The Notum Wars is the first retail add-on for Funcom's online role-playing game Anarchy Online, although Funcom prefers to call it a "booster pack," since the developer feels it doesn't have enough new content to call it an "expansion pack." Whether or not you agree, Notum Wars adds a few new features to Anarchy Online, including new high-level player vehicles, new items and quests, and, most importantly, land control. Notum Wars retails for only $20, even though it contains the full game of Anarchy Online, so if you're a beginner, picking up Notum Wars will get you can get everything you need to get started in Anarchy Online. Everything except some advanced help. Anarchy Online's technical performance has improved since it was released year ago, but it's still a rather complex game that may prove intimidating for newcomers.
Anarchy Online was a highly anticipated game last year because of its then-unique sci-fi setting and its then-impressive graphics, but unfortunately, the game launched with numerous technical problems that drove many players away. Since then, the game has become much more technically stable, though it occasionally still has problems with lag, especially when there are lots of players and objects in the same area. This is especially true of Notum Wars' new tower battles, which are an important part of the booster pack's new land control feature. In Notum Wars, players who belong to a player organization can lay claim to deposits of the energy-rich resource notum by building notum controllers to mine the stuff from the ground and then erecting powerful and expensive defense towers on the perimeter.
Unfortunately, land control is rather problematic, at present. The world of Anarchy Online isn't very populated, and it's not uncommon to run about for hours without seeing other players, so unless you're part of a well-established player organization, you probably won't even get a chance to get involved in land control. And while land control was intended to be an exciting new feature that let teams of players engage in large-scale battles to seize or defend notum controllers, the rules of engagement in these battles are currently extremely convoluted, to say the least. Notum controllers and towers are also remarkably expensive to build. They do grant bonuses for players who are part of your organization, but these bonuses are really only worthwhile with extremely high-quality, high-level towers. And once your controller and towers are destroyed, they're gone forever, and so is the sizeable investment you made in them.
In the meantime, even the most well-planned raids on enemy controllers end up being chaotic, and not only because of the complex rules of engagement. Very high-level battles involve multiple towers firing on large groups of players, which, depending on your Internet connection speed and how fast your computer is, can cause a great deal of lag. And unfortunately, most of Notum Wars' really notable new features are really useful only for high-level characters. The towers, controllers, and additional vehicles that Notum Wars adds to Anarchy Online's already sizeable stable of player vehicles all cost millions of credits and as such are far beyond the reach of most casual players. Many extremely high-level players enjoy the challenge and complexity of land-control battles, but if you're a beginner, it's safe to say that you probably won't be involved in such battles for a long, long time.
That's not to say that Notum Wars should be avoided at all costs. The fact that the booster pack contains the full game of Anarchy Online, complete with free trial month, should give new players who are interested in the game's setting some reason to try the game. However, new players should be warned that Anarchy Online is as complex as ever. Though the recent 14.6 patch added in a brand-new character-creation system that carefully walks new players through the game's different races, classes, and political factions, this walk-through basically ends after you've created a new character. Then, you're dumped unceremoniously into the training backyard, just like in the original game, and you're left to fend for yourself.
Anarchy Online distinguished itself in a number of ways when it first launched, including the fact that every character class in the game could use nanotechnology--the game's futuristic equivalent of magic spells. This is still the case in Notum Wars, and while it can be very enjoyable to eventually develop a super soldier whose bionic implants let him carry a high-quality assault rifle with the ability to fire in rapid, damaging bursts, you may have some difficulty figuring out how to get there. Anarchy Online has many different character attributes and skills, and there are many different ways to develop different characters. This breadth comes at the cost of great complexity--don't be surprised to see people constantly shouting questions over the game's numerous chat channels.
Anarchy Online also distinguished itself by being the first massively multiplayer game to feature "content on demand." That is, the game originally offered missions--self-contained quests that players could perform for money, items, and experience points. In both the original game and in Notum Wars, missions of medium or easy difficulty generally last 20-30 minutes, which means that even if you have a limited schedule, you can still play Anarchy Online in brief sessions and get something out of it. Notum Wars features all the tweaks and fixes that have been made to Anarchy Online's missions so far, and it can be as satisfying as ever to grab a quick mission, hack and slash your way through it, and pick up the reward. It's true that characters tend to gain the most experience points by joining a group and hunting packs of powerful monsters, but unlike other online games, Anarchy Online never forced players to do so, and neither does Notum Wars.
Unfortunately, Notum Wars doesn't look or sound much different than Anarchy Online did when it was first launched a year ago. Anarchy Online had terrific audio in the form of excellent music and ambient public service announcements that the game would broadcast in areas controlled by certain factions. And these still sound good in Notum Wars--but with the exception of a few new music tracks and voice samples, they sound largely the same as they did in the original game. The same goes for Notum Wars' graphics. The booster pack does add new cargo ships--massive spaceships that appear in the skies and make the already atmospheric game even more so--but otherwise, Anarchy Online's graphics haven't aged well, especially considering the competition. Since Anarchy Online's launch, better-looking online RPGs have become available, and if you've tried them, you may have a hard time coming back to Anarchy Online's somewhat blocky character models and simply textured environments. Like the original game, Notum Wars has a plenty of colorful and distinctive-looking weapons, armor, and clothing that your characters can wear to make themselves look distinctive, but it also has the same client-side lag problems whenever large groups of sharply dressed players gather in the same place.
Should you pick up Notum Wars? If you're an Anarchy Online veteran, then yes--the game's complex land control battles will offer you a considerable, though somewhat flawed, challenge. If you're a player who quit because of the game's technical problems at launch last year, but you still find the game's sci-fi setting and unique sense of style and humor interesting, then yes--Anarchy Online isn't perfect yet, but it's been improved greatly, especially in terms of stability. If you're a beginner who finds Anarchy Online's setting, character classes, and futuristic armor and weaponry intriguing, you'd best be prepared to ask a lot of questions, since Anarchy Online can be an enjoyable, convenient game, but it's surprisingly complicated. If you're looking for a simpler game that's easier to pick up, you'd do well to consider some of the games that have been released this year instead.