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Anarchy Online
Anarchy Online is Funcom's venture into the growing massively multiplayer market. Though it's marred by some problems, the game takes the MMORPG into new territory.
By - Caryn "Hellchick" Law

The splendor of Rome.
"Massively Multiplayer Online" and "Role-Playing Game" are two terms that have always been linked together like peanut butter and jelly -- you rarely see the former without the latter. At least, that was the case during the reign of Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron's Call. And until Deus Ex, RPGs were mostly relegated to the fantasy setting. Norwegian developer Funcom's Anarchy Online is an attempt to break out of the traditional fantasy world and move the player into the futuristic, sci-fi universe of Rubi-Ka.

Pre-Patch or Post-Patch?

When it came to reviewing Anarchy Online, we had some heated arguments at the 'Spy. Do we review it right out of the box or post-patch? Our policy is to review a game as it comes off the shelf with no patches -- if a game is on the shelf, it needs to be in finished, playable condition. But massively multiplayer games are different animals in that patching is automatic, sometimes server-side, and often adds more than just fixes. The game is also constantly evolving and never really "finished." As we do for most MMO games, we chose to give AO a two-week play period, long enough for the reviewer to get into the game's universe.

AO was released in a nearly unplayable state, and those who played the game as soon as it was available experienced major difficulties. But after two weeks patches have fixed some of the issues. Since we use a two-week review window, this review takes a look at the game two weeks after release.

Having been an EverQuest player for the last couple of years, it is nearly impossible to review Anarchy Online without incessantly comparing the two. However, this isn't inherently bad; the audience that Verant has managed to capture (some say slavishly) will almost certainly be at home in Anarchy Online. And while the game is not without flaws that are hard to overlook, it does bring some new things to the massively multiplayer table that are more enjoyable than the current crop of MMORPGs.

Born on Rubi-Ka

An element of both Blade Runner and Neuromancer runs through the story line of Anarchy Online. Set on the desert planet of Rubi-Ka, the plot centers on two factions: the powerful corporate entity Omni-Tek and the Clans, a group of rebels set on exposing Omni-Tek as the evil, faceless corporation they believe it to be. The theme of the game is designed to push both sides toward a full-scale war for domination of the planet. When creating a character, players can choose to align themselves with either Omni-Tek or the Clans, or they can choose to remain neutral.

Like any role-playing game, players are able to choose a particular race and class to play. Anarchy Online has four races to choose from. While the number of races might seem limited compared to other MMORPGs, AO offers a lot of customization in their look. The player has many faces to choose from, and you can choose to make your character taller or shorter and fatter or thinner.

You're then able to choose from one of twelve professions. Some of the professions bear an uncanny resemblance to EverQuest counterparts. The Agent, the class I chose to play, is very similar to the Rogue or Thief class. The Martial Artist resembles the monk. And the Engineer is AO's answer to the Necromancer with its use of a pet -- in AO's case, a robot instead of the undead.

The morning sun.
Unlike many MMORPGs where the character creation takes place in a generally static environment, all character creation in AO is done in-game in a kind of laboratory-like level, with the player choosing a class and then moving on to a second lab to choose a face and body type, then to a third lab to choose a name, and finally to the exit area, where the player will choose which faction, if either, to align with. This kind of character creation is a small but nice touch that immediately sets the game apart from its peers.

Next: Nanos...

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