Anarchy online, billed as the first of the next generation of online role-playing games, has been surrounded by vastly differing public opinion since it’s release in the US. Now it’s set for release in Europe, we thought we’d take another glance at the World of Rubi-Ka and the life of high science fiction in Funcom’s ambitious, if troubled, online role-playing game.
Getting started is straightforward enough. The Game mechanics, as with most MMORPGs is very simple: create a character based on race, sex, and profession (And in Rubi Ka, height, body Mass and face can all be selected to make your character look and feel more unique.) Once that has been done, you venture out into the “Newbie-lands” and start on your career path to fame, wealth, and success, or whatever the hell it is you ultimately wish to get out of the game, by beating up the low level critters, monsters, and enemy agents who wander around aimlessly for the sole purpose of getting whacked by Joe Newbie.
After each successful encounter, you receive experience which goes towards attaining you a new level and resulting in more power and skills, and a credit reward for the slaying of this critter. The credits are used, as you’d expect, to upgrade your equipment allowing you to purchase more powerful weapons, and better armour.
The skill system in AO is very well done. All characters have access to all the skills, and there are bunches and bunches of different skills. When your character reaches a new level of experience, you receive an amount of improvement points (or “IPs”), which you can put towards improving the base level of your skills. Each profession has skill sets that are easier or harder to improve. Enforcer’s, the meat shield types who tend to go face to face with the Mobs (A term referring to monsters in on-line games) are less skillful at improving more cerebral skills, such as Nano Engineering. The martial artist has ease of improving his or her Hand to Hand skill but learns Heavy Weapons skills slowly and so on.
The Main purpose of the skill level is to determine your proficiency in using it, but almost as important, a certain skill level is often based on a combination of multiple skills such as the ability to use, wield, or wear better equipment, weapons and armour.
We tried out a number of professions, including the Nano Technician, whose fantasy equivalent would be a wizard. An Enforcer (…because sometimes brute force is the only way to go), a Soldier – master of combat weaponry, the Martial Arts – well, ok – name me one person who at one time or another didn’t want to be able to fight like Bruce Lee, and finally a Fixer. Fixers are shadowy members of Rubi Ka’s underworld. Almost thief like in terms of skills and abilities. All classes were very easy to understand, play and level either solo or in a group.
The world of Rubi Ka is extremely beauiful thanks to a top rate graphics engine and some very talented artists. On a suitable system (We recommend a P3 500, with a 16MB graphics card plus 128MB Ram) it is very smooth indeed.
The amount of equipment and options for advancement at first seems daunting. The game world is pretty damned big. Some travel is possible via Whoompas. A kind of site-to-site transporter tower, that allows players to very quickly move from one area to another. The other alternative for high level players is called “The Grid”. The Grid requires high technical knowledge to even be able to enter, and once you do enter the grid, selected destinations are easier to reach than others, again, dependant on the necessary skill levels. However, travelling through the grid is rapid, allowing high level players the ease of traversing the game world.
The equipment, at first seems very comprehensive, with lots of different pistols, rifles, and submachine guns to choose from, and the same variation with types of armor. However, we did find that the equipment had not been balanced very well, with several weapons and armor types having a lot of strength and no real weakness – this of course leads to invalidating the whole idea behind having multiple choices. Everyone, it seemed, wanted the same armour and the same weapons.
The type of creatures faced by players also suffers from repetition. There are only really three categories of creatures – enemy Humanoids, Mutants, and Wildlife. And each of those categories have only a few types of each model, merely increasing in their level of difficulty. While the initial fun of encountering new creatures in, say, Everquest, tends to continue as you advance, you can very quickly see the same creatures over and over again by the time you reach only a moderate level in AO. There was none of the thrill of Seeing your first Griffin, or first Hill Giant in Anarchy Online.
One of the much-hyped features in AO is the random mission generator. Rather than quests that are given to players by NPCs and often require creatures or components that are hunted by other players, in AO you can go to a booth, and tailor make a mission that is initially available only to you (There are game mechanisms that can allow you to bring friends with you). This was both a blessing and a curse for AO. The missions, initially buggy, were functioning very well when we tested it, however, because missions were the easiest and safest way to gain experience, items and credits – there ended up being really no point in hunting out in the wilderness.
Sadly, this is where AO really begins to drop behind the current selection of online games. It’s so very quiet! There is almost no interaction with other players except for trading items in cities and the occasional hooking up with other players out in the wilderness when the prospect of doing your 15th straight mission in a row, solo, is beginning to wane. This is due, in part, to the poor communications system, but mainly due to the ease of self-reliance. Essentially, this ends up being a solo game online. Is this a bad thing? Well, if you hated the dependence of classes in Everquest on certain types of encounters, you will find AO very refreshing. However, if you enjoyed the social element of Everquest, you will find the world of Rubi Ka more than a little lonely. Almost as quiet as Asheron’s Call was when it first came out.
Given these factors, there really is only one thing left to keep the game fresh and that is the PvP system. On starting out – each player chooses an allegiance: Perhaps you will choose loyalty to Omni Tek, the corporation that has funded the colonization of Rubi Ka and rules with an iron hand. Alternatively, you may opt to fight on the side of the Clans – those who have rebelled against this oppressive regime, or perhaps you will choose to remain Neutral and decide later which side deserves your allegiance.
PvP occurs only in selected zones, and typically those that border the Lands of the Clan and the Omni Tek Corporation’s holdings. The most basic PvP takes place in Political Zones. Where the three teams can fight members of the opposing two teams. Alternatively, you can go to the badlands and fight your own side in a free for all. By zoning PvP, Funcom were able to let players who wanted to fight other players do so without forcing those who do not to also risk dying at the hands of a player.
The PvP system is relatively well done, although I do feel more zones should be available for political combat.
So what is my overall thoughts on Anarchy Online? Funcom made a valiant attempt to combine the strengths of those games that went before and removing the weaknesses. However, what resulted was something that had as lackluster a challenge as Asheron’s call, without the somewhat overbearing polishing of Everquest, and the chaotic fluctuation of life and death of Ultima Online.
Some of the features, were really quite inspired. Death, for example is handled very neatly with your body being recloned at the last place you “saved it” all your equipment, that was likewise saved is returned to you automatically, getting rid of the necessity for running around trying to find where you left your body. This is a nice feature, but I can’t help but feel it detracts from the overall challenge of the online game – by removing the fear of loss of your belongings, players can take more chances… a good thing, or a bad thing? Your choice.
The overall stability of the game has been improved. There are still a few bugs, but that is somewhat inherent in the nature of the genre.
Ultimately, seeing now that Funcom are allowing players to try AO for free, it is certainly worth your time to try out Anarchy Online for a month. After that? You decide.
A brave foray into the sci fi genre of MMORPGs, hampered by lack of content and long term goals. Doesn’t satisfy hardcore role-players, and provides a sometimes lag-ridden, single player online game, randomly interspersed with meeting other players. However, for the low, low price of free – this game is worth checking out.
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