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Asheron's Call
Developer: Turbine Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft

This year's crown has to go to Asheron's Call. Thanks to its innovative allegiance system--in which new characters swear allegiance to a patron, donating a percentage of their experience in exchange for knowledge, equipment, and camaraderie--newbie characters are, for the first time in an online RPG, cheerfully welcomed into the game and shown the ropes. Another social stimulator is the fellowship system, in which like-minded characters band together for adventure for a single gaming session and share experience based on their contributions to the group. In addition, characters can be personalized as never before, with literally millions of possible configurations for facial appearance and style of dress.

This is the first game where the term massively truly applies as well, with more than 3,000 players sometimes playing simultaneously on the same server. Yet players never lack for something to do; the land of Dereth (where the game is based) is expansive and littered with dungeons to explore, hills to climb, and quests to puzzle through and solve. The icing on the cake is the promised "monthly event," which usually involves a small download. Thus far, the single event to occur has added a number of new items and a lengthy and dangerous quest, and has literally changed the face of the landscape. Turbine assures us that its planned story arc encompasses at least 18 months of gameplay, so events will not be isolated, disconnected occurrences. Finally, a role-playing game that encourages and emphasizes role-playing.

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