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Anarchy Online

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Funcom
Developer: Funcom
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - Many
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Simply put, Anarchy Online is the most beautiful MMORPG I've ever seen. The world ranges from lush forests to dirty mega-industrial cities, and each location is displayed with a visual panache usually reserved for fine-tuned first person shooters. I found myself consistently in awe of the sheer scale of the game, with sweeping skyscrapers and towering trees looking fantastic. The various character and creature models are similarly well-detailed, although most of them have some pretty serious animation problems; you get a lot of 'air-glide' animations both from the enemies and when you're trying to run and attack at the same time. The game also has problems with displaying more than one 'zone' at once; this is especially notable inside mission areas, where if you look through two doors you see a really nasty Hall-Of-Mirrors effect. But most of these are minor gripes. For the most part, Anarchy Online simply looks fantastic.

It sounds great, too. The music is always appropriate, and the pulse-pounding combat tunes are just as fantastic as the slightly off-beat Entertainment District music. There's nary a bad tune--at least, that I found--and a lot of them I found myself humming or at least thumping along to as I played the game. With the necessarily repetitive action in the game, it's good to know that you're going to at least have good music to kill by. Sound effects are solid, but not as good as the sound; the various death throes sound too similar, and it's somewhat bizarre when a skeleton-type-beastie makes the same death grunt as the much meatier sniper you just offed. Weapon effects are nice, but they get repetitive much faster than the music, and for the most part I simply tuned out the sound effects. They're not bad, but they're nothing fantastic.


Gameplay:

It's tough to cover a game like Anarchy Online. No matter how much I play it, I can only get a mere glimpse of the wide universe that Funcom is bringing to life, a tiny taste of the vast universe. The world of Rubi-Ka is intriguing enough to keep me coming back, and I want to explore the world through the next planned four years of storyline, but I can definitely understand the frustration of a number of players right now. Even with a broadband connection, the game is consistently laggy and frustrating to control; I can only imagine how bad it is over a 56K modem. Along with a number of other issues and a less-than-adequate instruction book, Anarchy Online is tough to get into and has a lot of room for improvement. As it stands, though, there's a hell of a lot of fun to be had with the game.

When you first get into the world of Anarchy Online, you're taken into an interactive character builder. You can pick the 'race' of your character; they range from the slender Optifex to the brutish Atrox, and everything in-between. The sci-fi setting permeates even this section, with a laboratory feel, but in the end you're picking the sorts of races that you do in any fantasy title. Then you get to pick your look, customizing your face and height and whatnot to make yourself stand out a little more in the world of Rubi-Ka. Next comes the character classes. There are a ton of these, ranging from the all-out combat Enforcers to the item-creating Traders and the program-wielding Nano-Technicians. Once chosen, though, your character class is permanent, and most of the programs (AO's version of spells) are only usable by a single profession, so choose wisely.

Then you get to choose your side. This is vastly important in the game; the clans and Omni-Tek are very much opposites in terms of viewpoint, and you will be slaughtered if you're foolish enough to venture into opposing territory. You can also choose the Neutral side, which seems to be merely a temporary respite from picking a side. More will be known when the plotline fully starts up in the game.

Once you get into the game itself, it plays quite similarly to many MMORPGs, at least at first blush. You've got the easy training areas, followed by a much wider world to explore. Unlike EverQuest, though, quests (called missions here) are completely random. You walk up to a Mission Generator, set a few toggles, and let it spawn a few different ones off. They generally require jaunting to some location on the map and entering a building or cave, where the game basically sticks you in your very own zone to explore. The dungeons or apartments or whatever are randomly generated, populated with enemies and treasure. Completion of the mission nets you some bonus experience and cred and a free item to play with. It's a nice system.

Unfortunately, it's also a repetitive system. The different types of quests soon sort of blend into the same sort of thing, and you'll have repaired more radar displays than you would have thought existed on a single planet before you're done. I understand the technical limitations with making a huge variety of missions, but I still wish there were more differences between them.

The world itself is huge, with a number of plotlines just waiting to be picked up and run with. The warring towns of Four Holes, the vast backdrops of the deserts and forests, and the Longest Road which as of yet doesn't quite go anywhere all lend to the vast realm of the game. Each 'zone' is dotted with interesting locations, ranging from mission points to stores to places to save your character (er, Insurance Terminals). Even though a few of the ideas seem a little like a 'cheat' around the sci-fi setting, such as the nano-programs which basically work like magic, the world itself is extremely cohesive and lends itself to roleplaying more than most games of the genre. There's something about the gothic cyberpunk setting that reminds me of Dune and other classics of the far future, and I like it.

Unfortunately, the game has a number of technical problems. Lag is absolutely horrendous in highly-populated areas; I saw my framerate drop into the one-a-second range on many occasions, simply because there were lots of people running around. Unlocking treasure chests sometimes shows you nothing inside of them, but if you select them again you'll find items. The game's camera acts really awfully if you're lagging, zooming inside and ahead and anywhere but somewhere useful as your screen movement crawls to a halt. I had some missions not complete properly, and I still have a mission key to a house three days after that mission expired. There are also the ever-changing balance problems, which are endemic to any MMORPG.

Despite all of this, there's a lot to like about the game.


Difficulty:

This is near-impossible to judge for an MMORPG. I can tell you that from talking to friends, getting your IP usage--the points that you get every time you level--perfect is near-impossible, and the game is pretty unforgiving at higher levels if you screwed up your allotments at the beginning of the game. This is a shame, because the last thing you want to do with a character you devoted forty hours to is lose them. And the game can be tough at the beginning if you don't follow the path it sets out for you. For example, I wanted my Enforcer to specialize in 2-handed blunt weaponry instead of 1-handed, but I couldn't afford a new 2HB weapon until many hours into the game. This made some of the opening missions much harder than they should have been. Of course, once I got myself a decent 2HB weapon I was pretty much tearing the enemies apart, so challenge is definitely highly dependent on your situation. Be careful, and ask people around you for safer places to go, and you'll do well.

Game Mechanics:

The game uses a combination keyboard-and-mouse interface that is surprisingly easy to get used to. All of the various interface options, like maps and stats and whatnot, are controlled by a little bar at the top of the screen. You can open or close the windows at your leisure, and if too many are open you can scroll them to see the rest. This can be a pain, though, and a few of the windows are pretty glitchy; the buttons in my Actions panel move around on a regular basis, so I stopped using it in favour of the Quicklaunch bar. These are the sorts of glitches that typically get ironed out as the MMORPG progresses, but there are a disturbing number of them even a month or so after the launch of the game. Be prepared to download an absolute boatload of patches if you have an early CD burn as well; I suggest that 56K users download the .exe versions of them, just in case they ever have to reinstall. There's a lot of 'em.

Let's get this straight: I love Anarchy Online. I hope to continue playing it for a long, long time. But even though I love it, I see many of its flaws. Some of them are minor, like the interface glitches. Some of them, like the lag, need to be fixed before the game becomes even more popular. There's more to do in the world of Rubi-Ka than any adventurer would have time to see in a lifetime, and Funcom is constantly adding new stuff to the place, but you're going to have to tough through some problems before you see the glowing light at the end of the cybered-up tunnel.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x/Me/2K, P2 300, 64MB RAM, 2x CD-ROM, 8MB 3D accelerator, sound card, 700MB HD space, 28.8K modem
 

Test System:



Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM, cablemodem connection

Windows America Windows Age of Empires II: Age of Kings

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated