Saturday, January 12, 2013

Nostalgia For An Age Yet To Come: AC2

Into the Unknown!
So, after much to-ing and fro-ing with automated email replies, solutions to problems I didn't have, password resets to get into an account for which the password already worked perfectly well and confirmation that my payment never went through and if I wanted to play I'd have to buy the game again, finally I was able to log in to Asheron's Call 2 and make a character.

Whether I actually have an account and if so how much of the "free" 30 days I have left is anyone's guess. It's a moot point since I neither have the time nor the patience for more than a quick, curiosity-satisfying glance but at least I can now say I have been there. Wherever "there" is.

Hold on, haven't I been here before?
I know nothing about Asheron's Call, even though I did play it a little once up on a time. My vague, fragmentary memories of my brief visit well over a decade ago don't include any details of races, classes (I don't think AC has classes) or indeed content. I remember a lot of buildings with no doors, huge expanses of grassland, some portals and a long, long time spent running about with not much happening.

To be fair, running about with not much happening could also describe much of my experience with Anarchy Online or Horizons. Back in that pre-WoW world, running about with not much happening was kind of what we did. And anyway, this is AC2, not AC.

No Ticket, No Ride
Having looked at all the races available at character creation and picked the weirdest one it was off to the tutorial. As I may have mentioned once or twice, Tutorials and I generally don't get on and I duly didn't get on with this one. Not as usual because the hand-holding wasted my time and insulted my intelligence but because I couldn't get out of the blasted thing !

It took me about 90 minutes to do the ten-minute Tutorial. I got to the exit portal easily enough in just a few minutes. I killed the mobs that dropped the shard I needed to use the portal with no difficulty at all. Only problem was, I couldn't use the Portal because I didn't have the shard and I didn't have the shard because I couldn't loot it off the Drudge who did have it, even though I'd killed him and I could see it there, clutched in his rigored little paw, because I didn't have the quest.

That's gotta go somewhere, right?
Why didn't I have the quest? Because I couldn't find the second guy I needed to talk to, that's why. After much (much) running around he turned out to be right back where I started, only of course by the time I found out I needed him I was a lot further down the tunnels and I thought he would be too so why would I go back there to look for him?

Boy. did it take me back. Back to a place I'm not at all sure I want to go. Strip out the nostalgia that makes revisiting an MMO you played and enjoyed back in the rose-glow past so heart-warming and what really do you have? If there'd been MMOs back then with the quality-of-life enhancements most of us now take for granted (and some of us rail against for dumbing the whole genre down) would anyone have played any that didn't have them? Is it any wonder that when experienced players finally get around to trying an old MMO they missed then, as both Syl and Massively's Matt Daniel found recently when they visited Vanguard, they find little reason to hang around?

Hello clouds! Hello sky!
AC2 really does come from another age. Graphically it looks like a souped-up Everquest, which isn't at all bad and frankly I've seen worse in MMOs a quarter of its age. It's not AC2's looks that are the problem. It's the UI and the lack of those features we've come to expect. I'm very happy that there are no big ? hanging over the guys I need to speak to, but getting instructions on what to do and where to go in a barely-readable font at a microscopic point size in a transparent window that I can't move or re-size just reminds me why those ? were added in the first place. I'm also delighted to see useable armor and weapons dropping off mobs right at the beginning of the game but less delighted that I can't find a quick and easy way to see the stats and no way at all to compare one item with another.

Every game needs a windmill
And so on. It's an old game and more to the point it's an old game that I never played when it was a new game and therefore one for which I have no affinity or nostalgia. It does look interesting. People clearly are playing it and enjoying it - chat was humming with people forming groups, doing quests and generally exhibiting all the symptoms of MMO players invested and immersed in their current game of choice. I wish them and the game well.
Aw, he's kinda cute for a vermin

I won't be leveling up to join them. I feel about the same about AC2 now as I did about AC then. There's a lot of grass and it's very green but it's not the greener grass on the other side of any fence I feel like jumping. I might pop in again and have another run around before my 30 days are up (whenever that is). I might not.

I'm very glad to have had this opportunity to go time-traveling, though. If nothing else it helps clarify what it is that I do want, which would seem to be a good helping of old-school gameplay heavily spiced with up-to-the-minute usability. Someone get on that, please.


  1. I certainly felt the way you describe about Vanguard. The game had some fascinating systems and an overall feeling of freedom. But the bugs, graphics glitches and overall very poor performance made it a pain to play (recent experience just before the free-to-play relaunch).

  2. "If nothing else it helps clarify what it is that I do want, which would seem to be a good helping of old-school gameplay heavily spiced with up-to-the-minute usability. Someone get on that, please."

    You may be being a bit sarastic but I think a lot of us do want this in some form or another. Question is are the 2 compatible or mutually exclusive? Taking GW2 for example what would happen if they did something as simple as removing the world map UI and waypoints? All of a sudden you need to look for landmarks, the world feels bigger, and the further you get from your bind point (say your home city) the bigger the sense of adventure feels.

    If you add in gear/experience loss and remove the downed state all of a sudden you have something very modern that sounds a lot like what I've read most people loving about original Everquest. A trip to the Cathedral of Silence becomes something very different than it is now.

    Tradeoff becomes you can no longer play anything anytime with your friends, and it can feel like a huge waste of time getting lost trying to buy some item from a vendor across a large map. I feel like this is what so many of us like though in older games. A sense of "depth" can easily be enhanced by removing convenient feedback and quick access features. Taking those features away on the otherhand tends to evoke a reactiuon similar to telling someone that you are taking away the remote to their TV because the experience will be more satisfying to them.

    1. Nah, I wasn't being sarcastic. Well, not intentionally. I wouldn't go for gear or xp loss because I am very much against the negative emotional response stuff like that generates. Yes, it creates an adrenaline rush and yes it adds a great deal of "meaning" but at worst it leads to people giving up playing altogether and in general it leads to very conservative, risk-free, safe and dull gameplay as everyone tries to conserve what they have and avoid losing anything.

      Meaningful travel, localized markets, non-trivial death penalties (having to get back to where you were from halfway across the world is non-trivial in itself, of course) and especially unbalanced classes and races, though, those I am all in favor of.

      Of all the MMOs I've played I thought Vanguard from about 3 months after launch til I stopped playing regularly a couple of years later was the closest.


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