We stopped by developer Funcom's booth to take a look at the latest build of Anarchy Online at E3, and we really expected to see very little in the way of new content, since several of our editors have actually been participating in the game's beta for some time. We were also curious about Funcom's previous announcement that the game is scheduled for release on June 27; less than a month from now.
We found that in addition to conducting beta 9.0 (the public beta), Funcom has actually been conducting a concurrent closed beta test, beta 10.0 in preparation for the game's imminent release. The alternate build is significantly more stable than the public beta build, and looks so polished that it'll easily be ready for release next month.
Beta 10.0 already features a great many improvements over the current public beta, including a new rendering system that's free of the graphical pop-up that sometimes occurs in beta 9.0. Beta 10.0 also features far more flexible perspective controls that let players freely rotate and pan the camera, and also zoom it back far enough to see entire zones at once (which can be extremely helpful if you're lost). What's more, the alternate beta features a great deal of extra art and graphics, including more items, weapons, and armor. The alternate beta also features all-new scenery, including environmental objects like trees, bushes, and grass. Public beta testers have already seen that areas like the Omni-1 forest seem practically empty; we saw a much more fully-fleshed out version of the same area that was practically unrecognizable, as it was heavily populated with polygonal trees and foliage.
In addition, the alternate build of the Anarchy Online features two new exciting and intriguing features: vehicles and a special area known as "the grid." The game's vehicles are highly detailed and have a distinctly futuristic, sci-fi look to them, though characters that wish to pilot them will have to brush up on their navigation skills. Among other things, we saw a tiny landlocked probe vehicle that was poorly armored, but boosts the user's concealment ability extremely high, and would therefore be useful for scouting, as well as a one-man hovercraft ship that was actually capable of flight. According to Anarchy Online's producer Tommy Strand, vehicles will not only provide faster transportation than walking, but may also help provide safe travel from monsters, either by providing extra armor or the ability to fly out of the monsters' reach. What's more, some vehicles will be able to carry heavy armaments that'll be significantly more powerful than handheld weapons--and these weapons will use the same skills types available for players--but for the sake of game balance, these vehicles will have other inherent disadvantages, like slower speed or reduced armor.
The other new feature that Funcom revealed to us today was a mysterious computer-generated world known simply as "the grid." Characters with sufficient ability in the game's computer literacy skill will be able to enter the grid from special kiosks located across the game's world of Rubi-Ka. When players enter the grid, their characters become simple, iridescent blue pyramids within a huge, light blue virtual chamber that's probably best described as a cross between scenes from the films The Matrix and Tron. The grid is lined with different paths that'll let players transport their characters quickly across the world of Rubi-Ka--even faster than the game's subway trains.
Funcom also disclosed more details on the game's story. As Funcom has stated earlier, the game's over-arching story--which is scheduled to take place over four real-time years--will begin some time after the game's release, so that new players will be able to explore the game and become accustomed to it before they become involved in the actual story. The game's quest system will also work much more closely with the game's story; though you'll still be able to make a fast handful of credits by performing a simple mission, you'll also be able to actually contribute to your faction's progress by choosing the right mission, and may be awarded special merits for successfully completing more complex missions.
Though we were skeptical about Anarchy Online's announced release date of June 27, we're now far more confident in the game's progress, given what we've seen. We'll have more coverage of Anarchy Online up to release, and a full review as well.