Today we had the opportunity to jump into Funcom's beta test of Anarchy Online and see a number of locations in the world of Rubi-Ka. Unlike other online role-playing games that have a fantasy setting, Anarchy Online takes place 30,000 years in the future. During this time, a conflict is brewing on the mining world of Rubi-Ka, as rebel clans challenge the rule of Omni-Tek, one of the galaxy's hyper-corporations. In this sci-fi setting, players arm themselves with spell-like nanotechnology, over one hundred skills, and powerful weapons as they adventure through a divided land.
Even for a massively-multiplayer RPG, the scale of Anarchy Online is truly impressive. Funcom expects the final game to permit a huge number of players per server - up to 40,000 or 50,000 players at a time. Much of the game's design is focused on channelling the multifaceted potential of such a large world.
Rubi-Ka is a world that can never be completely explored, since critical questing areas are generated dynamically to fit the custom quests the game builds for your character. Quests are created based on your level, breed, specialization, and skills, and can vary quite a bit in the types of objectives you will have to complete. The dynamic nature of Rubi-Ka means that you'll never be off adventuring with your party in a remote dungeon only to find dozens of other players camping at critical areas. The dungeons themselves are created for a particular quest and effectively disappear when the relevant objectives are complete.
For role-playing encounters of a more social nature, Funcom provides the opportunity for each character to have his own apartment, which can be designed and upgraded given sufficient resources. These apartments only have a virtual location in high-rise buildings, so Rubi-Ka can never run own of room for player houses.
Character creation is similarly designed to give as much room for customization as possible. A number of different breeds inhabit Rubi-Ka: conventional humans, as well as brutish Atrox, agile Opifex, and the mysterious Nano spell-casters. An intuitive in-engine character creation system has been built into the game that will let you choose from 20 to 25 faces per breed, which have a number of different hairstyles and other distinguishing marks. Here you can also make your character appear skinnier or heavier. There are also twelve major specializations to choose from, each of which gives special abilities and skill proficiencies. Some of theses classes include an engineer who can build robots that can travel and fight independently of your character, as well as support roles like medics and bureaucrats.
Anarchy Online's setting is guaranteed to ensure no end of opportunity to role-play conflicts with opposing factions. The fighting between rebels, neutrals, and Omni-Tek members is sure to include both large-scale clan wars and opportunistic individual combat. How an online RPG deals with player vs. player combat can significantly determine how the game community develops. Instead of letting players make a global choice to join or reject conflict, Anarchy uses zones to determine whether fighting is permitted. While cities and large parts of the surrounding countryside disallow player vs. player fighting, further out there are political zones that allow combat between opposing political factions. Even more distant from civilized areas are mayhem zones, where anything goes. Additionally, the rougher areas of cities will have bars and clubs were brawls are likely to break out between characters.
Anarchy Online has come a long way since a small team starting working on it four and a half years ago. The game is currently in the second phase of closed beta testing, and several more increasingly large phases are planned. The current group includes 600 testers, but before the game's release Funcom plans to expand that number to 15,000 and beyond to stress the game servers. All beta testing is taking place on a server in Norway, though the primary servers for the retail game will be based in the US. Anarchy Online is currently scheduled for release at the end of this year, but the exact date could vary greatly depending on the beta test's progress.