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"Sometimes, late at night when I can't sleep, I remember my father. We lived in a rust park near Omni-1, in one of those ... port-a-junk mobile homes. There were no perimeter fences, so when I was just four, my father showed me how to fire a gun. 'To protect me from the lizards,' he said.

I turned six when he took me to see where the first colonists had landed. I remember I wasn't very impressed; I'd expected something monumental, but there was only concrete and steel and a holographic plaque inscribed with Omni-Tek corporate propaganda. The sights seen by the pioneers were long gone, replaced by an urban wasteland.

That was the first time my father told me about the war. At first, Rubi-Ka wasn't much more than a mining outpost. The workforce had been brought in from the asteroid belts and drilling operations on Mars—and Omni-Tek figured that the miners would be pliant and expendable. Their mistake. My father said that the rebellion changed everything, and not just for the better. It's never that simple, but still, there's no home without freedom. And we needed freedom, because we wanted to make Rubi-ka our home.

My father taught me how to use a gun. Sometimes, late at night ... I wonder if I'll ever be able to put it down."
Anonymous Clan Member, Original Opening Narration

Over twenty-eight thousand years into the future, survey ships from Omni-Tek discover Rubi-Ka, a desert wasteland of a planet that possesses a substance found nowhere else in the known universe—Notum, which gives Nanomachines enough power to function outside the human body, revolutionizing nano-technology. Omni-Tek spends centuries colonizing and developing Rubi-Ka for settlement, along the way fighting corporate rivals for control of the planet as well as its own planetside workforce, who rebel against the company's gross mistreatment of its laborers and form the Clans.

It turns out, however, that Rubi-Ka and mankind have a much older shared history than anyone would have thought—and humanity is not the only species with a vested interest in the planet. Scientists discovered the Shadowlands, a parallel world linked to Rubi-Ka that holds secrets on the origins of mankind and life in the universe. Just as explorers started plumbing those secrets, however, an alien species known as the Kyr'Ozch invaded Rubi-Ka. Now the situation on the planet has become truly chaotic as Omni-Tek and the Clans continue to wage war on one another even as they fend off the aliens.

Developed by the Norwegian company FunCom and launched on June 27, 2001, Anarchy Online is a rare breed in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game industry. Anarchy Online is noteworthy for setting a number of firsts (or at least being part of the first wave); it's one of the first Sci-Fi MMORPGs, one of the first to implement instanced content in the form of on-demand randomized missions, one of the first to implement a "free to play" business model, and also one of the first with a completely open-ended Point Build System. It's also one of the first MMORPGs that gave Petmaster classes the ability to control more than one pet.

Despite a very rocky launch that involved serious stability, registration, and billing issues (and which took half a year to fix), Anarchy Online has survived to this day. In total, it's had three Expansion Packs (Shadowlands, Alien Invasion, and Lost Eden) and two "booster" packs (Notum Wars and Legacy of the Xan). Development on the game hasn't stopped, either; in 2008, FunCom started work on a comprehensive graphics upgrade, intent on bringing AO closer to modern standards of quality.

2013 saw closed beta testing of the graphics overhaul, and in 2015 the new engine (still in beta testing, with further updates planned) was released to the live server alongside the existing engine. Also in 2015, a completely reworked starter area was released to better prepare the modern MMO player for the wilds of Rubi-Ka.

