Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings was a fantasy MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) for Microsoft Windows-based PCs that was released on November 22, 2002 and shut down on December 30, 2005. It was a sequel to 1999's Asheron's Call, although content, graphics and gameplay dynamics differ greatly from its predecessor.
Both games were developed by Turbine Entertainment Software and originally published by Microsoft, until Turbine purchased the Asheron's Call franchise in December 2003. The Microsoft to Turbine transition was completed in spring 2005. In 2004 and 2005, Turbine entered business arrangements with Jolt Online Gaming to operate AC2 in Europe and with Sony Online Entertainment to distribute the game's first expansion, Asheron's Call 2: Legions, under the Station Publishing label.
As with most other MMORPGs, Asheron's Call 2 was a subscription-based game, cost $12.95 USD/EUR per month to play. The Asheron's Call franchise was unique in providing complimentary monthly content updates or "Events" that added new quests, skills, landmasses, monsters, gameplay dynamics and bug fixes to all subscribers. Epic storylines linked multiple episodes to form distinct "story arcs".
A major expansion pack for Asheron's Call 2 titled Asheron's Call 2: Legions was announced in October 2004 and was released on May 4, 2005. It included a new playable character race — the mythical Empyreans, and a major new landmass, Knorr. Players who pre-ordered the expansion were granted access to a second new character race, the Drudge at the time of the Legions launch. High-level gameplay was also revisited with the Hero 2.0 system and plentiful new content. The subsequent (and final) content update was one of the largest ever, featuring two new types of monsters, dozens of additional quests, as well as other content additions.
Both Asheron's Call and Asheron's Call 2 were set on the (fictional) planet of Auberean. The "Call" of Asheron's Call refers to the urge followed by people on several different "home worlds" to enter portals to Auberean, created by the Empyrean mage, Asheron. Asheron's Call 2 took place following a major cataclysmic event on the planet, resulting in massive changes to the topography of one continent on the planet (Dereth). The three races inhabiting the continent at the time of the cataclysm high-tailed it into the safety of shelters hidden in portal space until it was safe to emerge. The basic premise of Asheron's Call 2 was that the players represented people emerging from the shelters to reclaim the world their ancestors left behind. The three warring factions that brought about the original cataclysm were still present, and still fighting for power. In addition to these three warring factions, there were other, older and perhaps more powerful forces also fighting for control of Auberean's fate.
Players chose a character that was one of three races: Isparians were humans from Ispar, one of the first races to answer Asheron's Call. Lugians came to Dereth in the same fashion as Isparians from a different home world, Tuu, and were (in the original game) quite hostile to Isparians. Tumeroks, or Tonks, also came to Dereth through Asheron's portals from their home world on Hazahtu, and were also originally treated as monsters by Isparians. These hostilities were worked out between the first game and the sequel, and in AC2 the three races co-existed with conflict limited to those choosing player versus player content. Players that purchased the Legions expansion pack gained access to two additional races, Empyreans and Drudges.
One's race was the only limiting factor on the "class" or "profession" that could be played by your character. The following chart shows the classes available to each race. Each class was quite distinct from the others within AC2, and each class was also quite distinct from those available in other fantasy MMORPGs. In general terms, character classes were considered "damage dealers", "tanks", or "healers".
|Human||Sorcerer, Enchanter||Alchemist, Ranger||Bounty Hunter, Defender|
|Lugian||Elementalist, Sage||Raider, Tactician||Berserker, Juggernaut|
|Tumerok||Healer, Invoker||Claw Bearer, Hive Keeper||Feral Intendant, Zealot|
Characters could choose one of the above specializations when they reached the 15th level. Characters also had the opportunity to choose to proceed un-specialized, though eventually the difficulty level of the content in the world made it important to specialize to continue advancement. For each level between 1 and 50, characters gained a credit that could be used to train skills used in combat. After reaching the 45th level, players could begin the "Hero Initiation" quest to become a Hero of Dereth and unlock character advancement beyond level 50. The level cap for Heroes of Dereth was 150. The character development system for Heroes was one of the major updates to the game released with the Legions expansion pack, but was open to all players, regardless of whether they purchased the expansion pack. More information on the post-Legions Hero system, Hero 2.0, is available here.
Levels were gained by completing activities that gave your character "experience points", or "XP". XP was also used to increase the skill rating, or power, of each skill trained. Characters gained XP in a wide variety of ways: hunting monsters on a solo basis or with groups of other players, completing quests, or even just turning in items that can be traded for. Most quests (but not all) could be repeated for multiple rewards after the passage of time. There was significant variety in the quests offered in AC2: some were centered on simply combating an overpopulation of a certain type of monster, some involved entering a dungeon or cave to destroy a powerful "boss" monster, some involved running errands for NPCs, or escorting NPCs to safety, in addition to the epic style quests that involved the major NPCs in the current or past story arcs. Quest rewards also ran the gamut: some offered temporary buffs or summonable pets to increase the character's power, some offered simply an XP reward, some offered gold, some offered weapons, armor, or trinkets, still others unlocked movie "vignettes" offering insight into the game's backstory.
