Anarchy Online, the latest thing to come out of development house Funcom, is a sci-fi massively multiplayer online rpg. It has been copping a fair bit of flak recently due to the large number of bugs that has plagued it through beta testing and into public release, but this review is not going to dwell so much on these flaws and will try to concentrate more on the actual game underneath it all. In a project the size of Anarchy Online (AO), problems and bugs are bound to arise, and while Funcom could have maybe had a more thorough beta test, they do seem to be very committed to fixing the major outstanding bugs as soon as possible and providing a genuinely awesome experience for the gamers. If you want to know more about the bugs in the game, then this review isn't for you. If you're interested in actually finding out about the game and having a look at the potential that exists under the currently volatile exterior, then read on.
Anarchy Online is set on the world of Rubi-Ka, a mining planet in the throes of civil war. Omni-Tek play the role of the all purpose bad guys; the big mega-corporation that controls Rubi-Ka, or more accurately, tries to control. The miners have begun to revolt and formed the Clans, rebels fighting to take back the planet from the clutches of the ruthless Omni-Tek corporation. The scene is set for a rather epic struggle, and with Funcom hiring actual script writers to develop their planned 4 year story arc, it should turn out to be rather impressive indeed.
I have been an avid player of Everquest and Asheron's Call in the past, and to be honest, Anarchy Online leaves them both for dead. While the sci-fi setting may not be to the taste of all RPG players, the sheer number of features packed into AO is staggering, and every day I play I find yet another thing I like about the game. When I first picked up the game, I was actually feeling rather unenthusiastic towards playing it. The various screenshots and previews I had seen around the place did not interest me at all and I only gave it a go for lack of anything better to play. Within the first half an hour, I knew it was something special. The Funcom guys have really sat down and thought long and hard about the problems that currently plague a lot of MMORPG's and have fixed many of them. Sick of dying in hard to get to places in other RPG's, leaving your corpse in a near impossible place to recover? AO has solved this problem by having Reclamation stations dotted around the world. When you die, you are cloned and regenerated from genetic information stored about yourself, and your bodily remains are recovered by nanobot cleanup crews which roam the world (presumably keeping it a clean and happy place to live). Your remains and any equipment that was on you when you died can then be recovered from any Reclamation station. The whole system works very well and is a godsend for many players, like me, that die often and just hate hunting down exactly where their corpse is.
This example also illustrates another very important thing about AO; nearly everything in AO has an in-game explanation. You dont just die and magically come back to life, you are regnerated and cloned from stored information about yourself (which you store by going up to an Insurance station and paying the fee). Funcom are planning on getting more servers up and running soon, and even this will be worked into the storyline as the invention of Inter-Dimensional travel, thus allowing players to take their characters to other servers, with no break in the "reality" of the in-game world. This sort of immersion is almost unheard of to date in any of the other MMORPG's and adds immeasureably to the game. You really feel you are part of the world and that you really are the character that you are playing. Each player in the world is even given their own apartment, which you can then buy furniture for and renovate it to be uniquely yours. Very cool :)
The skill system in Anarchy Online is also very detailed. With Melee skills for nearly any weapon you could think of (care to beat someone up with a chair? Go ahead!), and just as many Ranged Weapons skills (from Energy Powered Sniper rifles to Hand Grenades to Bows and Arrows), theres plenty of combat to suit everyones tastes. On top of this you also have skills which determine things such as initiative in combat, martial arts skills, and various covert ops skills such as sneaking, detecting traps, and breaking and entering. Skills can be increased as much or as little as you want. Every time you gain enough experience for your character to advance a level, you get a certain amount of points to spend on upgrading your skills. Depending on your race and class, some skills will be cheaper to upgrade than others. For a spy, upgrading the various covert skills will be cheap, whereas for a soldier, they could be quite expensive. One of the most promising sets of skills would have to be the vehicle skills. I am yet to actually see a vehicle myself, but there are skills for piloting flying vehicles, and driving land vehicles and aquatic vehicles. This is something that has really never been touched on much in MMORPG's so far to date. Trade skills are also very varied, with everything from Treatment skills used to heal yourself, through to Engineering and Weapon making skills used to make your own equipment.
"Magic" in the game is actually the art of manipulating microscopic nano-bots to do your bidding; whether it be to increase your skills, hurl a bolt of ice at an enemy, or create a floating manifestation of your anger that can be used to attack people. There are many, many types of different nano formulas that can be learnt, depending on what class and race you have chosen. Some races are more attuned towards manipulating nano-bots than other races, and some formulas are restricted to certain classes only. A sniper will have nano formulas for increasing the accuracy and damage of his shots, while a doctor will have nano formulas for healing.
