In a world where swords, shields, sorcery and scantily clad women are almost synonymous with massively multiplayer online RPGing, one could describe Anarchy Online, Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s answer to the success (if you can call it that) of Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call, as innovative. OK, so they still have scantily clad women in Rubi-Ka, but for God\’e2\’80\’99s sakes, it\’e2\’80\’99s a desert planet. Cut them AND me some slack.

Innovative. AO is the only one of the current \’e2\’80\’98Big Four\’e2\’80\’99 (which is a small group which includes UO, EQ and AC) MMORPGs that is set in a futuristic sci-fi setting. It also has several key differences in gameplay from its competition, and it boasts a so called \’e2\’80\’98epic story arc spanning the four year life cycle of the game, shaped by individual player actions\’e2\’80\’99, a far cry from UO\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98add a new monster or item and call it a quest\’e2\’80\’99 philosophy, not to mention EQ\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98a huge, cool looking uber-mob killing everyone IS a quest, damnit\’e2\’80\’99 mantra and AC\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98screw quests, the customer base just wants a new wardrobe\’e2\’80\’99 mission statement.


But is it fun? Is it any good? Is it worth shelling out the $50 US down (six point five billion Canadian Funds), $15 US a month to play? It has always been my experience that to form a sound, set in stone opinion of a game, you need to log at least ten hours playing it. Play Black And White. This is a good example of the best nine and a half hours of a game you will ever play in your entire life. Wait \’e2\’80\’98till the tenth hour rolls around. You\’e2\’80\’99ll want your money back AND EA\’e2\’80\’99s head on a platter.

(NOTE: The \’e2\’80\’98ten hours for a sound opinion\’e2\’80\’99 Teirism does not work for
anything but computer/console games. If the sex only lasted eight seconds, it was most likely really bad. If the movie was longer than three hours, it was probably Titanic or Pearl Harbor, in which case it was most likely really bad. I\’e2\’80\’99m glad we understand one another.)

Having logged 40+ hours in AO now, as several professions, I think I\’e2\’80\’99m more than qualified to pick the game apart.

Let\’e2\’80\’99s start with the pros, shall we?

First off, the minute you log in (whether it\’e2\’80\’99s the first minute you sat down, or one minute before you stick a gun in your mouth from frustration; see below) you will notice that the graphics are beautiful. Like EverQuest, only several times better and without ogres.

Pretty quick, you\’e2\’80\’99ll soon recognize that the guys at Funcom have a pretty sharp wit. The character creation system is a stroke of genius. No separate menu or anything. Just a \’e2\’80\’98clinic dungeon\’e2\’80\’99 which lets you choose many parameters for your new \’e2\’80\’98buddy\’e2\’80\’99, and randomly assigns you a first/last name combo for color. Outside in the newbie garden, you can strike up a conversation with one of the local newbie creatures, the \’e2\’80\’98Leet\’e2\’80\’99 family. Yes, they\’e2\’80\’99ll talk back to you.

This reporter managed to nab an exclusive interview with one of the Leets just this morning:

Teirlap: Hey, Leet.

Leet: sup

Teirlap: So\’e2\’80\’a6 Real sorry about killing your brother earlier, man.

Leet: whats ur equip

Teirlap: Oh. A couple of Freedom Arms handguns. Hehe. He really made a cool sizzle sound when I offed him.

Leet: stfu

Teirlap: Sorry, dude. Didn\’e2\’80\’99t mean to hit so close to the mark, there.

Leet: kthx

Other interesting tidbits include the \’e2\’80\’98pillow\’e2\’80\’99 weapon, and some of the comments on various equipment, notably Martial Artist techniques.

Equipment is pretty much readily available, a pro and a con, and most, if not every item in the game can be purchased randomly in a shop. Of course, it probably won\’e2\’80\’99t be too cheap. Missions also cough up equipment that can be easily utilized seconds after acquiring it, a rarity in most games, like in EQ, where the best stuff has to be camped for.

