fast. People who use a sword would most likely want a stronger attack, while dagger users will use quick and slow. Archers have a bar indicating speed or accuracy, similar to the system that the melees use. The mage system, however, is the most unique and interesting of them all. To get those powers going you will basically assign certain spells to your tool-bar. Now you can either shortcut them or you can double click them depending on what you find most suitable. Your primary offense will be colorful projectiles and the like which go by the name of War Magic. The lock on system in the real world environment really adds to the excitement and having all three classes do battle at once is spectacular. However, you will not just be fending for yourself, within the group you will need to make sure your teammates are in good shape too. Just as the intro suggested, you will need to keep a good eye on your fellowship members, or you will not only lose assistance but overall experience flow, as well.

Just as the story of the game revolves around Asheron bringing warriors to this land to combat the forces of Olthoi and others; you will spend a good amount of time training and fighting. However, the land has much to offer, so drop your gear and enjoy many of the game’s other things to do. Go to the game’s casinos and try to win prizes, go on one of the hundreds of interesting quests, fight a “player-killer” battle against one of your friends, or just hang out at the pub and drink some ale. Your virtual character tired after a long day or kicking ass? Purchase a settlement home ranging anywhere from an apartment to a mansion. The great thing about these is that you can decorate them for other players to visit or warp here when in danger. However, the most fun thing to do in the entire game is just to explore the virtually endless world. With two main lands, several large islands, and hundreds of dungeons, Asheron’s Call has everything that you could want for content.

Taking into account that the game was made in 1999, the graphical value is a bit below today’s standards. Though the character models and some landmark structures are a bit ordinary looking, the lighting effects, fluid motions, and great frame-rate all make up for it. Get on the top of a large mountain and it is amazing how far into the distance you can see. The battle motions in the game are a little repetitive at times, but the free-form movement and lack of any jerky moments, all help battle sequences flow a lot better. There are also so many landmarks and sights to see in the world, that the game’s below average graphics are easily overlooked, as you see the sheer size of the land of Dereth. Towering mountains, murky swamps, snowy wastelands, and unique cities all envelop you and help draw you in even further. However, the lack of one thing is what always had irked me over time, and that is music. Unfortunately, besides the repetitive enemy and battle sounds, there is no over-world music to speak of. Which generally means you will have to break out your stereo, if you want any music to battle to.

”Hi, my name is Calidreth…”

There is one word that encompasses all that is an online game and that is “community.” A tremendous deal of the game will have you being associated with a lot of people. There are the newbie’s, the arrogant high levels with no lives, and the item beggars, but hey, every online game has that, right? I will say though, in the three years I played the game I met friends I could not replace. Joining up in hunting parties, doing quests together, or just sitting down on a bench and chatting, can be a great deal of fun. Now sometimes running into each other in an online game can get frustrating because you will be fighting over the same monster or item. However, because of the great fellowship system you can setup with one another, it makes group hunting a lot of fun. Primarily, because when you are in a fellowship you share the experience with one another. Though you will get less experience per enemy at first, it will make up for itself in the end because of the quicker efficiency of your group. As you become good friends with the people you meet, you can join up with their allegiance, which each has their own monarch, events, and way of doing certain things. Some will even have web sites, each planned with quest dates and information about members and services. So, do not be shy, come on in and introduce yourself to the group.

With a huge world filled with thousands of things to do, large player-base, innovative and simple battle system, and fun atmosphere, Asheron’s Call is all that represents online gaming. It is a shame that it is a bit less recognized than other major titles out there, but that is because of less promotional advertising. With the release of Dark Majesty, the expansion pack, the game got some additional world content and a large welcoming for new members. Even today, after five years of release, the game still has over eight thousand members, within all eight servers. Though the game’s graphics are a bit outdated and there is no music to speak of, the charm of the community and atmosphere all but make up for it. Hey, I would not have played it for over three years, if the game was terrible, right? Anyway, if you are looking for a great online experience, go ahead and grab Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty, it is $13.95 a month, but to me the game is worth a lot more than that. There is also a new expansion on the way in 2005, which promises to improve the graphic system among other things. So, go ahead and give the land of Dereth a try, you just never know who you will run in to!

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Community review by destinati0n (October 05, 2004)

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