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Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games typically fall into two categories: EverQuest and not EverQuest. The not EverQuest crowd’s biggest stand out is Asheron’s Call, and even members of the EverQuest development team admit that if Asheron’s Call had gotten out before EverQuest, EverQuest would probably be second…Why? Read on my young apprentice, and prepare to learn of the world of Dereth…

In some of the darkest days in history, the Empyrean magician Asheron accidentally opened a portal to the evil Otholi, sending the world of Dereth into chaos. Asheron sent the rest of his Empyrean into hiding in another realm while he alone searched for a way to destroy the Otholi. While searching, he discovered the Humans, and quickly realized their potential as allies. He summoned many humans to the land of Dereth, and for years they were enslaved by the Otholi.

One day, a few lucky humans escaped, including Elysa Strathelar and Thorsten Cragstone, whom led rebellion against the Otholi and allowed humanity to exist in freedom. Thorston died in the battle, and in honor the town of Cragstone was named after him. Asheron and Elysa have since disappeared…

The game’s story is added and changed each month, but this is pretty much the prologue to the game. Many new enemies have arrived on Dereth because when the Empyrean sorcerers fled through the portals, they created a disruption and soon portals appeared everywhere in existence. The fact the game has such a real and well designed story gives the game a large boost over games such as EverQuest that have no real point to play. Even since the games creation, a whole new island was added called Marae Lassel.

With the constant updates, that means constant downloads…which can be a real big pain, especially if you are on dial-up. Though AC:DM combines all the updates into one box, that is only up to early in 2002, and there have been continuous updates since then. So that means when you first sign up and play, there is a huge download. I have excellent bandwidth and it still took me 19 minutes after reinstalling the game on my new pc to get through the update. That would take a long time on a regular 56k.

Gameplay in AC:DM is similar to other MMORPG’s. You travel the land (however there are no zones, just one huge world map with no loading), slowly gaining skills by killing monsters and completing side quests. You get loot from monster that you kill, which you can sell of to merchants and get money called Pyreals. With the Pyreals, you can purchase armor and weapons that will help you destroy more enemies. The cycle repeats.

You have three basic things you need to worry about, and those are your stamina, health and mana. You do not need to eat to live in Asheron’s call, but stamina and mana can be replenished by eating certain foods. Health can be regained through magic, healing kits or simply time. There are potions however that can refill part or all of your mana, hp or stamina.

Without stamina, you can’t hit nearly as hard as you normally can. You also can not run very fast or jump while lacking stamina, so you really have to monitor this. No mana means you can’t cast any spells, so if you can’t defend yourself through melee and you are running low on Mana, better start running. And when you run out of hp, well then you die.

Death. Ultimately, no matter how good you are, you will get killed. It’s inevitable and when it happens, you will be resurrected at a magic stone, called a Life Stone. At the life stone, you will be resurrected; however half your Pyreals and a few of your better items are on your corpse, meaning that if you want them, you’d better go get it. The higher the level you are, the more you lose. You also incur a small penalty, refereed to in game as a Vitae Penalty. The first time you die, you lose a small amount of your HP, Stamina and Mana, which you regain once you get some experience.

Traveling across Dereth and Marae Lassel is accomplished in basically two ways. The first way is to run or walk. This is slow but the towns aren’t typically too far apart so getting from one town to another to buy stuff isn’t too hard. The second way, and one of the quickest is through portals, created either by mages or there just in the game world. These allow for instant travel between point A and point B in the time it takes for you to load the area.

One thing differs AC:DM from other MMORPGs. It’s actually not too hard to start out as a new character. You never really have too hard a time getting money, people who play the game are usually pretty willing to show a new guy the ropes, and sometimes they will even hook you up with some nice gear that they just don’t use much.

I once met a fellow who helped me level up three levels, gave me a trade note worth 10,000 Pyreals and a nice sword. You don’t get that in other MMORPG’s. The community is very close in AC:DM, probably because there aren’t as many players in AC:DM as in other MMORPG’s. If you are a real jerk, word travels fast throughout the game. This could also be due to the Allegiance System.

The Allegiance System is an extended group. One character is a leader, and the leader takes on members, referred to as vassals. The vassals then go out and get there own vassals and become patrons. The group grows through this and the more vassals that you get, the more experience you get from them. It encourages group play as nearly everyone benefits from the system. The people on the bottom of the ladder get a group of fellow adventurers who can help them out and the person on the top gets some good experience for just being in it.

It may sound a bit confusing, but it really isn’t in practice. It’s a very well designed system and in actuality it’s similar to a pyramid scam. To keep people in the Allegiance, you incur penalties if you continually leave an Allegiance. This forces you to actually resolve your problems with you Allegiance, and not just leave.

As for equipment, there are tons of cool weapons and armor. And surprisingly, you can actually by some good equipment through the vendors, probably because the player to player trading system was just recently developed. Whatever the case may be, you can get enough equipment to survive your early levels through the vendors, then later you can fight and get good equipment that way.

The graphics in AC:DM are quite dated. I must say that when I first played, I thought they were great, but that was a while ago. Now the graphics are very dated and bland. Textures tend to blur and look junky. Weather effects tend to just be pixels falling from the sky. And the character models look like a pile of polygons meshed to sort of look like a human being. But fortunately the good story and gameplay make you overlook the graphics in the game.

As for the sound in the game, doors creak, birds chirp, nothing too fancy at all. The sound in the game is something that you tend to eventually ignore, and that can be a good or bad thing. When you go to hit something, your sword will make and impact noise and the creature will scream with agony. Musically, there isn’t any at all, which really kind of sucks, but it fits the mood of the game because when you are running around the woods, music typically doesn’t play.

Honestly, there is a lot under the hood of Asheron’s Call: Dark Majesty. The graphics may not be very impressive, but once you are into the story, the game fades away and you become an important part of the games culture. Fortunately, it’s a very accessible title and it’s a great way to start in the wide world of MMORPGS.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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