AC2 First Impressions

I spent a fair number of hours in the beta of Asheron’s Call 2 tonight, and here are my initial thoughts (both good and bad):

  • The world graphics have held up very well. A few textures are really muddy, but most of them look decent. I mean, these are clearly old graphics, but they definitely don’t look a decade old (even though they are). I think most players would find them acceptable.
  • The player-character art hasn’t held up quite as well. It’s noticeably low-poly, which makes for a surprisingly ugly character-generation screen. But once you’re playing, the avatars don’t look too bad. The art style holds together pretty well and I didn’t see much that stuck out to me.
  • The avatars’ animations are mostly very good, but there’s this weird technical thing going on. If another player is far away from you, their animation seems to get played in slow-motion. The effect is a little surreal, though you do get used to it quickly enough.
  • While the graphics are old-but-adequate, the GUI hasn’t aged well at all. The most glaring problem is that you can’t see an item’s stats by hovering over it; you have to do a bunch of clicking to compare things.
  • The new player pacing is reasonably good. You can farm if you want to, or do a directed quest line, or get into a group to level up much faster by doing Vaults.
  • There’s not a lot of quests, but the randomly-found quests keep it from feeling too grindy. And there’s lots of stuff to find while you’re exploring.
  • The world is huge and there is a lot of distance between major meetup places. To travel efficiently, you really need to learn the portal networks. This will dramatically reduce your travel time. Which is cool — I love that world knowledge is heavily rewarded.
  • On the down side, however, if you’re trying to get a group together and some people don’t know the portal networks, it can take forever to meet up. Somebody has to end up guiding the other player through the appropriate portals.
  • The crafting system is very cool, but it’s a little tedious at very low level. (It was optimized for players with mounts, which you can get as early as level 15.) The collection system definitely requires players to learn new gaming skills that they’ve not needed in many other MMOs.
  • Some minor bugs showed up but no major ones. The client never crashed on me. There were some big server-side lag spikes, however, which I believe were caused by a sub-server crashing. (And another sub-server taking over for it.)
  • There’s lots of fun things to be found. I really missed the melodramatic drudges. Their little “auggggh” death animation where they flop ridiculously to the ground: still funny!
  • The skill system is still way more compelling than anything in other MMOs. However, at low level, it’s very easy to screw yourself by making bad skill-tree choices. (You can fix yourself by untraining the skills, but you have to realize what’s wrong! You might just think the game has suddenly gotten too hard.)
  • In particular, there’s nothing to teach you to take the Mastery skills, but without them, you’ll be missing your target over half the time.

No GUN Server: When they announced the beta-test, they mentioned that the friends-list would be down. I knew immediately what that meant. The friends list was one of the features done via “GUN”, the “Games Using Networking” system provided by Microsoft. It was a separate module that Microsoft required Turbine to use — they were hoping to use it in all their networked games down the road. Unfortunately GUN was complete garbage and crashed constantly. Turbine replaced most of GUN’s functionality (like chat), but I don’t think we ever bothered to rewrite the friends list; we just kept a little GUN server running to do that part.

When Turbine bought AC2′s rights back, they also got the right to use GUN forever, so they could set a GUN server back up. But I’m betting nobody remembers how to actually get that piece of crap running. (I sure don’t!) So they will probably need to just replace it with a fresh bit of code.

Bottom Line:
I had fun, and plan to keep playing! I did have a strongly negative reaction to the GUI at first, but when I got over that, I found myself having lots of fun.

If Turbine has any engineering budget allocated for this game at all, I’d focus on the GUI. First on the list would be showing item stats when you hover over inventory items. Right now it takes way too much clicking to compare items, and you do a lot of item comparisons. (There’s a ton of randomly-generated treasure to be examined!)

[And it's not trivial for them to add that feature, because the client doesn't really have info about every item at its fingertips; it has to ask the server about each item. So it'd be a bit of work. But it'd be worth it.]

Anyway, if you’ve ever wondered what AC2 was like, here’s your chance to see! If you can get past the GUI hindrances and the animation weirdness, I think you’ll find an interesting game in there. It fits its post-apocalyptic mood well: it’s little quieter, slower, and more challenging than modern MMO fare. It rewards exploration, but exploration takes time.

Among AC1 players who came over to check it out, the thing I heard most often was ”WTF? This is completely different from AC1.” And it really is nothing like it.

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25 Responses to AC2 First Impressions

  1. Bryant says:

    I bet JC could get a GUN server back up and running.

  2. Ancaritha says:

    It’s my assumption that they are trying to replace the GUN completely. It’s based on a Direct.Play protocol that is no longer supported and doesn’t even exist on Vista/Win7. If they wanted to build the server as a 64-bit application and make use of all that delicious server ram, they couldn’t include it.

