First off I’m NOT very good at online games. That being said I DO play them. I have very little time to play them, though. I’m what you call a “weekend warrior.” I have a 40-or-so-hour a week job and other “responsibilities” that keep me from playing as much as the fellow mentioned here. I did some calculations when I first saw how much that person had played. On average he/she had been playing over 12 hours a day, EVERY day since AO went live. I don’t have time for that. A game has to be fun for me with under 10 hours a week playability.
So I’ll get right to the matter at hand: Is Anarchy Online fun? Short answer: “yes” with a “but”. Long answer: “no” with an “if”. Now that is out of the way let us start to make fun of the Norwegians. Let’s look at AO’s launch. We all know about the unsecure registration site, the two hidden games within AO (“Server UP! Server DOWN!” and “Emulate My Desktop”), and the wildly unstable client (yes, I STILL get that), but do you remember when the fabled memory leak caused such a problem that Funcom decided the only way to shut us up was to allow us to turn off other players (who in reality only kept us from powergaming efficiently)?
But by far the worst part of AO’s release was the little-known fact that just about every CD they sent out couldn’t be read by certain CD- and DVD-ROMS and CD writers. I have never found an official statement on this matter but every now and then I found other people who ran into a cryptic problem: the installer kept asking for a second CD. WTF?! There wasn’t a second CD. Turns out the error stemmed from the fact that the largest file (600 or so megs) was corrupted, or the part of the CD on which it was burned was bad. Either way it took about two hours, a lot of prayer, and cursing to get that file off the CD. Once you managed that (and that was the really hard part) you could copy the rest of the files to the same directory on your hard drive and just install the game from there. After that I made a couple copies of the files on some CDs in case I would ever need to reinstall the game (I did. Twice. Within an hour of the first install).
Customer service: Norway is next to Sweden, the land of milk and honey (Sweden, not Norway). They speak Norwegian there (Norway, not Sweden); not English. This has led to some interesting daily updates, in-game text, and a fantasic joke by your’s truly. It can also explain why they have no phone support. They also, as you may notice in that joke above, limit the number of times you can petition a Game Master (or ARK as I think they call their volunteer support) to once every 30 minutes. That site famous for stamping their logo across every screen shot reported that you can email funcom your info and they will tell the secret North Carolina fax number. This was in cases of CD Keys in use and the purpose of the Majestic-like activity really wasn’t clear. You send them an email with your super-secret information, they send you a fax number and a request for your bank account number I guess.
Your first steps: Naming your character. Funcom may have a name filter. Then again they may not. I notice that when I try making names for my new characters in AO that I get one of three possible responses from the game:
“Nickname is accepted.”
“Nickname is not accepted.”
“Nickname is not accepted!”
I think there is a pattern here. Turns out (despite my previous assumptions) that the period at the end of the “rejected” message denotes an unacceptable name (such as “Dick”, “Fuck”, “Penis” or “Neo”), and the exclamation means someone else has that name (such as “Myschyf”, “Quantum”, or “Neeo”). Although why someone has the name “Bettyboop” I’ll never understand. “Breast” was a taken name according to this theory, but “Breasts” was available (sheesh). “Cockmonger” was accepted with glee. “Shit” and “Shitty” were not allowed. “Merkwurdichliebe” and “Merkwurdigliebe” seem to be unacceptable for some unknow reason. If I’m wrong and someone actually has these names, you are welcome to them since Lum taught us NEVER to use our online name in online GAMES. Someone out there has “Johnny5”, “Sevenof9” and “Seven7” but “Se7en” wasn’t allowed. I made a character called “Katzchen” deleted it a week later, created another Katzchen, deleted it immediately and tried unsuccessfully to make another “Katzchen” right after. Seems that name was taken in a one minute window of opportunity. Something isn’t right. Oh well, I chose another language on its word for “Kitten.” I think I’ll let you unwashed masses fight over the names “Cockmonger” and “Breasts”; I don’t want the Nowegians to boot me once they find out what they mean.
