The Asheron’s Call series remains as my favorite series of MMO. Sure it wasn’t the easiest games in the world, or even the most intuitive, but it was far more realistic than any game out there, the lore was great and original, the mechanics were sound, and they had (at least at the time) some of the best and most friendly developers I’ve seen in an MMO to date. Back in the days of the Big 3 (UO, EQ, & AC), we always joked that you went to EQ if you wanted to play a game where the devs didn’t care, and after 3 – 4 years in EQ2 I do confirm this to be the case (although I do believe they’ve gotten better than the EQ1 days.
But AC itself was extremely limited, while being one of the first MMOs to delve into the 3D world and remains one of only a handful to be truly zoneless (WoW fanbois beware, WoW isn’t zoneless, they have big zones, but they are still zones, and they also cover up zoning better than most games… ie look I’m running through an empty tunnel for 5 minutes). However, the game itself was extremely poor in graphics and from what I’ve heard it was built in a way that made it difficult for graphics to be upgraded very much in the future (though thank god for the upgraded textures in their expansion as it did help tremendously!). The user interface was also piss poor, though more manageable than people gave it credit for and again, was nearly impossible to update from a developer standpoint. While those things did hurt this game quite a bit as newer shinier games came out, what I think eventually turned many away (like myself) was the ever increasing cheating that occured in the game… on top of various programs that automated tasks, gave you info for stuff around you (told you where things were spawning and what was dropping on monsters without even opening their corpses). People began botting more and more as time went on. It got to the place where if you were an honest player, the dishonest ones would be the ones who got the loot and the good hunting spots and there wasn’t anything you could do about it.
So then came AC2… and AC2 was perhaps one of my biggest underrated, though reasonably not liked games. The game was very sound. Very sound. However, they rushed the launch (as many MMOs tend to) and they ended up with an overly buggy game that didn’t have enough content. It was also far too easy and people were capping out fairly quickly and wondering what they were supposed to do next. Once ya got past the first 6-12 months on this game though, the bugs got fixed, and the content began to arrive. The expansion they released late in its lifespan turned out to be a marvelous expansion which the developers really should have been proud of, but unfortunately came far too late and those of us who came back and even enjoyed the expansion were disappointed to 2 nearly empty servers… some games are just difficult to play by yourself and this was one of them. Their other real mistake was lack of an end game, the expansion was supposed to help this by raising their level cap by a large number, but in the end they still didn’t give the players a whole lot to do past go off and try to find PVP players to kill. See unlike AC1 which was intended to have a difficult to attain level cap (took 2 years for the first player to hit it, and longer for the majority until people figured out the system and made it easy), this game was intended to learn from EQ’s success and thus had a smaller level cap that was easier to attain… however, what they didn’t do is add real raids like EQ had. There were group zones at the end game for some of the best items in the game, but nothing to the effect of raids that I can recall, and no other game mechanic either to really take advantage of elder players.
In the end, the game obviously became a wash because of these issues which really is too bad because graphically AC2 is still one of my favorite games (and musically as well I must admit). EQ2 is a very bland game (they took a new direction with RoK to try to fix that but I didn’t care for it, I actually thought graphically EoF is far superior to anything else in EQ2)… WoW looks like a child drew it, they were going for a Warhammer look, I understand…. but the art is just piss poor in nearly every respect. City of Heroes is great actually, but I still prefer AC2. What AC2 did graphically was they found a nice balance of realism, fun, and art all at once… and they did it without sacrificing quality which makes it just phenomenal.
It is really too bad this game didn’t work, I thought it showed so much promise. I think both ACs could have really used expansion packs, and while I understand that Turbine doesn’t believe in expansion packs and instead thinks that they should give players value with new free content instead… after playing EQ2 I feel you can get both. We get decent content (although most of it is part of the expansion) updated throughout the year, with large expansion packs that are worth paying for. The expansions we get yearly for EQ2 far exceed the amount of free updates Turbine tends to shell out in a year, and then they top it with free stuff as well. This also keeps the game on store shelves… Other Turbine games have a hard time sitting on shelves, I don’t even think D&D online is on shelves anymore not only because it failed, but also because in 2 years of being online, it still hasn’t given a real expansion (though it has had many free updates that I’ve heard are good). This is an aspect of business Turbine never got and it is really unfortunate that their two forays into the expansion realm came at the expense at a dieing franchise that was doomed with or without them, because now Turbine likely says “look it doesn’t work” which is just totally incorrect.
For those who agreed with me, there is currently an emulation project for AC2 at http://www.rpg-le.de/forum/viewforum.php?f=6. They seem fairly far off, but hopefully they can get it up by the end of the year, and hopefully some others join in to speed it up. I really wish there would be an AC3, but with the extreme failure of AC2 and the dieing of AC1 therefor the loss of being in the MMO gamer’s eye, I somehow doubt that Turbine will continue the franchise any further. It really is too bad though, because the story was great… hell I almost wish Turbine would test the waters again with the franchise by releasing a single player game to keep interest in it. It may not be the same, but the stories of it were epic enough for a single-player game and it would be lower cost to develop it.