Anarchy Online - the First Science Fiction MMORPG Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Anarchy Online - the First Science Fiction MMORPG

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An alien ship in Anarchy Online

Anarchy Online is a science-fiction MMORPG that was published by Funcom in 2001. It is therefore a game of the same generation as EverQuest. It was one of the first big MMOs of the new millennium and the first science-fiction-themed game of this genre. Anarchy Online can be played for free, along with the free add-on called Notum Wars (2002). The other add-ons, which require monthly fees to be payed by the player, are: Shadowlands (2003), Alien Invasion (2004) and Lost Eden (2006). Additionally, there is a booster pack called Legacy of the Xan (2009) which can be bought separately.

Anarchy Online is only available in English and has never been translated into other languages. There was, however, an active server with German players and German in-game support until November 2010. Today only the two English servers are remaining but due to sinking player numbers there are plans to shut down one of them too.

The graphics in the game are good for that era of online games. Funcom have been promising new graphics for years but it is not clear when or whether this project will ever be finished. As it is now, the graphics have their own appeal, even if they are not what a modern gamer expects.

Rubi-Ka and the Notum Wars

The main story of the game is set 30,000 years in the future on the desert planet Rubi-Ka. The Omni-Tek corporation has found the rare and valuable resource Notum, which can be used as a source of energy, which enhances weapons, armour and various other things and which is very important in nanotechnology. By terraforming and by shielding themselves with huge force field domes, Omni-Tek have made part of the planet habitable. But others have to pay the price for this: their workers are treated like slaves. Then one day an uprising starts, the slaves start to fight for a better life and indeed the workers who have organised themselves into clans manage to take over part of the planet. Of course Omni-Tek does not want to let the Clans get away with this. Due to the brutality of the war, the ICC (Interstellar Confederation of Corporations) sends neutral observers and soldiers to Rubi-Ka.

But this is not only a war for freedom, there are also the Notum Wars, a fight to control the best spots to mine for the precious Notum. It is an unusual war, even for a sci-fi one. The whole atmosphere of Rubi-Ka is swarming with tiny nanobots and anyone who knows the right tricks can manipulate them with special programs, resulting in almost magical abilities. Nanobots can shield, strengthen or weaken people and even come together to apparently summon objects from thin air. Therefore Anarchy Online uses the term 'nanoprogram' for what would be a spell or skill in other games. Most of these nanoprograms can only be executed by a certain profession but often any other player can be targeted. As the programs often run for hours, it is common for players to ask others for certain 'buffs'1 that they need in a fight (for making more damage, for instance) or for different purposes that will be talked about later.

Even death is not permanent any more. Regular scans at insurance terminals enable scientists to create exact copies of everyone, even transferring the essence of their being. Through this, death is little more than a minor nuisance.

Although only a part of Rubi-Ka can be made habitable, there is still a vast area to explore. Where terraforming has not yet begun, there are big deserts, but travellers can also find jungles, swamps and beaches. Humans have built mostly small settlements and a few cities: Rome, the dark, high-tech capital city of Omni-Tek; Tir, headquarters of the Clans, a pretty desert town; Old Athen, a city once owned by Omni-Tek, but invaded by the Clans2; the pretty walled town Newland, capital of the Neutral people who do not wish to fight for either Omni-Tek or the Clans; and Borealis, a modern neutral trading post.

Transportation on Rubi-Ka was meant to be by means of a subway system, which unfortunately got infested by unpleasant creatures and was abandoned. Today, important towns and outposts are connected with wormholes, the so-called Whompahs. Each Whompah can only connect exactly two locations, which makes travelling quite complicated sometimes. The much more popular and easier way to travel is the Grid network. A person activating a Grid terminal gets disassembled completely by nanotechnology, is sent through a computer network and reassembled again at a chosen location with a Grid exit.

Most players of Anarchy Online start their journey in the tutorial area on Rubi-Ka. At the end of the tutorial they have to choose a faction: Omni-Tek, Clan or Neutral. Neutral players can go their own way without being bothered by guards of an opposing faction. They can also choose to join one of the other factions at any time during the game. Omni-Tek and Clan players, on the other hand, have the advantage of some items that can only be used by their own faction.

Within their factions, players come together in so-called organisations, which is the Anarchy Online version of guilds3. Each organisation has an internal chat channel which can also be linked to an 'org bot', a self-written computer program that runs through an in-game character and is hosted by a server that the players of that organisation have to take care of (and pay for) themselves. By typing commands into the organisation chat, players can get the bot to deal out information, for instance about other players, items and timers for various events.

