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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004


I can hear the question rumbling around your mouths like amphetamine addled moths looking for a light. It’s what everyone wants to know: how does Asheron’s Call compare to Everquest? Which one should I buy? I’ve killed forty thousand rats in Everquest, is it time for a change. But I’m afraid that sort of speculation and review will have to wait for Asheron’s official release around Christmas (what better time to addict the kiddies and extend Bill Gate’s Evil Empire). Instead, I’m going to simply tell you about the game and how it plays: a sort of critical advertisement. For the perceptive, my pre-release opinion might peek through my rigorously objective prose.

For those of you familiar with online RPG’s (Role-Playing Games), Asheron’s Call has a fairly typical set up: you begin as a simpering loser on the island of Dereth, start killing rabbits, gain experience, find shiny equipment, meet new people and kill them. It’s just like the army.

But who are you? Asheron’s Call provides a delightful character creation system. You have the option of being one of three races, each with its own advantages and vaguely corresponding with Germanic, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. Unlike other games, however, there is not any set class structure. Instead, players are able to choose/manipulate a wide variety of skills and physical attributes. You have the option of selecting pre-generated skill/ability sets, professions such as Blademaster, Life Mage, or Rogue, but not required. In essence, players may create any type of character they wish. As experience is gained, players can increase their skills and attributes without restriction.

The game’s handling of magic is also innovative. Rather then having a set series of spells, players are given a plethora of spell components. Spells can be invented/discovered from experimentation or through the observation of other more experienced magic users. Being a spell slinger is tough in Asheron’s Call because every successfully discharged spell takes components and mana. You have to truck around lots of stuff, but the versatility and role playing potential make up for it.

Game play itself in Asheron’s Call is Tomb Raider third person style with a maneuverable camera with player’s controlling characters via mouse and keyboard. The graphics aren’t as good as other games, but the player interface more than makes up for any losses. Available at anytime during play is a compass/radar that displays all interactive elements, other players, NPCs, monsters, portals, within a limited distance. Also, everything from toggling 3D acceleration to character information is available via a series of tabs located across the bottom of the play screen. Most common actions have predetermined hotkey, eliminating the need to search through a series of screens. Almost the entire keyboard is taken up this way. If I can break my vow of objectivity, I’d say that Asheron’s interface will be its most serious advantage in a comparison with Everquest.

The thrill of the online games really rests in playing with other people, and Asheron’s Call comes pre-equipped with an allegiance and fellowship system. Players can swear allegiance to another player of equal or lesser level. Players who have allegiance sworn to them become patrons and receive experience bonuses from their vassals. Vassals get whatever advice or protection their patron decides to hand down. The end result of the allegiance system is a pyramid scheme (a fantasy Amway, so get on earlier and start recruiting), but one which allows a player access to different items and a chat function with all other players in your allegiance chain.

The only problems I had with the beta version of Asheron’s Call were playing through Microsoft’s Gaming Zone ( and inordinate lag times. The lag should be gone by final release, but you’ll always have to play in The Zone. Now I’d like to drop my objective pose and take on the role of prognosticator. Asheron’s Call is going to give Everquest a serious challenge similar to what Everquest did to Ultima Online. It is slick, well-constructed, has the backing of Microsoft, and contains enough novelty/improvements to draw veterans of other games. Asheron’s Call won’t be a revolution, but online gaming will have an interesting addition this Christmas.

Requirements: Windows 95 or 98. Pentium 166 MHz or faster processor. 32MB RAM. Microsoft DirectX 6.1 or later. Microsoft Internet Explorer version 3.02 or later, or Netscape 4.x or later. 150 MB of free hard disk space (25 MB of additional space may be required during the installation process). A quad-speed or faster CD-ROM drive. A 1 MB SVGA video card capable of displaying 16-bit color at a screen resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. 28.8 modem. Internet access.

--Matt Blackburn