Have You Played… Anarchy Online?


I’m not sure I even knew what an MMORPG was back in 2001, but when someone told me that Anarchy Online was going to be Deus Ex but where everyone was real, it was the most beautiful sentence I’d ever heard.

You won’t believe what happened next, etc.

That sentence was profoundly wrong in a number of ways, of course – a misrepresentation of the type of sci-fi it employed (it’s alien worlds and big beasties), and of the nature of the world if offered, wherein the key activity was shooting dumb AI rather than meaningful interaction with real people. Never believe that dreams can come true.

I should say, though, that I remember very little of my couple of weeks with Funcom’s MMO, and that the time I did spend with it was during its notorious early days, when technical problems were so rife as to spoil almost every aspect of it now. Its name has lodged in my head as that of an ancient folly, forever broken and long ago abandoned, so it’s a mild surprise to discover now that it went on to redeem itself and is still active to this day. I think I was peripherally aware that it was still putting out expansion packs in the mid-noughties, but by that point the WoW juggernaut had arrived and sucked all up the oxygen in the MMO room.

Still going. A game that was always still going, for the entire time I’ve been a haha professional games critic, and yet I almost entirely ignored it. It’s even worse than a blind spot – it’s a spot filled with a memory of dysfunction that is no longer accurate.

Perhaps I should go back now. It’s free to play, it’s on Steam and some of the screenshots have good things in them. Whatever would I find?


  1. Jakkar says:

    Do it. Write about it. Please.

    I was there, too. I sided with Neocron, which really did carry the ‘Deus Ex but Real People’ characteristics, in large part – the interface was much more closely based upon DE/System Shock 2.

    I think it was the clunkier, less real-time aspect of Anarchy Online that repelled me, and I never did dig in. I remained aware of it, even going as far as to download it and set up an account perhaps five years ago, but I never, at any point before or since, actually turned the game on.

    I feel a strong suspicion there’s another me in another universe who played AO, and sang its praises for that world as I did Neocron in this one.

    I wonder if he’s happier today.

    • dontnormally says:

      > Do it. Write about it. Please.

      If ever there was a characteristically RPS article it would be one about diving into Anarchy Online at this point in its life.

      I would love to see that.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        I went back to my first MMORPG (Asheron’s Call) about a year ago, out of some morbid curiousity. It was definitely a shadow of the game I remembered, with a playerbase mostly consisting of level 400+ characters sitting around chatting in a few of the bigger towns.

        There was something really sad about seeing the game in that state. I’m not sure you can ever go back to an MMO that you loved – those memories are so indelibly tied to the people (read: probably strangers) that you shared that experience with. Even if by some strange quirk of fate you’re still in touch with them, the experience still probably won’t be the same as you remember.

        That said, I have no idea how it would feel to replay an MMO you never enjoyed in the first place. I agree that it could make for an interesting article.

    • rochrist says:

      Neocron was great!

      • Arclite74 says:

        Neocron was so good, the small community was so good (at least on french servers). I miss that time

      • CMaster says:

        Was sure I wrote this yesterday, dunno if anyone will notice now but:

        Neocron is still going. The Developers are defunct, the publisher too. But the reigns were handed over to the community, and they continue to host (and patch) the game.
        I’m not sure I’d recommend it at all, but if you want to play it, then it is out there.

  2. mfcrocker says:

    I love this game to pieces and it’s absolutely unplayable in 2017. There’s just been too many QoL improvements in other MMOs over the years.

    The setting, the music and the stat system I’ll always hold a little flame for. Everything else is awful.

    • Danarchist says:

      Pretty much exactly what I would say about Asheron’s Call ;)

      Between AO and AC I burned a couple solid years of my life sitting in a room full of other nerds eating pizza and trying to wiggle my ass into grid armor with the help of layered buffs, implants, different buffs, different stronger implants, etc. It was just a fun game to play. If I could stand the graphics I would be back in the grass getting threatened by Leet’s once again.

