A wicked hive of synth and vibrancy: First impressions of Otherland

I first covered Otherland, the Gamigo-turned-Drago MMORPG based on Tad Williams’ sci-fi book series by the same name, at E3 2012. The idea of having multiple genres in the same game was cool, as was instanced personal housing complemented by (at the time) non-instanced guild housing where players could donate “eDNA” to build NPC mobs that would guard guild lands during PvP raids.

Back then, it sounded fresh and new. WildStar was still far off on the horizon, having only just been announced, which was why I was surprised when Otherland disappeared, especially when NPCs were supposedly going to live their own lives, moving around town at certain hours based on player interaction — a feature I still don’t feel I’ve seen fleshed out well in an MMO. Drago Entertainment’s attempt to bring the game back years later with the same ideas is commendable, but as I downloaded my preview version of the game, I wondered whether the game could feel as new now as it seemed in 2012.

Tutorial time

Naming characters comes before character customization. It’s not exactly new, and I’m not sure why we do this these days in some games these days, but it certainly helped to alleviate my feeling that the game might already be dated. I quickly learned to hit “F” to interact with objects before being told to, which again made the game feel still relevant for modern MMO players, though at the same time, it was a strong reminder that the game’s still in early access for a reason. I’m sure the tutorial experience and dialogue are going to change before public early access when other players will have access to the game, but I have to note the issues I ran into during my experience, just in case.

I know I’ve complained about MMO controls several times in the past, especially when a game doesn’t allow me to change my control settings (as this preview did), but I was quite happy with the WASD setup; “A” and “D” aren’t for turning but for strafing. I admit that while I haven’t sought any server first raid kills or led any ranked PvP in any MMOs for a few years, old habits die hard, and with more games going the action-combat route, having these keys for strafing instead of turning feels more relevant than ever.

However, I also know that, while more competitive vets like yours truly may enjoy this, more casual players might not. The graphics, sadly, haven’t held up well over the years, and the lack of voice acting makes me worry about who the target audience might be. And these were just my thoughts during the starting tutorial!

otherland_metamorph_not_fat

When I initially got to the first character customization screen, I thought, “I’m making a character from Tron. Cool.” Then, when I found the height and sliders, I thought, “I can be a fat guy from Tron. Cooler!” Also, as someone who shaves his head from time to time, I really liked the idle animations for feeling your (bald) head. Other animations, especially jumping, are quite fluid and natural. I rarely bring this up in reviews, so I think that’s something the Otherland team should be proud of. However, not being able to zoom in on my features or turn the character model was fairly disappointing.

As the tutorial continued, I was surprised to see that I could try out classes before committing to one. Not just one or two moves, but a whole bar full of them, though the hotkeys were laid out a bit weird. I was able to adjust, but there was a bigger problem I’ll get to in a bit.

While trying out my first class, the ranged marksman, I realized that I wasn’t really aiming. The game uses a bit of a target locking system. Once you fire or attack an enemy, you’ve kind of locked on it for a bit. That’s good and bad, but mostly bad for me because I felt like the advertising meant there’d be no lock on, just pure skill shots.

The tutorial UI at this point started to feel a bit too minimal. I couldn’t see my health bar at all. I used some buffs and debuffs but didn’t notice any visual differences, and sometimes, the attack differences weren’t apparent. I thought, “Are the ability descriptions right?” To be blunt, I saw little to no difference between a lot of my abilities other than the animations or the loss of different resources for my “power shot” type moves (energy is gained through normal attacks when you left click, then spent with right-clicking; this is explained only well after you’ve chosen your class and gone through two more tutorial zones).

What I hadn’t realized yet was that I was immortal. Frustrated with a general “sameness” I got when switching to the warrior class (some more AoE and melee ranged attacks), I stood around in combat while tabbed out of game for several minutes to try to find some information on the game (there is very little to be had). When I came back, I was still alive. I realized that not only could I not die, but I wasn’t getting any loot, nor could I open any inventory or character panels. I could see some stats on my weapons since you can cycle between two for different effects/power attacks, but I didn’t feel any major differences. I mashed buttons, flipped through various classes (energizer was fun since it healed and dealt damage with my basic attack depending on if I was targeting friend or foe), turned away from enemies but still hit them since I had locked on… it wasn’t what I expected.