Organisations play a major role in the Notum Wars. Over the whole planet, Notum-rich areas can be found where mining for the precious resource is possible. Each organisation can occupy one of these areas by planting mining and defence towers on them. This will give the players who build them and the organisation as a whole advantages in the game. Additionally, the whole faction gets a bonus to their XP depending on the 'tower fields' owned by their organisations. The amount of advantages depends on the level of the mining field and the level of towers that can be built on it. Every 'tower field' turns into a PvP4 zone at certain times – towers in this area can be attacked and torn down by players of the right level and a new land control tower can be built to occupy the field. The organisation that builds the control tower is the new owner of the field - but of course the current owners and their friends will try to defend their towers. In the case of really valuable high level areas, a well planned assault can get almost all high level players of all factions occupied for quite a while. Many players also have characters of certain levels for the sole purpose of defending and attacking towers.

PvP generally is only possible between players of about the same level and even then only under the right circumstances. There are, for instance, some outdoor areas and a dungeon completely open to PvP, but they are unfortunately not used any more. Players who attack guards of the opposing faction are also automatically open to attacks. In the Clan outpost Camelot, players also find a PvP raid, meaning that Omni-Tek and Clan both fight for the chance to kill the dragon Tarasque in Camelot Castle (yes, there is a round table and quite a few knights too).

A Planet to Explore

Players who have only the basic version of Anarchy Online and Notum Wars can theoretically reach up to level 200, but teams of other players can really only be found up to about level 100 or less. As most players own add-ons to the game, they do not go through the 'troubles' of levelling5 on Rubi-Ka, choosing instead to raise their characters' level more easily in the expansion packs. Still, new players are advised to play on Rubi-Ka for a while because it is the best way to get to know the game. Levelling usually happens first by playing in the beginner-level dungeons, the Condemned Subway, the Temple of the Three Winds, and sometimes also the Foreman's Office, where pay account players can also be found getting important items. Additionally, players can go on missions against the opposing faction. These can be for a team or a single player, and are received by the player at special 'mission terminals' found in every town. The missions themselves take place in small instanced dungeons which are scattered all over the planet. Some items such as special nanoprograms can only be found in such missions at certain levels. Since 2010, there are also Daily Missions available on Rubi-Ka, which send players on a small quest with a big reward which can only be acquired once per day. High-level players with the Shadowland expansion can mainly be found in the two Dust Brigade Instances, fighting the mysterious and dangerous Dust Brigade organisation that digs for ancient treasures on Rubi-Ka.

Rubi-Ka offers players who like exploring a number of different landscapes with interesting places to find; sometimes it's worth taking a second look to see hidden marvels. Those who care to can talk to many NPCs6 in a lot of places, who tell about the rich and exciting history of Rubi-Ka. Unfortunately, levelling in the Shadowlands (see below) is much more convenient and the items that can be found on Rubi-Ka have never been adapted to those of the add-ons, which means that you will find very few other players in most of the place. This could be changed with relatively simple things if anyone would care to do it, to bring the beauty of Rubi-Ka back to the attention of the players.

The Shadowlands Expansion

A penumbra pipe in Anarchy Online

During their research on Rubi-Ka and their search for the source of the Notum, Omni-Tek scientists have found a connection to another dimension: the Shadowlands. They are the remains of a planet, broken into parts during a huge catastrophe. They look like islands in white nothingness, but are connected through portals. The whole land is inhabited by strange and dangerous creatures, many of the most dangerous living at the very edges of the Shadowlands, at the still crumbling brink.

But there is also Ergo, the Guardian of the Shadows, an android who tells the players the story of what was once the Land of Eternal Light, and his strange servants the Yuttos, hooded beings7 with shepherds' staffs. Ergo is the preserver of a network that reaches through all the Shadowlands: the pipelines of the mysterious Source, a well of energy which was once used by the masters of this land, the Xan. Only ruins and strange technology are left of their culture. Their descendants are the degenerate Redeemed and Unredeemed, who are forever at war against each other. The Shadowlands tell the story of a people that overused the natural resources of its planet, resulting in war and the destruction of their home. With their technology and through the Source, they were able to create life, but this was the end of their people. Just a few of the Xan could flee in huge arks.