Anarchy Online provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Weirdly zigzagged. When the game first came out Word of God said that none of the creatures on Rubi-ka were aliens, and even the really weird ones were created by Omni-tek. Then, when Shadowlands came out, it was retconned that some of the creatures did in fact come from the Shadowlands to Rubi-ka. As the Shadowlands are Another Dimension, this technically made them aliens. Finally, the Alien Invasion expansion added the Kyr'ozch as actual aliens from another planet.
  • Absurdly High Level Cap: Subverted. While the game started out with a maximum level of 200 (later increased to 220 with Shadowlands) as compared to the usual number of 50 or 60 for such games, the experience needed per level was proportionally a lot shorter, meaning it was completely attainable for normal players.
  • A.K.A.-47: The IMI Desert Reet, the game's answer to the Desert Eagle.
  • An Adventurer Is You: By the given archetypes on that page, professions are broken down as—
    • The Tank: Enforcer, Soldier in a pinch, Martial Artist for the ninja style.
    • The Healer: Doctor, Adventurer, Martial Artist and Meta-Physicist in a pinch.
    • The Nuker: Nano-Technicians were made to nuke, but Bureaucrats and Meta-Physicists can also handle this role.
    • The DPSer: Shades out-damage whole teams, with Soldiers and Martial Artists bringing up the front. In theory, this is also the Agent's role.
    • The Mezzer: The Bureaucrat's specialty, but Nano-Technicans and Traders aren't slouches at this either. Adventurers and Meta-Physicists can also fill this role in a pinch.
    • The Jack: The Adventurer and Meta-Physicist are the primary Jacks of the game. Agents go here too—if you can find 'em.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The nano program "freak shield", which can be read in at least three ways: as a shield for freaks to use, a shield that protects the person against freaks, or a shield is itself a freak (in the sense of a weird or random thing). It can potentially be any or all of these, depending on who is using it and what they are using it as protection from.
  • Back Stab: The "Backstab" special available to two professions. Depending on the melee weapon though, anyone can use a variant of that called Sneak Attack, and there's love for ranged weapon users too, in the form of Aimed Shot.
  • Barrier Warrior: The Soldier profession, with the Engineer and Keeper professions dipping a toe into the pool as well.
  • Big Bad: The Beast at the end of the Shadowlands expansion. Even after several more expansions, he is probably still the hardest raid mob in game.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The "songs" sung by the Yutto NPCs are actually taken from a Norwegian song that was entered in the Eurovision contest (and lost spectacularly).
  • Blue and Orange Contrast: On the maps and the like, The Clans are represented with orange and Omni-tek with blue (which is rather unusual, as blue is usually the color of the good guys). The neutral places are green (probably because combining blue and orange just gives you a weird brown color.)
    • As a more subtle example, Rubi-Ka is mostly beige (which is technically a shade of orange) desert, while the Shadowlands are mostly blues and greens. This gets averted in Inferno (which is mostly orange and fiery) and Pandemonium (which is mostly brown.)
  • Body Backup Drive: The basis for Insurance Technology that makes death a slap on the wrist. Rubi-Kans within a certain age range can get their bodies scanned at an insurance terminal, saving their current physical state. At the moment of death, a new copy of their body is created at the last insurance terminal they used, and their life force is transferred into it.
  • Came Back Wrong: The Condemned Subway's deeper tunnels are full of monstrous, aggressive humanoids with names like "Fragmented Soul," "Empty Shell," "Molested Molecules," "Redundant Scan," "Premature Pattern," "Incomplete Rebuild," "Neural Burnout," "Neural Breakdown," and "Melded Patterns." They're the product of errors and glitches with insurance terminals. They have suitably horrific appearances—Melded Patterns, for instance, has double the facial features.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Averted with Inferno in the Shadowlands. Just being in the realm at all (other than the gardens) causes a person to take fire damage every few seconds unless they are wearing some special protective boots.
  • Cool Shades: Very common, now that the game has a "social" layer for appearance that overrides armor. In the early years, it was the Fixer profession that was known for wearing these at all times.
  • Damage Typing: The game has 7 types: Melee, projectile/impact, energy, fire, cold, chemical, and disease/poison. While this doesn't really matter with regards to monsters (fire still does full damage to Inferno inhabitants, for instance) it does matter for players, as most armor is better versus some damage types than others.
