Sometimes you get lucky your first time out. AC was my first game and the game I seem to return to once the novelty of the new shiny thing has worn off. Sure the graphics suck (as my nephew so delicately put it), it’s a game that came out in 1999, it shows it’s age. However, the mechanics, the endless variation, the monthly content and storyline progression… genius! Here are 5 things game design companies could learn from Turbine’s old girl:
1) Liberate players from cookie cutter roles. In new MMORPG’s class choices are so limited! Healer, Tank, Melee, Archer, Spellcaster. In Asheron’s Call you could allocate your starting stats (Strength, Coordination, Quickness, Endurance, Focus, Willpower) and your skills (Bow, War Magic, Life Magic, Melee Defense, Lockpick, 2 Handed Sword, Axe, Fletching…) you were offered an endless variety of game play and character options.
2) Questing done right. The world of Dereth is vast, there were towns and some quests given in towns, but beyond level 15 there weren’t many “go kill 10 monsters and come back” quests. The quests weren’t the focal point of the game, you could have a wonderful time hunting and killing, looting and never once do a quest. For those who wanted to quest, the content is updated monthly and there are new quests added, but these aren’t simple smash and grab quests, they’re often a long chain of dungeons, npc’s, items and towns before they’re done and often most parts can be done solo. The key is that everyone who does the quest gets the reward, no DKP necessary. Many quests offer rewards that are worth repeating and so people make schedules and run them when their timer is up, often bringing others and creating an allegiance schedule.
3) Hunting done right. Sure there are dungeons, there are tons of them! Some have some relation to a quest, some are just there and full of monsters for you to kill. If you want a place to group up, divide the area up and grind for xp and loot, there are a ton of dungeons for that. If you want to run around outside enjoying the landscape hunting packs of mobs no matter the level range, there’s plenty of places for that too. The loot is scaled to the difficulty of the creature and MUCH time has been spent ensuring it’s evenly distributed. In addition to all the different places to hunt, the monsters themselves are varied making some easier for melees to kill, others more vulnerable to magics, so not only can you hunt in an area you prefer you can hunt the monster type you prefer as well.
4) Personalization. Now the look of the characters aren’t too unique, even though your template (stats and skills) can be, what Asheron’s Call did amazingly well was let you customize your in game experience. The variety in the look of weapons and armor is huge, but add to that the ability to dye, to ‘tailor’ one piece of armor to look like another. Each race has a certain style of armor, which can create some great hybrid looks. The addition of tinkering allows you to add armor level, or different stats or protections to armor and weapons.
5) Housing. Personal housing in ‘neighborhoods’, allegiance housing in the form of a mansion where different quest rewards can be ‘hung’ to give buffs or transport players do different dungeons not available in the portal system. Each house offers additional storage as well as a place to display trophies (usually quest rewards).
I think what Asheron’s Call offers it’s players that other games have failed to capture is the ability to be different. How often in games do you see the max level characters wearing the ‘purple’ quest reward suit from ‘really hard dungeon’? No matter how many months it took your group to finally get through that hellish dungeon, not matter how many DKP it took you to bid/buy that uber helmet of smiting on your 31st run of that dungeon… you still end up looking like everyone else. Running the same max level uber geared dungeon every week with all the other max level characters. This is why people burn out on games like WoW, there’s no investment in the world itself, only reward for task completion.