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Asheron’s Call: Throne of Destiny Preview

Date: June 24, 2005
Author(s): Rob Williams

Turbine is getting ready to launch the latest expansion pack for their Asheron’s Call game, entitled “Throne of Destiny”. Will this expansion be enough to please current and old players of the game? Let’s take a good hard look at all ToD has to offer to make that decision.



Introduction

I have been playing Asheron’s Call for almost three and half years, so you can expect a lot of ‘expert’ opinion throughout the preview. Playing the game for that amount of time, easily shows that I enjoy the game quite a bit, and I do. So when I first heard of an expansion pack, needless to say, I got excited very quickly. That being said, I had very high expectations.. so did Turbine meet them? For those who have not played Asheron’s Call before, here is a quick sum up of the story line:

Asheron’s Call develops a heroic fantasy setting familiar enough to draw you in yet mysterious enough to draw you onward. A varied host of monsters populate the benighted, medieval terrain; mysterious artifacts of great power embellish vast treasure hoards; and sorcerers, fighters, and rogues plot both heroic alliances and base villainy. However, Asheron’s Call retains a strong flavor all its own, with an original back story and creatures, and unparalleled flexibility in character creation and development. After selecting your attire and facial features from millions of possible combinations, customize your skill set to make your character truly unique. As you defeat foes, you can allocate experience to not only specific skills but also the base attributes like strength and intelligence. And the allegiance system grants you power and prestige as you recruit followers to your service. Enter the vast and magical world of Dereth, where a new and heroic identity awaits you!

AC originally launched in November of 1999, and up to now, have only one other expansion pack under their belt. Dark Majesty, the games first expansion pack, released in August of 2001, and is responsible for some of the land mass players roam in today. That expansion pack also launched player housing, where players could have a humble abode to call their own. You may be wondering why Turbine only released 1 expansion pack over the period 6 years, while such other companies like to release a new expansion pack per month. Well, I have no idea. But, to keep players happy, Turbine has released new content with a monthly patch, which well than made up for a complete expansion pack.

Note: All images are clickable. Full resolution pictures are 1280 * 1024 (250KB – 300KB)

Now we have Throne of Destiny. The reason they chose to release this as an expansion pack, rather than sum it all up in a monthly update, is because it promises to unveil a lot of content, which they say is equivalent to 5 monthly patches. As great as that sounds, Turbine stopped the monthly patches earlier this year, to prepare for the expansion pack. So that 5 months worth of content is well deserved, since players have gone that long without any new stuff.

The content that ToD adds however, almost makes up for the lack of new content.

Updated Graphics

Arguably, the most requested feature for the expansion pack, was upgraded graphics. Instead, Turbine gave us updated graphics, which is fine for many people. Personally, I didn’t want to see a huge overhaul, to something of the extent as Asheron’s Call 2, because I wanted the feeling that I was still playing AC1. They did a great job with this, however there are many disappointed players who were hoping for more.

I admit, the updated graphics are nothing amazing, but they definitely work. The client has been overhauled, and updated with a new GUI (Graphical User Interface). The GUI acts as it always has, with minor tweaks and adjustments. The chat window, for instance, can now be stretched, rather than before, where you have two choices. This is a very welcomed feature, and should have been like this since the beginning.

The entire GUI template has been redone. Personally, I enjoy the new look. It’s similar to how it was before, but much more clean and easy to look at. Some players, again, are not so impressed. In all honesty, many players have created similar templates for the game, so I guess we expected more. Some notable new features though should not go disregarded. Now when doing some quests, or when you first enter the world, you will get a pop-up for easy reading, rather than looking in your chat window. Casting spells and performing certain actions will display the text at the top of your screen in red text, rather than small white text to the left, as before.


Graphics and New Race

The client can now take advantage of some DirectX 9 features, although none are immediately noticeable. They have given players many more options to play with however, albeit still basic. They have added Anisotropic Filtering, which will be highly welcomed by anyone with a decent DX8/9 graphics card. AF improves the textures in a depth of field, meaning textures will be more clear at further distances. In addition, they have added “Extreme” to the Landscape Draw Distance, and it kicks ass. You are able to see a lot further in the distance before, as you can see in these comparison screenshots. Hunting around Sanamar though, I noticed bad Tree pop-up. They are really large trees, and maybe they have it popup on purpose to converve system resources. But for those with fast computers, they should have a “Super Uber Extreme Ultra Mega” Draw Distance option. I would would’ve liked to see Anti Aliasing as an option.