    • A class-specific set of armor could only be worn when wearing certain items—eyewear like this being one of them.
  • Death Is Cheap: Thanks to Notum, Rubi-ka is one of the only places in the known universe where this is possible through "Insurance Technology," which transfers a dying person's life force into a fresh copy of their body. It can't halt aging, though—the new body has to be created from recently scanned data—and it doesn't allow for immortality as it stops working once a person gets too old. Regardless, getting killed on purpose actually became a sport among the young, rich, and reckless. After insurance technology was deregulated, Omni-Tek even tried to attract new colonists with the advertising slogan "Rubi-Ka: Where Death Isn't Fatal!"
    • Note: To prevent religious protesters and regulations based on that Omni-Tek had to actually scientifically prove the existance of the human soul.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: The early game averted this by having various penalties for dying—up to and including losing all items, credits, and experience acquired since the last visit to an insurance terminal. Typically these would remain on one's corpse, free for looting. Later patches gradually removed these penalties save for "resurrection sickness," in which skills and abilities are lowered for a short period. Any experience lost now goes into a pool that is regained with additional experience earned.
  • Deflector Shields: The bread and butter of the Soldier profession, with the Engineer and Keeper professions having their own variants.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There is a terrorist group known as the Dust Brigade who hate the Clans and Omni-tek with equal frevor. Their most despicable act was on 7th of October, 29466, where they blew up a bunch of buildings and killed thousands (who were all Killed Off for Real due to the respawn machines in the area being sabotaged.)
  • Draw Aggro:
    • Enforcers specialize in this. They have single target and area-of-effect taunts that pull aggro towards them. Soldiers and Martial Artists possess single target taunts as well.
    • Inverted with Agents, who possess programs that reduce the target's aggression towards them.
  • Eccentric Millionaire: Efen Christe, better known on Rubi-Ka as Lord Galahad of the Knights of Avalon. Before he decided to buy up land from the Clans and build his own version of Camelot, he was originally an interstellar trading mogul that traded with human colonies throughout the galaxy. He gave up all of that when he became Lord Galahad.
  • Elite Tweak: The game uses an implant system to buff skills on top of whatever buffs are available, and almost any skill can be buffed in this way (with limitations). This results in some of the most grossly overpowered and impressive "twinks" to walk the deserts of Rubi-Ka, capable of wiping the floor with platoons of lesser characters.
    • To curb some of the more over-powered tweaking, FunCom implemented "soft" level limits—depending on the requirements of a weapon or piece of armor compared to your skills, it'll function at reduced effectiveness (or be over-equipped, in 25% increments).
    • Pets are a special case here: if your skills are below the limit required to control them, there's no reduced effectiveness—they'll simply go inert and refuse to obey your commands.
  • Everything Is Online: The Nano Controller Units every character has work this way. NCUs are critically important, since characters control their nanomachines through nano-programs active in the NCU's memory. Characters can also upload and execute nano-programs in others' NCUs—and hack the NCUs of their enemies to make their nanomachines execute harmful or debilitating nano-programs.
  • The Ghost: Anansi is implied to the big bad in Inferno, but he never shows up. Instead he just has a ton of spider-themed henchmen
  • Guns Akimbo: The Adventurer profession has the option to wield either two swords or two pistols as their weapons, and yes, this means the Adventurer also is lucky enough to have Dual Wielding, but not one gun with one sword ... yet!
    • Thanks to the game using a Point Build System (with zero restrictions, beyond Improvement Point cost) for its skills, anyone can do this, with varying degrees of effectiveness.
  • Human Subspecies: Unlike most other settings where the player can choose a race for his character, the choices available in Anarchy Online are all different species (or breed) of homnid. The type of breed determines how costly it is to spend points building up a specific trait or skill. Story-wise, all of the breeds were created by Omni-Tek (with the exception of Solitus).
    • Solitus: Descendants of modern humans which naturally evolved after apocalyptic events on Earth thousands of years ago. They're the only breed that wasn't created via genetic engineering (and therefore the yardstick by which the other breeds are measured).
