|Developer(s)||Turbine Entertainment Software|
|Publisher(s)||Microsoft (1999–2004); Turbine (2004– )|
|Designer(s)||Toby Ragaini, Eri Izawa, Chris Pierson, Chris Foster|
|Engine||Turbine Engine 1.0|
|Release date(s)||November 2, 1999|
Asheron's Call (AC) is a fantasy MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) for Microsoft Windows-based PCs developed and published by Turbine Entertainment. Though it was developed by the Turbine team (with Microsoft's extensive assistance), it was published as a Microsoft title until 2004. Asheron's Call is set on the island continent of Dereth and several surrounding smaller islands and archipelagos on the fictional planet of Auberean. The game is played in a large, seamless 3D virtual world which can host thousands of players' characters (or avatars) at a time. Released on November 2, 1999 it was the third major MMORPG to be released and was developed at the same time as Ultima Online and Everquest. After initial success its subscription numbers dropped as newer MMORPGs moved into the market. All of its host servers are still online over 15 years after the game's original launch.
- 1 Gameplay
- 2 Synopsis
- 3 Development/Production
- 4 Marketing and release
- 5 Reception
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Set in a heroic-fantasy world Asheron's Call allows players to create a character, or avatar, from one of six (as of the March 2010 Event) in-game races. The player initially allocates a limited number of attribute points (such as 'Strength', 'Coordination', and 'Quickness') and selects skills (such as 'Unarmed Combat', 'War Magic' and 'Melee Defense') for their character, with those base skills starting at a level determined by the character's attributes. Unlike many other games of the genre characters are not locked into a specific class, and can even reallocate previously selected skills to acquire other skills later in the game.
Gameplay involves earning experience points ('XP') through a variety of activities, including engaging and defeating monsters in combat, fulfilling quests, and interacting with NPCs. Those earned experience points can then be invested to improve the character's abilities by 'spending' them on attributes or skills. Additional skill points are awarded after the character reaches certain levels, and these skill points can then be used to acquire or 'train' new skills. In addition to earning experience, questing and combat often yield recoverable 'loot', such as armor, weapons, health potions, and spell scrolls. Many types of loot can be improved or imbued with special spells and effects via Asheron's Call's 'tinkering' crafting system.
With their monthly updates, including supplementary content, and occasional live 'world events', Asheron's Call offered "episodic narrative content, period new quests, and events that visibly affect the entire world."
Unlike most other games of the genre that draw upon existing fantasy fiction, all of Asheron's Call's in-game characters, lore, and story-line are original, as are most of its in-game creatures. Instead of elves and goblins there are the insect-like Olthoi, the cat-like humanoid Drudges, the giant grey-skinned humanoid Lugians and the reptilian Sclavus, to name but a few.
Many elements of Asheron's Call are radically different from most other MMORPGs. For example, Asheron's Call does not divide its world into different level zones. While some areas are much more dangerous to players than others, there is nonetheless a mix of different creatures types that creates much more unpredictability than is present in other games. Another key difference is that Asheron's Call does not use character level as the major determinant in the outcome of a combat. Level simply determines what skills are available, and it is the skills and equipment of players and creatures that determine the outcome. Whereas in many games a player will be able to move a cursor over an opponent and instantly know from their level whether they will be successful in combat, in Asheron's Call a character might be able to defeat much higher level foes or lose to much lower level ones, again depending upon one's skill choices and equipment. There is even a 'deception' skill, which, if trained and developed, will conceal your character's attributes from other players. As with the absence of specific level zones, this creates a higher degree of unpredictability than in most games of this type.
The game's currency is the Pyreal. It is an alloy of precious metals found on Auberean combined in some ratio with pure mana. Pyreal is also the chief constituent of the powerful Atlan weapons, named for Asheron's father, their inventor.
The world itself is large at over 500 square miles (1,300 km2). Unlike many other games in the genre, there are no zones or 'instances' on the world's surface. This means players can cross the world on foot, without loading screens or invisible barriers, and any terrain that can be seen in the distance is a real object in the world. It also has a much longer viewing distance than other games of its vintage, with mountains, bodies of water and other terrain being visible long before they are actually approached.