  3. Razak says:

    I’m really jazzed to see AC2 up and running again. I think in retrospect part of my issue with AC2 was really the AC1 problem (I loved it and wanted to play a newer version of it). After playing EQ2 for years, I know now that the same thing happened with SOE, most EQ1 players couldn’t stand EQ2 cause it was nothing like 1. It is difficult to make a sequel to a still running and still fairly popular MMO, but at the same time when you start seeing those numbers declining you kind of want to before you just lose everyone outright. I unfortunately think that is what is needed though to bypass the misconceptions of the past.

    Now seeing the MMO market and feeling discontent, I am excited for AC2. Yes it foreshadowed a lot of the gameplay style that has come since, but it also carried with it a lot of the old school play mentality that I miss so dearly from the genre. it also still has decent graphics, I mean they aren’t great any more but they aren’t bad. At least looking at screens.

    Am excited to go back this weekend and play some more. Never did get much Legions play time.

  4. Curtis says:

    Glad it is returning though any AC1 player who followed AC2 at launch found out quickly they had nothing in common at all. In fact that angered most of us including myself who felt it was a betrayal to what was an amazing game. We felt it was an attempt not to transition the old loyal audience to a newer game while bringing more new players in, but instead taking some of the amazing ideas that made up AC and implementing them for an entirely different audience. In the end it failed obviously, but that is not to say I did not enjoy some of it. I was excited to be able to play as a Lugian and the upgrade visually was also refreshing.

    I am a bit of a fan boy and loyalist to all things AC and thus am glad to see them bring AC2 back. However, my true loyalty is to AC1 and was never fully able to accept AC2 as part of the family. More like a mildly retarded bastard step brother. All I can hope for is that now this brings more attention to AC in general and keep on praying for AC3.

  5. Mentat says:

    I suspect they are not only going to replace the Gun Server entirely, that they’ve probably rem’d out the lines out of the client. I’d also like to see a UI revamp, I’ve realized how spoiled I’ve gotten from playing more modern MMO’s, and it’s almost tedious to examine people and things.

  6. Denour says:

    I was totally having flashbacks while running around Arwic. I miss the team a whole lot. Meeemoriesss.

  7. Steven says:

    I am also definitely going to take a look sometime soon there. I have not gotten an active subscription with AC1 anylonger and cannot remember that one either, but I am not that bothered with my old characters anyway. Will just pickup a trial and register that one for AC1 and AC2 and then start playing this again.
    I loved AC2 very much, although it felt empty at times. Perhaps they will also do something with that emptyness in cities. Otherwise you don’t really need them either, there is plenty to do in that game but they definitely should do something about the UI, perhaps add an item shop to sustain their server, fix the chat/friendslist as GUN was crappy at the time (constantly crashed I do remember).
    I’ve seen some non-official content of AC2 roam the internet a while ago but that version had no music available, so that is a functionality I am going to look into.
    Otherwise I haven’t played the expansion, I am not sure what version of the game with which game systems are implemented in this beta.

    But with that said.. we shouldn’t forget Gorgon :) Gorgon can pick up from this game and get it all better :)

    Steven

  8. bubble says:

    “This will dramatically reduce your travel time. Which is cool — I love that world knowledge is heavily rewarded.”

    It’s one of those undead internet whines but i’m one of those who hated the fast travel added to EQ1 as it shrank the world but not so much because it was there but because it was usable from level 1. I like the idea of fast travel building up as you level – partly from advanced knowledge and partly unlocking it through quests, faction etc.

    “It is difficult to make a sequel to a still running and still fairly popular MMO, but at the same time when you start seeing those numbers declining you kind of want to before you just lose everyone outright.”

    Maybe you need to do both – a relatively simple upgrade sequel first as a halfway house for current fans – followed by an entire new world for newness?

    So AC2 as AC1++ and AC3 as AC2 (ditto for EQ).

  9. Ysharros says:

    @bubble – AC1 had fast-travel portals from the get-go, and since the world was pretty large and the game didn’t have mounts, knowing where they were and how to use the network (actually 2 or 3 networks) was useful. The portal hubs weren’t always easy to get to if you weren’t a decent level, which made it kind of fun if *you* were low level or escorting someone who was.

    That said, the addition of hundreds of new portals with the housing expansion (2001? 2002? thereabouts) suddenly *did* make the world feel much smaller. You could hop from one place to the next almost without experiencing the land at all, and being chased by reedsharks and zephyrs was what it was all about, dammit.