Players who own the Shadowlands expansion can start to play not on Rubi-Ka but in a special tutorial area in the starting zone of the whole add-on: Nascene. Here, players slowly get to know the Shadowlands and get into contact with the Redeemed and Unredeemed. The whole land seems old, full of rocks and swamps and huge, old trees. The second territory, Elysium, is a beautiful land full of rich vegetation, colourful wildlife and picturesque views on the landscape. In the next area, Sheol, vast highlands and rocky mountains with big canyons are waiting; it is not a place where many people linger. The ruins of Adonis, the huge, awe inspiring capital city of the Xan, are waiting to be explored and a big underwater area can be visited with the necessary diving equipment. From this beautiful world, the journey goes on to the frozen forest and snowy hills of Penumbra. The last open zone of the Shadowlands is Inferno. It is the opposite of Penumbra: a land of fire with glowing volcanoes and lava; the ground is almost too hot to walk on. The final area, Pandemonium, consists entirely of an end-game raid and two team instances8. The Pandemonium raid9 is one of the biggest and toughest raids of Anarchy Online, with a monstrous Beast - or is it the Fisher King? - waiting at the end, on the biggest node of the Source pipelines.

Characters from outside of the Shadowlands can reach it through a Whompah (portal) in a major city that leads to the human research platform, from where there is a way to Nascene on the one side and a portal to Elysium on the other side. All other areas of the Shadowlands can only be reached from inside the Shadowlands themselves. Each zone can only be entered by players of a high enough level or if they have fulfilled a difficult quest. The latter makes it possible to get very low-level characters through all of the Shadowlands to get an item from Pandemonium, although this is rarely done. Additionally, there is a long quest leading through every zone, telling its story and rewarding players with an item for their profession which is usually quite valuable.

In order to play in the last zones, the player must belong to a faction, one of the different groups living in the Shadowlands, and must have a certain amount of faction points. The factions are basically the Redeemed and Unredeemed (both having different sub-groups) and the Guardian of the Shadows. Faction points are acquired by killing the enemies of the faction in question. Omni-Tek players are allies of the demon-like Unredeemed from the start, while Clan players belong to the angel-like Redeemed. Neutral players can choose freely and even switch between Redeemed and Unredeemed factions. Killing monsters of one's own faction will result in the loss of a lot of faction points. The favour of the Redeemed or Unredeemed gives the players access to their 'gardens', which are safe travelling hubs connected with various places of a zone. Every main area of the Shadowlands has one garden belonging to each faction. A permanent key to a garden that is the reward of a long quest will save the player a lot of travelling time.

Originally, tower wars were also planned to happen in the Shadowlands – the Notum-rich places are even visible on maps – but the concept has never been implemented in the game.

The Shadowlands are a very popular location for levelling. In most levels, the process really is faster than levelling in Rubi-Ka, although there are some levels where this preference for the Shadowlands over Rubi-Ka is unjustified. Players come together in teams to kills the monsters at the brink in Nascene, Elysium and Adonis. One round after the other. After that, they move straight on to Inferno (in earlier times also Penumbra) to do team missions in instanced dungeons of their faction.

Players with the Shadowlands expansion get 20 Shadowlevels added to the original 200 levels possible on Rubi-Ka. This raises the maximum level of the game to 220 and makes Shadowlands players superior to players with a free account.

The Shadowlands is certainly the most beautiful add-on to Anarchy Online, a realm full of contrasts. All areas are really well designed and the story in the major quests is interesting and very well told. A strange connection between the Shadowlands and Rubi-Ka is found in many places, and people who fall or jump off the rim of the Shadowlands will land on Rubi-Ka. The instances that can be found in a few zones are also well done. Unfortunately the main part of levelling is not very interesting and quite repetitive. More options to get XP in the Shadowlands as well as on Rubi-Ka would be very desirable. The Shadowlands also offers a wide range of well-designed weapons and armour, but unfortunately these don't come up to the stats of equipment added to the game later and are therefore not used.

Alien Invasion Expansion

Not long after the inhabitants of Rubi-Ka start exploring the Shadowlands and the new possibilities they get through the Source, alien ships appear at Rubi-Ka. Drop ships of the Kry'Ozch fly down to the ground while huge alien motherships stay in orbit, apparently watching. What these aliens really look like is unclear; they only show themselves in shimmering green, insect-like armour. Together Omni-Tek, the Clans and ICC have to fight against this new threat.

