It’s a fact of gaming life that MMOs come and go, but most that sailed into the sunset weren’t around for over a decade. Asheron’s Call has been. In fact, it’s been around for closer to a decade-and-a-half. Since the game’s launch in 1999, it’s seen two expansions and a game update nearly every single month, one that always introduced new quests and items, and sometimes, new mechanics or other enhancements and tweaks.
Doesn’t “1999” sound crazy for an MMO that’s still around? To help put it into perspective just how long ago this game launched, it helps to realize that Windows 98 was Microsoft’s flagship OS at the time, and the Pentium III, the CPU Intel had been stamping at its fab. If you had installed the game on a new high-end PC at the time, chances are that it was to a 20~25GB hard drive. World of Warcraft, the most successful subscription-based MMORPG ever, was released five full years after Asheron’s Call. Have I drilled home the fact well enough that AC is properly old-school?
A modestly old-school AC, circa 2004
I’ve been subscribed to Asheron’s Call since January 2002, with at most a total of about six months where I wasn’t active. For more than half of those twelve years, I’ve had two accounts, and have often run them at the same time, either making duo quests soloable, or making group quests that much more easier (or, at least, more beneficial for me). I’d hate to admit the amount of time I’ve put into the game since I began playing it, but one thing I’m not ashamed to admit is that Turbine’s recent announcement to cease content updates and put the game into a “maintenance mode” was a hard pill to swallow. AC at this point is more than a game to me, it’s a highly concentrated ball of memories – memories of which I have about 15,000 screenshots to back up.
While AC‘s player population hasn’t been that impressive in recent years, it hasn’t stopped the developers from implementing some of the best patches the game has ever seen. In recent years, the game got a UI overhaul, and even some texture updates. AC might not be the best-looking game around, but it’s still not bad given its origins, and as they say, gameplay always matters more than that. I’d wager that of all the MMOs out there, AC is near the top of the list in terms of overall content.
So what’s the future for the game from here-on-out? Some things are not entirely clear, such as how subscriptions and accounts will be handled. Turbine (makers of Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online) said that the game would be going free-to-play for current account owners, which I believe to mean that those who want to get into the game but don’t have an active account at the time of transition might not be able to get in. It’s still all quite unclear at this point.
One thing that is clear is that Turbine has plans in time to release the server software and all assets (not source code) required for players to run their own servers, which as far as MMORPGs go, is an absolute rarity. When this happens, Turbine says that players should be able to add their own content, but with the lack of source code, I’m not quite sure just how flexible the game will be. Still, this is a commendable move, and I’m sure anyone who’s ever played an MMO that had shut down would have wished the respective developer did the same (I wish NCsoft had done this after shuttering Auto Assault).
AC after UI updates, circa 2013
In recent years, February and October brought on the biggest patches of the year to AC, and fortunately for players, Turbine decided to pursue the maintenance mode now rather than months ago; the “final” patch is bursting at the seams with new content and things to keep players occupied for quite some time. It’s as though AC‘s developers knew well ahead of time of what was coming, and wanted to make sure this patch was an epic one.
For almost as long as Asheron’s Call has existed, there’s been a drunken NPC named Ulgrim the Unpleasant, which, as his name suggests, isn’t too pleasant. But, he loves his liquor, and when given enough of it, he likes to spill the beans on what the latest content patch brings. While this isn’t the “end” of Asheron’s Call by any stretch, given that player-run servers can last forever, Ulgrim’s latest tale packs quite the punch:
Ulgrim the Unpleasant tells you, “I found, hidden away, an old bottle of scotch I had forgotten about. It was 14, almost 15 years old. I thought “What the hell?” and opened it. Good stuff. It’s been a good 14 years.”
Ulgrim the Unpleasant tells you, “We’ve had a good run.”