    • Atrox: The first of the breeds developed by Omni-Tek, designed for heavy lifting jobs in the Notum mines. The Atrox genome is optimized to maximize strength and stamina, at a cost of capacity for intelligence and nano-programming. Of the breeds, they're only ones that are genderless, completely lacking sexual organs.
    • Opifex: Initially developed by Omni-Tek for tunnel-running in Rubi-Ka's mines, then adapted for stealth and assassination. Accordingly they're well suited to playing The Sneaky Guy or Fragile Speedster roles.
    • Nano: The youngest of the breeds, developed for high intelligence and skill at nano-programming at a cost of physical durability. Trace amounts of Notum were added to their DNA structure, which not only prevents them from living off-world, but also renders most of them sterile.
    • In addition to the four playable breeds, there are a number of failed breed specimens in Rubi-Ka's wilds that escaped Omni-Tek's labs.
  • Improbable Power Discrepancy: There are some versions of fleas on Rubi-Ka which could easily kill a lot of dungeon bosses. Granted, Rubi-Ka's fleas tend to be no smaller than a basketball.
  • Level Grinding: A whopping 320 levels to work through (though not in straight progression) makes for much grinding. Broken down as follows—
    • Regular experience which accounts for levels 1-200.
    • Shadowlevels which can only be earned in the Shadowlands and cover 201-220.
    • Alien levels which is earned by killing aliens, which is counted as a separate number from the other levels, so you have 220/30.
    • Lost Eden Research levels, which can be earned at any time by diverting some of your experience into "research." It has 7 lines with 10 levels apiece, resulting in a three-level cap (220/30/70).
  • Long-Runners: Over a decade old and still going!
  • Magic by Any Other Name: A number of nanotechnological concepts in AO are functionally identical to magic in a typical fantasy setting. Nano-programs can be thought of as spells, and nano-programming as spellcasting. "Executing nano-programs in someone's NCU" might as well be "casting spells on them."
  • Magic from Technology: Notum-powered nanotechnology can allow for powers and abilities that look very much like magic to the unaware. Some groups (like the Knights of Avalon and the cultists in the Temple of the Three Winds) explicitly prefer magical aesthetics.
  • Megacorp: Omni-Tek. Putting aside the backstory setting them up as corrupt and abusive, whether or not they're truly evil is up for debate. The Shadowlands expansion saw Omni-Tek allied with the dark Unredeemed, and the Clans siding with the light Redeemed, which appeared to present a Dark Is Evil and Light Is Good dichotomy—but even now this is debated.
  • Money Sink: This game has been an interesting experiment on how to get people to spend billions of credits while not giving them so much of an edge over normal players that game balance would be trashed. Examples of this includes—
    • The Clinique Plastique, where you pay 25 million credits to change your character's features, height and build.
    • IP reset points, costing 250 million, with the release of Lost Eden.
    • A special apartment in orbit above Rubi-Ka, available for only 989 million credits (out of the 1 billion maximum per character).
  • Nanomachines: Pretty much everything under the twin suns of Rubi-Ka has something to do with nanomachines—either built by, maintained by, destroyed by or recycled by nanomachines. Nano Programs are used to tell the nano bots in the air around you what to do and how to do it. Much of the flavor text on many items also goes into how nanomachines are applied to the item in question.
  • The Paladin: Keepers are paladins with the serial numbers filed off, being sword-wielding armored warriors with some healing ability and helpful buffing auras.
  • Player-Generated Economy: As might be expected of an MMO, AO has one. Unfortunately, the game economy has been subject to serious player-driven inflation despite multiple Money Sinks. Among the player market, it's common to find items selling for far more money than a single character can hold. Players get around that cap with "mules" (characters that exist just to hang on to more money).
  • Product Placement: One of the in-game bars plays music recently released in Real Life. It's Justified by the fact that although the game takes place tens of thousands of years in the future, Rubi-Ka is on the far side of the galaxy from Earth.
    • More famously (and more fourth-wall breaking), AO implemented ads for Real Life products as part of its switch to a free-to-play business model. Players with subscriptions, however, could choose to turn them off.
  • PVP Balanced: Initially AO was designed this way, but over the course of two expansions the dynamic became considerably unbalanced. The Lost Eden expansion helped to correct some of these problems, but true PVP balance is still considered to be a ways off.
  • Rainbow Pimp Gear: As one of the early generations of MMORPGs, AO exhibited this for years until March 2008, when the Social Clothing Mode was released with patch 17.8 (see Virtual Paper Doll below).
