Anarchy Online Review
If it can conquer its technical problems, Anarchy Online will be the very best online role-playing game around.
It's safe to say that Funcom's online role-playing game, Anarchy Online, has been one of the most widely and eagerly anticipated games this year. After all, it's the first so-called next-generation online role-playing game and the first to be released after its groundbreaking predecessors--EverQuest, Asheron's Call, and Ultima Online--and it should be the first to improve upon them. Up until Anarchy Online's release, press coverage of the game discussed its unique science-fiction setting, its intriguing playable characters, its innovative solutions to common gameplay problems, and its enormous and colorful gameworld. But when the game was released, it caused an uproar. Unsatisfied customers flooded the game's official Internet message board with angry complaints about severe problems, such as insecure registration, CD key errors, and in-game bugs and stability issues.
So is Anarchy Online actually the outstanding game that all of its prerelease coverage has made it out to be? Yes, it is. In addition to the game's innovative and extremely enjoyable gameplay elements, Anarchy Online has a tremendous amount of personality; you can find it in the game's distinctive-looking environments, hear it in the game's excellent music, read it in the game's humorous, tongue-in-cheek manual, and see it in the game's characters, whether they're gesticulating to emphasize a point or modeling a new set of clothes. But isn't it a buggy game with real problems? Yes, it's that too.
If you're familiar with Anarchy Online, you'll know that it's a massively multiplayer online role-playing game; that is, it's a game that lets you create a character from a set of different races and character classes and then go out and explore a huge online world with thousands of other players, improving your character by gaining experience levels and training various skills. Though it's certainly not the first game of its kind, Anarchy Online is the first to use a futuristic science-fiction setting. The game takes place on a remote mining planet called Rubi-Ka, some 20,000 years in the future, in the middle of a conflict between a huge megacorporation and the planet's rebel insurgents. You can choose to ally yourself with the Omni-Tek corporation or the rebel clans, or play as an independent character; and you can change sides in the conflict up to a certain level of experience, provided you can make it across enemy lines. In addition, the game lets you hunt the planet's various indigent animals and monsters for experience and money and also lets you undertake dynamically generated quests, or "missions," for similar rewards.
At the game's release on June 27, 2001, Anarchy Online's many early adopters encountered a number of serious problems. First, like all other online role-playing games, the game requires registration for a monthly fee--and credit-card registration initially wasn't handled on a secure server. What's more, many users had (and several continue to have, as of the time of this writing) problems registering the game's CD key and couldn't (and in some cases, continue to be unable to) even log into the game. Furthermore, at release, the game's login server simply didn't have the capacity to deal with the thousands of login requests that it would constantly receive from users trying to connect; so many players weren't able to play, because their client would repeatedly "time out." And even when players were able to log into the game, they had to first download postrelease patches to play and would have great difficulty playing the game because of spontaneous crashes.
What's more, the game suffered from (and continues to suffer from) some serious lag and frame rate problems, due in part to a lack of bandwidth on Funcom's servers and the game's own memory-intensive code, which tends to monopolize the RAM on its host computer. And users with ATI-based video cards have reported serious problems getting into the game and playing for any prolonged period of time. These are all serious problems that have made playing the game in its first few weeks of release extremely frustrating for many users, since many have either had a hard time staying connected to the game or simply haven't been able to get in.
So is Anarchy Online nothing more than a thoroughly unplayable mess? No, it's not. For starters, Funcom made a secure registration server available two days after the game's launch and instituted a fix for one of the game's major CD key problems two days after that. The development team has also released over the past two weeks a steady stream of small client- and server-side patches that have required brief downloads for users and one-to-two-hour blackout periods for server maintenance. These updates have improved the game's performance and stability noticeably and have greatly increased the login server's ability to bring players into the game.
[Ed. Note: Funcom released a patch the evening of 07/13/01 that has improved Anarchy Online's performance with ATI cards.]