Rise and Shiny recap: Asheron's Call

This is going to sound like I'm whining, but here goes: Sometimes I get tired of playing games. Yes, yes, I know -- this is a wonderful job, and anyone who enjoys playing games and talking to developers would love it. But once in a while, when I am feeling particulary tired, have a headache, or am just plain not feeling it, the last thing I want to do is log into a game that is either too challenging or too grindy. Normally I just skip it for a few hours and come back to it later. This last week was busy for me, though, so when I had time to play, I really needed to play.

So I would load up Turbine's Asheron's Call, sigh, and log in. Even though I was having a great time from the start of my trial, I was having a blah week. Almost as soon as I saw the famous teleportation tunnel graphic, though, I just felt better. There was, in fact, not a moment of drudgery during my time with the game. It helped that I was hanging out with some of the top players in the game, but the easy-to-learn hard-to-master systems worked like modelling clay: Almost anyone can make something out of it, but if you take your time, you can make something truly unique.

Click past the cut and I'll let you in on some of my experiences. They weren't perfect, but they were fun.
Doing Rise and Shiny has presented me with a lot of challenges. One of the hardest things to get across to readers is how the games make me feel. Graphics are often a very large part of that. Asheron's Call makes me feel nostalgic, for sure, but the newer textures and modern lighting effects meant that the game felt more like something you might play on an iPad or iPhone. This isn't a bad thing at all, but the fact is that the mobile market is doing some amazing things while having to keep the graphics more primitive.

Yes, the landscape textures repeat, and no, the water doesn't move at all, but it works. Seriously, it really works. The magic and smoke effects work particularly well. I loved watching my smoking fire-arrows spread choking fumes within the low-ceiling dungeons we were stomping around in. In fact, despite the lower polygon count and texture resolution, AC does a better job with older graphics than many more modern MMOs do with all their fancy bells and whistles. The advantage of this older engine is that the game runs wonderfully on my basic laptop (that's one of the tests I run on each game I play).

Before I saw the inside of the game, though, I was slightly shocked at just how far the character creation allowed me to go. From the very beginning, I was able to make a fast archer-style character, chosen from a selection of 11 different races. I made some sort of Dark Elf and sunk many of my points into run speed and archery-related stats. Again, the game gave me more to work with than I had seen in a game in a long time. Normally, you might be able to adjust some basic stats and choose certain abilities, but AC gave me a lot more room to breathe and create in. As soon as I was in game, I felt pretty unique and decently powerful.

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Of course, within a very few hours of play I felt like a complete and total loser, as even basic quests sent me off into a dungeon of rats or monsters that either were much too powerful for me or would attack in such numbers that there was no way for me to possibly beat them. AC does nothing at all in the form of handholding besides a quick tutorial at the beginning of the game. Even that small walkthrough was confusing, and in hindsight I quit the tutorial much too early. If there was one major complaint for the game, it would be that it needs to do a much, much better job simply letting the new player know where to go and what to do. Even a tiny hint would be wonderful. Perhaps I missed it, but how in the world was I supposed to know how to get to the magnificent quest hub that would provide me with everything I needed to get started when I wasn't actually pointed there by the game?

The forums and community were the only thing that saved me. Otherwise, I would have had no idea that all of these great newbie quests and tools existed. I can't imagine how many players quit in total frustration due to the lack of a proper and intuitive newbie experience. I am not sure what the benefit is of having such massive amounts of information missing, but it needs to be remedied. I can only advise that new players immediately get onto the forums and make some friends. Hook up with some of them in game and let them point out the helpful areas and tools you will need.

"As an archer, I had to learn to select a target, decide which level of accuracy to use, and then choose which height to fire at."

I did hook up with some of those wonderful community members, a younger player named Tao and an older guy named Flip. I found that the newbie quest hub was a wonderful way to level up, gain some killer equipment, and see some fun content. We spent hours over the week inside different dungeons, grinding away at all sorts of different monsters. Running those dungeons was an absolute blast and felt more like playing a classic first-person-shooter than anything. As an archer, I had to learn to select a target, decide which level of accuracy to use, and then choose which height to fire at. Once I set my shortcuts, it was easy enough to just tab-target the monsters and hit a corresponding hotkey for my shots. I was even able to literally side-step incoming missiles or magic blasts, in real time. We burned through gobs of monster flesh, took down insectoid-like creatures, and shattered skeletons. It was glorious, old-school dungeon running -- but with a modern feel.

Combat did feel a bit repetitive over time, and the monsters started to blur together a bit. Even then, AC balanced the challenge so that I never felt overwhelmed. If you are overrun and die, you take your time, get back to your corpse, and try again. I rarely felt frustrated. Even when I began to feel as though things were starting to repeat, I would learn a new skill or gain a new piece of equipment, and the cycle would start again. The stories and lore were kept at palatable levels, and locations were given in easy-to-follow coordinates.

It did help that I had such a wonderful group of guys (and girl) with me. At one point, they even took me to see one of the highest-level monsters in the game, a tentacled beast that killed me in one shot (after I snagged many screenshots). Obviously dungeon running is not the only activity -- raiding and group content exist in a lot of different forms. AC is the first game in a long line of Rise and Shiny games that I could see being able to stick around for. Normally once I move on to other games, my time is concentrated on the current game. AC seems like it will allow me to jump in for an hour and get something cool done -- something substantial.

"While the chat definitely has its share of bone-headed players (generally bragging about how tough they are in combat), you can easily find players who are friendly, open to newbie mistakes, and willing to share their knowledge."

So, if you want to try out an older game from the days when game design meant open-ended character creation and gameplay, go try Asheron's Call. While many of my readers have already played it in years past, the updates seem to roll out pretty frequently. If you haven't seen the game in even a year, you might want go check back. Do yourself a favor, though, and say hello on the forums first. Meet some people who will agree to be your guide for the first few levels, and listen to what they have to say. While the chat definitely has its share of bone-headed players (generally bragging about how tough they are in combat), you can easily find players who are friendly, open to newbie mistakes, and willing to share their knowledge.

Next week I will be taking a look at Perfect World, a game brought to us by Perfect World Entertainment. My name is Beauhind on the Archosaur server, in case you would like to join me. Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!
This article was originally published on Massively.