This Microsoft-Published MMORPG's developed into community all its own, drawn in by the easy learning curve of the interface and the action. Go online and you'll find maps tips and the usual wealth of fan sites.

Further episodes have kept gamers interested so there's a lot more for new players to sink their teeth into, but the backstory with three races coming back to fight legions of monsters to win back their world has an epic enough sweep to get you started, and in the box are 21 scenarios.

This makes the combat central, with no lengthy online chats to characters, and means Microsoft have added an online equivalent of Dungeon Siege.

This means plenty of resources from the paying punters to keep Asheron's Call supported, and as free flowing and rolling as the original game that you start with. It's quite relaxed in the way you're allowed to get stuck in combat wise- but you have to get quite far, three levels, before you can differentiate your weapons from those of different races.

Even though there are no NPCs there are five different natural resources to be mined, and their importance is ordered according to your race and the weapons you want to create, but once again the elements can be blended in different ways for different ordanance to result from your experiments. In an in-game equivalent of Ebay, if you're bored with a skill you can sell it by means of untraining and get back the experience and skill points spent in gaining that ability. You visit lifestones in order to save your position, and the cost in resurrecting yourself can be earned back (yes, you guessed it) in combat.

So what we have here is an RPG forunner to an epic battle game like Sony's PlanetSide-all action with selected weapons, but legions of fellow adventurers out in the world that you can fight alongside or against.

More recently servers are set to merge after downtime and in any online game there's going to be downtime and constant patching, which may have a graver effect than on a retail standalone game. If you're not into FPS but you like the idea of massed combat with a solidly human basis (in the Half-Life style non-NPC multiplayer) then give it a try- limited editions are bundled with a strategy guide to make it even easier to get into (when buying from selected websites, search around, it can go as low as under £20).

Verdict

From launch to now to whenever you read this review, there'll be something else for you to do (well, fight) in the Asheron's Call 2 universe. You certainly won't be bored, whether or not you're a hardcore RPG player. Definitely worth a look especially if you can find it at the lowered street price. Being cheaper at retail is fair enough for what will become a single-game ISP, you're getting massive value for money out of it. Do a search and check on technical progress and community opinions before finally shelling out, but we reckon you won't be disappointed.