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Game Over Online ~ Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings

GameOver Game Reviews - Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (c) Microsoft Game Studios, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings (c) Microsoft Game Studios
System Requirements Windows, Pentium 733MHz, 256MB RAM, 2GB HDD, 32MB 3D Accelerator, Internet Access, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 84%
Date Published Monday, January 20th, 2003 at 11:48 AM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Asheron's Call was one of the big three commercial ventures into the online game space after the MUD inspired Meridian 59. While Turbine certainly had one of the prettiest looking online games when Asheron's Call was initially released, age has eventually caught up with the original game and considering the many additions and improvements in Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings, it is no surprise the developers went with a completely new game engine in a virgin setting that has quite literally reset the world of Dereth back to the stone age. All things considered, this sequel could certainly be counted as a magnum opus for Turbine.

Fallen Kings takes place in a brand new world, where the inhabitants of Dereth emerge from sheltered settlements built by Asheron for the three principle races: Lugians, Humans, Tumeroks (simplified as brawn, balance and magic). Many of the existing towns are in ruins with stones shattered, gates half collapsed, bridges torn down; showing off the game engine's prowess in depicting grand architecture. Particle effects, colorful projectile trails and plenty of soundtrack and audio cues bring Fallen Kings back to the forefront in terms of presentation. It'll be tough to find online games that will look this good for some time.

Gone, however, is the MUD-like interface of its predecessor where certain parts of the screen were visibly divided. Though speech and emotes are still issued via text commands in a chat window, everything else can be manipulated with a mouse. You can move maps and informational boxes around with ease. And with the touch of a button, you can hide everything to give a seamless RPG experience not unlike single player titles. This is certainly one of the more intuitive MMORPGs to get into.

Asheron's Call veterans will be happy to know that the basic fundamentals are still intact. This is still mostly about hack and slash, either in specific areas or, in something that Turbine has greatly expanded upon, against other players. Finding rare items and climbing up the skill tree will continue to fuel high level players.

Fallen Kings does its due diligence to ease players in and that should help woo people beyond the original corps. It's quicker to level up and get tangible benefits for your character now. You'll find it takes only a few hours from tutorial to your first few quests before you're able to start participating in kingdom activities. The game even begins with a quest that bestows run, attack and defense bonuses simply to help you get around the tutorial segments quicker. Starter quests that have some pertinence to game world events (i.e. discovering what happened in the chaos, why mysterious creatures are attacking Dereth inhabitants again) are also ample and they provide much structure to the first dozen or so levels you'll achieve. For those who aren't used to the open-ended nature of online games, that's certainly a welcome sight. Finally, reams of explanatory notes, movies and signs help players acclimate themselves with Fallen Kings.

One place where Fallen Kings does no wrong is the pacing. Speedy health and vigor regeneration minimizes downtime in between battles, reducing the amount of time of spent traveling should you ever die. Skills, in terms of special attacks and spells, benefit from this good pacing. They can't be abused such that every attack will be special but the correct combination can dish out some potent damage.

Online games tend to be infamous for their death penalties. Fallen Kings shuns that convention. Provided you spend the two seconds to touch a lifestone nearby, you'll automatically come back with a slight penalty to your overall vitae. Maximum health and vigor is reduced slightly but those are easy to get back since slaying a simple monster or two will restore your character. So really, the only penalty is traveling back to where you were (a dungeon, a boss encounter, a PVP area) and the lifestones are plenty enough that you won't be trekking for too long on foot. There are no lost items. There are no permanent alterations to your character's attributes or skills. Turbine has done everything to make the online gaming experience pain-free.

There is no rigid structure to Fallen Kings either. Besides race, which dictates what weapon style you'll use, there's little difference between one race and another. Everyone has a shot at being a magic user, melee fighter or archer. You aren't pigeon holed into a specific class, especially before you choose a specialization. If you wish to fight with a bow and arrow, you can switch on the fly without any penalties. If you want to change from a melee fighter to a magic wielder, you can untrain all your skill points on the skill tree and gradually transfer the experience to your new vocation.

Since this game is all about accessibility, some time-honored MMORPG mechanics are taken out to save you time. Crowding around stores in urban areas is completely gone. You sell with a magic button in your inventory screen that transmutes items to gold. I bet some medieval alchemist would have wanted that one badly.

