Perfect Ten: Memories of an Anarchy Online noob

My initial foray into MMORPGs was, to put it nicely, quite ungraceful. I wasn’t even aware that they were a thing until about the year 2000, when I started to notice EverQuest and Asheron’s Call boxes on the shelves. But stories about addiction from friends and the seeming obtuse nature of these games kept me from trying… until fall 2001, that was.

That’s when I saw a sci-fi title lumped together in this unknown category, and I had liked Funcom’s The Longest Journey so much that I thought I’d take a chance on this odd online game. My subsequent experiences in Anarchy Online were fragmented, ignominious, and confusing as all get out. It was so weird, in fact, that I needed a “redo” of City of Heroes several years later to properly get onto the MMO bandwagon (and I haven’t fallen off since!).

So what was it like being a total Anarchy Online — and MMO — noob back in the day, feeling out this game from a position of complete ignorance? Glad you asked, friend, because I’m going to tell you all about it.

1. Launch day (month) was unplayable

Anarchy Online’s launch has gone down in online history as one of the most spectacular trainwrecks that players have witnessed. I think there have been worse since then, but it was definitely bad, as the game was neigh unplayable, even if you could get through the faulty account support.

Me? I managed to log in for a whopping two sessions to enjoy what I quickly termed “Slideshow Online,” thanks to the one-frame-per-seven-seconds visuals. Obviously, I couldn’t get anything done other than very, very, very slowly meander around the opening area. I wrote the game off as a loss and tossed it in the closet, unaware that thousands of other players were dealing with similar frustrating issues.

2. The game wasn’t much fun on a dial-up connection

Honestly, in 2000 I didn’t even know cable internet was a thing. Heck, having a personal dial-up connection was fairly new to me, as I had only gotten my own back in 1999, so that’s what I was getting used to. And for most internet activities, it was fine, but MMO gaming? Ha. I just didn’t have the machine or connection for it, which was another reason I dragged my feet a lot on MMOs.

3. The soundtrack was oddly engrossing

Despite an aborted start to my journeys on Rubi-Ka, there was one thing I really liked: the soundtrack. Anarchy Online’s score was eerie, alien, and so incredibly engrossing. Even to this day, I consider it one of the most immersive soundtracks that is intimately connected with its in-game environment.

4. Shadowlands was a great intro for a new or returning player

A year or so later, I saw that Anarchy Online had put out an expansion (Shadowlands) and I thought that the game deserved another shot. So I picked it up and got things working a lot better this time around then initially. It helped that Funcom had ironed out a lot of the more severe issues by then.

Shadowlands proved to be a perfect introductory experience, offering a much more linear path through a world that was hanging in the skies above Rubi-Ka. I didn’t feel as lost this time around as I grooved on the far-out visuals and tried not to fall off the edge. It was a long way down to the ground, I found.

5. I played it safe with Adventurer

There were a lot of classes from which to choose, and back then I wasn’t as passionate about my pets as I am today (or otherwise I would have gone with a Bureaucrat, Engineer, or Meta-Physicist). Bewildered by all of the options (what the heck is the “grid?”), I kept playing it safe by choosing an Adventurer. It seemed like a good jack-of-all-trades class that had the added bonus of being able to heal itself and, supposedly, turning itself into a dragon. I don’t think I ever got to experience the latter.

6. The level-up system was inscrutable and unforgiving

One more, I have to remind you just how little I knew about the game and understood it. Was there a manual? I don’t recall ever reading one. I was just feeling things out in-game and pretty much drowning because of it.

Leveling up was an anxiety-producing experience, because instead of how MMOs these days slap your hand away from any stat choices, AO was totally fine with letting you assign your stat points the way you liked. And believe me, there were right and wrong ways to do it. Again, I wasn’t aware. I didn’t know. Swimming stat? Seemed useful. I couldn’t fight worth a tinker’s dam, but if the Olympics ever came to town, I was going to get the gold in freestyle!