The Alien Invasion expansion changes the appearance of Rubi-Ka. The most obvious such additions are Organisation Cities. Building sites for cities can be found at various places all around the planet; later, whole zones have been added for the sole purpose of containing player cities. Every organisation of any faction can purchase a building site (prices depend on the size) and build a city with an organisation headquarters building, an organisation grid exit (which can only be used by members) and various other buildings that even give the whole organisation a bonus on their characters. Most of the buildings have accessible interiors. There is also a player shop building which allows every member of the organisation to sell wares through the faction-wide market. Neutral players can buy items from the shops of all factions.

Every city also has its own force field shielding, which is powered with special items that can be found in Rubi-Ka missions and quests. When the shield is lowered manually, aliens will detect the city and attack by deploying units of soldiers from a drop ship. The number and level of the aliens depends on the number and level of players in the city. The aliens will now try to drain power from the force field; if the players are too slow, the power level reaches zero and the raid is over. If the players succeed, they must fight an alien general, who will hopefully leave them some valuable items when he is killed. Once this part is over, there is the chance to enter the alien ship, which is basically a dungeon with an alien admiral waiting at the end who again offers the chance for good loot.

But the Kyr'Ozch have also invaded the outzones of Rubi-Ka, places that are not protected by force fields and have never been terraformed. Any willing citizen can take a shuttle from the ICC headquarters to the outzones to fight the aliens that swarm the dusty red canyons like ants. Six alien playfields are part of the Alien Invasion expansion:

  • Sector 10 is an area with quests and powerful bosses for players up to level 150.
  • Sector 7 is an instanced dungeon for teams of level 151 to 200.
  • Sectors 13, 28 and 35 are instanced raids for high-level players.
  • Sector 42 needs items from 13, 28 and 35 to get access and is an end-game raid that requires three bosses in different places to be killed simultaneously to spawn the biggest alien in the game, the Artillery Commander.

In addition to interesting raids and encounters, Alien Invasion also adds the valuable and very popular Alien Armour to the game. This is one of the best armours in the game. Every high-level player owns at least some pieces of it, in its different variations. Kyr'Ozch weapons are also quite popular.

Alien Invasion adds 30 Alien Levels to the game, which are acquired by killing aliens. These levels are tracked on a different counter from the ordinary levels, which means the maximum level as such does not rise with Alien Invasion.

Lost Eden Expansion

The ICC has installed orbital platforms all around Rubi-Ka to defend the planet from the aliens. Unfortunately Omni-Tek and the Clans also want to use these 'battle stations' for their very own advantage: to launch orbital strikes on the opposing faction. There are in all nine battle stations around Rubi-Ka; entry into these is restricted by the level of the player - some are available to low-level players and others can only be accessed by high-level players. This prevents players of widely different levels playing against each other and the experienced player wiping out the beginner with one blow. On the battle stations, Clan and Omni-Tek fight for control of three terminals in the corners of the star-shaped station and one in its centre. Basically what happens is a capture-and-hold PvP, meaning that players have to take and defend the terminals. On every battle station, only one fight takes place at a time between at least six players of each faction. Next to the tower wars, the battle stations are the main part of PvP in Anarchy Online, but not all stations are active: players of most levels will find their battle stations inactive. Players get Victory Points for fighting on the battle stations; these can be traded for armour and weapons of every level and for some special items.

Similar but better weapons can be found in the Dreadloch camps. Five of these camps for each of Omni-Tek and Clan are scattered across the planet. Every camp contains a high-level boss that respawns10 in intervals of two hours, as well as some smaller enemies.

Mechs11 and turrets12 are used in both PvP and encounters on Rubi-Ka. Every player with the Lost Eden expansion can order a battle Mech to fight with or anti-vehicular or anti-personnel turrets at any time.

Last but not least, the Lost Eden Expansion also adds alien missions to the game. These can be accessed from the same hub as the alien sectors and take place on an alien mothership. Every mission is a team instance with a boss alien at the end.

Lost Eden is mostly important because of the items, weapons and armour it adds to the game. There are also 70 new Research Levels which, like Alien Levels, are counted separately from the normal levels. Every research level gives a certain bonus that is dependent on the profession of the player's character. Unfortunately, the battle station fights are very repetitive; Anarchy Online would greatly benefit from more ways to do PvP and earn Victory Points, and more things to spend them on. Fighting in mechs is a nice change but unfortunately there are too few chances to use them.