The auto aiming felt stickier than I thought it would be from what I heard during my first interview back in 2012. The moves felt rather bland aside from the energizer’s duality. I feel that stripping down stats and giving new players brainless enemies was a huge mistake, and I’m hoping the next build corrects this. Going from all the boosts that seem meaningless on an immortal character to two moves on something that can die was more interesting (though I still was mostly just using basic attacks and power attacks).

otherland_gunzzz

Entering Otherland

I have to say that despite some bugs, sparse decoration, and lack of explanations, I liked the atmosphere of the game almost immediately. When I first saw an NPC called “CritYouInTheFace,” I was a bit disheartened, but when he mentioned someone named “RageGunzzz” it clicked. The multiple worlds, Tron characters, ease of trying out new characters… we’re gamers playing gamers. It felt really fresh, even though I’ve read a few manga and short stories that do the same thing (but they rarely get their own MMOs).

The gameworld’s idea feels fresh, but the execution and quest dialogue are hard to get into.
That being said, the current quests bored me. They’re normal MMO stuff. Follow compass here, kill stuff there, talk to that guy over there. They don’t take advantage of the setting and feel a bit uninspired. For example, if we’re in the game, why do I need to keep returning to a physical spot for tasks that don’t involve turn-ins? The gameworld’s idea feels fresh, but the execution and quest dialogue are hard to get into. It reminds me of the movie The Last Airbenderit’s not particularly good, but there are hints at really cool source material (yes, I saw the movie before I watched the Avatar cartoon series). The game is in early alpha, so maybe things can be spiced up later, but what it’s doing right now is inspiring me to log out and go read the books.

After the first tutorial arc, I finally started getting drops — basically just money and eDNA, which is what I should be able to use to make my own NPC guardians, but at this point in the alpha, I don’t have that option. Looting was a bit buggy too, with items disappearing if I interrupted my data gathering (which is how you get eDNA). That, combined with the lifeless quests, got me to try going off road. Some terrain wasn’t solid, while other areas have physics extending well past their graphical borders. No quests out there, and the one chest I found seemed broken. It’s really an early access game.

When I finally did die — not an easy undertaking — my quest failed, but it was easy to relocate and abandon, so that was nice. However, after a while, I got the feeling that maybe veteran MMOers will be too experienced for tutorials like this, which strip you of consequence but try to give you choices after doing a dull series of tasks. That, or maybe I wasn’t invested enough in the game’s story yet. Also, I had no idea what my death penalty was, which probably isn’t a good sign.

After another rather dull story arc, I got a cutscene with no voice acting, which really stands out in a 3-D game these days. It makes the game seem dated. The music for the break-out scene was cute, but the scene itself made no sense.

otherland_lambdamall

A wicked hive of synth and vibrancy

Having escaped the tutorial, I arrived at Lambda Mall, the major social hub of the game, which is awesome. It feels like the center of an online society, like SWTOR‘s Nar Shaddaa in Tron. It’s got interesting music, weird NPCs, shops with punny names, and ads everywhere (including for the game maker, Drago, which made for a good laugh). Shopping causes the client to slow down a bit, but it zooms in on your character, letting you see everything you’re buying on your character, and that makes it a different experience from most MMOs. It really feels like a mall. Still, it’s not perfect. For example, why can’t I move my avatar to see my back when shopping or customizing? Just the same, Lambda is a much more immersive city than I’m used to from most MMOs (aside from the lag), and the starter quests actually helped flesh it out.

Since you’re digital, further appearance customization makes perfect sense, as does the idea of just walking up to a panel and changing your look, which is what one quest tells you to do, and that actually felt appropriate and started to endear me to the game world. You’re not just a Tron character; you can be a stone-skinned guy, tiger girl, fat clown… lots of different options, and I was comfortable with all of them.

The next part of the starter experience is getting your own (instanced) home, which I really appreciated after another sci-fi game teased it for so long but still forced me earn even dull things like hotbar access. Decorating was pretty basic: choose floors, walls, eventually music (kind of like Animal Crossing). You can also add rooms, which seems interesting but isn’t complete. I didn’t always understand their functions (lots of lore terms I didn’t understand, not being a hardcore Williams’ fan), but there’s at least ground work for more. Sadly, during my testing, more housing items (including music) weren’t purchasable, so I couldn’t try them out.