In the end though, the update graphics are not overly impressive, but it definitely helps give the game a fresh feel. For long time players who have not taken long breaks from the game, the graphical differences will be very noticeable. Considering that the game is built on an ~8 year old engine, it would have been much more time consuming and resource straining for Turbine to go any further. I am happy with the result, for the most part.

New Race – Viamontians

Another highly requested feature would be the addition of a race, which Turbine responded with the introduction of the Viamontians.

The war-like Viamontians have a tendency to conquer other lands in an effort to broaden their borders. Disciplined and fiercely loyal to their leaders, the Viamontians have long been the scourge of the other heritage groups of Ispar.

The Viamontians are in the midst of a civil war led by the Duke of Bellenesse. This rebellion has spilled over into Dereth, where the loyalist Viamontians will continue to exercise their bloodlust by waging war against Queen Elysa and the Isparians under her rule.

Sounds like a great class that I’m dying to play! So what new game play do they add to the game? Not a damned thing. Unlike the other three classes, the Viamontians do not begin with a trained weapon skill. Instead, they begin with Loyalty as a specialized skill, which leaves a lot to the imagination. If you were interested in playing as a new character, and wanted to level up a main character in the process, the Spec Loyalty is welcomed, but odd nonetheless.

To completely diversify the Viamontians from the other classes, they have been given a blue skin color. I’m all for blue skin. Maybe I had blue skin in a previous alien existence. In my opinion, they should have made the skin a darker blue, and not give the option of a real light blue. It’s somewhat odd seeing bright blue people run across the screen. This may or may not take away from the look and feel of the game for some people. Either way, a new class is welcomed, and I’m looking forward to future story arcs involving them.


Cool Additions and Conclusion

New Landmass – Sanamar

Since they threw in a new class, of course they needed a new starter town. They added a nicely sized island, which resides above Aerlinthe on the map. Most of the screenshots in this preview are taken on the island, and as you can see, it’s gorgeous. It’s not like any other town, to say the least. As with most noobie areas, veering out starts off easy, but run a little while and you will run into harder and harder monsters. I never had the opportunity to see just how hard the mobs got on the island, but I did encounter many level 70 – 80’s.

The island isn’t huge, but it seems plenty. Looking at the map, you can see it’s about 33% larger than Aerlinthe, so there should be a ton of fun, to be had. I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about Sanamar. If anything, it would be the uber tall trees, but even that just adds more character.

Cool Additions

Augmentation Gems are new gems that you can use after level 125. Using the gems will give you something great in reward, but at the cost of your experience points. The effects can range from an extra pack slot, being able to carry more, lose less items on death, and more.

You can look at the entire list on the official site. I can say one thing, and that I will never be taking advantage over any of these. Unless I ever hit level 200, because I think XP is much better spent on actual skills to help improve your character. I’m sure this is why they increased the level cap to 275.. those will be the players that could benefit from these the most, in my opinion.

Another cool feature I am looking forward to is Rares. Basically, these can be various different items, a killer weapon, tough armor, virtual e-peen enlarger, spell gems and more. Finding a rare, is obviously ‘rare’, and it should be. If you happen to find one, it will be like winning the lottery.. almost. Chances are, that no matter what rare you find, it will be worth a *lot*.

Rares will be in very limited quantities, but the more you hunt, the better the chance you have to find one, since they could be found on any monster. So, no matter where you hunt, you always would have a very small chance of finding a rare. To make sure that high level players don’t camp noobie dungeons though, players over level 100 have to kill monsters also over level 100.

Conclusions

Since I enjoy AC so much to begin with, it would be hard to not like the ToD expansion pack. As I had hoped, what I have played so far, I’ve really enjoyed. I can’t wait for it to go live and take my regular characters for a run through the upgraded world.

One plus as well, is that many bugs/issues have been taken care of. Some still remain, but this is definitely a start. One massive pain in the ass before, was the radar. The blips were sometimes in accurate, especially while being chased by a monster. They would appear a mile behind you, and within an instant be right in your face. Well, the radar now refreshes instantaneously, so that issues gone. Wherever the monster is on the radar is where they are.

One issue is still lag. Even running through non-populated areas, I was lagging a fair amount. This could be because the server has many more players than usual, so it will likely be improved when the expansion goes live. During my play time, I even suffered two BSOD’s (Blue screen of death), due to a video card crash. It’s definitely not card related, as it works great in other games, so there could be a nice bug that needs ironing out.

So even though there’s some bad with the expansion pack, there’s much more good. If you are a veteran player, or even a new player who’s just curious, you will no doubt enjoy Throne of Destiny. If you are interested in trying out the game before it’s released, you can take part in the preview (beta), by downloading and getting a trial key from Fileplanet.


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