7. Combat was a more abstract exercise

It was a good thing that this whole “online” and “persistent world” thing was so gripping, because if I was to base my excitement level on the game’s combat alone, I think I would have fallen into a coma. Unlike the JRPGs I’d played on console and CRPGs on PC, Anarchy Online’s combat was an abstract exercise in which what was happening visually didn’t often line up to what was going on with the timing and damage. You’d see characters flailing about, but for the most part it was better to ignore the screen and look at the combat box to see what was actually happening.

Also, this was the era of “auto attack forever, special attack key once in a blue moon” combat, so I got used to sitting there and doing a lot of nothing while my character theoretically was battling for his life.

8. Leets were really endearing

I’ve always loved the leets in Anarchy Online, especially how they’d chitter at you in 1337-speak. Oh, it might be so passé these days, but it was kind of snarky and endearing back then. I even bought a leet in The Secret World to remember those mascots.

9. The random mission system was neat in concept, forgettable in execution

I did fiddle about at some point with one of the game’s big selling points, its random mission generator. Like most pre-World of Warcraft MMOs, Anarchy Online didn’t exactly plan for you to level all of the way to the cap from questing but instead from about 90% grinding mobs. The mission generator was a sort of halfway compromise, giving players repeatable randomly generated content that didn’t provide a lot of lore and context but at least was another avenue for XP.

10. I failed to tap into the larger community

From start to finish, those months in Anarchy Online were a fully solo experience for me. I hardly ever grouped up, I was never invited to a guild, and I didn’t think about looking on the forums or at other websites for more info. Maybe I was being completely naive and trying to figure things out alone, but nothing ever steered me in those directions either. And it’s a shame; I might have stayed a lot longer if I had connected with others and had a mentor to explain things to me better.

But disappointing as it was because of this, Anarchy Online was my first — and you always remember your first fondly.

Everyone likes a good list, and we are no different! Perfect Ten takes an MMO topic and divvies it up into 10 delicious, entertaining, and often informative segments for your snacking pleasure. Got a good idea for a list? Email us at justin@massivelyop.com or eliot@massivelyop.com with the subject line “Perfect Ten.”
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7 Comments on "Perfect Ten: Memories of an Anarchy Online noob"

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mysecretid

Anarchy Online was my first true MMORPG as well (I had played the original Jumpgate previously. I’d also spent less than an hour in the original EverQuest, and utterly hated it at the time).

Luckily, a few of my real-life friends came along with me to try Anarchy Online, so we managed to figure out between us a lot of the less-transparent elements of playing the game, and we didn’t need to find a guild, as we were sort of our own “guild of noobz” by definition.

While I agree that the Shadowlands expansion made the game much easier to understand and to play for newcomers, we weren’t generally very happy with the “quasi-fantasy” elements it introduced into a game-world at the time, which had been wholly science-fictional before that point.

We left when the game updates started to slow down to near-nothing, and the game started to feature in-game advertising. Seeing ads for Nike shoes on billboards in the far-future metropolis of Omni-1 just killed what sense of immersion we had.

We eventually made of collective way to City of Heroes, and that was arguably the Golden Age of our gaming as a group of friends.

Cheers,

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mistressbrazen

AO was also my first MMO. Honestly, the first week I just logged in every day and stood with my back against the wall trying to figure out what was going on! Then I found a guide for n00bs on the forums and I finally managed to get myself off that tutorial island. I probably played by myself for a bout 9 mos to a year. I was always curious though about the knots of players I would see standing around. Finally some good soul invited me into a guild and WOW! what a difference that made. I started with a fixer and she was the character I RP’d with, but I have to admit that my metaphysicist and then my engineer were my two favorite toons. I never cared that the graphics were dated. The game was interesting, but oh my god…that grind! Many fond memories still of AO.

