Anarchy Online sounds a bit like some shooter free-for-all, at least judging from the main title. But despite this, the game is actually an online massively multiplayer RPG that is second to none in terms of character development and detailed landscapes.
The first thing however that sets Anarchy Online apart from most massively multiplayer RPGs is that the world of Anarchy Online takes place in a science fiction universe. Getting away from the normal medieval theme that seems to permeate every other online world is quite nice.
With the futuristic setting comes a lot of interesting paths that a character can take. There are over 40 skills to work on in the game, as life in a sci-fi world is a bit more complex than your average medieval castle dwellers could imagine. There are computers to use and hack, bio-implants to install, nanotechnology to manipulate and all manner of energy and projectile weapons to master.
When you start with a new character, you begin your travels in what appears to be some type of laboratory where you can create your online persona. You get to make a few choices and then move into the next room where you make a few more choices until you have created your starting character. There are three main races in the game. The first is like your traditional human, the second is more fragile than the average human but can better use nanotechnology which basically becomes the "magic" of the world. The premise is that the planet is saturated with nanotechnology (microscopic robots) floating around and some folks can learn how to manipulate them to help or harm – just like magic spells. The final choice is a huge character that is big and strong, and more inclined to use physical skills.
Within those choices are a large combination of looks. You can make your character shorter or taller, more fat or thin and can change their hair and facial features quite a bit. I only rarely have run into a character in the game that looks similar to mine and I have seen hundreds if not thousands of folks playing the game.
You can also choose your profession at this point from about 10 different choices. Your profession determines which skills you start with, and how easy it is to learn certain skills later in the game. Since the character advancement system is point-based, anyone can learn any skill. But if a skill is within your profession, you spend less experience points to increase your proficiency than skills outside your area of expertise.
Ok, now onto the game. You start on a planet that is undergoing a civil war. The government is represented by Omni Corp. They control the larger cities throughout the world. The rebels are arranged into Clans. The Clans control most of the smaller towns and the wasteland. You can also choose to be neutral and not ally with either side. However doing so pretty much means that while you will not be attacked by either side, that you wont really fit in with anyone either. Neutrals pretty much start in the most backwater places in the empire as possible. My neutral’s first sight of the Anarchy Online world was the local junk yard.
Don’t fret too much about which side of the civil war you are on. I have seen Clan members and Omni Corp folks chatting out in the wilderness. I am sure some folks take this war very seriously, but until you get to be a high level, I doubt it will come much into play.
The world itself is nothing short of beautiful. Even the aforementioned junk yard was well rendered, with sledge pools, broken tanks and crashed rocket ships. And of course there were some robots wandering around that did not know they were dead yet. These and other creatures can be attacked mercilessly to gain experience.
Cities are very impressive. I would even go so far as to say breathtaking. If you have ever watched Blade Runner and wanted to actually wander around those ultra-cool landscapes, now is your chance. Some of the lower-end cites and towns look a bit like Tattoine from Star Wars. The only down side to all this graphic impressiveness is that it takes a while for the textures to load when you enter a new area. You can reduce the textures to about 50 percent to fix this, but then you won’t get all the beautiful graphics. This was a bit of a problem on both a T1 and a 56k line, though recent patches have helped fix load times somewhat.
The community, which is the cornerstone of any online RPG, is friendly. There were always thousands of people around, especially in cities. Just about everyone I talked to was willing to chat a bit and offer tips as to how to play the game. You can join up as a party too, and explore areas in the wilderness that would surly kill a lone character, especially a low level one.
The game does a great job of helping out when you are just starting out. There is a mission generator that you can use to get an individual mission suited to your level. You can control the mission difficultly somewhat as well. Then you are given a key that opens up the mission area. You are the only player character (unless you band together with others and make multiple keys) inside the mission area. So you can get your character up to a respectable level fairly quickly and set out to explore the world.
Anarchy Online is a lot of fun to play. The only negative thing I can really say is that the documentation that comes with the game is severely lacking. The instructions seem to take the opinion that you already know a lot about the game world, which until you play, you don’t. I wasted a lot of credits and a lot of time trying to figure out how to install bio-hardware I found along the way. The book says nothing about how to do this. Had it not been for a helpful player, I still would not know.
Also, using your skills is sometimes difficult. I was playing a fixer character and kept coming across locked boxes and doors during my individual missions. In one case I could not get through a locked door, so I could not complete my mission. I kept putting skill points into breaking and entering, which is supposed to help pick locks. Only I have no idea how to activate my pick locks skill. It’s not in my list of possible skill uses. Perhaps the game automatically tries to pick a lock when I find one, but the book says nothing about this and I don’t get any failure notification either. I have not run across another fixer in the game to ask, so I have left a lot of locked boxes and one failed mission behind for lack of information.
Taken as a whole, Anarchy Online is a great way to spend an afternoon. The game world is huge and I doubt that any one character could possibly visit all the major locations, much less all the minor ones. The game gets 4 1/2 GiN gems for being a wonderful diversion that is sure to tantalize any sci-fi fan, and for having a friendly, steadily growing community of users just waiting to meet new players.