The Game Archaeologist answers Asheron's Call 2: The fansite managers

Asheron's Call - The Game Archaeologist
Back when I covered Asheron's Call for The Game Archaeologist, I got an impassioned email from a former fansite operator who made me promise that I'd drop her a line when the time came to talk about Asheron's Call 2, as she was not only a huge fan of the title but still in contact with many former players who carry a torch for Turbine's long-departed MMO. One thing led to another, and I ended up talking to both her and a fellow AC2 fansite manager about the ups and downs of covering the second coming of Dereth...

The Game Archaeologist: Please introduce yourself, your current job position, and how you got involved with Asheron's Call 2 back in the day?

Kiersten Samwell: I'm Kiersten Samwell, Community Relations and Social Media Manager for KingsIsle Entertainment, the creator of Wizard101. I used to be the Site Manager for Warcry's Crossroads of Dereth/Asheron's Call site as Ellen Ripley, so it was natural to work with the site manager of their Asheron's Call 2 fansite as well. His name is Roberto, and he was just an incredible site manager. Of course, being an avid AC1 player, I enjoyed AC2 for both its similarities to and its differences from AC1.

Robert Hackett: Hi, I'm Robert Hackett, the Managing MMO Editor of GamersInfo.net. I actually got invited to one of the betas along with a friend of mine. The lag was so bad (the day I logged in may have been a stress test; I can't remember) that I told my friend that there was no way my rig could handle that. Fast forward to the month after release and Ophelea from the old AC Crossroads site begged me to come over to AC2 and be an editor for the database she was trying to build. Logged in and the game was a million percent better. I stayed to work on the database and eventually fell in love with it beyond "work!"

Asheron's Call 2 #2
You're both a well-known fans of the game, even this many years after its cancellation. What made you so passionate about it?

Samwell: Many saw AC2 as a chance to glimpse the future of a world they were already familiar with but now interacting with in new ways and new stories. AC2 was a post-apocalyptic view of AC1, and many saw in it all the things that could happen if we failed to saved Auberean. It offered many a chance to start over, without having to necessarily relearn an entire new game. It was familiar in that déjà vu way... something recognizable but changed. I think in some ways that was both its strength and its downfall.

Hackett: AC2 was ahead of its time in terms of graphics, and the quest logs were also new. The devs really cared about what they were doing, even if Microsoft didn't, and you could see their passion in their interactions with the fans and the focus they took in getting a good thing going, fixing problems, balancing classes. A big part of my passion was the allegiance I got involved with -- they were all as into the game as I became, and it became a joy to log in to meet up with my friends and play. Later games I've played have not really recaptured that passion.

Did you play Asheron's Call, and if so, how did the AC2 experience compare?

Samwell: For me, personally, AC2 felt like I was reading the second book in a series, but I hadn't finished the first book yet. It felt like I skipped huge parts of the story, and I continued to play AC so that I could look for glimpses and hints. I played AC2 also in search of those storyline ties, and though they were there, I still felt like I missed big chunks of the story. There was, for me, an odd time-ripple disconnect, and so like many people, I fell back into what I knew best, where I was most comfortable, and where I understood what was happening: the first Asheron's Call.

Hackett: Yep, and I still do, occasionally. My main is nowhere near the cap because I spent more time in AC2, then Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft. AC2 was a very different game. It was skill tree and class-based, rather than stats-based. The quests were more hand-holding than those in AC -- the quest journal was very handy in trying to figure out where to go and what to do. Of course the graphics, background music, and the player music also contributed to that difference. The experience was... different. Trying to compare the two games is like trying to compare a burger from McDonalds to a burger from White Castle -- they're both good, in their own way.

Why didn't Asheron's Call 2 catch on with the gaming community? What could Turbine have done differently?

Samwell: I can't help but wonder, in hindsight, if it was just too soon. If I remember correctly, it was only a few years gap between AC1 and AC2, we were deep in the AC1 story, and things were really getting exciting with the opening of Alphus Lassal and all that Gaerlan and Aerbax were up to. It was a very interesting time. We were nowhere near ready to move on. So when this time-travel glimpse into the future was offered to us, many of us weren't sure whether we wanted to step through that portal just yet.

Hackett: Three problems, really. First, the chat system was borked for months. It's hard to play when you can't talk to anyone. Second, the first couple of months had a few major exploits that allowed characters to rocket to level 40. This gave you a large population near the endgame with nothing to do. Third, it was perceived/sold as a sequel to AC. Storyline, it was. Gameplay-wise, it was a different game. I think if they had not been forced to use the Microsoft chat system and if they had not billed it as Asheron's Call Anything, maybe just Fallen Kings, they probably would have gotten a different audience, without splitting and irritating the existing playerbase.

