10/10 Project: Anarchy Online

I’m about two inches away from the point where any game I can download and start without installation problems will receive full marks from me.

Having gotten tired of installation experiences which leave one dubious about the technical competency of the people on staff, I jumped back to Funcom, which I at least know from prior Age of Conan and The Secret World experiences that I probably -will- be able to start the game up, even if the load times are long.

By sheer contrast, I’m having a good installation experience already. The downloader was a mere 930k.

Double-clicking that opens its propietary download client, which begins a 1.72 gb download. It has three selection tabs which treat me as a user respectfully:

Okay, so the download speed isn't phenomenal, but at least all the information is laid out clearly.

Okay, so the download speed isn’t phenomenal, but at least all the information is laid out clearly.

Look! OPTIONS! *swoons*

Look! OPTIONS! *swoons*

Look how awesome this is. You can select HTTP or P2P download or a blend of the two at will. Some people are blocked from P2P or are morally opposed to it or get cruddy speeds because their ISP throttles them or have to pay their ISP extra for too much uploading or what not. Some others really benefit from it. Some people may be blocked from a HTTP download and need to use P2P instead.

The client doesn’t try to be smart for you and sneakily choose an option behind your back. It just uses both as a default, and lets you tweak it at will.

Thank you for laying this out clearly.

Thank you for laying this out clearly.

The last page is my favorite. It lays it out in plain language what the downloader is doing. If you have P2P selected, it explains the P2P component, that you are only a participant in the network while this download manager is open. It tells you what the download manager is, a single disposable file, and even shows you its location so that you can go delete it when you’re done and don’t have to search a gazillion folders wondering where it snuck in and got to.

Now they could be lying and talking out of their ass, but I’m not that paranoid without further justification. Taken at face value at least, it is pleasant to be informed about what the downloader is doing.

The download speed ain’t great, hovering at an average of 300kb/sec, but I’ll cut it some slack simply because the download manager impresses me.

Installation and launch without any problems, which makes me deliriously happy after my last two experiences.

The very first impression I get of Anarchy Online is having landed directly back in the last decade and a half – some 15 years perhaps – because WOW, THIS IS OLDSCHOOL.

Stretched, pixelated, primitive character models. Lots of small text in windows to read. Character appearance options that only have 2-7 choices between ugly and horrible.

This is not to say that oldschool is a bad word in my parlance, because I tend to get excited by anything that reminds me of my old memories of MUDing, and Anarchy Online gave off a very distinctive vibe of having been there at the very beginning as stuff was crossing over the line from graphical MUDs into full fledged MMOs.

Why? Rough, alien edges. Bits of the UI were strange and unrecognizable. Controls didn’t quite work as one would expect. I liken it to the feeling I got as I hopped between different styles of MUDs, from Diku and SMAUG to LPMUD or some other codebase. You get the feeling that they grew up from fairly different foundations, rather than everything stemming from an EQ or WoW clone.

Now some people would hate this feeling of unfamiliarity, but I have a tendency to be drawn like a magnet to it – new stuff to learn, seeing how someone did things differently.

I did have trouble with the controls and camera though, a niggling little nitpick that never really went away. I like to switch A and D from the default turn on the spot to strafe left and right, and to my immense amusement, I ended up setting one key to both functions at first – creating very strange movement as I turned left and strafed at the same time.

Removing the key from turn eventually got me solely strafing, but I immediately ran into problems with the camera and mouselook as right-clicking and moving the mouse ocassionally worked as one would expect, but also didn’t react or got jerky from time to time, especially in third-person mode. I ended up mouse-wheel scrolling into first-person mode as the camera seemed to work best in that mode without jerkiness – something I’m quite sensitive to as I can get motion-sick fast with a bad camera acting up.

I was also not pleased at finding out that certain keys seem to be fixed and ‘baked’ into the game. One selected targets with TAB, period.

From the beginning I have always used E as select nearest target and Q as tab target, Tab takes my fingers too far off the WASD position. Not happy about it, but I dealt. Mostly by mouse selection of targets instead. Q instead started an autoattack.

Oh, the combat. I got instant MUD flashbacks because it mainly seemed to be autoattacking. X hits a small rat for Y amounts of damage! x 5 lines in the chat window.

I kept hunting for any hotkeys to press. I’d rolled up an Atrox soldier, and after letting it automatically distribute skill points for me (wasn’t going to read up tons when just trying it out for a few nights), I did eventually find TWO skills, fling shot and burst, which just seemed to let me do more and extra damage on pressing the buttons.

I also eventually figured out that I missed the little “Settings” button in the launcher that allowed me to change resolutions from the default 1024×768, which gave it a look reminiscent of old classic pixelated adventure games, and bring it up to somewhere approaching presentable.

ao01

In a sense though, starting with the default resolution helped me to feel my way around the interface better, because the UI was more in your face. Windows were brought up with rather esoteric key combinations – CTRL+4 for Missions, I believe, and CTRL+6 for a map? I ended up clicking buttons a lot instead.

Quests were distinctly oldschool as well. Questgivers weren’t really marked, you pretty much ran up to anybody you saw and clicked to talk to the NPC and it would bring up another window where a long text conversation could be had – complete with timed pauses for the NPCs to speak, and dialogue options for yourself to select.

Eventually, you might hit upon a conversation option that would lead to the NPC giving you a mission – most of which consisted of killing X amounts of random wildlife or killing random amounts of random wildlife for a special item pop.

You had to physically select the items you wanted to give or trade to the NPC as well, rather than the NPC magically removing them from your inventory on quest turn in. In a sense, this felt rather immersive, but on the other hand, it was also tiresome and lengthy.

Which I think summarizes my take on Anarchy Online. It feels intriguing, and looks to have some pretty deep systems to explore. But at the same time I feel the sensation of a clock ticking in my head, that time is passing and much of it is being wasted on slowpoke, oldschool mechanics.

It took me 2-3 nights to get past the newbie island, and I didn’t even do every quest available there. I ended up in Borealis, a neutral city, which seemed fairly big. While just running around aimlessly, I got kind of lost and unable to find the next mission location as the map didn’t seem very helpful. Nor did I really feel like doing the very oldschool style quest of following NPC directions “oh, follow the road up north this way until you hit the X landmark, then take a right to the Y, and then turn left and…” just then.

Perhaps when I have scads of time one day, I might.

There did seem to be quite a few people standing around on a main thoroughfare in Borealis – to the point where I was feeling framerates drop or some lag or some such – so I don’t believe the game is completely deserted. It seems like the kind of game that would probably be rewarding if you put in sufficient time and effort into learning and progressing with it.

It’s just that I’ve already committed to two other games, one of which is just as oldschool and time consuming (and I’m already slacking and doing really badly at it while getting caught up with the renewed shininess of the new shiny,) so I have no more room in my life for Anarchy Online.

Maybe others might have. I’d love to think that some do, because I’d hate to think that the fate of all old MMOs is to fade into obsolescence. AO’s got an interesting looking sci-fi setting, oldschool mechanics, and actually installs and runs, so it’s not like it has nothing going for it.

Just not for me at this time.

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