It was the third month into their release that I joined the Anarchy Online community. I’d heard about the bugs and playability issues, but the idea of a Sci-Fi based MMORPG lured me in despite the warnings. I should have known better. I canceled my account before the first month was through.
It’s sad to watch a company beg for forgiveness, but FunCom has been doing just that: begging for their player-base to return. And in spite of the poor initial offering, their begging seems to be working. Accounts are being reactivated, fresh gamers are signing up and it's said the game itself has improved enough to warrant these actions. So it was time for your ever-faithful reviewer to attempt a return. Perhaps I too could become born again: Anarchy Online.
Before I get too deep into my reactions, let me get to the basics of what Anarchy Online is all about. AO is a Sci-Fi based MMORPG in which you choose to play on one of three “teams” or “sides” of a planet-wide struggle. There are the Omni-Tek employees who work for the corporation that initiated mining-operations on the planet of Rubi-Ka. There are the Clan members who are the rebellious class, once working the mines for Omni-Tek and now fighting their former employers for control of their destiny. Finally there are the neutrals who are like the citizens of Switzerland, staying out of the troubles. FunCom plans to develop the content of Anarchy Online via a four year story line, the first months of which are available for download on the official Anarchy Online site.
Character classes are a strong point for AO. While there are only four races to choose from (Solitus who are like humans; Opifex who are agile and fragile; Nanos who are most like wizards in that they are weak and use nanos like wizards use spells; and finally the gender-neutral Atrox - big and strong and good for fighting), there are a multitude of interesting classes to choose from. You can be a simple fighting machine as an Enforcer or Soldier or go the other end of the spectrum and become an Engineer or Meta-Physicist, both of whom rely more on technology and nano-tech to aid their struggles. Mixed in are classes such as Martial Artist, Doctors and Traders. More unique classes include the Bureaucrat and the Fixer (the only class which can access "The Grid" which allows them to get themselves and their teammates from location to location much quicker).
Your job as a loyal employee of Omni-Tek or a passionate follower of the clans (or even a peace-loving member of the neutrals) is…never truly defined. You level; you learn new skills; you buy bigger weapons, armor and nano-tech and that’s basically the sum of the game. The storyline seems to happen in a different space than the game and is more of an abstraction than an actual gameplay enhancer (at least at the lower levels).
So now you have an idea of what AO is all about - let's move on the actual experience.
This game still takes my breath away when it comes to visual impact. There have been no MMORPGs to date that can rival the sheer beauty of Anarchy Online, at least none that I have played. Multiple suns and moons light the skies, cities rise up out of the alien landscape with life-like sprawl and the wilderness is wild enough to evoke a real sense of the remote. Character and NPC models also benefit from the excellent modeling and jump off the monitor with a freshness missing in most other MMORPGs on the market today. The game allows you to immerse yourself in varied landscapes that range from teeming cities to dust storm-harried deserts to mountain-encased bases. It is a pleasure to explore regions as diverse as the Anarchy Online world of Rubi-Ka.
Man, and I thought Wal Mart was sprawl!
Post-Apocalyptic? You betcha!
Note that all this graphical sweetness comes with a price: namely performance. You'll want to have a pretty hefty 3D video card in your system and some extra memory to throw it's way. A broadband connection is also a big plus. Even with a decent system and connection, you'll find yourself running into major pockets of lag as groups of people congregate in cities and hunting spots.
Instead of simply focusing on the interface in this section, I'm going to cover some of the general technical errors related to this game, both past and present.
The early game was not so much released as it was unleashed on the gaming public. Bug-ridden and nearly unplayable, it amazes me that there is a game around today for me to write about. How can I qualify such harsh remarks, you may ask? I couldn’t install this game out of the box: it simply would not run. I had to scour the official Anarchy Online message boards to find the magical combination of patch downloads and installation tricks in order to get my copy of the game (for which I paid full price) to run at all; and these were instructions posted by other players, not by customer support. Any time a company does a large-scale game release and their game won’t even install properly, I feel (as a consumer) well within my bounds to be angry. And this was just the first issue. Erratic gameplay, zone crashing bugs, poorly designed classes, and general mistakes in gameplay execution plagued this game for months and months after launch.
So I reactivated my account and logged back in to Anarchy Online. And what issue raised its ugly head one more time? The old bug: the installation procedure, or rather, the lack of an installation procedure. Indeed, after an attempt to reload the game from CD and automatically update, my launcher failed in spectacular fashion. Luckily, FunCom has wised-up enough provide at least basic suggestions for installation of their patches depending on the base version of the game you have. So a 50+MB download and two install attempts later (the first failed out for no particular reason that I can discern, but after an entire uninstall and reinstall it seemed to take) I was ready to log back into Anarchy Online.
