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Reviewed: Asheron's Call
Author: Michael "" Ahlf       Date: March 17th 2000
Page: 2

The stage of the adventures in Asheron's Call is the world of Dereth, populated by settlers of various heritage groups (all human, by the way) who got to the world through "portals" that transported them from their homelands. According to the documents, the "world" is 22 miles across, and it does indeed feel that way. The first thing to notice about Dereth is that, while dungeons and certain places require a portal to enter and portals can be used to shortcut across the world, it is possible to run all the way across it without ever hitting a place where the game paused to load (that is assuming, of course, a monster doesn't kill you along the way). Since the world loads on the fly, it is much smoother than other online RPG engines currently in place, and doesn't face the problems that EverQuest has had with large-scale "zoning" crashes.

Character creation is the first phase of any online play: without a character there wouldn't be much point to being in the game. Asheron's Call has detail to the extreme for those who want it, as well as randomizers and simplified menus for those just trying things out for the first time. The first step is the selection of a "heritage" or race. There are three of these, the Aluvian,Sho,and Gharun'dim which correspond roughly to the european, asian, and middle eastern people of Earth (sorry, no Tolkien Elves here). Once this is accomplished, the process of body building commences. Male and female are of course available, and once that part is taken care of the face needs creation. Choose from an incredibly long number of options with multiple eye shapes, nose shapes, and mouth shapes as well as four hairstyles, skin tone, hair color, and the various shades and intensities of hair. As if that weren't enough, the starting garb of the character must be selected just as tediously, going over multiple color shades and styles of pants,footwear, shirts, and headgear. Remember, if nothing looks really good at first glance the "random" button awaits.

A snow-covered landscape.
Hunter Shreth--nasty beast.

A new creature, the Broken Fragment.
A particularly nasty opponent.

Now that the character is created and dressed... on to the abilities. Primary levels of health points and skill proficiencies are governed by strength, endurance, coordination, quickness, focus, and "self" points, all of which start at a "10". Distribute the remaining 270 points carefully and your character will be well suited to his/her discipline. Once you've figured out where to put the personal points, choose your trained skills. Trained and "specialized" skills can be improved by spending experience points later on, while untrained skills can be improved only by boosting the associated primary traits likewise. Untrained skills can be trained later, as the player gains levels and "skill points" to train new skills. Remember your heritage group? There are certain skills that are automatically trained for each, like dagger for the Aluvians and Unarmed combat for the Sho. If something isn't quite right, a heritage switch may be the answer. The point is to try to make a character that is good at some things, and remember that no character will ever be great at everything: the game makes sure that there just isn't enough room to have that happen. If custom character creation doesn't fit, there are several premade ideas like the "Life Mage" and "Blademaster" kits which can give a good idea what skills work well together and how to build a proper character. At this step there is also the option to go randomly if trying things out or wanting to see what can happen.

The final problem is the choice of what place to start a character off in: there are numerous "newbie" towns with initial quests and dungeons to challenge the new player. As a whole the new towns aren't too different except for one important respect: certain towns have a "circuit" of portals that can take a player all around the world quickly, while other starter towns are left on their own. If worst comes to worst, there's always the cross-country jog towards a better town, but this requires a running skill that new players often don't have. The best method of survival, especially for the new player, becomes social interaction.

The dreaded Magma Golem.
Gettin' Down after a hard quest.

Social interaction in the world of Dereth is just about as good as games online have gotten so far. As a basic point, there is the "fellowship" option. This allows players to track each other's health and speak to each other exclusively in a hunting party or journey party setting. Fellowships are one of the best ways to keep people together as they get around the problems of constantly trying to message multiple people while fighting or running, or worse yet trying to find one's body after being killed. The second part is very similar to a medieval feudal system, and it is the "allegiance" setting. Characters can swear allegiance to one Patron at a time: the patron agrees to teach and help them and the vassal gives experience to the patron as he/she gains experience. As a bonus, particularly large allegiance groups tend to stick together and work together, providing the new player as well as the old a valuable stock of information, experience, and help should it be required.

For the daring adventurer, the option (when sufficient level has been achieved) to become a player killer is available, though the only prey is other player killers. In order to do this a quest must be finished, and another quest as well should the player decide they don't like being a player killer anymore. Player killers do suffer some drawbacks, however: non-PK players can't help them with beneficial spells, and they lose more items and gold when killed than non-player killers. To combat the problems of people REALLY wanting to play in a PK environment and not being able to, and entire world (Darktide) has been established in which _everyone_ is a player killer.

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Added:  Friday, March 17, 2000
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/6

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