The world is also dotted with a system of one-way portals which expedite travel. Knowing the location and destination of the portals, as well as lifestones, is of vital strategic importance - especially on the Darktide (PVP) server, where player-killer ('PK') allegiances battle each other constantly for dominance over lucrative hunting zones and trading cities.
Apart from distant points on the seamless surface world, some of the portals also lead to intricate dungeons. Many of the dungeons are part of quests and contain unique treasures. Dungeons are often much more difficult to navigate than the surface world. They include dizzying labyrinths of passageways in which it is possible to get lost or cut off from your adventuring group, trapped in pits due to missing difficult jumps, stuck behind locked doors, or simply surrounded and overwhelmed by beasts. Some doors require keys. Other dungeons have a series of levers which open otherwise impassable doors, and require group teamwork and timing to run or jump through.
Players attune their avatars to 'lifestones', and if the avatar is killed, it will be resurrected at the last lifestone they were attuned to, having lost half their pyreals, one or more valuable items, and also temporarily losing a certain percentage of their constitution -- their primary and secondary strengths and characteristics -- in what is known as a "vitae penalty". The player may then bring their resurrected avatar to the place where the death occurred and recover the item(s) from their own lingering 'corpse'. In player-killer ('PK') battles, the victor is allowed to take the dropped items from the vanquished. Regardless, the resulting 'vitae penalty' is removed by gaining a modest amount of additional experience, or 'XP'.
Player Killers ('PKs') are players who have chosen to change their characters' status in order to enable them to attack, or be attacked by, other PKs in Player vs Player combat. On most servers, players by default are prevented from attacking each other and must voluntarily change their status to 'PK'. One server, however, called 'Darktide', is completely 'PK'; players there are able to attack one other at will and cannot remove their 'PK' status.
The Allegiance System
Asheron's Call features a unique allegiance and fealty system that creates formal links between players and rewards cooperative play. A player of equal or lower level can swear allegiance to a player of the same or higher level, becoming a vassal of a patron. The patron earns a small percentage of bonus experience based on what the vassal makes, while the vassal is motivated to seek a patron in exchange for money, items, game knowledge or protection. In the words of one reviewer: "At worst, the allegiance system is a multilevel marketing scheme, whereby greedy, uncaring Patrons enlist as many Vassals as possible in order to gain large amounts of bonus experience. But at best, the allegiance system can provide a tightly knit companionship for players genuinely interested in helping others and developing an organized assembly." Players may also join together in fellowships, temporarily splitting the experience they gain amongst themselves.
The magic system as originally designed was far more complicated than in any other such game, with specific formulae for each spell that the caster had to discover through painful trial and error. While this had the desired effect of making magic challenging and somewhat rare, this 'merit and effort' system became obsolete with the introduction of third-party programs that could compute spell formulae without most of the experimentation. The system of spell components was later phased out and replaced with a simpler system wherein magic casters would carry a "foci" for each of the magic schools they were trained in (creature, item, life and war) and a series of taper candles and scarabs. Each spell is learned from a scroll, either purchased or found as treasure. The old system was left in the game as an alternative, but spell research was eliminated and most players quickly adapted to the new system.
Three of the four available magic schools allow players to alter - temporarily enhance or diminish - nearly any skill or attribute ('stat') in the game. War Magic offers projectile-based attacks that are not affected by a player or creature's base armor stats and come in the form of all three physical attacks (piercing, slashing and bludgeoning) and all four elemental attack types (acid, lightning, fire and frost). War Magic also features multiple types of each attack, including arcing projectiles, wall spells and extremely quick blasts, which are more difficult to dodge. Life Magic allows for heals and direct damage drains, as well as spells which alternately make opponents more resistant or vulnerable to the seven attack types. Creature Enchantment allows a player to cast spells affecting skill stats and attributes, both on themselves and on others. Item Enchantment allows players to magically augment or detract from the physical properties of armor and weapons. It also includes portal magic, which allows the summoning of teleportation portals to a limited number of other locations. Due to the vast size of the Asheron's Call world, portal magic became viewed as nearly essential to gameplay by the vast majority of players.
