With the phenomenal growth of MMO games on the internet there is now a mad rush by peripheral makers to tap into this new market with specialised keyboards and mice. So here’s my Razer Anansi review, where I take a look at the latest ‘MMO keyboard’.
So What Is A MMO Keyboard?
First of all let me confess that I don’t like the marketing strategy behind these things. MMO stands for ‘Massively Multiplayer Online’, so for these to be MMO peripherals they’re being targeted at games that have lots of online players. But what sort of games are we looking at? Test Drive Unlimited is a MMO, but seeing as it’s a driving sim you won’t get much advantage from the features offered by the Razer Anansi keyboard. Is it aimed at Poker players? Of course not, but there are thousands of them who play online.
Strictly speaking keyboards like the Anansi and it’s cousin, the Naga mouse, are best suited to players of role-playing and strategy games, whether they’re online or not. Why? Because these are games that often require you to string together complicated sequences of actions, which are perfect for programming as macros into the extra keys that the Anansi offers.
So ignore the inaccurate marketing hype – the Anansi is ideal for RPG and RTS games, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re online or not.
Why Choose The Anansi?
So what is it that the Anansi offers that other gaming keyboards don’t? The answer is in the area underneath the space bar where you’ll find seven thumb key modifiers.
These act as a set of additional programmable keys, but become even more powerful when twinned with the Razer Naga mouse (you know, the one with seventeen buttons). In this mode the thumb keys act like extra Shift buttons, allowing you to alter the behaviour of the twelve button keypad on the side of the Naga. Oh yes, you can multiply the number of available actions from twelve to 96. Wow, great – but how they hell do you remember all of those actions?
As well as the thumb keys there are five gaming keys on the left, and then a standard qwerty keyboard layout that offers you over 100 programmable keys. There is also onboard memory in which you can define multiple key profiles for your favourite games. The customisation possibilities are almost literally endless.
The difficulty comes in deciding what on earth you’re going to do with all of the available keys at your disposal. To be honest I’ve never felt myself in need of so many programmable keys that I’ve ever run out on a ‘normal’ gaming keyboard. I tend to program in my favourite actions onto the mouse buttons and then stick a few other favourites onto the keyboard. The Anansi/Naga combo takes this to a ridiculous new level of complexity.
The Anansi is typically Razer – a stylish item that is solid and very usable. The keys have a smooth action and respond quickly, while the backlighting is nice.
The subject of backlighting leads to one of the odd design features on the Anansi. There are two USB plugs on the end of the Anansi’s lead, one to power the keyboard and another to power the backlighting. The lighting is lovely, cycling through a spectrum of colours by default, and you can pick a single colour if you want and control the intensity. But wow, they must be powerful LEDs to require their own power source!
The need for an extra USB socket to power the keyboard also highlights one of its weaknesses, and that’s the lack of any additional USB sockets. Many gaming keyboards act as USB hubs, but for the Anansi to need two sockets on your PC but not offer any extras in return is bad design.
The other negative about the Anansi’s design is that there are no dedicated multimedia keys. There are multimedia functions available on the F keys, but you need to hold the Fn key to use them. It’s a minor irritation.
One mark of a true gaming keyboard is the inclusion of a ‘gaming mode’ switch, included on the Anansi, allowing you to disable the Windows and Alt-Tab keys and stop yourself accidentally dropping back to the Windows desktop.
The Anansi is a bit wider than it needs to be thanks to some plastic wings built into the sides – they’re nice from a design perspective but make the keyboard take up more space on your desk. I think Razer would have been much better off using that extra footprint to include more gaming keys, rather than fancy styling features.
So Is The Anansi Any Good?
To test the Anansi I dusted off my WoW account and started loading up as many macros as I could think of. It didn’t take long before I was adding macros for the sake of it, and this became even more apparent after playing for a while. Before long I’d forgotten half of the macros I’d programmed in and was using just a small set of those I’d made available, despite having written them down in a list I kept next to the keyboard. Perhaps that’s just the limits of my feeble brain, but I didn’t find myself really needing all of those additional macros.
One thing I did have a problem with was reliably hitting the thumb keys. The seven keys are split into two rows, with two wide buttons on the bottom and five smaller ones above them. The larger buttons on the bottom row are OK, but I often mis-hit the upper row and caught the wrong button, which led to some frustrating moments. Not only that, but if you’re using the extra keys as ‘modifiers’ as they’re intended you’ve got to hit the right modifier button and then the right key with one hand, while performing other actions in the game. It’s difficult to do in a hurry, although I’m sure you’d eventually get used to it.
So the Anansi is good, but it isn’t great. If you’ve got the mental capacity to keep track of a complicated keyboard setup then this could be the perfect keyboard for you, but lesser mortals will never take full advantage of the customisation on offer. Want a more suitable alternative? You could stick with Razer and get a Black Widow for its superior mechanical keys, or you could try something like a Logitech G510 that offers more straightforward programming capabilities.
Thanks to Seb for allowing me to take over his PC and shiny new Anansi keyboard for a day.