Legacy of the Xan Booster Pack

Once again the Dust Brigade is digging deep in the sand of Rubi-Ka, searching for ancient artefacts. But this time, they have made their way into the outzones. Interestingly there is a lot of alien activity in the same area. Of course the local forces go to investigate and what they find confirms their suspicions: when the Xan left the Shadowlands, they reached Rubi-Ka and not only this, they are also the link between aliens and humans. The humans learn that their intrusion in the Shadowlands is the reason for the attack of the Kyr'Ozch.

Legacy of the Xan adds a new area to Rubi-Ka, one that is linked to the alien playfields (the alien sectors and missions of Alien Invasion and Lost Eden) and also to Pandemonium. The so-called 'Xan hub' connects Arid Rift, a canyon with countless aliens, and Neretva Canyon, the base of the Dust Brigade. Both of these zones are explored in quests.

The final enemies of both zones can be found in the team instances Mitaar Hero (alien) and Ground Chief Vortexx (Dust Brigade). Additionally, there is an instance for 12 people where players fight a deranged Xan and his helpers.

Originally all quests and the smaller instances had to be played before the player could enter the '12-man' instance. Unfortunately, this was seen as too much trouble for the players, and has been changed. As a result, good upgrade components for alien and Pandemonium gear are being handed out for little effort, and many players no longer experience the story.

Breeds and Professions

In Anarchy Online, the player can choose between four breeds of humans and between 14 different professions. There are no restrictions on using certain breeds with certain professions.

  • The Solitus breed is your standard human, well balanced with no big advantages or disadvantages.

  • The Atrox has been bred in laboratories; an Atrox has no gender but is very big, strong, and healthy - the perfect mining worker.

  • Opifexes are small, fast, agile and hard to hit.

  • Nanomages make up for their physical weakness by possessing great mental abilities. When it comes to controlling nanobots, no other breed can come close to them.

The profession of a character defines which nanoprograms they are able to use and which weapons are easier to master - but there is no restriction on any profession using a certain type of weapon or armour. There is only a preference and some choices work better than others. This is discussed in greater detail later. Every profession in Anarchy Online is able to take care of itself and do things alone.

  • The Adventurer is an all-round profession that can do damage, is the second best healer in the game and can also tank13 if the enemy is not too strong. Adventurers are hardly ever seen fighting in their human form but uses nanobots to transform themselves into animals. Their preferred weapons are a pair of daggers or pistols.

  • Agents can transform themselves into any other profession and use this profession's nanoprograms – up to a certain degree. They will never really be masters of the other profession. Additionally, Agents have a high ability in concealing themselves and do a lot of damage with rifles, while making their victims unable to move.

  • Playing a Bureaucrat is more interesting than it may sound. They are good with words, inspiring their allies while making their enemies unable to fight or even convincing monsters to fight for them. Bureaucrats can also call their bodyguards to help in fights and usually wield pistols themselves.

  • Doctors are naturally the best healers in Anarchy Online, but they also make their enemies suffer from short-term diseases. Unlike healers in other games, Doctors are perfectly able to take care of themselves in combat and do not have to fear being hit; they are even able to tank high-level monsters and do a decent amount of damage with pistols or martial arts weapons.

  • The main tank profession in the game is the Enforcer, who is able to increase his health by incredible amounts. He can anger all enemies around him with powerful taunts and keeps their attention on himself. The Enforcer's weapons of choice are melee weapons like daggers, swords and hammers.

  • The Engineers' most powerful weapons are the robots they can build, which fight with or instead of them. They use very effective shields to protect themselves and can teleport their team to any location. Engineers also have decent tradeskill abilities and are usually seen fighting with pistols, doing a considerable amount of damage together with their robots.

  • Faster than anyone else, the Fixer is a target that is hard to hit while slowing down their enemies even more. They are almost a part of the grid itself and able to enter it from any location, even get into a state between the grid and the real world. They shoot at their enemies with SMGs14 and are also able to heal themselves and their team.

  • Keepers are genetically improved warriors of the Shadowlands and can only start their adventures there. They do a considerable amount of damage with two-handed swords while at the same time being able to tank and heal or guard their team.

  • Most of the time, Martial Artists fight with bare hands and special martial arts attacks. They are fast, have strong critical hits and are able to heal themselves and others.

