The Game Archaeologist and the Asheron Recall: Player sagas

It's an odd thing to realize how far MMOs have come right in front of our eyes in a relatively short span of time. After all, 1999 wasn't that long ago, despite what Prince and Y2K would have you believe. One day we'll be telling our children -- if we aren't already -- about the primitive MMOs that didn't feature RealGore™, motion sensor-linked emotes, and mostly nude elves dancing for tips on mailboxes. They may gasp and sputter in disbelief, but you'll assert that it is true: You experienced an era when polygons were blockier than LEGO pieces, people logged in over dial-up connections, and the community was small enough for GMs to host personal live events.

There's been a lot of love flowing into my email inbox and Twitter since posting the first Game Archaeologist on Asheron's Call, enough to tell me that this title is a dear old friend to many a seasoned gamer out there (including a few on the Massively staff who won't stop writing epic haikus about AC in its honor this month). As a result, I got in touch with two die-hard fans of the game, and they agreed to scribe their memories of this MMO for future generations to discover, generations who will undoubtedly marvel at the hardship and perserverence that such scrappy gamers showed in being part of the first wave of MMO players.

Without further ado, please give a warm round of applause to Amanda and Jon. No, nobody can hear you clap over the internet, but it's the thought that counts.

The Game Archaeologist: Please introduce yourself, your awesomeness, and why you started playing Asheron's Call!

Amanda: Hi, I'm Amanda, I'm in my early 30's, married, a full time professional and part time student, and I absolutely LOVE MMOs. In my Asheron's Call days I was known as Murren, Talai, or Areia.

I started playing Asheron's Call just after it came out. My boyfriend (husband now) bought the game on release day, and I'd gotten tired of watching him play. I wanted to play too, and I thought it would be a good way for us to spend time together.

Jon: I'm @ModemMisuser on Twitter, Jon Craig in real life, and Sevok/Sovek/Pazuzu and a host of other names in MMOs.

I started playing Asheron's Call before it was released -- in fact I was in Beta 0. This was back when betas came on physical CDs and you had to physically sign NDAs. I started playing because it was really the second MMO available. I was playing Ultima Online, which was the only "major" MMO (Meridian 59 never hit "big time"), so I heard there was a 3-D MMORPG coming out and signed up for the beta and was accepted.

How long did you play Asheron's Call for? What type of character did you play?

Amanda: Well, in total I probably played more than six years. I played AC continually for three years, and after that I always returned to AC when I grew bored with other MMOs.

My first character was what was later called an OG mage (life and creature magic specialized; the other magics trained). In the early days it was really difficult to level as an OG mage. My next was what I always called a tank mage (others called it a battle mage). She had war magic specialized and started with high strength. She was strong enough to wear plate armor and carry enough spell components to last for 10 or more hours of play, so she could tank golems and mattekars and kill them quickly.

My favorite of all time was my macer. For a very long time she had the highest mace skill on any server. It was only the last time that I returned that someone had finally surpassed her skill.

Jon: I played through the beta process (six months or so I believe) and then off and on for a few months here and there throughout the years. I mainly played mages -- always have in most games.

What was your favorite part of the game?

Wow, that's tough. I think it comes down to the sandbox environment that Asheron's Call had. Until later expansions, there weren't quests and quest givers. There were rumors that you could pick one up at a tavern or by talking to a town crier. We literally made up our own quests as we went. I remember one of my earliest adventures that took me out of sight of Holtburg led us into the mountains to hunt the elusive mattekar. Just getting to the place where a friend had spotted the beast was a challenge. Once we arrived, the mattekar hit me once and I bounced down the mountain and back to the lifestone.

The flexibility of the game led to a habit of loitering around town. Sometimes I would follow someone around town mimicking his every movement. Sometimes I would stand inside the armorer shop dressed like the armorer and see how many people tried to buy from me. It was always amusing.

