In this review we’ll be looking at ‘Anarchy Online’, released by Norway-based Funcom nearly sixteen years-ago, and released on Steam in February 2017. That’s right, it pre-dates World of Warcraft – it’s one of the many massively multiplayer titles which were eventually displaced by the behemoth from Blizzard.
The story behind Anarchy Online is extensive and difficult to summarize without spoiling the fun of traversing the world and finding the tid-bits of lore and putting together your understanding of the universe the game is set in. Though from a very superficial perspective the game is set in a futuristic sci-fi world just shy of 30,000 years in to the future, on the world of Rubi-Ka where you’ve inherited a world recovering from being ravaged a millennia ago by the ancient race of ‘Xan’.
You play in a politically-charged climate in the time-period of the ‘Notum Wars’ where the corporate organization ‘Omni-Corp’ are accused of holding the planet in a strangle hold and abusing the miners of the unique resource ‘Notum’. You’re tasked with joining Omni-Corp or the Rebel-Clans comprised of down-trodden miners looking for justice, and swaying the course of the war through contributions in the open-world Player Vs Player events and an extensive quest-line.
If we were to just review the graphics or gameplay against current offerings it would be a little bit of a skewed review so I’ll do my best to be objective; though having a respectable amount of hours invested in the game from 2004 through 2008 on and off, I do have a soft-spot for the oldie.
Before we dive in to the nitty-gritty, what makes a good MMORPG? I believe it’s the following (in no particular order):
– An avatar with enough flexibility to put your own stamp on it.
– An immersive world which you can lose yourself in.
– A dynamic end-game experience.
– A diverse and robust community.
The Good & The Bad – How does it compare to modern titles?
There’s a massive contrast between MMO’s from the circa 2000 and those available now, the games tended to consist of a heavier bias towards hard-core players who treated the game in the same way the traditional Dungeon & Dragons fan would one of their imagined characters. This impacted characters, skills and progression in a massive way; there was flexibility and a huge emphasis on making the characters your own and as a result the choices in-game were much more diverse.
I’ve played MMO’s for the last sixteen years almost exclusively, having hit the majority of the big names at various points in their life-cycles, and I don’t think I came across a title which was deeper than Anarchy Online. Opposed to the five-six attributes we’re familiar with in most RPG games (Strength, Endurance, Etc.) Anarchy does have a class system (referred to as Professions) with fourteen to choose between and each is clearly defined and serves a niche role in parties. The professions however only restrict your use of nano’s (spells), around that the spending of your ‘Investment Points’ (stat points) enables you to tailor your character towards specific weapons, play-styles or even existing exclusively off of providing others with item-creation.
Being a game from 2001, the character appearance customization is limited compared to consumer expectations now despite the new game-engines implementation… but this is heavily subsidized by the skins-slots available in-game as well as your unique spending of stat points.
Beyond the sheer scope of options in terms of stat spending, equipment is by-and-large not level-locked as is typical now in games as a result of developer attempts to enforce balance across levels to increase the experiences of casual players. Equipment instead requires you to spend your investment points in to specific skills in order to meet minimum requirements.
This has bred a community which has a penchant for ‘twinking’; twinking is the art of getting as low-level a character as possible into the highest stat-requirement gear as possible. This is often achieved through incredibly intricate leap-frogging of trading in to and out of equipment sets which boost specific attributes in order to squeeze by the narrowest margins in to combat or trade-skill items. As a result the Player vs Player environments in the lower levels are the playgrounds of the wealthy, those who can afford the expansion sets and less-common items at significantly higher recommended equip-levels.
These kinds of endeavours often became social events where guilds (organizations in Anarchy) would pool resources and provide buff-effects to help squeeze as many stat-points as possible into the equation to maximize the gains.
Returning to the game now after a nine-year hiatus the game has a feeling of hollowness. Like every other MMO before it the greatest feature was always the community; good gameplay and story has little value in an MMO environment if there is nobody to share it with. In recent years Funcom merged the servers together into a single server in an effort to pool the dwindling community though it has unfortunately not been enough. The refinement of the game has failed to keep pace with rival titles, Funcom has released its own new MMO titles such as Age of Conan. This coupled with an extortionate monthly subscription (€17) has forced returning customers to look elsewhere, as the option of playing on a free account today impairs your ability to engage in PvP, end-game content with those who do still play and once you’ve purchased expansions the option of playing free again on the same account is lost.
I’ve spent the past week scooting around Rubi-Ka and the shadlowlands looking for parties to play through content ranging from level 90 up to level 200 and for the most part I’ve been playing solo with the occasional person running past throwing a few buffs my way – it was almost reminiscent of playing Journey (ThatGameCompany, 2012), in that the other players were often ghosts essentially owing to their being at the maximum level of 220 with no interest in normal gameplay – most players have now evolved to playing with multiple instances of the game running and creating/levelling their own extra professions to fill gaps in parties.
To compound the loneliness in the expansive world of Rubi-Ka and the Shadowlands, the economy in the game over the course of sixteen years has inflated to the point that anybody who has not been playing consistently returns to be impoverished by the scaling of costs due to inadequate currency-dump opportunities.
The forums for Anarchy show the community are eager for players to flood in with the re-release on the Steam platform, though at present it simply isn’t happening because there is no opportunity for new-comers to engage with the aged community who already inhabit the world.
Anarchy Online has a lot to offer, especially to players who are tired of the beaten path and relish the opportunity to create a character with enough flexibility to be near-anything they can imagine. Though story-telling techniques in games are near-exclusively text-blocks which can be disinteresting, combat is clunky and the artificial intelligence on mobs crude and unforgiving. Pet-classes remain hamstrung by frequent disconnects between player-commands/location and the pets, principally as a result of poor pathing systems.
I heavily recommend players give Anarchy Online a spin, just like Dungeons & Dragons it has replayability and a certain degree of timelessness… though for it to be successful long-term it is going to require a massive influx of players.
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