  • With the power of their mind and the help of the Notum, Metaphysicists are able to summon demons built from nanobots as manifestations of their anger and hatred. Every Metaphysicist can have three demons at a time: one to attack, one to render an enemy unable to move, and one to heal himself, other players or other demons. They are able to summon weapons for themselves or fight with bows or blunt melee weapons. They also increase the ability to use nanoprograms of themselves and other players by a large amount for a long time.

  • Even better equipped for using the power of nanobots are Nanotechnicians. While physically weak, they use their mental abilities to do a huge amount of damage to one or more enemies at a time and have an apparently never-ending pool of energy to control nanobots.

  • The Shade is a creature of the Shadowlands. Invisible, Shades approach their enemies, stabbing their backs and hitting them hard and fast with their piercing blades, giving the opponent hardly a chance to land a hit themselves. But there is so little human in the Shade that they are unable to wear normal armour or implants and, unlike all other professions, they have no advantages to give to their team other than their combat abilities.

  • Masters of the assault rifle and protecting themselves and others with very effective shields, Soldiers are ranged tanks as well as a profession with a good damage output.

  • Traders are exactly what it says on the box. They can sell and buy wares for better prices than everyone else and are the best tradeskillers in the game, which means they can build weapons and armour like no other. In fights they hinder their targets and steal their health, defence and abilities to use nanoprograms, while at the same time adding them to themselves. It is also possible for them to give advantages to other players, draining them from their own body.

Skills, Perks and Research

Skills in Anarchy Online enhance the ability of a character to use certain weapons and make them stronger, faster and harder to hit. Every character, no matter which profession or breed, has the same skills and can assign skill points to these skills to get their benefits. Skill points are received every time the character reaches a new level. A Soldier, for instance, could assign points to blunt melee weapons and fight with them. This is not advisable, however, because Soldiers have nanoprograms to increase their assault rifle skills and not their blunt weapon skills, so they are better off if they don't waste skill points on blunt melee weapons. Still, this ability to use all possible weapons and assign skill points to whatever the player likes is one of the core features of the game.

The six main skills that most players always keep at their maximum are agility, sense, intelligence, psychic, strength and stamina. The maximum amount that a character can reach depends on their race. These six 'abilities' influence other skills, depending on their nature. Stamina for instance influences the skill that increases the health of a character, while agility influences the chances of a character evading attacks. Evades themselves can also be skilled individually for ranged, melee and explosive attacks. At the same time, the basic abilities define which armour a character can wear, because armour is not, as would be normal in most games, dependent on a certain character level but solely on the skills of a character in most cases.

Even the execution of nanoprograms needs special skills, depending on the nature of the program. Like most other things in the game, they do not generally require the player to have a certain level, as spells often do in other games. The time it needs to execute a nanoprogram is skill-dependent as well. As nanoprograms are computer programs, they also require a certain amount of memory storage to run. Memory cards are items that the player can equip in special slots on their character, but their use again is skill-dependent, and the amount of memory used by a program depends on the program's power. This means that, especially at a low level and with few skill points, a player often has to choose carefully which programs they want at one time.

Equipping a character with a weapon and using it is also skill-dependent rather than requiring a certain character level in most cases. No matter which level, if the skills do not reach the requirement a weapon can not be equipped. If a character has the necessary skills to equip a weapon, and the skills drop by a certain amount later in the game, the weapon gets less efficient in fights.

This complex skill system is in fact the key to understanding how Anarchy Online works. It sets Anarchy Online apart from most other games and requires experience and thought from the players.

Perks have been added to Anarchy Online with the Shadowlands Expansion. Every character with this expansion gets one perk point for every 10 levels until level 200 and from then one point per level. Alien Invasion Expansion again added new perks and with every alien level a character gets one perk point.

Every perk point can be assigned to a perk, which gives the character a bonus on certain skills and even adds new nanoprograms which the player can use, for instance heals or perks that do damage. All perk points can be removed and assigned to different perks to get a different bonus. With the help of perks, players can specialise in certain skills and gain abilities which they would not have with the nanoprograms of their profession. Through perks, for instance, all professions are able to heal.

Research is a feature of the Lost Eden Expansion. Instead of gaining levels by getting experience, every player can choose to assign all or a certain percentage of the experience they get to research. With a certain amount of experience, a new research level is gained and the player gets a bonus, dependant on their profession. Research defines the strengths and weaknesses of every profession.

