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Old 09-11-2002, 03:45 PM   #1
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Recently, Asheron's Call betas were made available to the public. Well, to the public willing to pay $6-7 either for a Computer Games magazine or to Fileplanet for the priviledge to download.

Having had a very strong dislike for their previous incarnation (Asheron's Call) I wasn't terribly excited about the sequel. However, 7 bucks is close enough to free (even with the value of the Canadian dollar these days) that I decided to give it a shot. I've tried every other beta out there, may as well make it unanimous.

My first download was corrupted and wouldn't install, but the second worked beautifully, albiet a day later (thanks 650mb download). After navigating through what seemed like about 50 welcome screens I was able to connect to the server and create my first character.

The first thing you'll notice about creating a character in AC2 is that there's not many choices. No attributes to raise/lower, no items to select, no starting runes. You pick your race and your appearance. That's it. There's only a choice of 3 races and your available 'class' will be dependant upon the race you choose. For choices we have human (of course), Tumerok (little lizard-like tribal dudes) or Lugian (big bruiser type). Not a very large selection and I hope they add more later. I decided to go with the old standby of human, so further discussion will revolve around the human skill trees, items and advancement. I haven't even tried the other races yet so I'm not sure what they have available.

Upon entering the world, you'll find 3 items in your inventory. A bow, a sword and a staff. There are 3 main skill trees available, (the skill system is very similar to Diablo 2 for those that have played) corresponding to each starter weapon; Melee, Missile and Magic. Generally you'll pick a weapon and start putting points into various areas in the associated trees. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from raising skills in the other trees if you like. At level 15, sub trees become available. Two for each base class. You may only specialize in one of these advanced sub-classes. Don't worry about making mistakes though, one of the beauties of the AC2 system is that you can unlearn skills and learn others in their place. It just takes a little time.

</img>Anyway, enough about the basics, on to the most impressive thing about AC2. The world. Upon first entering (and getting out of the newbie caves) you are greeted with jaw droppingly good graphics. You'll probably take your first 60 minutes just looking at everything, it's just that beautiful. Even the grass warrents a good 2 minute stare. Unlike the more or less flat landscape seen in other online games, AC2 is riddled with hills and valleys. No more running across a flat plane with a couple hills and trees stuck on to make it look better. This landscape was designed to be realistic from the ground up (ugh, excuse the pun). The environment in general is really well done. You might see small birds flying off in the distance, or hear ambient sounds like a chickadee chirping. This really goes a long way to add to the immersion factor of the game. It almost duplicated the feeling of wonder I experienced the first time I ever played Everquest. This is quite a bold statement considering that I've often thought that only the first MMORPG you play would ever give that feeling. It wasn't quite the same, but if nothing else, AC2 shows me that it will be possible to re-create that 'magic' in the future.

</img>One favorite of course is the reflective water. It's about time somebody made water look at least somewhat realistic. AC2 water is...wow. My only gripe is that you can only swim on the surface, no underwater dungeons for AC2, at least not yet. Taking a flying leap into any body of water results in your character doing a nice little dive animation. I've seen 2 different ones so far. A nice touch.
A recent patch made swimming very difficult. Now your stamina runs down when you're swimming. After that's gone, your health starts to tick down until you drown. You can swim maybe 60 seconds before drowning it seems, unless you pick up a health or stamina regen potion. This defeinately needs some tweaking and will most likely be made more reasonable before release.
I'll miss being able to swim underwater. As much as I loathed EQ dungeons like Kedge Keep, it definately provided a unique gaming experience. Hopefully they'll add this ability, but I don't really expect it at this point.

</img>Since a few other Da`Kor were starting also, I decided to hook up with Nazeth and do a little hunting. We decided on a meeting spot and I sat down to wait. Nazeth, being the woman that he is took his sweet time getting there. Not really his fault though, the first few days the server was plagued with lag that made movement incredibly difficult. You could move about 6 steps (if you were lucky) then freeze for several seconds. Repeat. Fortunately this annoying lag was confined to certain areas. Running east or west through the world would usually get you to a lag free zone eventually. The theory was that it was tied to corrupt objects that were being carried by players, hence making the laggy areas move around a lot. Thank god this problem is more or less fixed now. There's still some lag issues, but nothing nearly so crippling.