    I’ll be dipping my toe into AC2. I beta-tested back when and, like many other dedicated AC1 players, I was more like ‘This isn’t AC1 QQ’ than ‘Hey, they’re doing some cool stuff here’, so it’ll be an interesting revisit.

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  14. bubble says:

    “AC1 had fast-travel portals from the get-go”

    Yeah i played it and as you say it didn’t make the world feel small in AC1. Interesting to think why so – size will be part of it, maybe something to do with the psychological effect of zones over single world? Dunno.

    “and being chased by reedsharks and zephyrs was what it was all about, dammit”

    oh yes :)

  15. Joe says:

    Eric, what are your thoughts as to why they might be reviving the game like this? It’s clearly a non-trivial task…

  16. Bane Grievver says:

    I’m eager to install AC2 and give this a try if I can muster subscribing to AC1 for a month.

    Perhaps I am remembering AC2 with rose-tinted goggles, but it had some of the wildest pvp fights. Massive explosions and spells flying by as people ran around. I haven’t experienced much like it.

  17. Andy says:

    It’s an interesting turn of events. Honestly to address UI and other issues(Friends list, as you said) I expect them to reverse-engineer some of the advancements with the engine that were made for DDO and LOTRO, considering it’s the same engine(with some stark improvements – yet still extremely familiar if you had ever played AC2 when first jumping into DDO or LOTRO) I’d assume it’d be atleast the easiest option and perhaps the best for longterm stability of the game. Eventually updating the engine to be inline with LOTRO would do alot of good I think, and hopefully not outside of the realm of possibility.

    Does anyone know whos heading the AC2 revive at turbine? I kind of assumed it was the AC1 ghostteam, or atleast whats left of it.

  18. Anthony says:

    I was one of those AC1 players(still occasionally play when the nostalgia strikes me) that tried the game out during beta and kind of turned up my nose at it – I ended up buying it but only played for a month. I have to say I’m having a lot of fun this time around, even though I keep crashing my client when I click on the high tier drudgie skills.

    One thing to note is that the default controls don’t appear to be the “default” controls, and a quick reset in the controls menu on character selection to default made it more familiar to the ac1-ish shortcuts that I remembered.

    The character art during creation made me nervous as I remembered the game being much prettier than that, but it was definitely acceptable once logged in. If they do put money back into this game I hope player character art gets a look at, though tumerok animations are fairly slick.
    One thing that bothered me way back in the original beta, and grates on me that it was never fixed, is the character’s sliding run animation!

  19. Eric says:

    Never got to play AC2 when it was released after playing AC for years and being an Advocate. Being in Australia we were surprised to find out that when it was released we weren’t allowed to play as we didn’t have a credit card issued from a small handful of countries.

  20. Neal says:

    I bet Wildcat remembers how to get GUN working again, since he wrote the fix to get rid of it. I wonder if he still works where he went…

  21. Hank says:

    Wait until the People remember WHY they actually stoped playing this Game, GUI is just one of the Reasons. I think this is a nice Journey down Memory Lane, not more not less.

    Hank

  22. Bryant says:

    Joe — I’m not Eric but I ran the technical ops group at Turbine during the AC2 years. I’m not going to speculate as to the reason behind reviving the game, but I will say that running a single server is probably pretty trivial. Any improvements would be less trivial, but just getting the server up? No big deal, particularly since they didn’t use the old databases and they aren’t adding a new subscription type.

  23. Eric says:

    Joe – Bryant is right that so far, they really haven’t invested much of anything in the game. Probably a couple of engineering weeks to get it up and running again and remove the end-of-the-world changes we’d made before it shut down. But that’s it.

    I don’t know how they plan to make money with the game. Really any plan besides a monthly-payment scheme will require some effort. If they wanted to do a micropayment plan, they’d need to upgrade the art pipeline for AC2, which would take a fair amount of engineering.

    One good plan might be to sell powered-up characters that are usable only on a PvP world — I could see AC2 having a small but very dedicated KvK fan base. If they don’t focus on KvK, they’re going to need to add more content eventually, and they don’t seem to have any people to do that.

    I don’t have any inside info, but perhaps this is a desperate move to keep AC1 subscription numbers above a critical cut-off point. It may be that if even a thousand people re-sub to AC1 in order to play AC2, that keeps the team from getting trimmed further. And they haven’t really risked anything by “beta”ing this old world. If a lot of people show up, they’ll switch gears and run with it, but otherwise they’ll probably just leave it sitting there with only minimal bug-fix support.

  24. D. Han says:

    so great to see this game back !

  25. Neal says:

    Denour! hit me up offline sometime, it’s Ookane :)