The Game Archaeologist talks to the Asheron's Call super-fan

A little while back, I received a rather passionate email from Massively OP reader Diego regarding Asheron's Call. He had quite a lot to say about the game's current and troubled state, and he was hoping that I would write up a piece on it as a result.

Instead, I invited him to sit down and talk about the game, especially considering that he was a long-time player of Asheron's Call, a beta tester for both AC titles, and involved in the fan site community. At the core of the discussion was his opinion that Asheron's Call was Turbine's greatest creation and the studio's hope for a return to MMO excellence.

Massively OP: So how did you first hear about Asheron's Call? What attracted you to this game?

Diego: Up to this point, my interaction with other players was limited to online text-based MUDs and our local D&D group. That changed when one of my friends, who happened to be in the beta for Asheron's Call, showed up at my house with a giant three-ring binder full of information he had been compiling on the game. This might seem unusual by today's standards, but back in 1999 it was not uncommon for someone to have a notebook full of information on a game.

He started telling me all about this world called Dereth, and I was hooked. My biggest attraction to the game was the vast, open world. I'm an explorer at heart, and Asheron's Call captured that drive to explore almost perfectly.

You said you got into the beta. What year was that and what do you remember from that test?

I got into the beta back in 1999 just in time for the "Call to Arms" event. I remember the giant Tremendous Monouga, and this feeling of being so small in comparison to the world. That was an incredible experience I enjoyed reliving in Asheron's Call 2, as well. I was also able to witness the final beta event, "Fire in the Sky." Being a part of a world that was not just interactive, but changing, was something incredibly new I had only ever experienced before in D&D.

Tell us a bit about your favorite memories and features of Asheron's Call. What made this game special to you?

One of the things I loved about Asheron's Call, was the ability to explore this vast open world that was not only full of unique, interesting fauna but bustling with other players. You would go into towns, people would be there hanging out, and you would wait for another player to come along and sell their "junk" to a vendor so you could purchase it. The world was alive with thousands of players. While I did spend some time grinding experience, my early days were spent exploring the world, checking vendors, and a lot of naked corpse runs.

How did Asheron's Call change over the years, for better or for worse?

I enjoyed the initial run up to first expansion pack, Dark Majesty, and the opening of Aphus Lassel in 2002. During this time, there was a lot of great storytelling being churned out by Chris L'Etoile and Allan Maki.

For me, the game started to take a nose-dive around the time Throne of Destiny was released in 2005, due in part to a dwindling playerbase and changes that would occur to the core game mechanics. Asheron's Call was also a victim of mismanagement, and bad circumstances: Turbine opened a studio in Santa Monica, which would later close, that involved most of the Throne of Destiny staff moving to the west coast, and the majority of the original Asheron's Call staff being put on other projects.

What were your impressions of Asheron's Call 2? Were you disappointed when it was shut down?

Asheron's Call 2 was absolutely gorgeous. Being able to craft out of the gate was a much-needed addition, but very little remained the same. Most of the heritage was lost, and even the ruins seemed unfamiliar.

Aside from a handful of creatures, little else pointed back to the Asheron's Call of yore, except for the lore. For me, visually, that was the biggest disappointment, but I did spend a lot of time exploring the game world, especially during the original beta when you could swim to the other landmasses. I was disappointed when the game shut down, but my server (Darktide) almost never had more than 20 concurrent players at any given time. You were basically playing alone.

You mentioned that you were pretty involved with the Asheron's Call community, including fan sites. What did you do, why did you do it, and was it worth the effort?

I worked with Stratics, WarCry, Vault Network, and did the occasional write-up for Maggie the Jackcat. This involved everything from graphic design, to database work, to patch day compilation. Later on, I would manage the YouTube channel ACGuy31, which boasted over 130 videos. I was also one of the founding members of AC2Online, which had the first interactive map for Asheron's Call 2.

I was one of a handful of players on Morningthaw who lived and breathed Asheron's Call. I was in love with the game world, and the ability to share that knowledge with other players was rewarding. My YouTube channel ended up getting hacked, but otherwise most of my work can still be seen today.

Asheron's Call will be shut down one day, or at least stop being officially supported, and what we don't record will simply be lost to time. I think it was definitely worth the effort to pass on this world to other players.

What did Turbine do right with Asheron's Call? What could it have done better?

In 2003, Turbine purchased the franchise from Microsoft, and while we were all excited about what that meant, most players still look back on the Microsoft years, 1998 to 2003, as the golden years of Asheron's Call. While Turbine valiantly patched the game every single month, I don't believe Turbine was willing to admit the ship was sinking until it was already half-full of water. It might have been inexperience in management, but the developers have always been passionate about the game.

While Turbine brought back AC2 and mentioned plans for private servers, right now the studio seems to be prioritizing its other games. What would you like to see feasibly happen at this point?

A lot. Asheron's Call: Throne of Destiny and Asheron's Call 2: Legions have run their course. Turbine should re-open two legacy servers for each game, and shut down all other game servers, officially bringing Asheron's Call to a close, and paving the way for Asheron's Call 3. There is so much Turbine could do with the franchise, and as long as they take the time and effort to do it right, players will be ecstatic when they open the flood gates to let us into Dereth again.

If you could draw up design documents for a hypothetical Asheron's Call 3, what would you include?

Asheron's Call is in desperate need of a faithful reboot; it is important that Turbine not only capture what they did right with Asheron's Call, but understand what they did wrong with their first attempt at a sequel. The best way to do this, would be to start the game back in P.Y. -1 prior to the slaying of the original Olthoi Queen by Elysa Strathelar.

Thank you for sharing with us!

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from... and where it might be heading.
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