</img>Anyway, he finally arrived and we set off to find something to kill and do a little exploring. One of the greatest experiences in a new game is exploring the world and AC2 does not disappoint. AC2 is massive! Running for an hour seems to take you about 10% of the distance across the continent (there are portals to make travel time easier) and there's 3 continents! The world seems pretty polished at this stage of beta. Frequent monster encounters and lots of scenary, from lakes and streams to majestic bridges and ruined cities. This is part of the backstory, apparently the world of Asheron's Call 1 was hit with some sort of disaster (I don't remember exactly what) and everyone was forced to retreat underground to survive. At the start of AC2, the world is now safe to live in again and everyone is leaving their underground caverns to go out and 'rebuild the world'. I'm not exactly sure what this will entail, but apparently cities will build up over time based on how populated they are. I haven't seen any of this yet, but it's only been a couple days since the last wipe. This screenshot isn't very good, but it was the only one I could find that had Nazeth in it too.

</img>The character models are outstanding also. Very crisp detail and well animated (except for the crazy legs if you're running on a slope). Here's a picture of my dude after getting a few levels and some l33t leather armor. I haven't seen any of the higher level armor graphics yet, but I imagine they're just as well done. I really like the way the characters look. They've really put a lot of work into them. Also nice are the size of the human female racks, hubba hubba! There's a ton of different emotes as well as 10 emotes dedicated strictly to playing music. These music emotes also generate different sounds depending on what instrument (if any) you're holding at the time. There seems to be a ton of different instruments available and I think they're claiming hundreds of unique sounds. It's a nice idea, it's pretty cool running through a city and seeing (and hearing) 3 or 4 people holding an impromptu jam session.

</img>A few days later, with the server a lot more stable I was doing a little solo hunting. A human female approached me (Elwyn's always number one with the ladies!) and asked me if I'd like to get in a fellow. Well I lost it! But then I remembered that AC2's name for 'group' is 'fellowship'. Why they can't just use 'group' like every other game ever created is beyond me. This of course leads to all sorts of humorous comments along the lines of "Man, I wish I could find a good fellow" or "I was in this really good fellow the other night". Anyway, this chick was about 5 levels below me, so I politely declined. After getting my ass handed to me, (it seems they had rebalanced monster difficulty the previous night) and watching her die 3 times, I re-thought her offer and decided to group up. She was playing a Magic type and had access to some healing skills, so it actually worked out pretty well. There's currently no level limit on grouping. A level 1 can group with a level 40 and get xp. Anyway, she seemed like a pretty nice girl (probably a dude) and we each gained a couple of levels over the next little while. Leveling seems fairly painless so far, but the highest I've gotten is level 17. Apparently people were hitting level 35 within 2 days of the servers being wiped. Expect this to be tweaked before release. It's already harder now with the upgraded monsters, but I expect to see a lot more balancing in the days to come.

</img>After an hour or so of hunting, my new friend asked me if I wanted to do a quest for some uber boots. Since I hadn't really experienced the quest system yet, I readily agreed and we set off to a quest shrine. There's no NPC's in AC2. No vendors, no quest givers, etc. Quests are given by statues, at least for now and the economy will be completely player run. The quest was your typical deliver-and-return style. After a 30 minute run we had to head down to the lowest level of a dungeon and find a fountain into which I had to dip my 'cracked opal' to repair it. Then a quick port back to town to give the repaired item back to the original quest giving statue. Overall, it probably took around an hour and I was rewarded with some really crappy boots. Apparently monsters weren't the only things that got a retune in the past few days. No big deal really. Loot drops from monsters have been plentiful and it's really easy to get a fairly decent set of equipment.

Anyway, to summerize, I'd just like to give a few pro's and con's of AC2 so far.

PROs<ul>[*]Graphics are amazing (my screenshots aren't even the highest detail setting)[*]Combat has a nice pace, very EQ-ish I thought[*]Trade skill system is actually useful[*]Ability to retrain skills, you can't permanently 'gimp' your character[/list]CONs<ul>[*]Skill system doesn't seem to have enough variety, but they might be adding more. Supposedly it's designed to be easy to add to[*]Not a lot of weapon variety[*]No swimming underwater[*]Doesn't seem to be much end game yet, but again, it's early[/list]
So what are your thoughts? Feel free to discuss HERE.
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