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Zubeneschamali Zuben Elgenubi

Got into AO in ’05, I saw an ad somewhere random and thought to try it out, since I wanted Sci-Fi to accompany GW’s fantasy. I have fond memories of my bewilderment when I first ended up on Rubi-Ka. I also put points in Swimming! What a numpty. Still my all time favourite, equal to Guild Wars. I suppose because they were both my first true MMORPGs. Had rolled Adventurer, then Martial Artist (which I looooved) and Doctor; when I had gotten used to the game. I loved flying out over the wide vistas; looking for landmarks and ruins, finding a glowy mob and trying to run off ‘cos I was in the middle of nowhere and no help was coming. Going to the clubs. Watching role-players do their thing. It was so nice being Neutral.

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Zen Dadaist

I missed out on the launch badness – I didn’t get into MMOs until 2004. So by the time I tentatively dipped my toe into AO it was settled and already full of content. That said my early expriences weren’t a million miles from yours! The exception was that I did tap into parts of the community. I found myself some nice orgs within a couple of months, and I’d disovered Anarchy Arcanum, AUNO and AO Universe. Made all the world of difference to me and I ended up staying until 2011. My potato PC didn’t have an issue running it back then, and my internet was ok as well.

As to starting characters, I jumped right in the deep end with Nanotechnician, Engineer and Metaphysicist as my first three. I was looking for depth and complexity. I wanted Eve Online not WoW in my game. I certainly found it! I spent a lot of time as a froob in those randomly generated RK missions. Even now if I’m rolling something and in a nostalgic mood I will clear through it the old school way instead of just blitzing.

Dat soundtrack tho. I harp on about it on a semi-regular basis. Very atmospheric. FC is good at that. Leet <3. I nabbed one in TSW as well. Wonder where my screenies of it in front of the Grid agartha portal in THAT faction mission are…

flatline4400
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flatline4400

I played AO from beta 3 on through launch and for some time after. Yeah, it was a bad launch, but forgivable considering there’d really only been 2 other launches of that scale (UO, EQ), and they (as everyone does) underestimated the initial demand (and those two launches were bad as well – I was there for both, just not for as long). Even so, I stuck around and had fun once things settled.

Dialup was fine for MMO’s back then. Bandwidth usage was small, and still is for most mmo’s, even though it’s not officially supported much anymore. The only pita was patches, but for every day playing, bandwidth was not the problem in those early games… server horsepower was a bigger issue by far.

Anyways, I have fond memories of the game. I wish I could hop back in as f2p with my old chars, but Funcom STILL wont allow you to do so if you purchased any of the expansions on your account… /boggles the mind.

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Serrenity

Totally surprising I’m commenting here … (except that’s it’s not).

I stumbled into Anarchy Online randomly in 2004 over Christmas break. I was bored, saw it advertised and was like “sure, why not?” I also chose an adventurer to start because shape-shifting is cool, as is self-heal. And dual wielding really odd looking swords. But ya know, whatever.

The game was deep, unforgiving and overall just amazing … at the time.

I think that was the part I loved the most. There was very little of this “fly by the seat of your pants” and running wildly off into battle meant you ended up dead a lot. There was a lot of problem solving, and I could sit as a Meta-Physicist and sell my moochies buffs to make money. Fixers were the player fast travel characters. Traders buffed tradeskills. There was so much interdependence between the classes and people weren’t dicks about it. You charged for services, and advertised and hawked your services / wares in the ooc channel. You could search for items on a global market, but you’d still have to get to the city where the item was to purchase it.

I keep hoping for a game in the spirit of Anarchy Online, but incorporating all the lessons MMO devs have learned throughout the years.

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Castagere Shaikura

It was my first also. But i thought the Shadowlands expansion ruined the game. Before that they put out a box called Anarchy Online the second edition which would be like what FF did with reborn. That was a really big update of content and patch fixes. Now that was when AO really got its crap together and it was a blast to play. I made a ton of friends and got so many real life friends to try their first mmo. We all played together for a long time. The weekends in the cities were a blast. All the bars and clubs were always full of players hanging out and making friends even role playing. I don’t see mmo’s ever going back to that great social seen that was a must in mmo’s in those days. And yeah the soundtrack is still one of the best.

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