So what is Funcom’s naming policy and what do they filter? Well, not “Cockmonger” that’s for sure. Turns out you can use between four and thirty-one characters, no spaces, an indeterminate number of numerals at the END of the name, and only one capital in your nickname. Beyond that your guess is as good as mine.
Now let’s look at the AO documentation. *flips through manual from the box* Well it really isn’t useful after your first character has enetered the newbie zone (But hey, on page 41 they quote Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot Sketch” (it was a Norwegian Blue, remember)). You can type /help and get a list of social moves/emotes as the game tells you when you first log in. That is great if you plan on taking your level 2 Sexxor to Baboon’s Night Club and type /apachi repeatedly while sitting in some guys lap. I hear it this is the most assured method of obtaining a pair of sunglasses! Anyway, back to the documentation, if you want any more help you need to type /chathelp, /pet help, etc. But you won’t know to type this unless you search the fansite really hard. You can even find a complete list of every command in the game if you read a certain website.
Gameplay. Well, it ain’t no Neocron (or is that Necron? I can never remember). That is to say it is NOT a first-person shooter online (that’s what Neocron is, right Dan?). You waddle your character up to a monster/NPC (or mob as they are referred to for some unknown reason), hit “Q” and sit there munching on some chips until you win. Exciting, no? No, not really. The most “gameplay” AO has to offer is leveling. AO caters to the powergamer for the most part, which is fine since I fit into that category more or less. You go out and kill stuff so you can get more stuff that allows you to kill other stuff. Unfortunately here is AO’s biggest shortcomming (and judging by its competition that is saying quite a bit): levels are nearly meaningless. As a level 5 character you are restricted to a maximum level of almost all of the equipment in the game (about level 10). As a level 50 character you are restricted to (you guessed it) a maximum leve of almost all of the equipment in the game. I don’t know what level because my highest character is level 29 as of this writing, but I can expect it ain’t much more than level 60 depending on your implants (which buff up your character) and nano programs (which also buff up your stats). Sure there is some high-level bonuses such as fancy-schmancy tank armour, or high-level programs, but for the most part your level 5 soldier is going to look exactly like your level 50 soldier only the programs and armour will have slightly different names. As for trade skills, they are being slowly introduced into the game. This ain’t Baking Bread Online fer chrissake!
Eye candy: What sucks in the part of one that is not a powergamer. The game sure is purdy, but you may want to turn off clouds, rendering quality, fog effects, view distance, ground quality, ground view, client wildlife, buffs, nano effects, and other players unless you have about a gig of RAM. The minimum RAM is stated on the box as being 64 megs with the recommended being 128 megs. I think they just looked at the box of some contemporary well-selling game and copied the system requirements.
Player versus Player (PvP for those who don’t know the acronym): I really have no earthly clue, but I hear most of AO’s gameplay and storyline is based aound this. The message boards tell me (among very little else) that a PvP engagement will either last forever or will be over before your client can render your corpse (which isn’t all that short actually). I know people will tell me that I’m missing the whole point of AO by not engaging in PvP, but many board posters tell me I’m not missing much and AO PvP dedicated websites tell me that it’s quite buggy. Know the exploits or you may as well be baking bread on Trammel, n00bz! Those are the impressions I get, but I could be wrong.
AO is not the messiah. AO is a pleasant change from your typical Sword and Sorcery genre (although dwarves with guns will satisfy you if that is what you are trying to escape). But I think AO will simply be a footnote in the online gaming history book at best, and a financial disaster when the six-month subscriptions expire at worst. Will I keep playing? Probably until something better comes along, but since Ultima Online 2/UWO:O/Bikini Lady/WOOHOO got shitcanned that may be a long time. AO fulfills its purpose quite well: a time sink and a money sink but you won’t be telling your virtual grandkids about it in 50 years.