The Massively Multiplayer Online RPG Neocron is set in a post-apocalyptic future, which is a fairly original idea, and will remain so for a good nine days. That’s because on the twenty-first of November Asheron’s Call 2 comes out, which carries a similar after-the-bang storyline. The sequel to one of the most popular MMORPGs thus far has gamers returning to the world of Dereth, 300 years after the timeframe of the original game. Civilization has just emerged from hiding, and for a mere thirteen bucks a month, you can play a part in shaping the new society.
It’s always nice when game developers listen to fans, and happily Turbine seems to have used feedback as their main inspiration for improvement over the original. A quick checklist of new features includes the elimination of item burdens, item deterioration and item loss at the time of death. Load zones have also gone out the window, along with the Stamina and Mana attributes, dropped in favour of an-all-in-one Vigor. A ranking system has been added for player versus player combat and a quest panel has been thrown in for keeping tabs on an adventure’s progress. Another change, this one of a more curious nature, is the removal of NPC shopkeepers and traders. In other words, it’s up to the players themselves to do all the trading and to drive the game’s economy. Perhaps it isn’t so implausible though: during that last real-life economic downturn, what was one of the few products that were selling consistently? Game consoles.
Of course, most of these aforementioned improvements are simply conveniences. The most special new dynamic is the ability to build towns. After all, something needs to fill all that post-war empty space. To get construction underway, items need to be committed to Forges that build the towns. There are different kinds of Forges for different kinds of towns (i.e., a blacksmith town,) and it is up to players to make executive decisions based on what kind of town they want. The resulting town will only make an appearance on that one server.
Many other choices are available to the AC2 player. There are three races from which avatars can be formed. A player can be a spell-casting Tumerok, a huge tough Lugian, or a boring ol’ balanced Human. That may seem a bit bland, but wait, there’s more. A player can also choose from five skill “trees” that represent all the standard class types. As the player progresses, there are many chances for diversification or other new choices. Another choice that indirectly affects how one’s character might develop is what Kingdom one swears allegiance to. The Kingdoms are in competition with one another to control the resources of the world, and the score of player versus player kills is kept between them. There are three Kingdoms, and each defines itself by its belief system. Each player is supposed to make the choice of which one to join based on their own beliefs, though hopefully those who join the pseudo-fascist Kingdom are only doing it for kicks.
Asheron’s Call 2 isn’t just about snazzy new features, however. It’s also about snazzy new graphics. Not only are the backgrounds gorgeous; complete with the quickly becoming requisite water and swaying grass effects, but the level of detail on characters are a cut above. For instance, a player can take advantage of visual cues from monsters to see if their paralysis spell is working, or if that twenty pound battle axe really is penetrating the skin. (Take note of the Mature rating.) From what has been seen of the combat, it is still a bit choppy, as all unscripted battles are, but with everything that was happening in the fight, the overall effect was impressive.
Turbine Entertainment has striven to make a game that doesn’t disappoint players with randomness or stupidity on the part of the AI. None of the 100-150 monsters in this game are going to run around in circles whilst players shoot at them from the other side of the cliff. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to build any rockets to get to the other side, but it does mean that Turbine has put a lot of effort into giving monsters unique programming, so that not every monster of a certain type acts the same. The game is also smart enough to take note of the character that killed a monster, and reward them with appropriate loot. This should cut down on those annoying situations where players get stuck with equipment they can’t even use. This idea extends to the menu as well, where useless items can be processed into something more useful upon command.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this game is the “Vault System.” Basically, they’re large-scale quest events affecting the story, and every player has a shot at completing them. Of course, the person or people who put the most effort into these quests, which can run for months I understand, will be the most likely to come out on top. This puts Asheron’s Call 2 at the front of the pack of MMORPGs who try to have a storyline that can involve any player. Assuming the whole thing works out, of course.
The fans of the original AC should be happy campers when the sequel comes out on the 21st, and the rest of the MMORPGs might have to make way for a new champion.