Missions are another plus/minus of AO. The idea of walking up to a \’e2\’80\’98machine\’e2\’80\’99 and having it assign me a quest, complete with reward I can actually use and randomly generated dungeon is a veritable wet dream to me. Missions can also be tailored for \’e2\’80\’98alignment\’e2\’80\’99 (Good/Evil), reward (Cash/EXP, although you also get a random item upon completion) and several other parameters.

The world is also quite large. I\’e2\’80\’99ve barely scraped the surface of it, but if the press releases/hype are true, there\’e2\’80\’99s a lot of open \’e2\’80\’98outside\’e2\’80\’99 space to run around/kill people in, as well as unlimited indoor space. The apartments, although a tad dicey at a moment like most features, are quite an interesting concept. I love my little fridge. *smirks*

PvP, while I haven\’e2\’80\’99t done a lot of it, seems to be somewhat well balanced between the different professions (barring a few isolated cases) and is readily available, be it within cities in free for all arenas, or in \’e2\’80\’98political\’e2\’80\’99 and \’e2\’80\’98mayhem\’e2\’80\’99 zones outside the major urban areas, where you can combat players in opposite factions (Clan VS Omni, etc.) Even team PvP seems all right. Which I find bloody bizarre.

That\’e2\’80\’99s about where the pros run out, and the cons step in and start kicking the pros asses, until the pros start crying like small children, only they can\’e2\’80\’99t get away because they are pros, and pros don\’e2\’80\’99t have legs to run away with. Yes, it\’e2\’80\’99s that bad.

First off, you\’e2\’80\’99ve not doubt heard of the massive technical problems both Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s servers AND the game software have been taking flak for. Now, I got the game to work after three reinstalls and about fourty-five minutes of patching/work. Apparently, that\’e2\’80\’99s almost unheard of. I still hear tales of people who cannot for the life of them figure out how to get the game in and working.

The account creation system is better now, but near release, it wasn\’e2\’80\’99t even a secure server. Not that it needed to be. I\’e2\’80\’99m perfectly fine with some hacker in Paraguay knowing my credit card number and expiry date (shout out to Pedro). Aside from a few bugs, it seems to work all right.

If you can actually get into the game, the lag is, at some points, almost unbearable. Also, the game has this funny way of crashing sometimes when you zone, walk around, begin a tough battle, or basically try to do anything but stand still and admire how beautiful your character looks standing still. Don\’e2\’80\’99t ask me why it\’e2\’80\’99s like this, I am not a programmer. I just don\’e2\’80\’99t think having as much \’e2\’80\’98crash fear\’e2\’80\’99 as I have when I play AO is normal.

However, I consider myself a pretty fair guy, so I\’e2\’80\’99m going to retract myself a little. It\’e2\’80\’99s not quite as bad as I say it is. I\’e2\’80\’99m exaggerating to prove a point. MOST MMORPGs are buggy, etc. at release, but come on. When this game was released, it was probably Beta 3 quality, if that. It\’e2\’80\’99s about 110% better now (I used that number for a reason\’e2\’80\’a6 call it a silent protest) than it was at release, but saying its 110% PLAYABLE, as Funcom did a while back, is a joke, and undermines my intelligence as a paying customer and loyal gamer. I stick with the crashing and lag because I have incredible patience and faith that someday it will all be better; that someday a magic patch will come and I can truly enjoy my gaming experience without fear of crash. In the meantime, any improvements Funcom can make with server/client stability and lag would be greatly appreciated. I have still managed to log 40+ hours, regardless, keep in mind.