Implants, Buffs and the Science of Twinking

Every player of Anarchy Online should be able to use spreadsheets or at least a calculator, pen and paper. For anyone who wants to master the game, these tools are essential. It is the wrong game for people who dislike a little bit of maths, but for nerds it is just the thing.

Implants and their Shadowlands counterparts, the symbionts, are the most powerful tools in Anarchy Online. Where usual games have just equipment slots for weapons and armour on every character, Anarchy Online also has 13 implant slots. Implants can be looted from dead opponents but are usually built by the players themselves (or helpful tradeskillers). Each implant provides a bonus for three different skills. Which skills an implant affects depends on the slot where the implant is equipped (for instance brain, chest or leg). To equip an implant, the character needs a certain amount of abilities, depending on the level of the implant which defines the amount of its skill bonus. With implants, every player can push their skills by a considerable amount.

Symbionts are an addition of the Shadowlands expansion. Certain monsters in the Shadowlands drop blueprint parts which the player can collect to produce a full blueprint of four different parts. With the help of the Source, a monster can be created from the blueprint which may drop certain symbionts after its death. Symbionts differ from implants in that their skill bonuses can not be influenced. They give a wider range of bonuses but the bonus is lower and each profession is only able to wear certain types of symbionts that give certain types of bonuses.

In games, buffs are spells or in this case nanoprograms that increase the skills of a player. As mentioned in the section about professions, it is possible to increase all kinds of skills that way: weapon skills, health, intelligence... Players can not only give these bonuses to themselves but also improve the skills of other players, often for a relatively long time. Additionally, there are also buff items like armour or weapons that add bonuses to skills. As most of them are not restricted to a certain level or profession, everyone can get these bonuses. To store the many buff items, most experienced players get themselves a free game account in addition to their pay account.

It's here that all things come together: twinking. In most games, twinking means hunting for the best items with a certain level requirement and putting them on a character of that level. In Anarchy Online  – a world with hardly any level requirements – it means taking the highest possible items and squeezing them into a character that at first sight has far too low a level. To do this, skill requirements have to be met, which means increasing skills by all possible means. Implants are built and equipped to reach the requirements to put on certain buff armour. This in turn enables the character to put on bigger implants, every other player in town is asked for their best buffs, and the game goes on and on.

All this is in fact even more complicated than it sounds, and it is at this point that every player is advised to get a spreadsheet, to compile items lists and buff lists and to sit down for maybe a week or two to calculate how to shove this new weapon into the hands of their character. Amazing things can be done this way.

In Tune with the Xan

You feel the core of your being shift as the Source makes space for a divine presence. You have reached enlightenment.
– Game-wide announcement if a player has reached level 220.

Anarchy Online is a very complex game, more so than many more recent games. It is a game for specialists and those who play it will miss the depth of the skill system when they play more modern MMORPGs. Once one of the biggest and most important games of its time, Anarchy Online has become old fashioned in the eyes of many and it has been drowned by a flood of newer MMOs that look more appealing to the masses.

Still, Anarchy Online is a game with a lot of potential. Many things could still be improved on it and added, if Funcom would understand its value and have some imagination. Unfortunately, it seems that their aim is to make it more like newer games, easier and attractive to the mainstream players. They do not appear to understand that they have a very good niche product on their hands for specialists, who often do not like the mainstream games.

Gamers who want to see something different and are not afraid to put some work into a game and make an effort to understand how it works should have a look at Anarchy Online.

Images courtesy of Funcom © Copyright 1999—2012

1Nanoprograms that give them advantages.2This happened in a big in-game event.3Guilds in games are long-term cooperative groups of players.4Player versus Player combat.5'Levelling', here, means the sometimes tedious process of raising your character to an advanced level through often repetitive play.6Non Player Character, a character that is controlled by the computer.7Well, maybe not beings as such, it would probably be a good guess that they are more metal and wires than flesh and blood.8Instances are areas which are designed for a certain number of players; every group gets their own private version of it and does not meet players from any other group.9A raid is a difficult end game encounter, designed for a large number of players.10Respawn is when an enemy comes back a certain time after being killed.11A mech is a giant robot that the player can climb into and control.12A turret is a large, high-powered weapon that is operated by a player but is fixed in location. It can't be carried around like other weapons.13Tanking means to keep the attention of the enemy on oneself and get hit while all other players around you are ignored by the enemy even if they hit them.14Sub Machine Guns.

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