November 2nd, 1999, PC gamers around the world heard, and answered, the call of Asheron Realaidain. Asheron’s Call became one of the first significant MMO’s available, and with its extensive lore, evolving plot, and plethora of features, it came as no surprise. In Asheron’s Call, players and their actions felt as though they truly impacted the world of Auberean. In addition, Bael’Zharon, the Hopeslayer, stands firmly in my mind as one of the most imposing, powerful villains in all of video game history.
Developed around the same time as Ultima Online and Everquest, Asheron’s Call (AC) distinguished itself from traditional MMORPG’s in seemingly every way possible. Upon character creation, there were no set ‘classes,’ but, rather, ‘general roles,’ which would allocate skills and abilities based on presets, or a completely open build, allowing players to assign every individual attribute point and skill trained, providing a truly endless combination of builds and characters for players to explore. The land of Dereth, in which the story takes place, was massive, at over five hundred square miles in size. However, unlike most games, there were no instances, loading screens, zones, or any other separation between areas of Dereth. Opening a door, entering a dungeon or shop, or travelling to a new land was all achievable in a single, massive world that was traversable by foot. Microsoft did, however, implement an incredible portal system. Accessible from most any major city, the portal network expedited travel, and allowed connection to every point of the adventure that was Dereth. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who fondly remembers the strange, near nausea-inducing portal screen accompanied by one of AC’s cheesy ‘vintage’ sound effects. Arguably, the most important departure from the MMO standard was the magic system. In AC, magic felt very rare, strange, and incredibly powerful. Casting a spell was more than a button, a casting time, and a debuff; spell casting was an art, a science. In very early days, each spell had a specific formula, and the only way to discover new magic was for the caster to spend countless time in trial and error, hoping to discover some arcane secret. They eventually changed that system however, requiring mages to carry a focus for each school of magic, and adding a simplified component system. If, in the middle of a drudge-infested dungeon, your mage used up the last of your candle or scarab supply, you were left to your own devices – which usually meant death.
The socialization in Asheron’s Call is unparalleled.
Each server was exceptionally welcoming to new players (with the exception of the PvP server Darktide, which would lead to a seemingly unending stream of PKs and looting). Fellowships were close, tight-knit groups of players, and general conversation was abundant. Even owning property in AC was a different experience: players could rent homes, and each week the player was required to make a set payment of Pyreals, or risk their home being auctioned off and rented by another.
For eighteen years, each month, the patch would include more and more features, and continue the story of the battle against Bael’Zharon, creating an almost episodic feel in the world. The more you played, the more invested you became in the world, and the more you wanted to complete goals and defeat the Olthoi in control of humanity. Players learned Dereth, the various dungeons, cities, certain names, creatures, the ins and outs. It became a truly living, breathing world. This year, Warner Brothers, who gained the rights to Asheron’s Call in 2010, announced that the servers will be closing on January 31st, 2017. An uproar among the massive, long-standing player base has been created, with petitions and offers to purchase the rights, emulation servers, or any means to continue the adventures in this world that became closer to a second home than I have ever experienced in a game. As of now, there has been no report of any revival of the game, but we remain hopeful. I’d like to thank Microsoft for creating such a moving, incredible experience for over eighteen years, which has led to a mountain of fond memories, EXP, and loot.