After getting frustrated with Everquest I began to look forward to Asheron's Call. Asheron's Call promised to change many of the things I didn't like about Everquest and I followed the news about it closely. Sometime in early 1999 I signed up for, and was accepted into, the AC beta test. I had been a beta tester for The Realm earlier and a number of other games besides so I had some idea of what to expect. The version of the beta I got into had few problems and it was interesting watching the changes the developers made as they finished off the game.
Asheron's Call had three features that really attracted me to the game. The first was the ability to play and advance solo. Finding a group in Everquest had been so essential and yet so frustrating that I was overjoyed to be able to play when and how I wanted without having to rely on others to be able to have fun while still being able to group with friends whenever I liked.
The second big attraction was the vast open world to be explored. You could start from anywhere and walk to anywhere else without crossing a zone line or looking at a loading screen. In retrospect that really isn't such a big deal. Load times on games that still have them are minimal and of no great consequence. At the time though it seemed a huge step forward and as a programmer I learned as much as I could about how it worked and appreciated the cleverness it took to invent and implement the system that enabled this.
The final selling point for me was the frequent updates. Although I had never been able to experience all the content Everquest had to offer I was disappointed with the stagnant, unchanging, world and had reached a point where I was unable to find anything new to explore. Asheron's Call solved that problem with monthly content additions and world altering story arcs that kept the game fresh. Some of my best times in AC were patch days. I would log on as soon as I possibly could and go out looking for places that weren't there the day before. I was even the first person (that I know of) to discover and poke around some of the new dungeons when they were added. I also remember fondly gathering up groups of friends to go out and search through the newly discovered places and the excitement of going somewhere dangerous and new where you couldn't be quite sure what to expect.
Unlike Everquest AC used a skill system instead of a class system. You purchased skills with points earned as you leveled up and although you only gained points to buy new skills when you gained a level you could spend experience directly at any time to raise stats or skills which allowed you to create a character that was somewhat unique to you alone and tailor it however you liked. Asheron's Call was also the first game I know of where you could 'respec'. Through quests that you could do only once a week or so a player could drop old skills and recover the points invested in them to learn something new thereby changing the character into something new rather than having to start a new character from scratch if you happened to buy a skill you ended up not liking.
AC had a unique mechanic for ranged weapons and spells. The spell effect or missile actually traveled through space to hit the target instead of just instantly striking what it was aimed at. A quick player could dodge spells or avoid arrows if they could time things correctly which gave a more action oriented twist to both PvE and PvP.
I played Asheron's Call for 6 months or so before I got tired of it. Again I never reached the maximum level and although I quit I went back to it at least twice more later on to see how it had advanced and check out the changes for myself. Although I think it was the better game it never did as well commercially as Everquest or UO. I think it was because the game didn't have the flair that EQ did. There weren't orcs, trolls, or other familiar creatures running around in AC and the world, races, magic items, and spells had a bland, generic, quality about them that failed to evoke the feelings of fantasy created by either of the two preceding MMO's.