Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

Looking for less chaos in my Anarchy Online

Originally published in September 2001.

Historical note: I had high hopes for Anarchy Online, but the game, ever after patches and expansions, never managed to reach my expectations.

Name: Anarchy Online
Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game
Format: CD-ROM
Developer: Funcom
Publisher: Funcom
Multiplayer: Yes, only
Requires: Windows 95+, Pentium II 450+, 64Mb RAM (128 highly recommended), CD-ROM Drive, DirectX 3D Video (accelerated video highly recommended), 700Mb hard drive space, Internet connection 56K
Retail Price: $49.99
Street Price: $34.99

At the beginning of this year I made a prediction. Unfortunately, it may be a prediction that comes back to haunt me. I said that this would be the year massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) hit their stride and became a mainstream phenomenon. I envisioned Dan Rather and his 48 Hours show doing an expose on this new form of entertainment sweeping the country. If several recent releases of MMORPG titles are any indication, my prediction may prove premature by a few years.

The game in question in this case is Anarchy Online, a tremendously ambitious title of the science fiction genre. Published by Funcom, the European company that brought us the wonderful adventure game last year entitled The Longest Journey, Anarchy Online is a gorgeous game in search of a soul. The panoramic graphic-vistas of its sci-fi setting cannot overcome its short-comings in the one area that really matters – game play.

Why do I exist?

The premise of Anarchy Online is that a mega-corporation, Omni-Tek, has established a mining outpost on a planet known as Rubi-Ka. Of course, being a cold-hearted mega-corporation means that there are inevitable labor problems. In this case, those labor problems have escalated into a full-scale rebellion. And of course, in that a rebel lifestyle is just not for everyone, there is also a group of neutral fence-sitting inhabitants. Each player’s character must decide which of these three groups to join.

The traits for each character are drawn from a cadre of choices including breed, profession, appearance, height, sex, and initial skill set. The magnitude of available choices allow each character to achieve a certain uniqueness and give the player ample opportunity to create an avatar they can call their own.

However, this is where the fatal flaw appears. Sure each player has the opportunity to create a unique character for the online world and sure the traits that make up that character are varied and numerous, but the reason a character should be created to inhabit this world remain unclear. There is no “why” to effect your decision about whether to create a doctor, fixer, martial artist or soldier. A player can agonize about all aspects of their character but in the end a random character would be just as compelling. As it stands now, Anarchy Online has no story. Each character in the game is doomed to this life cycle – kill some computer-generated or player-versus-player bad guys to increase your level, so you can increase your skills, so you can kill bigger bad guys, so you can increase your level, so you can increase your skills, so you can kill bigger bad guys, rinse, repeat. Your character’s life or death and the life and death of the bad guys, have absolutely no impact on the daily operation of the planet.

The one area where Anarchy Online stands out is in the game graphics. Anarchy Online is absolutely gorgeous. The night-sky, with its three moons, will at times take your breath away. The beautiful panoramic vitas of the outlying wilderness areas are awe-inspiring. No other online game has come close to this expansive and beautiful setting. In this regard, the game is truly in a class by itself. It is just a shame that such extraordinary scenery is wasted on a game without a compelling story to tell.

The game also excels in terms of user interface and the mechanics of game play. Making good use of screen real estate, mouse buttons, and keyboard shortcuts, Anarchy Online is intuitive to play. The real meat of the game lies in the almost overwhelming scope of its useable items. Weapons, armor, clothes, implants and nanoprograms number in the thousands. Finding items designed for your character and then deciding what to actually acquire is dependent on your limited resources and the overall plans for your character’s development. The best way to manager your character is a true strategic challenge.

Anarchy Online game designers have done a good job of analyzing what was wrong with the previous generation of MMORPGs. For example, to avoid the problem associated with players “camping” static dungeons for valuable loot, players can purchase separate missions that only one character controls. These missions can be tackled single-handedly or with a group of your choosing, but the uninvited cannot participate. This single improvement solves a multitude of problems experienced in previous games like EverQuest.

Anarchy Online is violent in the sense that players, through their characters, are required to kill either computer-generated bad guys or other player avatars in order to advance in the game. However, the violence is fairly cartoonish and not too offensive. In addition, the designers have incorporated the idea that no one dies a permanent death on the planet. Even the computer-controlled bad guys are reconstituted through the wonders of nano technology and biogenetic engineering. The game is rated Teen by the ESRB.

Uncertain chaos

The Anarchy Online box has the tag line, “the future is in your hands.”  A truer statement cannot be made about this game. In the future, Funcom promises to fix the annoying bugs still in the game, many of which end with frustrating crashes in which your character is left hanging in a heated battle. In the future, Funcom promises an actual story to make Rubi-Ka come alive with a purpose. In the future, Funcom promises to balance game play so that some professions actually matter in this fantasy world of Rubi-Ka. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the future with hard currency in the present.

I have been looking forward to Anarchy Online for almost a year now. I thought this would be the definitive game of the MMORPG genre. And it still may reach that threshold, but I cannot recommend casual gamers buy this game on the hope that something wonderful may someday happen. The potential is tremendous but the reality of its present condition overwhelms that potential and trumps it. In its current state, Anarchy Online is spectacular eye-candy, a work of art that lacks soul, a populated sci-fi world devoid of purpose.