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Developer:
Funcom
Publisher: Funcom
Platform: PC
Release Date: June, 2001

by Nicholas Bale




Anarchy Online: As the first sci-fi MMORPG, it's an oldie, for sure. But is it still a good game in today's world of high-action, super graphical, next-gen games?


With the upcoming release of a 3rd expansion of the AO world, Alien Invasion, I have decided to see if this game can match up with the high standards of 'fun' that are in the market today. It's been online for a quite long time now, and in March 2002, was voted "best massively multiplayer game" by PC Gamer. So there must be a reason it's still around, right?


Now, online games are always hard to review, because it's near-impossible to explore all of the game's possibilites in the free month you receive. That's right, this review is the pure, unadulterated view of a newbie. However, since 100% of the people who start playing AO are just that, newbs, perhaps it's just as important as a veteran's point of view.


When I started the game, my first impression was that this wasn't the greatest looking game on the market. The graphics were blocky, the movements not exactly smooth, and the textures blurry. However, I have always prided myself in being able to judge the 'fun' content of a game, not on its graphics, but on its gameplay. So I played on.


Anarchy Online takes place in the world of Rubi-Ka, a planet far away and far, far in the future. This, by the way, made Anarchy Online the first sci-fi MMORPG on the market. The world is enormous, but divided into portions that take you through a tedious loading screen whenever you need to get from area to area (generally known as "zone" in MMORPGs). It's all right, but I prefer my games with action, hold the loading please. The areas are large enough that they don't only take five minutes to traverse, however. Therefore, the "zoning" doesn't create any problems, unless you're trying to get somewhere three of four 'zones' away.


After thirty thousand years of evolution, instead of being given races to choose from, you get 'breeds', four of them. They have the common stereotypes that populate MMORPGs : Opifex, the stealthy and cunning breed, the Nanos, the nano-technologically-inclined (more on that below) breed, the Atrox, big, slow, strong breed, and, of course, the generic Solitus. Except for the Atrox, you get a choice between male and female for each of the breeds. Because I hadn't the slightest idea what I would want in the game, I picked the Solitus to give me a wide range of options.


The next choice was of professions. Twelve different professions await you, ranging from the close-combat Enforcer to the healing Doctor to the interesting Engineer, who builds robots to fight for him, to the mage-like Nano-technician.


I was glad to see a range of classes that surpassed the normal 'long-range, close-range, and magic' combo that has populated a lot of MMORPGs. I picked the Adventurer, a relatively balanced class that was good with pistols and very experienced with healing.


When you're first plunked onto Rubi-Ka, you get a choice. Do you join Omni-Tek, the company that will do anything for a profit, the Clans, a group committed to the freedom of all living beings, or do you just remain neutral? This choice will determine your starting location, the equipment you can use, and who or what wants to kill you. I was an Adventurer, and considering my profession, it seemed only right that I would be in the Clans.


So my adventure on Rubi-Ka began, and I was sent to Old Athens. The environment wasn't exactly lush, the city wasn't sparkling, but I suppose it was my home. And I made it just so by getting an apartment. The personal apartments in AO, from my point of view (aka a newb's), didn't really serve much of a function. You could make them pretty with items bought from the store, but I saw no other function past that. You could store valuable items in a 'bank' terminal, and in the month-or-so that I played, I don't remember visiting my apartment. At all. But that's probably because I forgot where it was.


I mentioned nano-technology above. This is the AO version of magical ability. You use/download programs, allowing you to 'run' them, doing such regular tasks as healing your body or turning enemies to so much ash. I had a healing spell, and that was pretty much it. Not too powerful either.


The skills in this game are much different than any other MMORPG I've played (which granted, isn't saying much, but still). When you level up, you gain skill points that you can distribute between a multitude of skills. The number of skills might overwhelm some casual players, as they're not too-well explained, but checking the online manual will probably help in that department. The skills you're given can be used by all professions, no matter what you are, but certain skills cost less skill points to level up, some cost more, depending on your profession. This allows a level of customization that is sadly lacking in other MMORPG's that force you to become a weak magic user or a beefy, slow fighter.

The interface confused the heck out of me, even after I had played for a while. The sheer number of windows that pop-up, some odd scroll-window on the top-right, and a chat window that seemed to be directly in the center of the screen hampered my 'fun' receive-iture. However, you can move the windows around at your leisure, customizing them so that you can see as much as you want. This helped out a lot, and even though the chat window required some messing around with, I found that there wasn't much of a problem.


Until I came to the description box. I read the manual. I checked the online guide. But I'll be darned if I had any idea what an item description was telling me. The in-game tutorial told much of the interface, but the cryptic abbreviations and numbers confused me to no end, forcing me to equip whatever looked better to me. That's not to say it takes a rocket-scientist. After a while of playing, you start to learn by trial and error what you can and can't use, and things become less confusing.


And the manual, by the way...no help, no help at all.


One thing I did really like about the game was the sheer number of enemies. I hear a lot of complaints about other MMORPGs where high-level characters will hog spawn points, making enemies really sparse. Or there are games where there just aren't enough baddies to fight anyway. Anarchy Online is not one of these. Enemies populate the world in abundance, just like they would on a real world, and I never ran out of things to kill. Lucky me!


In addition, playing solo, while lonely, is possible. This means that you don't have to hunt around for a group of people to kill stuff with you, which I always found a hassle. I'm a solo-player myself, and I was glad to see that enemies don't tear you apart if you're alone.


On top of all the enemies, Anarchy Online gives you 'missions': quests, in other words. Unlike a lot of MMORPGs, these are completely random, and therefore, infinite. You'll get some sparse reason to go kill some guy, a building to enter, and a dot on your map to tell you where it is.


This is great, because it allows a player to go get experience (or money, the quest parameters and its type of reward can be 'customized') without having to hunt for leets - not to be confused with script-kiddies - or other animals in the wild. Not so great, however, because like almost every other 3D RPG that attempts to make random dungeons/areas, they are sparse, dull, and have no realistic structure to them. Why is a small tower housing a fourteen-room area? No idea!


The combat really amounts to clicking on what you want to die, and watching, every now and then using another click to use a special ability. Very dull, extremely dull. I actually read through a short story while running through a mission. My ambidextrous Adventurer just stood there, shooting away at whatever I pointed at. And I read books. My 'fun' receiv-iture was low at these points, unless it was a particularly tough enemy. Then I would have to use a healing device, adding another click to my routine.


Now, obviously, this is a large game, and I have not experienced it all. I've travelled around, died quite a few times, and tried to experience as much as possible, but there is a limit to what one guy can do in a month. I have yet to drive a vehicle (they cost somewhere around a kajillion credits), I have yet to get really uber-powerful, and I still find some things such as implants confusing.


With what I've played, however, I can see why this game has been so popular. The communitiy is huge, the forums helpful, and there are no hunts for ennemies around a barren wasteland. While Anarchy Online might not be as ground-breaking as it was when it was first released, it's still an expansive MMORPG that still has lots of room to grow.


click to enlarge
click to enlarge


Final Grade: 84%




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