Norwegian developer Funcom has been making waves lately with Conan Exiles, but for me they will always the studio behind science fiction MMO Anarchy Online. The 16-year-old game finally hit Steam this week, so I hopped back in to create my first new character in a long, long time.
I first played Anarchy Online during its infamously troubled launch. Plagued by server lag, disconnects and rampant rubberbanding (when a player moves their character forward only to have them snap back to the starting point), many people who gave the game a go back then quit and never came back.
But in 2002 I decided to give the game another try. I was in a bad spot, having temporarily moved back in with my parents following a period of unemployment, and I needed an escape. Anarchy Online's strange and beautiful planet of Rubi-Ka was exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
I fought for freedom against the Omni-Tek Corporation on the side of the Clans. Then I fought to reign in the Clans' revolutionary aspirations on the side of Omni-Tek. I grinded, I explored. I role-played in one of the game's many player-run organisations. I briefly served as an ARK, basically a volunteer game master. It was a great time.
Then World of Warcraft came out in 2004, and that was that. I'd poke around when expansion packs were released or major changes to the game engine or mechanics occurred, but for the most part my time on Rubi-Ka was done.
Now it's 2017, and it's been at least a decade since I played Anarchy Online seriously. I'd meant to return with the big update Funcom released in 2015, but never found the time. The game is free-to-play, and while there have been some game engine upgrades, the characters are the same blurry, blocky jokers as they have always been.
In the video atop this post I go through character creation and stumble through the new player experience. Here's the basic rundown:
First the player chooses from one of four races — Solitus (humans), Opifex (kind of elves), Nanomage (space wizards) and Atrox (sexless thugs.) These are the same four "breeds" Anarchy Online has offered since the beginning. No need to mess with a good thing. Besides, adding another might call for a character model revamp, and who needs that?
If you're a new player, next thing you do is sit and stare at the profession list and shake your head. Maybe you read a few descriptions. Then you pick the one that looks the coolest. Wrong, you should have chosen Bureaucrat. AO added two new professions, the tanky Keeper and sneaky Shade, back in 2003. Seems like plenty of choices.
Then it's time to customise your character.
Pick a head, a height and a build. Done. These character models have not aged well at all.
From there we're launched into what is at least the fourth starting experience the game has seen, certainly the fourth I have played. Now it's time to figure out how to assign stat points, equip nanos (spells and abilities), wield a weapon, summon a robot, and keep yourself alive through the opening missions.
Kill a few robots, complete a few tasks, remember which button on the mouse turns the camera and which turns the player.
In no time you'll be breezing through the game with ease. You'll master your skills, earn enough credits to upgrade your abilities, and you certainly won't die in a dirty sewer after taking on a boss bug unprepared.
In an age where other MMORPGs try to make things simple, Anarchy Online remains pretty complicated, even for someone who used to play obsessively. There are dozens of skills to spend points on, equipment with stat requirements, and all sorts of nuanced mechanics. It's hard to imagine someone coming into all of this fresh and not being confused. But that's kind of the joy of Anarchy Online. Crunching the numbers, buffing skills, increasing stats so you can squeeze into the best armour and use the most powerful abilities.
If you like maths, this is your game. If stunning visuals are your thing, maybe pass. While Anarchy Online still sounds great and plays ok, it is no longer the looker it once was.