There is some form of economy in Fallen Kings, although it is not as developed as the venerable Ultima Online. Some harvesting or raw material collection exists. You'll have to click a button and watch your character go to work briefly at predisposed mining locations. Making different items will require different types of raw materials. Like the classes and fighting styles, you can craft whatever you want. There's nothing to hold you back from crafting anything and the more you craft something, the better you'll get at it.

For those who like to venture solo in an MMORPG world, Turbine has made a series of personal quests via the way of vaults. These vault quests are pre-set dungeons that are tailored to your level. Vaults are located in specific areas such that monsters around that area will occasionally drop a glyph that is used to open a vault (only once). Successfully traversing the vault will involve overcoming a final boss creature. Right now, the reward consits of viewing cinematic sequences that explain the devastation of Dereth but in subsequent episodes, they will purportedly involve saving it.

Ad-hoc adventuring can be done with fellowships but the allegiance system is still strong in Fallen Kings. A person swearing an allegiance to you will kick back experience points (but they don't lose any) in an Amway-like (AllAdvantage for you new economy folks) pyramid scheme. You swear allegiance to another character and on it goes. The pecking order is not as strong as before, though, and the lack of penalty to join will encourage everyone to swear an allegiance since patrons can offer timely advice, tutoring or even last minute help in combat.

Finally, Turbine has added a completely new addition to the Asheron's Call world, totally above the allegiance, race and fellowship systems. Fallen Kings finally brings kingdom versus kingdom combat to Dereth. The three primary kingdoms (Order, Dominion, Shadow) offer another set of skills (and some advantages, like a better mine) for you to acquire but only if you perform kingdom-related deeds; raiding other kingdoms (i.e. actually taking the mine) or simply slaying someone from an opposing kingdom. It is not unlike Mythic's realm versus realm idea in Dark Ages of Camelot.

In spite of this, Fallen Kings actually feels more co-operative than other online games. Given that you have vaults, fellowships, allegiances and kingdoms, you don't have to participate in any if you don't want to. Or you can join in on all of them. Regardless, you'll still face a land overrun by monsters and an ongoing epic story that unravels in monthly episodes. There's certainly a fringe or frontier type of feeling, particularly as you venture farther away from the starting area.

It is refreshing to see this though. The whole world of Dereth has a sort of newness that is similar to going out west, or the European colonial grab of the 19th century. Anyone who has played a stable, long-standing MMORPG will know how tough it is to replace the incumbent leaders and organizations (clans, guilds, etc.) at the top. In Ultima Online, for example, this is marked with player housing sprawl. A new person signing on can easily feel lost and insignificant.

Speaking of player housing, though, that's something on the list of to-dos for Turbine. There are many planned events to Fallen Kings. New additions and renovations are still in the works. Undoubtedly, there are some that I hope they will address. There is a map in the game but most locations are referred to by a co-ordinate system, which, for some reason, you can't mark on your map. Moreover, if Fallen Kings is not too concerned about authenticity (being able to sell your items anywhere, for example), they'd be smart to add a waypoint arrow guide on the main playing screen so people can easily know where they are running off to.

Fallen Kings does a good job in presenting combat and magic skill sets by the way of a tree. On the other hand, the crafting skills need more organization as the current sort order is anything but intuitive. The inventory could also benefit from a sort feature.

But I wouldn't be one to fear. Fallen Kings is one of the more organic MMORPG experience I've had in a long while, eschewing the sterility I usually get when I enter an online world. This game is changing and growing, even ex post facto of its release.

While it hasn't progressed beyond hack and slash, it has a lot of depth in what it does. If you like to incubate a character, watch him or her progress and kill ever-greater numbers of monsters, this title features all of that in spades. The best thing about all of it: you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. You can skip the starter quests. You can skip the vaults. You can skip everything and still have a good time improving your character, chatting with other players and crafting exotic items. That, perhaps more than anything, touches upon the strength of online games; the ability to fashion an identity and the absolute libertas you have in growing that alter ego. Fallen Kings makes that process easy as pie and in the final analysis, it should have no trouble hanging on to its big three spot amongst online RPG games.

 

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Rating
84%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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