What class and race did you like to play? What activities did you most often do?

Samwell: Well, I dabbled in a few, and I best remember my Lugian. I love being just this massive wall taking down everything that came near me and that those archers could cower behind.

Hackett: Lugian Juggernaut. I tried a sage for a while but switched back. Juggie was just too fun, especially with two-handed weapons. Oddly enough, after crafting 2.0 was released, I spent tons of time mining. I don't know why, even now. I also liked going on treasure hunts with the allegiance and running MA and IF (after I did it for myself at 50).

Asheron's Call floating city
What's your favorite memory from AC2?

Samwell: What I remember doing the most was just exploring, just pick a direction and go. Encountering places such as a transformed village that existed in AC1 were bittersweet. You could see a little of what once was but had since decayed, and there was a certain sadness in all that had been lost. For me, unfortunately, it seemed to cast a sense of futility on what we were trying to do in AC1.

Hackett: There's a few, but the one that makes me smile the most is when our allegiance got on its drudges, headed to Cavendo, and did a concert for any and all. I probably still have some video taken of that event.

Quick: Best and worst feature from AC2!

Samwell: Best: atmosphere. Improved graphics (for the time) helped to bring forward and strengthen the incredible feeling of awe that one gets while running through Dereth, and quite honestly, just moxy. Worst: It made me sad. I think I touched on it earlier, but seeing the potential outcome, I think it seemed to cast a sense of futility on what we were trying to do in AC1.

Hackett: Best: crafting 2.0. Worst: that &^*&( chat system or non-advertising -- take your pick!

What was it like going through the shutdown process in 2005? How did you see the community react?

Samwell: It was fun to see the admins dropping huge creatures on us and then sitting back and laughing as we were slaughtered mercilessly, but I sometimes wish I could have been at the Turbine office when all of this went down. Was it as emotional for them as it was for us?
Here are their final words to us. I wished it had been more personal, more meaningful, but it is what it is.
This world will be shutting down in 1 minute and 30 seconds. Please log out.
This world will be shutting down in 1 minute. Please log out.
This world will be shutting down in 30 seconds! Please log out!
This world is shutting down NOW! Log out!
As we gathered at the Deru tree, we surveilled all around us, took one last look, and said goodbye. There was an odd sense of the ending of something beautiful. I know more than a few tears were shed that night, but many of us were waiting in the Dereth of the past, waiting for our children to come home.

Hackett: When the annoucement was made in September, I remember a lot of accusations since the expansion just came out in May, that all they did was "milk us for our money," and more like that. I've always felt that those who stayed till the night of shutdown (which I do have video of) were the truer fans, even if they were playing for free. I remember tromping around Knorr exploring places I'd never see again, fighting Waraths, Olthoi, etc., and feeling down. I remember fighting the One Queen outside Cragstone (there was a scary mob!) and having a blast with all the folks who joined in. I'd guess there were three general groups of reactions: "I told you so," "I've been cheated," and "I'm going to miss this place." Guess which one I was in?

For those Star Wars Galaxies fans who are currently going through this grieving process, what would you say to them to help them get through it?

Samwell: Take screenshots, take them until your hard drive is full. Take screenshots, and burn them to disks. You'll go back through those disks one day and wax nostalgic on all the fun that you had, all the friends that you made, and all the adventures you embarked upon. Don't lose touch with those you really enjoyed playing with. Post your character info on your Facebook page so others can find you. Write down or screenshot their character names and pics, plus anecdotes about that player so you can match in game with out of game after the fact.

Hackett: You never forget your first love. In my case, AC was my first girlfriend, but AC2 was my first love. I've moved on to another phase of my life, and you will too. Keep your first love close to your heart, and it will never be truly gone.

What do you think is Asheron's Call 2's greatest legacy to the genre?

Samwell: That sequels are possible, for better or worse.

Hackett: Background music, quest logs, skill tree-based classes, second generation graphics (the Turbine Engine was way ahead of its time back then). It was also a good "bad" example: don't split your player base between products, test, test, test, test before release.

Thank you both for sharing! For the rest of you, we want to hear your personal, first-hand experiences with these games, which is why I'm calling on all former Asheron's Call 2 vets to submit their favorite memories and screenshots to justin@massively.com for use in a future column!

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.

This article was originally published on Massively.