|Editor Rating:||7/10, based on 1 review|
|User Rating:||10.0/10 - 2 votes|
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All things considered, Anarchy Online has made a rather impressive start. Yes, there are bugs galore, there are memory issues that cause what most people would erroneously describe as lag, when in fact it's a rather serious memory allocation problem that renders the game almost unplayable in crowded areas for people with less than 512Mb of RAM. There are lag issues too and comedy design faults that are slowly being rectified. But this is the world of online RPGs. EverQuest was just as bad when it was first released, and Ultima Online was much worse. Almost six weeks into its official release, Anarchy Online is finally approaching a vague sense of uneasy stability. It's not perfect, but it's playable. If you're used to playing Everquest or Asheron's Call and you launch into Anarchy Online expecting the same sort of smooth gameplay, you will be disappointed. Anarchy Online has a long, long way to go before it realises its true potential, but already the signs are there that Funcom will get to the top of the online RPG ladder eventually. Whether or not you want to get involved in the early days of Anarchy Online, complete with its ups and downs, highs and lows, is up to you. Fortunately, it's not a decision you will have to make alone. What follows is a detailed account of my experiences in Anarchy Online in the first six weeks of its release. The rest is up to you.
Brave New World
Visually, Anarchy Online is a thing of beauty. Highly detailed environments and smoothly animated characters make for a very immersive gameworld, and the huge selection of equipment, armour and clothes make it easy for players to create an individual persona and stand out from the crowd. This sort of freedom to 'be who you want to be' was first pioneered in Ultima Online, and later ignored by EverOuest (player characters in EverQuest look, for the most part, eerily similar). While visuals are not the most important element in an online RPG, it certainly helps to suspend disbelief when you are not walking around in a world ^ where everyone looks the same, and newcomers to the RPG scene and casual I gamers will love this ability to make an'identikit' persona. If proof of this were needed, you need only witness the mayhem in the W in-game shopping channel when sunglasses were first discovered in the game. The entire shopping channel appeared to be obsessed with k getting a pair of shades. All hopes of finding that special piece of equipment or gun m upgrade or new armour W were lost as the world m went mad out-bidding each other for the best set of shades they could get their hands on. Hopeless despair. But if that's what makes people happy, who are we to argue?
Sophisticated player emotes further separate Anarchy Online from its rivals in terms of presentation. You cannot fail to be impressed at the animations as players dance smoothly and elegantly and gesture with a seemingly endless line of expressions at their disposal. Word has it that Shadows Of Luclin(the new EverQuest expansion due for release at the end of this year) will feature character expressions and emotes. They will have to be something pretty special to come anywhere near the quality evident here. Visually then, Anarchy Online is the pick of the current online RPG crop. Gameplay, of course, is another story altogether.
Welcome To Rubi-Ka
When you first enter the world of Rubi-ka (the futuristic planet that plays host to Anarchy Online), you will be invited to create a character. There are many character choices to choose from including soldiers (frontline combat), nano technicians (damage dealers) and doctors and adventurers (healers) to name but a few. Deciding which profession to take is obviously largely a matter of taste, but there is currently much debate over what the best professions are. Anarchy Online goes through so many changes with every major patch, that it's still too early to tell which professions will prove to be the most popular and satisfying to play. Whichever class you choose, you will soon be thrown into the newbie zone to kill monsters and gain experience to go up in level. I would suggest playing a few you like the sound of to about level five before deciding which one to play 'proper' to the game's higher levels.
Character class aside, the most important decision you will make at character creation is choosing your allegiance. The world of Rubi-ka is in a constant state of conflict between Omni-tek (a futuristic corporation) and the Clans (freedom fighters struggling to free Rubi-ka from Omni-tek's oppressive grip). While this choice may seem to be there purely for role-playing purposes, the side of the conflict you choose to play will have more ominous repercussions when the game's built-in storyline kicks off and player-to-player combat will, presumably, play a large part in the proceedings. You can, if you wish, stay neutral at the beginning and decide which side to play later. You can even change sides later in the game through the use of application forms. Either way, whichever side you choose, you will then be left to the serious business of levelling.