Jon: My favorite part is long gone, and that's the old, original magic system. Most players found it frustrating, but I loved it. Some of the components needed to cast certain spells were randomized for your character upon creation, so you couldn't just refer to a chart to learn spells. You had to experiment to find what worked for your character. Also, spells (allegedly) were more powerful if fewer people knew and used them. Eventually, that system went away, and now all spells are the same for all characters. I miss that old system though.

What frustrated you about AC?

Amanda: Until one of the expansions added allegiance and custom chat channels, it was definitely the lack of allegiance chat. I didn't like everyone in the allegiance needing the same plugin to be able to have a group conversation when we weren't all in the same place.

Jon: The setting. It's very different from any other fantasy MMO, and for me, I couldn't get into the world, lore, and "flavor" of the game. I really do prefer more familiar fantasy settings like EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Warhammer, etc.

How do you think AC contributed to the history of MMORPGs overall?

I think that AC's biggest contribution was the standard that it set for variety in content. Social areas like battle chess boards, intriguing dungeons and an open world, silly references to pop culture, and incredible live events like the Shadow Invasion (I accidentally split my allegiance in half for a month when I swore allegiance to Bael'Zharon) set a precedent for the types of content that make a great MMO.

Jon: Well, it was one of the first 3-D MMOs to release, so there's that. It also proved that a game need not achieve WoW-like subscriber numbers to be successful and keep going. A niche game is fine, as long as the company running it stays lean and doesn't need 11,000,000 subs to make money on the game. AC is still running and last I knew, Turbine claimed it pays for itself.

What was one of your most memorable experiences in the game?

Amanda: My most memorable thing about AC was meeting someone who is now one of my best friends. Most long-term MMO players have a similar story. We met in Holtburg, he was a noob, I was a HUGE level 30, and we talked for hours and hardly played at all. We've now followed each other from game to game for nearly 10 years .

Number two would have to be the times that my Hubby and I went to dark tide in search of Kwip, the master of sillyness. So many other things come to mind, but I've already been really longwinded.

Jon: It's actually outside the game, but I will never forget it. Back then, most people had one computer (if that -- computers weren't a commodity yet!) and accessed the internet via dialup. Home networks were essentially unheard of -- but my wife and I had three computers networked. Two were Windows boxes for gaming, and the other was a Linux box we used as a NAT device and router. AC's Beta 0 networking code didn't work with two machines accessing the game through a NAT device, so I worked with one of the programmers to help get that working.

Did AC prompt you to check out Asheron's Call 2 or Turbine's other games?

Amanda: Absolutely. I played AC2 for a few months, Lord of the Rings Online for quite a while, and Dungeons and Dragons Online while it was in beta. I plan to return to LotRO and DDO in a few months (when I need a break from my current game of choice). The quality and love that Turbine put into AC is also there in DDO (from what I saw) and LotRO.

Jon: Sure did. When AC2 was announced I signed on to the beta and was accepted, but at the time I was heavily involved in high-end raiding in EverQuest so I never checked it out, which I'm still sad about. When DDO came out, I heard Turbine was doing it and figured it would rock (and it kind of does). Then, when Turbine picked up LotRO I did a happy dance.

When's the last time you were in AC, and do you think it's worth playing today?

I haven't been back to AC in about two years. It is a great game, and since so much has been added to the world since I last played, I would love to revisit before Turbine decides to retire it.

Jon: I last played about a year ago. Yeah, I think it's worth playing. You have to get past the 1998-era graphics, sound effects, and so on, but, the world is huge and open, and the character development system is still sandboxy. You can easily, easily gimp your character if you assign points poorly. But as always with systems like that, if you find your niche, you can
build a truly unique character that can do amazing things. And if you long for a different flavor of fantasy world, something other than humans/orcs/elves/dwarves/etc... Asheron's Call will give you that. It's definitely a world like no other.

Thank you!
And if any of you out there have an Asheron's Call story or screenshot to share, email it to to be included in an upcoming 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 or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.