Anarchy Online is a great example of how a game can age very, very gracefully. Perhaps newer games should look at AO to see how to keep both their dignity and their core players as the games approach their golden years. I tried to put my finger on exactly why AO seems to have held up so well, how it can still suck in "new" players like yours truly, and how it can still thrill with its lore and setting. How do you even get away with graphics like that in an age of players who literally think that upgrading their PCs every two years is a mark of pride?
Click past the cut and I'll tell you.
The players of AO are some of the smartest I have ever met, or at least that's how I felt in my limited time there. Star Trek Online gave me the same feeling. These players not only know the game but know why the game works the way it does, why the lore reads the way it does. I felt overwhelmed when talking to some of them, again in similarity to STO. I didn't really need to ask a single bit of advice from anyone as it was almost directly injected into my brain. A typical conversation went like this:
- Player: Hello.
- Beau: Hello!
- Player: OK well first you can take your points and put them all into rifles, but if you want to vary your abilities, you can also balance it by going for defense. But make sure you...
AO is, and I mean this in the best way possible, completely nerdy. Yes, this is a game for nerds -- glorious, wonderful nerds who want to know every bit of the lore, who need to know why that crit chance didn't work right, who have no problem sitting with you for hours (if you want) to explain the lore, the ships, or the planet. On top of all of the information you can receive is the fact that the game allows you to build a character how you want to build him. If you want to concentrate on rifles, go for it. If you want to become a stealthy hacker-type, it's all yours. If you would like to lean towards healing people while also being the best pistol-slinger on the planet, you can try that too! Howver, if you want to be the best swimmer in the game, be prepared to be mocked for it. AO does not like swimmers.
The whole experience is almost too much. There's so much information chucked at you when you've barely stepped into the game! Then tack on vehicles, a wonderful housing system, roleplay, travel, exploration -- it goes on and on. The brilliant thing about a game that has made it into its 10th year is that it is quite literally like a wonderful old book. The characters have grown and become bigger personalities, the setting has become richer and like something you could picture actually visiting, and you can't put it down. It stands the test of time because it was an original concept rather than light reading in the first place.
As I played through my week, I ran several missions. As I leveled, I would earn skill points to put into whatever skill I saw fit. There are a lot of skills. I was trying to go for a rifle-toting, fast-moving, stealthy little guy who could sneak up to an enemy, shoot him from afar and be done with it. Of course, it wasn't that simple. The more I played and leveled, the more I explored other skills. The more I met other players, the more information or advice I received. One player, after watching my Livestream video, informed me that I was using an assault rifle. That was fine except that I was putting a good deal of my points into normal rifles. I adjusted accordingly.
In fact, all of the talk about what I should do and not do only reinforced one of my longstanding rules about MMOs: Players will make up rules, even when there are none. It seemed to confuse some of the players I met when I explained to them that I didn't care if I made a mistake with my point distribution (I really don't care). For me, the fun of an MMO comes from accepting your character and all of his issues in due course, as you would accept him in real life. I have bad vision in real life -- perhaps the creator of the universe just screwed up and didn't put enough points into the vision stat? Still, it makes me who I am, and those "mistakes" I make with my character make him who he is.
While I wish I gave you, fair reader, something more to grab onto in today's column, I would rather you download the game yourself and see how you feel. Yes, you will not like the graphics at first. They will grow on you, I promise. Remember that our eyes take time to adjust to new sights. If you are used to combat looking a certain way, you will have to get used to how it looks in this game. Remember that it comes from the times of old, and back then it was considered top-notch. Really, though, I like the look of the game after my week of living in it. A graphics update is due "soon" say the developers, but an older client will always be available for those players with an older machine or preference.
Spend a week in the game, like I did. There is a free version. During your week, don't be distracted by announcements of the latest "AAA" monster, and don't worry about your other games for the week. Just explore AO, get to know some people in the community, and go watch this mini-series. It's fantastic, if incomplete. Then run some missions, visit the famous subway areas to gain some skill points, and be sure to visit your daily mission agent. If you run one of those per day, you can level once per day at least.
Has our collective gamer conscience been forever changed by the mass success of themepark, linear, quest-based MMOs? Would any large number of players ever accept being dropped off onto an island with hardly any instruction?
AO came out of the design of the times. With that sometimes flawed design, however, came the need to communicate with your fellow players, to cooperate during everyday play (not just in a dungeon) and to figure things out for yourself. Yes, there have always been guides and rules that made players feel forced into certain "roles," even in a sandbox game like AO, but the choice was there. It's still there, actually.
Don't read the forums first, and do not investigate your class first. Just jump in. But for all that is holy, do not put points into swimming.
Next week I will be continuing my look at older games by exploring Asheron's Call. After downloading it and trying it on all of the devices, I can say that I can't wait to jump into this one. I am on the Thisteldown server, and my character's name is Beau Hindman. Now, go log in!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EST; the column runs the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or Raptr!