Other than the technical glitches, AO has one other major sticking point. I don\’e2\’80\’99t know what went through Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s heads, but along the line somewhere, the game design got to the point that the line between MMORPG and just plain ORPG became blurred. I\’e2\’80\’99ve gone entire multi-hour game sessions without ever hearing another player. I think I\’e2\’80\’99ve grouped maybe\’e2\’80\’a6 ten times. The missions are a big factor in this. They are basically little \’e2\’80\’98single player\’e2\’80\’99 games you do to build up your character\’e2\’80\’99s resources. Don\’e2\’80\’99t be surprised if you see ten-fifteen people crowded around a mission terminal in a busy city not saying a damned thing.

The chat feature is another nail in the \’e2\’80\’98massively multiplayer\’e2\’80\’99 coffin. It\’e2\’80\’99s functional, sure, but it\’e2\’80\’99s damned clunky when you first start out, in part due to lack of proper documentation. I have never seen so many \’e2\’80\’98mistells\’e2\’80\’99 in ANY system, chat or game, in my five year experience with the Internet.

Incidents like the following are almost commonplace:

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: i want to lik you all over, babey mmm

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: uh

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: lol missend

[Clan shopping 1-50] Teirlap: \’e2\’80\’a6

True story.

What really boggles my mind is how the Shopping OOC chat channel is
available only in major cities. If you\’e2\’80\’99re hunting in the middle of nowhere, if you\’e2\’80\’99re not in a group, you\’e2\’80\’99re basically alone unless you have friends to chat with over /tell. The Shopping OOC channel does not even function in buildings, or on missions. Even if you\’e2\’80\’99re in a SHOP. SHOPPING.

This is a fatal flaw in AO, unfortunately. I\’e2\’80\’99ve heard of people keeping EQ accounts for months after they lost interest in the game simply because they had friends there. The OOC and Shout channels are home to a lot of idiots, but also a lot of friendly banter between players, and are a great way to start friendships, and eventual guilds and the like.

AO NEEDS that sort of OOC channel. Perhaps one that spans the whole server, in buildings or not, on missions or otherwise. I myself would have no qualms with that.

If that wasn\’e2\’80\’99t enough, there are a few other small problems that simply rub salt in the gaping, and slightly gangrenous, flesh wound that is AO.

Pretty much anyone with firearm skills carries two of what are called
\’e2\’80\’98Freedom Arms\’e2\’80\’99, pistol weapons which do Fire damage, and quite a lot of it, to boot. The game, while having many diverse weapon types, and ways to use them, really only has a handful of weapons that are worth a second look. Major balance problem there, which pretty much kills the skill system\’e2\’80\’99s so called \’e2\’80\’98diversity\’e2\’80\’99. \’e2\’80\’98If you\’e2\’80\’99re not using (gun x), you\’e2\’80\’99re not doing things right\’e2\’80\’99 is not a phrase that should carry any weight in a \’e2\’80\’98diverse\’e2\’80\’99 system\’e2\’80\’99.

The skill system is all right, but does need some tweaking. IP progression (the points used to actually increase your character) is slightly flawed, and there are still skills which you absolutely MUST take, or your poor character will be little more than wasted storage on Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s already laggy servers.

I could go on for a lot longer than I have, but I\’e2\’80\’99m going to wrap this up now.

Anarchy Online has a lot of potential. It has to have a lot of potential. Otherwise, all these people who are logged in, building their characters every day and every night wouldn\’e2\’80\’99t be playing anymore, and people would not keep repeating that AO has a lot of potential.

I may make it seem bleak in my synopsis, but let\’e2\’80\’99s remember that this is a MMORPG. Everything I have outlined is FIXABLE. You just have to have faith. You have to keep logging in. And you have to hope Funcom DOES fix everything, and does not go bankrupt before that day arrives.

So. We are back to our question from several pages back.

Is it fun?

Yes, and it will only get more fun.

Is it any good?

Yes, and it will only get better.

Is it worth shelling out the $50 US down, $15 US a month to play?


But this Paladin says wait a while.


Teirlap Carooe

Paladin of the Balance

Self Proclaimed Steiner Nazi