Anarchy Online, in its most simple form, is no different to any other RPG out there. It's all about killing things to gain experience, going up in level when you acquire enough experience points and buying weapons and armour with the money you loot from the stuff you've killed. When you first enter the training grounds and start shooting things in the head with whatever beginner weapon you've been given, you may experience an eerie feeling of djvu. Target the monster, press Q to attack, and keep shooting until it's dead. Nothing new there then, and indeed, this will be more or less what you will be doing for the first few levels. However, there is another way to advance in Anarchy Online and it's probably the game's single most innovative feature...
There are mission terminals all over Rubi-ka. Walk up to one, right-click it, request a mission, and you can read details of the mission at hand, which tell you where to go, what your mission objective is, how much money you will receive for the mission, and what your reward will be if you successfully complete it (usually a weapon, a piece of armour, or a useful item). Upon accepting the mission, you can download the mission co-ordinates to your compass, and follow the pointer to your destination. There are several mission types. You might be asked to retrieve or fix an item, or observe or even assassinate someone at the mission location. Generally speaking, missions take place in a maze of corridors, with most rooms containing an enemy of some sort to be dispatched in whatever manner you see fit. Missions are generated based on your level, but you can change the difficulty if you think you're hard and want to take on more challenging enemies to get more money and better items. This method of advancement is not as exciting as hunting out in the wilds with other players, but it's a reasonable alternative to competing for monster spawns at busy locations where there are too many people.
Regardless, you had better get used to doing missions, because there is no other way to make decent money in the game. Trade skills may prove lucrative when there are more players who can use them properly (most of the trade skills in the game don't work as advertised at the moment) but the only way to get ahead in Anarchy Online as it stands is to do missions, and lots of them. You'll need money for just about everything in this game. Nanos (spells), implants (they improve your skills and stats when you install them 'magically' on to your person), weapons, armour... they all cost credits and, while you will undoubtedly pick up a lot of coin hunting in the wilds, it's mere peanuts compared to what you can get from a well-paid mission. And so begins the treadmill: hunt in the wilds to level fast, stop to do missions so you can buy equipment and upgrades when the monsters you are fighting prove too tough, repeat to fade.
The highest level you can attain in Anarchy Online is 200.I have to be honest here and say I do not want to spend 200 levels hunting monsters that appear to be increasingly higher-level variations on the same things and completing missions that are becoming increasingly tedious. Like I said at the beginning, Anarchy Online is in its early stage of development. It's an excellent game as it stands, but its long-term appeal is currently in question. Funcom is planning to introduce more interesting and challenging missions and static dungeons with 'interesting' enemies. Let's hope they do. Anarchy Online is a great achievement, and we have high hopes that it will eventually rule the online RPG roost.
Funcom prides itself on the fact there is no downtime in battles. It is right, and Anarchy Online beats EverQuest hands-down in this respect. But there is plenty of hidden downtime in the game. If you want decent weapons and armour, prepare yourself for this...
Weapons and armour (and many items in the game) have a Quality Level (QL) which gives you an idea of how good they are. You can only use things that are close to your level in terms of QL, so if the armour and weapon shops don't have what you want (they rarely do), you will have to go on missions to get items. Subsequently, you will spend an age requesting missions before anything you want shows up as a mission reward. So, if you want good gear you will either spend hours staring at the mission terminal... or spend hours staring at a screen not unlike the one shown below right. The shopping channel in the comer of the screen shows people selling stuff. They sell all kinds of things: weapons, armour, items, implants, you name it, you can get it here. There's one slight problem, if people aren't selling items close to your level in terms of QL, you will just have to sit here and stare at this screen until they do. This is the single biggest problem in Anarchy Online. You are forced to do missions repeatedly or shop to get what you need. Something needs to change. Funcom says enemies in the wild will soon drop better items. I hope they drop something better than the useless low-level pap they give you at the moment, and instead give you something you can actually use. There's nothing more annoying than sitting around waiting for things to happen.