Upon its launch, Asheron's Call also featured a Spell Economy system which, coupled with the game's complex spell-learning process, caused early players to jealously guard the formulas to the spells. The Spell Economy looked at the global use of each spell and made more commonly cast spells less effective, making it a wise move to protect lesser known spells. This system was removed from the game after the release of "Split Pea", a third party program which allowed players to instantly figure out the progression of spell components.
Asheron's Call features a dynamic crafting system that has evolved over the years. The four major crafting skills, Alchemy, Cooking, Fletching, and Tinkering, are interrelated; items created using one skill can often be utilized by the other skills to create advanced items.
Characters can create many useful items using the Alchemy skill. They can create special oils used to imbue missiles with elemental qualities (fire, acid, etc.), increasing damage or bypassing certain types of armor and resistance. They can create magical gems which increase resistance to different types of damage. Alchemists can create infusions that can be applied to food items to increase the amount of stamina recovered, or recover health or mana. Alchemy also can be used to brew potions that increase health, mana and stamina.
Introduced in Beta (mid-1999), Fletching allows players to craft ammunition to use with Bows, Crossbows, and Thrown Weapons, and to apply special alchemy oils to arrowheads to grant them elemental damage and increase their damage.
By using the cooking skill players can create a wide variety of foods. These foods include cake, beer, nougat and rations. They can then be combined with oils to increase health, mana and stamina. Cooking is also used to apply various dyes to armor and clothing.
Players can enhance Armor, Weapons, Magic Items, and non-magical items through the four Tinkering skills. Unwanted items can be salvaged for raw materials and those materials can be applied to other items to augment the player's attributes or imbue special qualities into weapons, armor, etc., to increase their effectiveness. However, the more times an item is tinkered, the greater the chance that it will be inadvertently destroyed in the process.
Third party software
Asheron's Call is also known for its friendly stance toward third-party software, particularly Decal, which allows the creation of gameplay-altering plug-ins. At first, plug-ins were only used by the most computer-savvy players, and were well guarded between allegiances. Several public 'macros' eventually became an extremely popular and defining point of Asheron's Call, such as unattended combat macros and buff bots. Using a bot script for unattended combat is highly frowned upon and will result in either a temporary or permanent ban.
The story of Asheron’s Call spans across several worlds and thousands of years. The primary worlds in the story are Ispar, the world where the human characters in the game originated, and Auberean, the gigantic world where Dereth, a small island continent and the game's setting, is located.
Auberean and the Empyreans
The history of Auberean spans back 35,000 to 40,000 years. A race of beings known as the Empyreans dominated the world for most of its history. They were tall slender humanoids with lifespans of 1,000 years and were divided into several cultures including Falatacot, Dericost, Haebrous, and Yalaini. These cultures had many conflicts over the years, but eventually, in a world of many oceans and seas, the 'Seaborne Empire' of the Yalaini became the dominant society.
Asheron Realaidain and Bael'Zharon
Asheron Realaidain, a Yalaini and member of the royal family, was born approximately 2,500 years prior to the time when the story starts for players; when they 'arrive' in Dereth. Shortly after Asheron's birth, a war began between the Yalaini people and an army of Shadows, creatures of darkness and chaos, led by a demonic arch-nemesis named Bael'Zharon, the Hopeslayer. The war with the Shadows lasted over 500 years and the Yalaini, pushed back from the rest of Auberean to the island of Dereth, were nearly defeated. As a last resort, Asheron and the Yalaini council of five mages were able to stave off their doom and eventually defeat Bael'Zharon through the arts of planar magic - magic pertaining to the planes of existence and the space in between them known as portal space. Using a crystal array, the council was able to seal Bael'Zharon in another plane. The sealing caused a great explosion, and all members of the council were killed. But Asheron survived, protected by Falatacot Blood rites performed by his mother and a Falatacot-blooded 'witch' named Adja, just prior to the explosion.
With Bael'zharon banished, the Shadow armies retreated and the Yalaini people were saved.
Yalaini Exploration, the Olthoi, and the Sundering
After the defeat of Bael'Zharon, Asheron continued to research planar magic. Eventually, the Yalaini mastered this art of magic and were able to use it to create portals from one location to another. They used these portals to explore all of Auberean, and eventually began exploring other worlds, including the home world of humans known as Ispar.
In their explorations, the Yalaini came to a world dominated by numerous giant insect species. One of these species were known as the Olthoi. The first encounter with the Olthoi resulted in the death of one of the explorers, and very nearly the death of Asheron himself. The world would have been left alone, but the Emperor of the Yalaini demanded that Olthoi be brought back for research and possibly used as weapons for the empire. This action, along with the mistake of a wizard named Gaerlan, would be the doom of the Yalaini.
An Olthoi queen was brought back, and soon the other test subjects began to respond to her commands. Eventually, however, the Olthoi broke loose and the Queen began to breed. Moreover, Gaerlan had not properly closed a portal to the Olthoi's world, and as a result, countless more Olthoi were able to pour into Auberean and serve the captured Queen.
The Yalaini fought a losing war with the Olthoi for many years. Though the Yalaini were masters of magic, the Olthoi had the unique ability to weaken the flow of mana, reducing the power of the Yalaini's spells to nothing. After 100 years, all surviving Yalaini were pushed back to the island of Dereth, and almost 80 years later, one single Olthoi Queen arrived on the island and began to breed.
With their last place of safety invaded, the remaining Yalaini retreated from the world. Asheron and his disciples cast a powerful planar magic spell known as The Sundering, which sent the Yalaini people into portal space in a state of stasis. After sending his disciples in as well, Asheron retreated to the last place of safety - his castle on a small island - and alone began working on a way to defeat the Olthoi.
Arrival of the Humans and the Olthoi Rebellion
More than 500 years had passed since Asheron sent his people away when the first humans arrived on Dereth, drawn there from their homeworld of Ispar by mysterious portals that seemed to almost beckon them to enter. The first Isparians to arrive were the Aluvians, in the year later known as P.Y. (Portal Year) -15, or fifteen years before the Liberation. The Aluvians arrived in a ruined world ruled by the Olthoi. These humans were quickly enslaved by the Olthoi, forced to work in their catacombs preparing the fungus soup that the insects use to nourish their young.
The enslaved people were not content to live in constant fear in the dark tunnels of the Olthoi for the rest of their lives. Many tried to escape. Few survived for long, but one band of escaped slaves did. They were led by the warrior Thorsten Cragstone.
Cragstone's band helped rescue other escaped slaves and provided some safety. One of these slaves was Elysa Strathelar, the daughter of a scribe. After rescuing Elysa, the rebels were chased by the Olthoi. They eventually found safety on a small island on a lake, the water forming a barrier between them and the insects. On this island, they discovered the ruins of an Empyrean catacomb, which came to be known as the Underground City. In the city, Elysa found ancient Empyrean texts, deciphering enough of them to learn of Asheron and the location of his castle.
Leaving the safety of their island, Thorsten and Elysa went in search of Asheron. Elysa gained access to his tower and confronted the wizard. Asheron had spent his many years alone developing a poison that was deadly to the Olthoi. Seeing the danger and risk he had brought about for the Aluvians, he gave Elysa the poison and told her to kill the Olthoi Queen.
Elysa, Thorsten, and the rebels, armed with poison-coated weapons, assaulted the hive of the Olthoi Queen. With an Olthoi-slaying arrow, Elysa killed the Queen, but not before Thorsten had been impaled by the Queen upon her deadly pincers. Without the commands of the Queen, the Olthoi went into confusion, the Aluvian people were liberated, and human civilization began to grow on Dereth.
The beginning of the Portal Year Calendar, P.Y. 0, was reckoned from the time of Elysa's triumphant killing of the Olthoi Queen. After the liberation, members of the Gharu'ndim and Sho, two other human cultures from Ispar, began to arrive on Dereth. Particularly during the end of P.Y. 10, a new surge of human immigrants (new player characters) ported into Dereth.
