Anyone who knows where I stand in the social order of Anarchy Online (AO) is going to call this entire article biased, but let me preface this by saying that I didn’t become Director of the game’s dedicated radio station (GridStream Productions [http://www.gridstream.org] and the coordinator of their first real-life fan convention because I was paid to do either, or because they were some sort of last resort for my personal ambitions in life. First and foremost, I’m a player of Anarchy Online, and I took on the social roles in the community that I did because I feel so strongly about the game. If you want to call it bias, go right ahead. But the only bias that exists here is from a dedicated fan enjoying to its fullest the best game I’ve ever played.
In a market flooded with a hundred or so replicas of the same fantasy-themed MMO over and over again, with the same dumbed-down leveling opportunities and standard gear for each class, Funcom’s Anarchy Online definitely stands out as the premiere science fiction MMO of our time. It’s a free-to-play game, with paid subscriptions available that unlock premium areas of the game. It’s also eleven years old, and home to the oldest existing MMO-based radio station in the world (that’s myself and the crew over at GridStream).
Before you judge the game based on the fact that it’s old and still offers paid subscriptions, let’s look at the reasons why it has survived the test of time. Anarchy Online is truly unique in its play style, its world and its community. Most modern MMO’s claim that, but from my experience most are far more generic and predictable than AO. What you’ll get in AO is something that the modern games haven’t been able to capture, and that’s a sense of adventure, the opportunity to open your mind to something challenging and different, and a sense of community that’s unparalleled in modern games.
AO takes place on the world of Rubi-Ka, where a battle rages between the rebel clans and the evil Omni-Tek corporation. In AO, you’re stepping almost 30,000 years into the future to an age where common surgical implants and microscopic nanobots can relieve most forms of human suffering or transform any normal being into a weapon of destructive force. You’ll fight all manner of foes, including not just PvP with warring factions, but cyborgs, modified humans, robots, aliens, strange creatures of various shapes and forms, and even perhaps one day when you reach endgame you’ll face the horrors of The Beast or Lord of The Void.
While home to horrible enemies, Rubi-Ka is also home to some of the most endearing wildlife that many players have become so enamored with that they carry dolls in their likeness, or even cast a nano-program that will temporarily turn themselves (or friends) into that same little creature. I speak of Anarchy Online’s beloved leets. They’re odd little rodents that seem to defy the laws of physics with their giant heads and two tiny, bird-like legs, with no clearly discernible center of gravity.
AO has an extremely high learning curve, with the only hand-holding you receive being what you ask for from other players, who are usually willing to offer tips and help. While character creation is pretty basic compared to most modern games, the way you can customize your character’s play style as you progress is so detailed, it’s unmatched by any other game. You can create the strongest, most indestructible character, the weakest, most useless character, or anything in between by simply spending your Improvement Points on the right or wrong things. Guides are a player’s best friend, and with an 11-year-old game, there are plenty available for those who are new to the game.
There isn’t a linear questing system as with most modern MMO’s as we’re now used to. You can take “oldskool” Rubi-Ka solo or team missions from a mission terminal, hunt wildlife solo or with a team, complete daily missions for bonus experience, join an organization for extra help, or pay the subscription for the expansion areas to access places you can level more quickly and see more of the game. There are a million options for PvE, and you can also PvP with many different options for dueling, fighting political tower wars, or simply killing the opposition in your chosen playfield.
If you truly don’t have any interest in any of that and are more of a creative, free spirit, roleplaying is also alive and well in AO. With a game whose backstory was written by acclaimed author Ragnar Tørnquist, the world has a rich history and is writing more of it every day.
I’d like to also talk for a moment about what you may think my view is the most biased about – the community. I’ve played a lot of games, but I don’t have friends in other games like I do in AO. I think part of the reason for this is that it’s a more difficult game that’s been around for a long time, and the average age of players is older than that of more modern MMO’s. Age in this case, seems to equal maturity, for the most part. As part of the game’s radio station, I can tell you we have parties every day of the week normally and have a great crowd at most of them. We look forward to logging in and hanging out with our friends, and make new ones all the time. We just had our first fan convention for AO this past summer. AO Con 2012 [ http://ao-con.com] was predicted to only draw maybe 20 people, but instead we squashed the skeptics’ numbers by drawing a crowd of 51 people to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a weekend of partying with our AO friends, live DJ’s, a nerf gun battle, a presentation from Funcom on what they’re working on right now and tons of other fun activities. If that doesn’t speak for the dedication and closeness of the community in the game, then there’s no convincing you.
But let’s take an honest moment to look at the most obvious disadvantage to AO – the outdated graphics. The game hasn’t had a full graphics engine update, ever. Funcom is working on it as we speak and has been for a long time, and many players have grown tired of waiting for the new graphics engine and left. But if you look at the bigger picture, that AO is an incredibly fun and challenging game with so many different opportunities for PvE, PvP, roleplaying and socializing, and the beautiful vistas in Elysium in the Shadowlands and the amazing Rubi-Ka sunrise, it’s well worth looking past some polygonal edges and outdated textures.
To say that Anarchy Online is the best game ever made is totally true, in my opinion. Does it need some polishing to compete with more modern games? Sure. But is it still worth trying out for free and taking a chance at finding out for yourself what a diamond in the rough this game is? Absolutely. See you on Rubi-Ka, friends.