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.
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.