Players originally entered Dereth as one of three races: the Aluvians, the Sho, and the Gharu'ndim. It has been updated to include Viamontians too. As of April, 2010, Shadows are also a playable race. Since then, Empyreans, Gearknights, Olthoi, Tumerok and Lugian have also been added as playable races.
The story for players began in Portal Year 10. Through the game's monthly updates the story unfolds. Not only do players experience the current events of the world, but as the months go on and they explore, they learn much about the past. Several monthly updates build upon each other, forming a story arc. Each story arc usually lasts around one year.
AC was developed by Turbine Entertainment Software and published by Microsoft. It had a multimillion dollar development budget. It was designed by Toby Ragaini (lead designer), Chris Foster, Eri Izawa, and Chris Pierson. The development team consisted of 30+ full-time developers, including 6 artists, 4 game designers, 15 software engineers and 5 QA testers.
Critical development software included Microsoft Visual C++ 5.0, Visual SourceSafe 5.0, Lightwave 5.5, and Photoshop 4.0 Asheron's Call uses Microsoft SQL Server for persistent game data.
Asheron's Call was technically innovative for its time. It did not use zoning, a technique of partitioning the game world into zones that ran on different computers on a cluster. This caused delay when moving between zones. Instead Asheron's Call had a single seamless world. It used dynamic load balancing to determine which computer in the cluster controlled which location area. If one area became overpopulated and sluggish control of part of that location would pass to another computer with a lighter load.
The finished product contained approximately 2 million lines of code.
Asheron's Call took 40 months plus 8 months of beta testing to complete. It was originally scheduled to ship during the fourth quarter of 1997. Production was delayed over a year because of the inexperience of the production team.
On launch there were six servers available. These were Frostfell, Harvestgain, Leafcull, Morningthaw, Thistledown, and one player-killer server, Darktide. Servers added later were Solclaim, Verdantine, and Wintersebb.
The original Asheron's Call client allowed computers to use either 3D or software graphics acceleration. The modern client requires a DirectX 9.0 compatible video adapter w/ hardware T&L.
Marketing and release
Asheron's Call launched nine months after Everquest on November 2, 1999. After its release Asheron's Call had 80,000 players by the end of its first year. By the end of 2000 its subscription rate was third behind Ultima Online and Everquest, with 90,000 subscribers from 200,000 box sales. While neither Turbine nor Microsoft have been forthcoming in releasing exact subscription counts, it is believed that Asheron's Call peaked in popularity in early 2002 at about 120,000 accounts and has since dropped to below 10,000. Dark Age of Camelot had 200,000 subscribers in May 2002, taking Asheron's Call's spot as third most popular virtual world.
In December 2003, Turbine purchased the rights to the Asheron's Call franchise from Microsoft and assumed full responsibility for content development, customer service, billing and marketing in 2004.
Asheron's Call originally utilized a subscription service with a monthly fee of $12.95 however this was discontinued and the title is now free to play and the title is now in maintenance mode. No further content will be released and there are plans to provide players with the ability to host their own servers.
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The Asheron's Call franchise is unique in providing complimentary monthly content updates and "Events" that added new quests, skills, landmasses, monsters, gameplay dynamics and bug fixes for all subscribers. Storylines link multiple episodes to form distinct "story arcs".
The first expansion, Dark Majesty, was released in 2001. A second expansion, Throne of Destiny, which includes a graphics upgrade, new player race and new landmass was released on July 18, 2005. In addition to the expansion packs, the in-game story is advanced by monthly updates, which introduce new quests and gameplay dynamics as part of the subscription package. Both expansions include the full version of the game.
Asheron's Call received generally positive reviews from critics. On the review aggregator Game Rankings, the game received an average score of 81% based on 26 reviews. On Metacritic, the game received an average score of 81 out of 100, based on 15 reviews.
Asheron's Call appealed to explorers and people who appreciated story arcs.
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- Gamersvoice: 1999 Gamer's Choice Award in the category of "best online/multiplayer game"
- MPOGD: Game of the Month February 2003 
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