June will mark Anarchy Online's 8th anniversary.
Up until now, I’ve approached the previews of free-to-play
MMOs I’ve written with a heavy dose of skepticism.
The free-to-play market can be a tricky one to navigate, with only a
few notable exceptions dotting the otherwise forgettable highways and
byways of sameness that’s easy to associate with the business
model. When the opportunity arose to take a closer look at
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Anarchy Online
however, I jumped on it faster than my cat on a neighborhood rat. Since
the beginning of the year, I’ve set my sights on href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/features/final-frontier"
target="_blank">all things sci-fi
in the ever-expanding MMO industry, so going back to the roots of the
genre is right up my dark, cyberpunk alley.
A current market trend for some of the longer-running MMOs is to offer
a free trial period, which in many cases will only grant access to a
bite-sized chunk of content. The theory is that if you give players
just enough to whet their appetite and provide a glimpse of the giant,
glowing carrots waiting behind the subscription barrier, a certain
percent of them will come back hungry for more when the free trial
expires. By comparison, style="font-style: italic;">Anarchy Online’s
tiered subscription options swallow the competition whole, spit it out
and then proceeds to call its corpse a noob.
While there is a standard monthly subscription fee should players want
access to all style="font-style: italic;">Anarchy Online
has to offer, there’s also the option to play the original
game minus expansions for free. In between the two, there’s
also an option to pay a nominal fee of only $5 a month, which grants
access to the core game plus everything the Shadowlands expansion has
to offer, including my favorite profession, the Shade among other
interesting perks. Why this tiered approach hasn’t been
embraced by the industry as a whole as of yet is beyond me, but
it’s one of many aspects of AO that more publishers could
learn a thing or two from. For the sake of this preview it should be
noted that I opted to go through the full AO experience, which includes
the core game plus all four major expansions and content updates.
graphics update is set to give AO a visual boost this summer.
I was eager to step into the role of Shade, which is one of the two
professions introduced with the Shadowlands expansion, but first I had
to make a quick run through character creation. Compared to the robust
options in Funcom’s more recent entry into the MMO market, href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/aoc" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Age of Conan,
the customization options in AO are pretty bare bones. The title is
beginning to show its age graphically, complete with character models
so blocky they’d no doubt make NetDevil’s href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/170"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Lego Universe
team jealous. A visual overhaul of the game engine is due to go live
sometime this summer, but in the meantime AO might not win any beauty
contests against more recent MMOs.
A few clicks later, I found myself on the surface of Rubi-Ka, where I
had what could easily be the most impressive new player experience
I’ve ever had in an MMO. While most games I’ve
played will feature in-game GMs and their volunteer assistants,
I’ve never had one teleport up to me and welcome me to the
game on my first log in. Call it what you will, but having an Advisor
of Rubi-Ka offer to help me learn the ropes of the game left a
remarkably positive impression. It also reminded me that AO harkens
back to a time before hyper bread-crumbing quest chains, when GM run
events were common and social bonds glued game communities together to
a degree rarely seen in today’s “massively
Gameplay in AO is another blast from the past, and I mean that in an
entirely positive way. Having been a passionate MMO player since the
early days of EQ, I forgot how much I’ve missed that feeling
that I’d just stepped into a virtual world so vast that I may
never see all of it. I rarely enter a new game and feel overwhelmed by
the intricacies of its mechanics, but this was a breath of fresh air
after being spoon fed content with more recent triple-A titles.
Tutorials are all fine and good of course, but there’s
something infinitely more appealing about learning what makes a game
tick over a longer period by sheer act of discovery.
There were, however, a few negatives thrown into the mix that stand out
an equal amount. For example, I was surprised to find not only bugged
quests, but a fairly high number of typos in the intro quest NPC
dialogues. Considering how long AO has been on the market, I honestly
didn’t expect to find that kind of thing right off the bat,
but I got the impression that those things simply fell through the
cracks earlier on, where they’ve remained ever since.
Rubi-Ka is a truly massive game world.
Combat during the early levels - being a relative term in AO
considering the current cap is 220 - is also pretty basic, as I found
my Shade relying primarily on auto-attacking well beyond completion of
the intro quest chain. Since Shades technically can’t wear
traditional armor, instead they can equip tattoos in the various
equipment slots. I plan on experiencing these intro quests on some of
the other professions in the coming weeks, as I’m curious to
see if you can earn more than the nice set of arm tattoos I obtained
with my Shade. A couple of skills to use during combat
earlier on to break the monotony would have been nice as well, but all
in due time! I’m discovering that AO is all about being in it
for the long-haul, rather than instant-gratification, which to me is a style="font-style: italic;">good
Overall, I’m enjoying my experiences with AO and look forward
to spending more time with the game. The starting area initially struck
me as being more influenced by standard fantasy settings, but the
instant I set foot in the floating city of Jobe, the sci-fi elements of
AO really stood out both visually and thematically. I also
had one my typical “kid in a candy store” moments
(which lasted for several play sessions) where I couldn’t
resist the urge to run up and click on every single door or NPC I saw.
Without a single yellow exclamation point in sight, I realized one
other thing I’ve been missing in MMO gameplay of late
– a sense of style="font-style: italic;">adventure
and the freedom to set out in whatever direction the wind takes me. And
that, dear reader is exactly what I intend to do in the coming weeks!
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