I never have been one for gaming-specific keyboards and mice. I’m usually of the mind that if you can’t get something accomplished with the keys you have available on regular keyboards, you have no business making things even more complicated. The Razer Anansi keyboard attempts to take the sometimes complicated MMO key-binding issues that some of us have and make it painless and easy. Does it manage to succeed?
First things first, though. The keyboard looks unassuming, to be honest. That will probably fool you into thinking it’s more of a normal keyboard than it really is. It’s sturdy, but a bit on the noisy side when typing (of course, my wife always accuses me of “typing loudly”, regardless of the keyboard I’m using). I will have to say though, my that standard Logitech ergonomic keyboard is much quieter than this Anansi, and that’s a big deal sometimes. Also of note is that the Anansi requires two USB ports to power it fully, which is an unfortunate technical issue. That is compounded by the fact that there is no USB pass-through. I only had one available USB port, so I had to remove one device from the back of my PC to make it work. That didn’t really give me a great first impression of the hardware itself, but once I did get it going and the software installed, all that tended to fade away because of one thing – back-lighting (the reason for the two USB plugs).
I don’t know why, but I’m a sucker for back-lighting in just about any device – whether it’s a phone or a keyboard. The Anansi software lets you either choose which backlight color to use, or lets you rotate through many different shades. It looks great (and sometimes menacing) in a dimly-lit room.
The heart of this “MMO keyboard” is the fact that it is geared toward giving you as many options as possible create key macros and bind various combinations of keys – far beyond what a normal keyboard will allow you to do. Typically on a normal keyboard, you can use the Alt and Ctrl modifier keys to change the function of your numerical and F-number keys above. This gives you already 72 combinations for abilities, spells, potions or whatever.
If that isn’t enough for you, the Anansi is probably your answer. This keyboard features a set of seven additional modifier keys placed right below the space bar, which you can easily access with your thumb to change the function of your typical numerical keys above (1 through =). I’m going to be brutally honest with you here – I’ve been playing MMOs for near a decade, and I have never, ever even needed more modifier and ability keys than a standard keyboard already provides. Ever. Everever. So the addition of more modifier keys really is not a game-changer for me.
What is, however, is the ability to use those thumb modifier keys instead of the regular Alt and Ctrl keys, as they do work much more fluently. It’s easier to drop your thumb half an inch straight back toward your body than to move your entire hand to hit the Alt and Ctrl keys – by far. I’ll tell you this, once you get used to the way those modifier keys work, you’ll never look back. Again, there are seven of these keys, T1 – T7, so that’s a lot of modifiers to use for your numerical keys above. If you get used to them, you’ll probably have more abilities at your quick disposal in an MMO than most others out there (at least, unless they’re using a similar keyboard).
These seven modifiers also work in tandem with the Razer Naga series of mice, to the effect of supposedly not having to use the numerical keys on your keyboard at all, but, instead, the thumb keypad on the mouse. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Razer Naga to test that compatibility out, so I’ll just leave it at that – the functionality exists if that is something that interests you.
Another feature of the keyboard and software combination is on-the-fly macro recording, if that’s what floats your boat. You can use any of the keys on the keyboard to record a macro for future use. You can also set up profiles for various games, as well as even various characters of yours within the games you play. That way you can have different function keys bound to different abilities for different characters within the same game. While some titles, like World of Warcraft, offer this functionality in the software, it’s there if you need it within the keyboard itself and the accompanying applications.
With all that extra functionality, you would think a few additional keys on the left wouldn’t even be considered a feature, but there are five more keys to the left of your left pinky which can be bound to in-game functions, as well. During the entire beta test of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I had these keys in use for various functions. I found them easy to use and likely used more often than any other feature on the keyboard, including the thumb modifier buttons. What’s also nice about these is that many MMOs allow you to set up left and right hotbars, and it’s very easy for me to map those five keys to exactly match the first five slots on the left hotbar, giving it a natural feel for activating those attached abilities.
Overall, the Razer Anansi is a great keyboard, although it is a bit pricy at $99.99, unless you’re really serious about your MMOs (and it’s perfectly okay if you are). Unfortunately, the requirement for two USB ports (to power the back-lighting) and no USB pass-through is a huge bummer. There are other keyboards (like the Logitech G510) which accomplish the same thing and only take up one USB port. The thumb modifier keys, while great if you want to use them exclusively instead of the standard keyboard modifiers, are a bit much if they’re only being used as additions to the Ctrl and Alt keys. Frankly, the coolest features of the keyboard are the additional five keys on the left and the backlighting. I also think it’s functionality with the Razer Naga mouse is a great idea, it’s just a shame I couldn’t try it out and figure that into this review.
So, as you can see, the Anansi is a mixed bag. If you’re serious about wanting every possible ability mapped to some combination of keys, this is the keyboard for you. Just keep in mind that most (if not all) MMOs do not require such to compete in any way, shape or form, so in certain ways it seems like overkill. You are getting a solidly-built keyboard for the price, though, and I don’t think that is much of a factor for most serious gamers.