      • Sithinious says:

        As soon as I read the headline my thoughts turned to Asheron’s call. Is that one still around?

        • Ghostwise says:

          AC1 is deader than a dodo, and it went out with a mere shutdown.

          There is a project to rebuild the dang thing based on extensive reverse engineering, but it’s still early stage.

          • malkav11 says:

            That said, Asheron’s Call had a pretty impressive run. It only got killed off earlier this year, making it far longer than its sequel, and was certainly in the running for MMO that continued the longest without ever going subscriptionless or F2P. I don’t think it had much of a population by the end (certainly when I tried it several years ago I saw one person the entire time I was there and servers – of which there were still multiples – averaged under 100 people online), but it hung in there.

      • Mezmorki says:

        I played this quite a bit at one point, many years ago. A fewer many years ago (like 3 or 4) I reload the game and managed to get logged in. I immediately, and accidentally, unequipped a piece of armor. I sat looking at the screen, wondering how in the f*k I was supposed to get this armor re-equipped. I had forgotten everything necessary to play. I turned it off, and uninstalled it. A beautiful dream, perverted into a nightmare.

  3. sneetch says:

    This was the second MMO I played (after DaoC) and I completely bounced off it. I have no problems with levels and HP bars and so on in fantasy settings (probably due to a) magic and b) old CRPGs) but when I shoot a man in the face with a big gun and all I see is a “-5” floating above him it seems a little off to me.

  4. the poison king says:

    For some reason, I played this more than any other MMO of that era. I guess it was the setting. I preferred sci-fi to fantasy, and Anarchy Online was the only MMO in town. Or the world.

    But man, it was hilariously broken in so, so many ways. Nothing about it made sense. Sometimes that was part of its charm, but mostly it resulted in lack of balance, poor performance, and strange bugs.

    Funcom never really grew out of that.

  5. Someoldguy says:

    I did the first month back when it released and dropped it like a hot, bug filled potato but you could see that there was some potential there. Never got around to going back although it vaguely registered when there were articles about the first person reaching the original level cap.

  6. Halibut Barn says:

    I went back to AO a few different times and I’d have fun for a while, but around level 50 I’d get tired and quit again. It just felt like too much of a grind where nothing really changed from level to level, and although I’m sure you could accuse a lot of MMOs of that, AO made almost no effort to even try and hide it. Gain a level and oh boy, now you can equip some implants that are +12 instead of +10.

    I did like the aesthetic though, and sometimes wish I’d seen more of it.

  7. Nauallis says:

    Haven’t played, or really even heard of. Cool screenshot though.

  8. Moonracer says:

    I played it when it first came out. One of the major features they promised was a multi year story arch that would affect the game world or something. What we got was three 5 minute CG videos of NPC characters talking about stuff. Then nothing for a long time.

    • durrbluh says:

      Sad thing was, we had so much hope for that back then. I was one of the community moderators who was being brought into the “storytelling” team (someone below referred to ARKs, which I think was the launch title for these roles?), and Ragnar blew so much smoke about how we were going to be orchestrating scripts, contributing dialogue, and taking control of NPCs to move the overall story line along… then our first beta “story event” was spawning a big goddamn cyber-brontosaurus and watching it annihilate the local player population before lumbering off into the draw distance.

      Good times with Funcom. I’ve been perpetually amazed that they somehow continue to get investors to back their projects in the years since, but good on them for selling the sizzle.

  9. Kodiak343 says:

    WoW… memories.

    It is the first, and only MMORPG I played. After a year and a half of intense play (including some time as a volunteer ARK Advisor of Rubi-Ka, guild lead, and lots and lots of time exploring), I saw my /played time and put the character on eBay next morning. A frowned-upon practice in some circles, but it was the only way to stop playing. It was ADDICTIVE.