AC2 also had an extensive crafting system that operated almost completely independently of the level-based advancement system. In contrast to the XP system, the craft system placed no hard-set limitation on the number of skills one could master, but each skill was fairly narrow (for example, Tumerok Martial Weapons was one vocation, while Empyrean Armor was another). There were no level requirements to unlock craft skills: the craft skill alone was what mattered. For all but the most single-minded of crafters, players generally strove to master a single vocation, or to become adept enough in several to create items for a wide range of low- to mid-level characters. Players could craft weapons and armor up to level 100 (as of July 2005) that were highly sought after, and highly customizable. Enchantment effects could be extracted from weapons and armor generated by the treasure system.
AC2 did not have a "faction" system by which the player improved (or worsened) his character's rapport with various NPC factions. The initial intent was to have Player Vs. Player (PvP) confined to certain areas of the game. This concept, however, was prone to exploits as many portals passed through these PvP assigned areas, thus exposing players to ganking. This led developers to come up with a KvK (Kingdom Vs. Kingdom) system where players can instead chose to join one of three "kingdoms" (Order, Shadow, and Dominion) and could then participate in player-vs-player conflict, and gain access to some quest content that was centered on competition between the kingdoms — broadly referred to as "kingdom-vs-kingdom" content. As the player completed KvK quests and/or successfully defeated characters of other kingdoms, he gained "kingdom points" which allowed him to train additional skills granted by his chosen Kingdom. These skills were unlocked in a strict hierarchy; players were not able to pick and choose which kingdom skills they could train. In addition, there were certain quests that could be completed to strengthen each Kingdom's fort (which had to be defended against predation by members of the opposing kingdom).
Player vs player combat in AC2 was always consensual, and was not considered necessary for advancement of your character. For most servers, regions of the landscape were identified as "peaceful" or "conflict" zones, and PvP fighting was only allowed in conflict zones between members of opposing kingdoms. For Darktide, the "conflict server", PvP combat was possible in all regions of the world, and was not limited to conflict between different kingdoms. Quests that were not in some way related to increasing the power of one kingdom over the others generally avoided conflict regions on the map, thus allowing players who chose to avoid PvP combat to do so without limiting their activities significantly. Some of the main portals, though, passed through PVP areas forcing players to either go around them, or risk being ganked.
MMOGCHART.COM estimates that AC2 peaked with about 50,000 subscribers, but at the end of its life had only 10–15,000.
Failure and Cancellation
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On August 25, 2005 it was announced by Turbine CEO Jeff Anderson that the Asheron's Call 2 service would be shut down on December 30, 2005, and no additional content updates were planned. This was a reaction to tepid sales of the Legions expansion pack, which failed to boost the number of subscription past the critical threshold of 35,000. Fans were highly critical of this reaction, blaming lack of sales on a poorly coordinated marketing campaign and an insufficient retail presence. Producer Citan (Eric Heimburg) moved on to the Star Trek Online project, whereas most other team members transferred to the Dungeons & Dragons Online and The Lord of the Rings Online projects at Turbine.
Criticism of Asheron's Call 2 had always been particularly vocal from many Asheron's Call players[who?], who were frustrated by the radical changes in gameplay dynamics and the game world, claiming that AC2 was a sequel in name only. The fact that AC2 would be different from AC1 was stated from the initial releases on it, but many AC1 players were not happy with the sequel and stayed with the original game. This may have been a factor in AC2's disappointing subscription numbers.[original research?]
Another factor in the game's failure were the programming and gameplay issues which streched over the first two years of release. One notable incident was the rebuilt-from-scratch chat server after the game went live. The developers discovered that the chat server they'd originally programmed was too buggy and unstable for a production environment only after several months of release; sometimes players would login unable to communicate with other characters outside of '/say' range, including those in their own allegiances; at other times they could only communicate in '/tell'. This went on for nearly four months while the developers built a new chat server and application from scratch.
Compounding the player's frustration with the chat server issue was the strikingly unbalanced abilities between classes. Character balancing (also called "nerfs") began almost immediately after release but unlike other MMORPGs, class changes were radical and drastically changed the gameplay. Unfortunately, classes were revisted multiple times because the development team hadn't fully decided how each class would fit together, or fight together. As this process dragged out over the following months, the player base thinned and grew more vocal in their criticisms. In a forum post addressing the player's concerns Citan arrogantly expressed his disregard for the current player base and their concerns, intending all changes for the new players that would subscribe after the updates were completed and the release of the game's first retail expansion pack.
With Citan's stance concerning the player base and the developer's posture of "exploit early and exploit often", many players decided to leave the game and not return for the Legions expansion. "Exploit early and exploit often" was the phrase coined to describe when a player found a bug in the game's programming which allowed for an unfair advancement of their character. Instead of restoring the character to its pre-exploit (or "pre-cheat") status, the developers officially sanctioned cheating under the guise that a bug on their part should not be held against the player.