The Game Archaeologist: Asheron's Call 2 returns from the dead

The Game Archaeologist Asheron's Call 2 returns from the dead
No, the above picture is not some sort of long-forgotten, dusty archive picture of Asheron's Call 2 from back in the day; it's from the live game this past Thursday evening. How incredibly, insanely weird is that?

Turbine absolutely stunned the MMO community the other day when it casually announced that it was bringing back its second title, cancelled since 2005, on a new server. Our editor-in-chief burst into the office chat room screaming, "AC2! AC2! AC2!" It took us a minute to realize that she wasn't just discovering the Assassin's Creed series but had in fact learned that the impossible had happened: An old, deceased MMO had been brought back to life.

As the resident MMO historian here at Massively, I felt this was kind of like going to Jurassic Park and seeing all of those dinosaurs after spending most of my time merely reading about them. In the blink of an eye, Asheron's Call 2 went from the ancient past to the playable present. We've got a lot to talk about today, including my hands-on experiences with the title and thoughts about what this means for classic MMOs. Let's not waste any time!

The Game Archaeologist Asheron's Call 2 returns from the dead
Going hands-on with the past

All in all, I was downright surprised how easy it was to get into Asheron's Call 2. For an outsider, there's basically two steps: subscribe or buy Asheron's Call and then download the AC2 client. It was a relatively small (2.2 gigabyte) download, and all of the account stuff went smoothly, so I was into the game within half an hour.

Two things I wish I knew right off the bat that I want to pass along to all of you: Alt + Enter makes the game go fullscreen, and /cg allows you to talk in the general chat channel. You're welcome. There's also a full beta forum if you have additional questions and answers.

Now apart from writing up a series in this column on the game, I was a virtual newbie going into it. Again, it's one thing to research the past and another thing to experience it directly. I really had no idea what to expect, especially since Asheron's Call 2 was supposed to be somewhat of a unique fantasy world.

My first brush with that was the character creation screen, where only the humans looked familiar. What, no Elves and Dwarves? Delightful blasphemy! I decided to go for one of the more alien-looking races (Lugians) and was momentarily confused when the game didn't ask me for a class. Oh, I remembered that this was one of those "build your own class as you go," with specializations coming around level 15 or so. I picked up a scepter and decided to give magic a try. Why not?

General chat was as you'd expect: an excited mix of old-time veterans who were in shock and plenty of fresh faces who had signed up that day out of curiosity. Reading the chat log was honestly my favorite thing that night.

Asheron's Call 2 is about 50% familiar to modern MMO gamers, I'd say, and 50% foreign. It's not as daunting as I was afraid it might turn out to be, and the tutorial does a fairly good job explaining the basics. Sure, I had to get used to my weird "ice skating" run, the lack of hovering tooltips, and a three-step process to loot corpses, but eventually, it started to click. Some of the features, such as being able to zoom to an eagle's eye view of the land and converting items in your inventory to gold anywhere in the world, were quite welcomed.

For a game made in the early 2000s, Asheron's Call 2 looks and sounds quite appealing. Again, I just liked how it doesn't dip into standard fantasy tropes left and right. The world is bizarrely fascinating, from the odd trees to the looming moon (which appears to have a lit-up city on it?). There's an interesting network of portals that allow you to hop around the world, although I had difficulty finding the larger world map (if there is such a thing). Combat is adequate if not thrilling, although I didn't have a lot of time to engage in this.

I definitely need to put more time into exploring this world, but I can certainly tell you that it's worth checking out -- and not just for the novelty factor of a so-called "zombie MMO."

The Game Archaeologist Asheron's Call 2 returns from the dead
What does this mean for classic MMOs?

One of the exciting angles of AC2's resurrection is that it feeds into our hope that these games can be brought back, even years after the fact. It's just code and servers, after all, stored somewhere safe (we think). After we've gone through the shutdowns of major games like City of Heroes and Star Wars Galaxies this past year, this is the kind of story that feeds into our fantasies that we might one day see the miraculous return of the worlds we loved.

It offers hope, but it's a dangerous hope. Sure, there are endless possibilities and what ifs. I've always thought that it might be more financially feasible to bring back cancelled titles than develop new ones from scratch, as long as they were promoted well and given an appropriate business model. But does Asheron's Call 2 set some sort of precedent? Probably not.

AC2's situation is almost as unique as the game itself. It was fully owned and operated by Turbine at the time of its closure and remained in-house ever since. There were no legal issues barring its return, no costly IP to wrangle, nor really anything other than a nominal financial investment to turning the lights back on again. If you had to pick a candidate for an MMO resurrection, this is about as ideal a game as any.

Yet there's still hope, isn't there? I mean, if your dream was to have AC2 handed back to you, then dream accomplished. But if you've loved some other MMO that was sunsetted, then this story probably whets your desire to see that game returned as well.

I have no idea what's going to happen with AC2 going forward. It could very well be that it becomes a sideshow curiosity for Asheron's Call, getting an initial burst of interest but little long-term support from players (especially since there's a subscription involved). It would be pretty awesome to see a new dedicated community congeal around this title, but there are an awful lot of new distractions out there since its heyday in 2005.

If nothing else, it's a win for classic MMOs and the gamers who love them. I saw so many people beam with virtual happiness when this was announced that it couldn't help but make my Grinchy heart grow three times bigger. Turbine had the chance to do something for its fans in a way that most companies never get, and to the studio's credit, it took that opportunity.

For those of you who have reentered the world of Dereth, what say you? Is it quite like you remembered or expected, and what do you think's going to happen going forward?

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.