If you grew up or had a semblance of independent consciousness back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, then you must have played amazing, classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, the earlier Fallout series, Deus Ex and, of course, one the biggest, Morrowind. Do you remember the hearty chunks of content with each step your pixelated or obtusely polygonal character would make? How every quest seemed to matter in the grand scale of things? Where the gravitas of the situation would take hold of you as you seemingly fell into a trance of unintended immersion?
Anarchy Online reminds me a lot of these old school RPGs – the intrinsically dystopian future or secondary world with a flair for the old school 90’s aesthetic feel, both epic and grand in scale due to the sheer imagination-churning atmosphere and aesthete of each and every element in the game, paired with the rich and developed lore served in bite-sized, but plentiful, chunks with each and every accomplishment, making each finish all the more rewarding. I daresay that Anarchy Online is one of the very few vestiges of the classic oldschool RPG.
Having been weaned on the modernly streamlined form of gaming like those found in World of Warcraft or TERA, it occurred to me that if I ever go back to the old school, I would probably be so bad at them. By extension, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the massive bulk of complication that is Anarchy Online. “Complicated” in this sense isn’t at all derogatory – no, far from it. I mean it in a way that the somewhat archaic stylistics of Anarchy Online, such as the simple combat, user interface design choices, task priorities, lack of a ‘good’ world map, and all the others are pretty different from what most modern gamers are used to. It would be silly to list them all down so, instead, let’s just look at the questing.
I talked about the immersion last week, but it extends, naturally, right into the meat of the game. It’s been a long time since I actually found myself reading the quest text. Though, to be honest, I am not exactly sure if it is for the weighty pull of immersion or if it was because I really didn’t have a choice because I didn’t really know what I was doing. But each quest spun a tale that felt grander than most, even with the ubiquitous kill or fetch quest, the manner in which the small-scale stories were relayed felt grand. One big part in this is that dialogue occurred in a chat box as if you are actually speaking with a living and breathing entity rather than just some ungarnished NPC, left there to rot and speak to folks about killing 10 rats or some silly thing. Rather, despite the lackluster graphics, the interactions feel far more personal, like I was playing a single player game that was focused intently on pleasing me.
Sure, one could argue that with other MMOs, but the impersonal and catch-all, generic approaches for questing in games like, let’s say, WoW, are primarily attached to a floating box with either accept or decline at the very bottom. We all know the first thing most of us do when presented with such a display. In Anarchy Online, no, it isn’t all that simple. While you might know that there is a specific quest to be obtained from an NPC, they first decide to engage you in a conversation, pulling you into the world and infecting you with the actual urgency of the situation. It’s an interesting element that hasn’t seen much use in modern MMOs, but it sure is a fantastic draw for Anarchy Online.
But once you embark on that quest, that’s where things really hit the fan because even the most meager quests can be a challenge. Anarchy Online becomes unique in the questing department because each and every task requires some modicum of effort that makes one think. It isn’t so simple enough that you would take your staff and start whacking at whatever 10 mobs are required for the quest but, most of the time, you find yourself thinking tactically about the situation lest you fail over and over again. The content, in this sense, is meaty – full-throttled action with a semblance of strategy. Sometimes, it becomes far easier by sneaking past the guards in order to obtain your quarry, or perhaps even luring out your goal for a clean, single fight. There are virtually a multitude of ways you can go about your business especially since the game takes into account the advantages of your chosen race and profession. Hardly any games do these anymore.
But this is just for localized questing. It’s a whole different story in the open world. Again, there isn’t exactly any “direction” a player can take once they set foot on Rubi-Ka but, rather, he or she decides where and when they want to go. There are some spots similar to quest hubs that you can get to by following breadcrumb quests, but they aren’t exactly the large expanses littered with quests to help our experience along. These are few and far between instead with the game opting to surprise you with the sudden pop-up of a task where you wouldn’t even think of looking. What gives this core mechanic more gravitas is that you can actually choose which faction you wish to serve and the experience is different for all three (Omni-Tek, Neutral, or Clans).
Anarchy Online is unique in the sense that there isn’t any blatant hand-holding or “carebearing” from the developers. It encourages you to stake your claim out in the terraformed landscape of Rubi-Ka in independence either as a solo player or with your friends. The path isn’t always clear, as it is for the old school RPGs that inspired it, but once you’re done with it, you’ll find it to be extremely rewarding.
The game fills a niche for those who want more than the vanilla tab-targeting action of modern MMOs, but it also doesn’t go for false embellishments that seek to “change” the face of the MMO industry like the dozens of super-hyped up games in recent years. It is complicated and sincere, with a polished core gameplay that isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, but a tall drink nonetheless.Related: Anarchy Online, Editorial, MMORPG