The number of class/race combinations is in itself quite impressive. Four races are selectable: the Solitus who are basically stock standard humans, the Opifex who have decreased strength but increased agilty and perception, the Nanomages who (as the name implies) are masters at Nano-bot manipulation, and the Atrox who are incredibly strong, but not all that smart or good at anything that doesn't involve beating people up. There is a male and female version of each race, except for the Atrox, who are genderless. After choosing your race, you then get to choose the appearance of your character. You can select from a seemingly endless number of faces for your character, then choose the height and build of your character. If you want to be a short, fat spy, then nothing is stopping you. The next step is to choose your class. There is quite a large number of classes to choose from, so this will probably be the hardest choice to make.
The list of classes goes something like this: Doctor, Engineer, Fixer, Trader, Nano-Technician, Meta-Physicist, Adventurer, Agent, Soldier, Enforcer, Beaurocrat and Martial Artist. Some of these classes are self explanatory, such as the Martial Artist, but some of them are classes that may seem slightly out of place in an rpg. Classes such as the Beaurocrat and the Trader a bit out of the ordinary and provide quite a different spin on things, making the game-world a truly varied place. The Doctor is your basic healer type class, taking the place of the Cleric in the more traditional fantasy RPGs. The Nano-Technician and the Meta-Physicist are the other two "spell casting" classes. The Nano-Tech is the pure offensive spell caster, while the Meta-Physicst deals more with illusions and manifesting people's fears and emotions into tangible forces. The Engineer has the ability to build robotic droids to aid him in combat and other tasks. The Agent, Martial Artist, Enforcer and Soldier are the combat oriented classes. The Agent is the "spy" class, being trained in the covert skills and using sniper rifles and the like. The Martial Artist (as the name suggests) is a master of unarmed combat. The Enforcer is a brute type class that can soak up massive amounts of damage and lay down serious smack with baseball bats and the like, whereas the Soldier is a slightly more refined version and is skilled more in ranged combat with all sorts of pistols, rifles and Sub machine guns. The Adventurer, Beaurocrat, Fixer and Trader are four classes which are quite unique to AO. The Adventurer probably most closely resembles a Druid style class in more traditional RPG's, but the other three are quite different to anything seen in any RPG so far.
On the graphical side of things, AO also manages to excel. The graphics in general are very very good, at least on par with engines such as Unreal and Quake 3. While it still does have a few performance problems, and can slow down when you are in areas with lots of people, these problems are being actively addressed by Funcom. The textures are crisp and very detailed, and the worlds really feel like they are alive. When you're hunting through a forest, the high canopy of trees overhead almost blocking out the sun, and the long grass whipping around your legs, you really feel like you're in a living, breathing world. The effect is quite stunning. Speaking of effects, thats another area where the engine does not skimp. Be it the shimmering surface of a lake as the sun reflects off it, or the dazzling display as a Nano-Technican casts an Ice Shard Nano program, its all beautiful. When a player is affected by a Nano program, they will actually glow with a coloured aura as lightning and various other fancy effects arc around their body. The effects on the guns are also quite good, and each gun has noticeably different effects when you fire it. Also, firing your sub machine gun in burst mode or full auto is incredibly satisfying as a literal hail of bullets flies towards your target, tearing it into shreds.
Sounds are up with the graphics as far as quality is concerned. The sound effects on the weapons are very full bodied and really sound like they should. When you smack someone in the head with a metal baseball bat, it does actually sound quite painful, and when you let loose a hail of automatic gunfire it really does sound like you've just unleashed hell upon your enemies. Granted, some of the sounds do start to get repetitive after a while, but there is not a lot more Funcom could have done with them, and they're not annoying enough that it will get you pulling your hair out. The music also is very good. Unlike Everquest which used midi for its music, the music in Anarchy Online is full 128kb/s MP3s. The score is quite immersive and epic and really helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the game. It is also dynamic and will change dependant on what you are doing and where you are. If you are walking through a forest you might have no music or just some quiet, soft piece of music to set the scene, but get into a fight and the music will immediately change to an intense piece of battle music. Start to lose the fight and it will change again to a more desperate piece of music. If you win it will then change to an upbeat victory tune, but lose and you will get a sad, regretful tune of defeat. Its all very seamless and adds just as much to the game-world as the graphics do.
Overall, I am very impressed with Anarchy Online. As you can see, just from the few areas of the game I have touched upon, Funcom have put an incredible amount of effort into making Anarchy Online the true herald of the next generation of online games. While it is still marred a little at the moment by some regretful bugs, Funcom have shown they are dedicated to fixing these bugs as they are found and in the few weeks since the game has been released, have already fixed quite a lot of them. If this sort of thing bothers you, it might pay to wait a month or two until things have stabilised, but you should not let it put you off the game altogether. With such incredible potential and an already awesome number of features implemented, with many more to come, Anarchy Online is truly the next level of MMORPG.
For more information about ordering Anarchy Online, go to the official site.
For general Anarchy Online info and help, try out Anarchy Lore.