I wrote my 2018 MMO outlook post a few days in advance, as I tend to do with those sorts of end-of-year posts. They lend themselves to stewing in the drafts folder for a while. I think I only had 5 choices on the first draft.
So I had already been thinking about those titles for a bit, enough so that when I was sitting around on New Years Day I decided to poke my nose into one of them, a day before the post even went live. I picked Anarchy Online for my pre-post peek, a game which has since stayed near the top of the poll results.
I went to the web site for the game, made an account, downloaded the client, and got stuck into things.
As a pre-WoW MMORPG outside of the fantasy genre, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I can’t even recall having ever seen a screen shot from the game before I logged in. And back in 2001 the conventions for even the simplest things… like how hot bars ought to work… were not yet set in stone.
Still, the first steps seemed familiar, as character creation hasn’t changed too much since A Bard’s Tale back in the 80s. First up was race… or I guess breed in the case of AO.
I opted for the Solitus… the ones on the right… simply because they were the most human looking of the choices. The others struck me as bordering on space elves, save for the space troll on the other end.
Then there was the bit of character customization.
That is some old school level of polygon count right there. I think my head has as many facets as that old marmot model in WoW… which is still in game.
Then came the tough choice, that of which vocation to follow. In fantasy your classes tend to shake out into three or four standard categories. But what can one say of the future when the possibilities are limited only to the imagination? And there was quite a list from which to choose.
I could probably guess well enough at what a Trader or a Soldier or a Martial Artist or a Doctor might do, and even a Shade, or an Enforcer, or an Engineer hinted at what they might hold in store, but what is the Metaphysicist play style like, how does a Bureaucrat gain levels, and what is it that a Keeper keeps?
So I tabbed out and used Google to search on the best class for a new player and got Adventurer as the top result, so I went with that.
The description seemed to paint it as the jack of all trades class, so why not. From there it was just a matter of giving my character a name and getting into the world.
With a game this old though, one expects that getting a reasonable name might be a chore, and doubly so when the game has had a free to play option for so long. So I decided to let the name generator come up with some options for me. Let it do the work.
The first name it rolled up was Sammy, which seemed suspiciously likely to have been taken. But still, it was offering it to me, why not take it.
However, when I tried to take the name it popped a window saying that the name have already been taken or was reserved.
I gave it another try, just in case that was a one-off error. This time it threw up Bred as an option and, not unlike that time I threw up bread after a party, the results were not the best.
A pity, thinking that being Bred after choosing my breed was amusing. Anyway, a couple more tries made it clear that the name generator does not in any way vet the availability of names it offers up, making its utility for a game of this age somewhat dubious.
So I put in one of my standard names, Tistann, which was accepted right away. Go me. Then it was off to my new life
in the off world colonies on Rubi-Ka.
That splash screen belies what came next. Rather than a glorious future on a modern new planet I was transported back nearly 20 years in time when polygon counts were low, UI design consisted of throwing windows about at random, and 1024×768 was deemed a large enough screen resolution for anybody’s needs.
Seriously, I went into the settings and told it how large my screen was and turned up all the other settings… or both of the other settings really.
But as you can see, all the screen shots are 1024×768 and the world is dark, grim, and full of the sharp edges of polygons. Welcome to history.
Meanwhile, there wasn’t much of a tutorial.
That is about all I saw, and I couldn’t get it to do anything, so I was left to the occasional pop-up tip and my own imagination as to how to proceed.
Of course, the first thing I had to do was figure out how to take screen shots.
And then I had to figure out where the game actually stored them, which was a bit more challenging.
I pottered around a bit with the UI. I like that you can move almost every piece of it at need, though it does seem crowded in that resolution. Still, it is better than 1999 EverQuest with its little square window view of the world in the middle of the UI.
I tried equipping the two melee weapons in my inventory and then attacking one of the many malfunctioning cleaning robots in the area, the obvious newbie fodder, but that did not go well and I died.
I then swapped to the two pistols they gave me and plinked away at a cleaning robot at range, which went better. It was still a near run thing, but I lived and managed my first kill. Something seemed amiss though, so I started digging through the skills. This does seem to be a skill based game and there are lots of skills.
I put points into ranged weapons and some defensive items. I wasn’t sure how useful some skills would be, but I had a lot of skill points, so why not spend them?
With some shooting skill I was able to shoot up malfunctioning cleaning robots with abandon, boosting myself up quickly to level two. I moved on a bit and took out a few more and a garbage flea, which got me up to level three. High on that success I went after bigger game.
My attempts to take on the Cleanmeister Intelligence Robot… is that a named boss NPC… however did not go well.
I pulled back and the Cleanmeister let me go. I settled down to rest and heal in the time honored tradition of the era, only to walk away from my desk then come back to find another garbage flea, no doubt avenging a fallen comrade, had slain me. Oh well.
That was enough of a preview, so I logged out. (Though I did go back in later to take a few of these screen shots.) While the summary sounds like I spent about five minutes with the game, that all transpired over the course of a few hours.
It was an interesting glimpse back into the past and, while I am sure Funcom has updated a lot since the game launched, it still feels very much like a game of its era.
At this point I am not saying that Anarchy Online will be my eventual pick to play seriously for a at least a month later this year, but I wouldn’t rule it out either.
Meanwhile, if you want to read about another game from my list, Jeromai has an excellent post up about a return to A Tale in the Desert. Another game that looks to be still a part of the time from which it came.