But be forewarned: there is a steep learning curve to Anarchy Online. This game has several unique and entertaining functions that are not intuitive nor easy to learn. Unfortunately, most of the information needed to take advantage of these features isn’t covered in-depth in the manual or in-game. In fact, you might as well take the manual you received with the game CD and shred it for bird-cage lining for all the good it will do you (fully half the manual is fluff for the storyline). You’ll have to search website after website in order to find tips on how to complete poorly detailed missions (where, literally, you wouldn’t be able to complete the mission without someone’s advice because the manual and in-game help is useless); how to make sense of nanos and implants (very cool and complicated items which aren’t even nearly adequately explained in the manual); and which skills to improve as you gain levels.
As far as the actual in-game interface is concerned, it is a well organized set of menus. Actions and items are available as icons which you can drag to quickbars and launch with hot keys, simplifying your most-used actions. Anarchy Online also allows limited macro scripting of multiple commands, giving you a chance to create a pre-set synchronization of speech and emotes available at the press of a single button.
Important menu items including nano-tech, wearables, and stats are all available from in-game menus, as are inventory, chat screen and environmental variables (audio, visual and kepyboard mappings).
Chatting is where AO seems to be the most lackluster, in terms of actual interface. There are multiple channels of chat to choose from, including auctions where players offer up items for bid. However, these different channels of chat all rush forth in the same small window without an easy way to narrow down what you're seeing. Many times I've been the subject of a friendly buff or two and have had to scroll up through yards of useless chatter to discover who it was who buffed me. I'm sure there is a way to turn off unwanted channels of conversation, but it sure as heck isn't in the manual.
The gameplay seems more solid now as compared to initial release. Equipment, money and experience can all be gained via the Mission system in which unique missions are generated for a character at a Mission terminal. You travel to the mission (which can be in the same city or across the world depending on your level) and work your way through a map until you achieve your goal. Goals include contract killing, repair and investigation missions. Missions are currently the most worthwhile way of gaining equipment and, more importantly, cash. Also, completing a mission can yield Mission Tokens which, as you collect more and more, allow you to gain bonuses to your skills.
I'm a big meanie
I feel like the Tick!
Hunting aplenty can be found in the wilderness regions outside the cities and player versus player action is also available should you so choose (through Arena-style events/locals where pvp is allowed, as opposed to being allowed to kill other players at will). Having not participated in PvP action myself, I can't adequately review this facet of the game, but the general consensus seems to be that PvP needs more loving from the developers.
After leveling a pair of characters up into their teens (and taking a look at my old characters from when I had initially activated my account), I began to feel that all-too-familiar buzz of monotony that seems to plague all MMORPGs. What was the point of it all, this constant leveling? All I can decipher so far is that you gain more levels so that you can equip your character with cooler stuff, explore more regions and maybe begin to battle the opposing inhabitants of Rubi-Ka for dominance of the planet.
But from the few higher level characters I've spoken with, it sounds like AO is more of the same, the higher up you go. Mission after mission rewarded with more cool stuff. Entertaining for a while, no doubt, but the replay value rapidly drops.
A recent addition to the multiplayer dynamic has been the introduction of static dungeons, allowing a bit of flair to the hunting routine. Missions all blend together after a while, so it was nice for the players to find a place they could explore.
Soloing tends to be the play of the day for most AO players, as group hunting isn't really an imperative. Team missions can be given out, but there are complaints of bugs with the missions and the mission generators for team missions.
Anarchy Online isn’t really living up to the hopes I’d had for it, despite it’s stirring graphics and wonderful music. The final nail in the coffin for me was the bugs. After all this time off from the game, which had supposedly been used to clean up the code, it was a huge disappointment to run into so many bugs. Enemies would be out of health (dead) and I wouldn’t be able to attack them anymore, yet they didn’t die and still caused me damage. I would zone into new areas and suddenly be missing half of my health. Mission generators gave me, a low-level character, assignments in areas only viable to high-level characters, resulting in multiple deaths and experience loss before my queries as to the problem revealed that it was a known-issue with mission generators.
For a company that is attempting to recruit players back to the game by advertising that it has fixed the bugs and made the game more enjoyable, I was somewhat surprised and annoyed to run into so many bugs in such a short time. It's been said many times, but AO had and still has amazing potential, but it's window for developing that potential is rapidly shrinking.
So would I recommend this game to other players? I would recommend that, if you don't mind large downloads, you take up Anarchy Online's free 7-day trial offer. Download the game, log in and try it out for yourself. The free offer is an example of the lengths to which FunCom is willing to go in order to attract new players. Take them up on it, and if you find that I'm full of BS, then up your membership. Otherwise cancel and say goodbye to what could have been the great Sci-Fi MMORPG while we wait to see what the Star Wars brand has in store for us.
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