In 1996 Tad Williams presented us with an amazing cyberpunk adventure set in what could be considered the near future. The most interesting thing about it was not the setting, but some of the predictions made in the books themselves mirror our own reality. Virtual reality for example is finally becoming a staple of computer interaction and may replace conventional monitors in the next fifteen years. In addition to that, the internet is indeed evolving to overlap with our everyday lives. They say art imitates life, but sometimes, art manages to imitate the future in a big way. Otherland is simply one of those times. I strongly recommend that you read the books, perhaps even before you play the Otherland game. After all, you have plenty of time between now and the next closed beta! If you have read the books, you are most definitely in for a treat. There are some continuity errors with the book, my main question being why the Otherland network seems to be under attack when it was ‘hidden’ during the conclusion of the fourth and final book of the series, but I assume this and other kinks will be ironed out as the game’s development proceeds.
A Project Revived
If you’ve been following the Otherland MMORPG project for any significant amount of time then you already know that Gamigo, creators of Fiesta Online had been hard at work creating the Otherland world. It’s kind of difficult to say what happened, but either way, it was put into hiatus for many years, and I personally remember screaming the ‘Darth Vader noooooo’ the day it happened. That said, I was way too happy when the game resurfaced with Drago, and everyone on staff at MMOgames can tell you they were tired of my fan girling. So where are we with Otherland? How does it compare to the book series? Is it a conventional MMO? Is it edible? Can you play it while blindfolded? These and many other questions are about to be answered!
When I first entered the game I have to tell you I was more than excited to see several familiar faces, including old Mr. Sellars who greeted me at the portal to Otherland. Other familiar faces included Orlando, still living inside the Otherland network, and still the embodiment of his gaming character from Middle Country. As I went further in I found other amazing characters from the books including Renie Sulaweyo and even !Xabbu, who has his own very colorful apartment just off the Lambda Mall. If you haven’t read any of the books then none of this will make sense to you, and let’s face it, you want to know about the gameplay.
The game starts like any standard MMORPG; you log in, create a character, but wait, something’s different about this character creation screen! Unlike other MMO’s, you don’t choose a class. Instead you simply create a ‘simuloid’ and enter the game, at which point you are greeted by Mr. Sellars. After a brief introduction you are given the ability to choose your look, though you have very few choices at the beginning. Following a brief tutorial you are unceremoniously deposited into the Otherland network and asked to choose a class. The choices are:
The only class here that you may be unfamiliar with is the energizer which is the game’s support class. Choosing your class in this game is a bit easier as you can literally test drive it before you make an actual choice. You are presented with a series of portals and on the other side of each one you will be transformed into the corresponding class and given the chance to fight as said class. Sounds cool, right? Once you make your decision, you will return to Sellars who will allow you to become said class, and then, you will be transported to a boss fight. Okay, that might have been a bit sudden, but hey, there’s something to be said for jumping right into the action.
Combat in the game is what I would definite as Action MMO. Perhaps the closest comparison would be Tera, though as of the closed beta there was no system for dodging shots. Which seems like a bit of an oversight, but since the game is based on the Unreal engine I imagine that mechanic will be added later on. The combat itself will be determined by the class you choose as you would expect from any MMO, a melee fighter will need to get up close and personal while a marksman will need to stay back and take aim. Interestingly enough, despite the advanced nature of the Otherland network, you start off with a wooden bow if you play as a Marksman. Now that’s irony.
One thing that many MMORPG’s today seem to lack is a compelling story. Fortunately, in that aspect, Otherland seems to deliver if you are okay with reading text boxes. As of this writing there is no voice acting, but with a 36 gig installation, I’m sort of glad they went the traditional route on that one. Yes, you heard me, a 36 gig beta. They’re not messing around are they? It may be a less popular route these days but it does also help avoid some subjects that gamers find to be issues, I’m talking about how you manage the player character. Give them a voice and you’re taking away some freedom of the player, make them the silent mute and things are a bit awkward. Needless to say if you don’t mind spending some time reading the story in Otherland is top notch.
After the initial hustle and bustle of the character creation and Otherland weirdness, you’re tossed from limbo several years later into the streets of a busy city. One thing to be clear about is that while Otherland is a virtual reality network, it has a bad habit of sucking people in, insofar as they cannot simply remove their VR helmets in the real world. That said, there are a lot of people trapped inside the Otherland network, many with no idea how they got there in the first place. As you enter this city you find yourself under attack by waves of simuloids for seemingly no reason until you are finally overwhelmed and dragged away. You awaken in a cell and find that you are being sold, essentially as a slave, which does not sit well with the other simuloids who have been taken prisoner alongside you. This leads to an elaborate jailbreak and some intense combat before finally escaping the gang’s lair and meeting a familiar face on the streets outside. After some further combat scenes and an escape through a portal, you find yourself in the Lambda mall, at which point you realize you have finally worked your way past the insane yet somewhat lengthy tutorial. At this point the game turns into more of a traditional MMO, though there are still plenty of surprises in store for those who read the books.
In the Lambda mall you will find a number of different store fronts, many of which are closed, though you do find one that allows you to change your avatar to something a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Renie asks you to explore the mall, and one quest leads you to player housing, allowing you to customize your own floor plan, and even add rooms to your house. As far as I could tell, basic housing is free, and nothing to turn your nose up at.
As you play through the game you will level up, just as with any traditional MMORPG, and you will gain skill points which must be spent. The best way to do this is to walk to the housing portal in the Lambda mall, take a right and walk down the ramp leading to the auction house. You will find a panel across the garden that facilitates the spending of skill points and provides you with new abilities. Becoming powerful in Otherland is easy, but your power will always be relative to the simulation that you are in. The Lambda mall, for example, does not afford you any powers, but renders you as a basic simuloid. As you enter each new simulation you will be given powers appropriate to the area, making for even more interesting gameplay as the story progresses.
With the action MMO aspects and the fluid storytelling based upon Tad William’s epic, this game promises to not only be fun, but memorable, and this certainly something we have been lacking in new releases. The release date for the game, or even the next closed beta has not quite been announced, but if they manage to improve on some of the flaws, then it promises to be a game that we can all enjoy for many years to come.
Related: MMORPG, Otherland, Preview, Sci-Fi