My preview ended right before I got to reach 5 Isles, the first real quest zone in Otherland. I didn’t notice anything special from the NPCs in Lambda in terms of them having their own lives, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see that and whatever else Drago’s got waiting for us there when the game allows people to purchase Early Access… or when MJ streams her experience.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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14 Comments on "A wicked hive of synth and vibrancy: First impressions of Otherland"

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Denngar
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Denngar

DPandaren Maybe you shoulda clicked the link about voice acting. The devs said they don’t want it: http://steamcommunity.com/app/376310/discussions/0/530649887215279537/

Syco_at_Twitch
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Syco_at_Twitch

solipsis They region blocked allot of ppl actually

Syco_at_Twitch
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Syco_at_Twitch

Yall gotta clam down with your opinions The blind fanbois are losing their minds on the steam forum  like you insulted their mother

DPandaren
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DPandaren

Well, it is early access. I don’t think the voice acting is that much of a big deal at this stage, I know Blizzard doesn’t put theirs in on their expansions till late, almost release time for the expansions (or at least that’s what they did historically). People are going to complain about it, but that’s because they’re idiots who think early access means that it’s a fully complete game. 

What do you mean by the target lock? For a game that’s all skill shots that could mean that it’s an animation lock, like Dark Souls, while using a range skill.

solipsis
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solipsis

These idiots region blocked Asia on Steam! Welcome to the end!

karmamule
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karmamule

Games that try to feel ultra-modern are usually the first to feel dated, so some of this isn’t surprising.  Having gone near radio-silent for a LONG time is also not a good start.  As a fan of the book series I’m torn between not wanting to even bother with something subpar and curiosity as to what they’ve down with it.  If early access is reasonably priced the latter urge will probably win out, but I haven’t quite decided yet, especially with so much else tugging at my time.

Damonvile
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Damonvile

Why do some of the screen shots look like a game out of the 90s and others look somewhat modern ? Most of the combat pictures look so terrible but the one in the city doesn’t look half bad.

Feodor
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Feodor

paragonlostinspace I played the closed beta and sadly the game needs at least 1 or 2 more years in development, everything is rough, broken or downright bad, especially the zones and quests. Nothing I would pay for in 2015/2016.

paragonlostinspace
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paragonlostinspace

Interesting, too bad it sounds like it isn’t done. Basically it needs further time in the oven. :) Oh as an aside I wish “more” mmos did naming first. I build characters around a list of names i’ve been using since the mid 1970’s. So I have a mental image of what names  work with certain classes, skills or races. Nothing irks me more than getting all excited about a certain class/race combo only to find the names I like to use with those names/classes isn’t available. Getting the name cleared first makes me happier. ;p

A Dad Supreme
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A Dad Supreme

So of those art pics are something I’d expect City of Heroes to look like. Could easily be a superhero game.

Rozyn
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Rozyn

“They don’t take advantage of the setting and feel a bit uninspired.” Isn’t this just about every MMO? Very sad, and completely unsurprising, to hear that an Otherland MMO fell into the same trap of ‘We made this game inside a neat, shallow setting!’ rather than ‘We made this amazing, living gameworld’ – which is the whole point of Otherland! You don’t get a better MMO setting than an MMO setting lol, and yet, it sounds like dumbed down WoW mechanics in a neon world. Hopefully they’ll read reviews and listen to feedback. Even things as small as remote quest turn ins like WS make a huge difference.

ZenDadaist
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ZenDadaist

Hm.
Hmmmmm. 
Well, nice concept/ideas alone can’t hold up a game. It’s got to play well too and so far so… underwhelmed. I’ll be waiting for more info from further iterations of the alpha build.

Armsbend
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Armsbend

This reminds me of Too Human (remember that one for consoles?) in art style and general feel for some reason I cannot shake it!

aboomwithaview
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aboomwithaview

Silverbourne Indeed it does, heres the Steam link for any interested: http://store.steampowered.com/app/376310

wpDiscuz