With the newest expansion of the world's most successful massively multiplayer online RPG releasing inside a month, it has inspired me to take a retrospective look at how this genre of video games has influenced how I look at gaming, role playing, and the online community as a whole. I've played my share of online games, and tried subscriptions to various MMOs, World of Warcraft being only one of them.
This post is the first in a four post series that will go through the most influential MMOs in my gaming history, and how they have shaped who I am today. So, for starters, we're going back to the year 1999.
Asheron's Call was my first step into a game that was played simultaneously by thousands of people at once. Developed by Turbine, it served out an original fantasy setting, filled with dozens of original enemies that I found intriguing and exciting. In lieu of goblins, dragons, orcs and troll, there were drudges, reed sharks, lugians and monougas. It offered one of the most open versions of character creation out of all of the RPGs at the time, allowing players to manually adjust the values of their character's statistics and skills as they saw fit. There were premade versions to hasten the process, but it was much more fun to tick one stat up and another down, fine-tuning the character to my own wishes. Rather than forming a character from preset parameters like so many other class-based RPGs.
But it was more than that. There was a story, sure, but Asheron's Call taught me that sometimes, in a video game, the greater story is the one I craft myself. Unlike a game likeMight and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven, which was the prime source of my fantasy gaming up to this point, I wasn't following a story that was written for the generic gamer. I was instead given a toolbox, a world filled with danger and opportunity, and told to go forge my own story therein.
How I stumbled across the story-telling part of RPGs in the world of Asheron's Call was delightfully meta. This game, unlike so many others I had encountered, before or since, had items in it, books and tomes, that were just a collection of blank pages. I discovered that a player, upon purchasing one of these, could change the title to whatever they wished, and could scribe to their heart's content within the blank pages. These items could then be traded to other players, or sold to vendors and purchased by others, but the contents could never be altered, except by the original author.
I would be lying if I said that the majority of my time in Asheron's Call wasn't spent writing in these books. I'd find some tavern or empty house, in a town that was semi-popular and easy to get to (often times Holtburg or Rithwic, as these two villages had a dense population of players), and I would sit and write for hours while other players chatted, practiced their spells or organized their bags all around me. I even earned some in-game money by telling my stories to small gatherings of other players. It was my first time actually role-playing my character, even though I was basically just channeling myself into that character. Regardless, it was an exciting experience that I couldn't wait to get back to, day after day.
Eventually they released an expansion, Asheron's Call: Dark Majesty, as well as a sequel, Asheron's Call 2: Fallen Kings. I played Dark Majesty little, and Fallen Kings none at all, as by the time they came out I had either moved on to other MMOs, or had temporarily lost interest in MMOs altogether. Sadly, I went through a period of time where I was embarrassed to admit I payed MMOs, or card games, or had an interest in RPGs at all. The social stigma around such nerdy hobbies was still present in the late 90's and early 00's, and since I was one who, at one point, put far too much stock in what others thought of me, I spent plenty of middle school and high school bouncing back and forth between loving and hating the online gaming community.
Yet, little did I know I was ready to leave the world of Dereth behind, and set sail for the larger world of Norrath...