The next great massively multiplayer RPG is just around the corner, but right now it’s more Anarchy than Online.
When we say Anarchy Online is the next great MMRPG, understand that we mean it will be sometime in the future — not at this very moment. As the office resounds with the cacophony of angry gamers venting their frustration about crashed games and terrible lag, it’s clear that there is some serious work to be done before Anarchy Online fulfills its potential of being an EverQuest-killer. But it will become just that.
From the first moments of play, AO is a unique science-fiction experience. You’re a newly arrived colonist on the massive, mostly untamed world of Rubi-Ka. An evil corporation, Omni-Tek, is terra-forming the planet, mining its resources and generally mucking with the environment. A group of rebels have run into the wilds and formed a series of independent tribes to combat the company, and a third group of settlers have separated themselves from both sides and are trying to claim neutrality.
You build a character by choosing among the three factions, four races, and 12 professions (ranging from martial artists and soldiers to bureaucrats and Meta-physicists). None of the professions are restricted by race, and because of the intricate system of strengths and weaknesses among the races, you have 48 distinct options for a starting character. That’s just the beginning.
Character development works on a level-based and point-based system. As in the Fallout series, earning a certain amount of experience points results in leveling-up, and points can be distributed to improve skills as you see fit. How much each skill costs to raise is dependent on profession and race, and since there are over 80 different skills, it’s never an easy decision. Nano-technology, Anarchy’s answer to magic, is open to all professions, as are most weapons and armor.
An example of the incredible character depth: While playing an Opifex (a small wiry race with amazing agility and gray skin) martial artist who uses little nano, carries no weapons, and is amazing at hand-to-hand combat, I’ve grouped at various times with a Nanomage (a hybrid race engineered to master nano-tech) martial artist who could light his fists on fire or disappear into the underbrush, and with an Atrox (a race of uni-sex, muscle-bound giants) martial artist who wore hundreds of pounds of armor and chased enemies around with an iron girder and — yes, I’m serious — a dining-room chair.
That sort of variety makes it easy to form groups without sticking to the traditional fantasy RPG formulas (one healer, two mages, three tanks). And Anarchy encourages group adventuring with an experience split that’s the most generous of any game to date.
Also encouraging goodwill is AO’s mission system, which in one truly brilliant move eliminates all camping problems. When you tire of hunting the wildlife, simply head to the nearest mission terminal and volunteer to do some work for your faction. Once you accept a mission, you get a key that allows only you — and those you make copies for — admittance to your own private dungeon.
Of course, right now getting to that dungeon or keeping your whole party online is the trick, as AO goes through the same growing pains as its predecessors. There’s terrible lag inside the large cities, and crash bugs are still the norm, but in the few days before we went to print the game was already improving by leaps and bounds. Anarchy may not be the EverQuest-killer as you read this, but you can expect these games to be dueling it out for players come Christmas.
— Daniel Erickson