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Instanced missions from mission terminals have procedurally generated descriptions, goals, enemies, locations, and layouts.
  • Rare Random Drop: Some of the lowest drop rates in game history.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: Leets were designed for this, despite also being a Take That! to certain types of players as a little nuisance. Their sound files in AO's directories are even labeled with the prefix "cute." Over the years FunCom has put less emphasis on the mocking aspect: dozens of unique Leets have turned up, as well as Leet NPCs which can carry on conversations, albeit in cutesy kitty pidgin.
  • Shapeshifting: Mostly voluntary (with very rare exceptions). The Adventurer profession is considered king of this particular domain, thanks to a wide selection of nano-programs for the purpose.
  • Shooting Superman: Especially after Lost Eden and the patches that came afterward, a sufficiently leveled character has enough power to casually ignore most monsters that aggro them in the wild.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The Penumbra area of the Shadowlands replaces the "Slippy Slidey" part with "will freeze to death without the proper gear," but otherwise qualifies.
  • Square Race, Round Class: Any breed can be any class, meaning you can have an atrox nano-technician or nanomage enforcer if you want, but it will be a lot harder.
  • Take That!: FunCom has engaged in this several times over AO's history. Some highlights—
    • The rodent-like Leets and parrot-like Reets were designed as this from the start. Both of them are parodies of players who speak exclusively in internet shorthand and who have no respect for the "RP" in "MMORPG" (for example, attacking a Reet might get it to scream "MY FRIENDS WILL KILL U" in response). The original "Backyard" tutorial zones have billboards informing players that Leets are vermin and are to be killed on sight.
    • After months of complaints from the Meta-Physicist players that their summons were underpowered, the developers finally gave them an adequate endgame summon called "The Rihwen." Rearrange the letters and you get "The Whiner."
    • One of AO's advertisements takes a shot across the bows of both Everquest and World of Warcraft by claiming it's "lightyears beyond elves."
  • Tarot Motifs: The various glyphs acquired in the Shadowlands to upgrade professional Tier armor falls right into this motif.
  • This Is a Drill: There is a rare race of monsters named "drill (some noun here)" who have four tentacles ending in drills for arms, which they use to attack. Even worse, every time they attack they make a whirring sound like a real dental drill.
  • Truce Zone: Most Neutral-aligned cities and zones can be freely visited by both Clan and Omni-Tek members.
  • Ur-Example: It's the first game to include instanced zones. Initially this was only used for randomized missions, but was later on the norm for most quest areas.
  • Variable Mix: The game's music consists of hundreds of possible short clips, designed to flow into one another depending on the character's affiliation, location, and (if in battle) how well the fight is going.
  • Video Game Tutorial: AO has had several flavors of this—
    • Prior to the release of Alien Invasion, when a player created a new character, they first spawned in their chosen faction's "Backyard," in which a Guide NPC would provide tutorials on basic game functions in a very direct "He Knows About Timed Hits" fashion. Each side had a thematically different Backyard and attached "dungeon" for combat training—Omni-Tek's was a "holo world," the Clans had an open-air entertainment park, and the Neutrals had a junkyard full of toxic waste. Though depreciated, the Backyards can still be accessed through the apartment complexes in any city.
    • By Alien Invasion, new characters (aside from Shadowlands-based Keepers and Shades) instead received a Justified Tutorial: they would be en route to the island-based ICC Shuttleport as a new arrival to Rubi-Ka, only to have their shuttle shot down by Kyr'Ozch forces who are attacking the facility. From there, they would embark on a number of quests to help the emergency crews and the joint Omni-Tek/Clan forces fend off the invaders before departing.
    • With patch series 18.7, FunCom implemented a New Player Experience, including a new tutorial zone, Arete Landing, that replaced the ICC Shuttleport from Alien Invasion.
  • Virtual Paper Doll: The Social Clothing Mode in the equipment tab allows players to dictate the exact apparel of their characters. Any equipment placed in the Social slots will appear in place of the armor the character is wearing—letting players wear casual clothing or a specific set of armor they liked without worrying about missing out on stat boosts. Unfortunately, this is often demonstrated with Atroxes in pink short shorts and NOTHING else.