    Like anything else Ragnar Tørnquist starts, it held tremendous promise; the writing, imagination, variety and creativity were tremendous, and always hinting at so much more. Exploring nooks and crannies, strange creatures and encounters, waterfalls and deserts and mountains, solo or with a friend.

    It was also a fascinating place for sociological observations. Like any MMORPG, it had lots of grinding; but I was always amazed that people were so eager to help, and part with goods earned with their actual, real time to help others, or provide directions, or assist with quests etc. Where does that benevolence and charity disappear in the real world?

    Shadowlands expansion was overwhelming for me though – too much that was too hard – so Rubi-Ka always remained my home. As a Neutral that remained Neutral through the years and against all odds, Newland’s music still hits a wave of nostalgia and memories that few other “real” places match.

    What a game. Glad that it’s still going, but I doubt it’s playable for newbies today – and I sure as heck won’t dare enter a MMORPG again.

    • Kodiak343 says:


      I just caught myself checking if my ID still works…

      …that way madness lies :O

  10. Ghostwise says:

    A buddy of mine did a Let’s Play forum thread on rpg.net about Anarchy Online. It was fun.

  11. Maxheadroom says:

    god damn these “I was shitting nappies when this first came out” articles always make me feel old :/

    Played this a lot at the time but it and Neocron have kinda blurred into one in my head now (Probably the age thing again)

    Which one was it that had that sort of CGI cartoon that ran alongside it and advanced the plat? They only made 3 or 4 episodes but from what i recall it was pretty good

  12. elevown says:

    I played a lot of this back in the day – It had a lot going for it despite it’s issues. Probably my fav of any sci-fi mmo’s.

  13. malkav11 says:

    Anarchy Online was a really formative MMO for me. I didn’t get into these games with the very first wave. Growing up, when we finally got a computer it was a Mac (this in the mid to late 90s), I had no income to speak of, and my internet access was routinely revoked because my mom thought it was distracting me from chores and schoolwork (which, to be fair, it was, but the important part was not doing those things, the substitute activity less so). So MMOs were not really on the table. But almost from the off I was hooked on MUDs. Eventually I got a PC and I decided to join a friend on Everquest to see what this MMO business had to offer that free, much more egalitarian MUDs did not. I loathed it immediately and bailed within a couple weeks.

    But I had by that point seen the appeal of MMOs – population and group-centered activities, in particular. It’s just that Everquest did it very very badly. So I poked at a couple others and it was Anarchy Online that grabbed me. Its class system seemed a lot more exciting and rewarding, it penalized you far less for screwing up, there were much more interesting ways to advance than standing in one spot to murder respawning enemies, and I could run multiple blobbish incarnations of my own emotion as pets. Plus, due to the lack of zone boundaries, it felt like much more of a coherent world than EQ ever had, and the recently added Shadowlands expansion held some really stunning places to visit and foes to take on. I spent several months enthralled. Of course, then City of Heroes went into beta and I had to check that out, and then WoW came out and changed the genre forever. I didn’t spend a lot of time with AO after that, really. But it was my first real MMO love, and I’ll always respect it for that.

  14. jeremyalexander says:

    I’m almost positive you are confusing Anarchy Online with Neocron which is much more Deus-Ex like.

  15. jssebastian says:

    I played this a fair bit.

    Convinced some friends to give it a try, but they did not stick around long so I ended up playing solo a lot to level 100-something.

    A great moment was getting the flying car thingy out of “flight of the navigator” that you could use to fly around, that cost more than I could afford at my level, in a random drop. I remember that at the time I thought that flying around the landscape looked amazing.

    A bad moment was upgrading my summoner-style character to the stronger daemon-like pet from the lower level floaty ball thing, only to discover that its pathfinding was worse because it could get stuck on low objects too since it was walking on the ground.

    Then I started to feel end-gamey and camped some enemy for a long while to get a high level rare drop, finally got it, started browsing the forums to find out how to trade it or sell for the other rare drop I actually needed, and never logged in again.