Otherland MMO – First Impressions

otherland_fir_klBookahnerk had told me about Otherland long before the MMO was in the news as Otherland is one of his favourite books and Tad Williams is one of his favourite authors! This is the main reason this game even caught my attention. We had both watched the gamescom trailer and really liked what we saw there and we really thought it had immense potential.

At some point, I had gotten access to Otherland’s closed beta for a short bit. I was not impressed with the game at all – or else you would have probably seen me write about it here. Some background images were nice, but that’s it. The game had one week of open beta where I had given it a try again and launched on September 8. The business model was a different one at first – I think buy to play? I am actually not too sure about that since I did not follow the game anymore, but now it is free to play. After a rocky start on its first day where it was not available unless you paid, you can just download and play it for free on Steam.

The bad news first: In its current state, I do not recommend the game. I think they need more time to smooth out the game, get rid of bugs and all of that. I had wanted to wait with writing about my impressions until I had gotten out of the tutorial area and had had a better look at the game behind it, but so far, this has not been possible. Lambda Mall is apparently the main hub and the area you enter after exiting the tutorial. During the open beta I could not get there. Where there should have been a portal at the end of the tutorial, there was nothing. Well, the portal was actually there, but I could not click on it or interact with it in any way. According to forum posts, this apparently happened whenever the server that Lambda Mall is on was down, but I could not find any other information on it and I gave up after trying several times.

Today, the game first refused to launch with an error message saying my graphics card does not support something (I didn’t read what it was) even though I’d played successfully before. Right now, I’m in the “verifying” stage but nothing else happens. I first tried it this morning at around 8.30 am*. This means that for more than 8 hours now, I have not been able to access the game. There were a couple of other people in the Steam community hub (and in the official forums) reporting the same issue. I had a look at the official Twitter account and found that there was a tweet on September 1, then another on September 8 to announce the official launch of the game but no other recent tweets. This is not how you handle the launch of an MMORPG! Where is the advertisement, where is the support? The community manager’s last posting in the forum was on September 8, their launch day.

Yes, I get that there may be bugs. And that is okay. There is no MMO that doesn’t have bugs and I don’t remember any MMO’s launch that did not have issues. However, what I do remember is community managers, developers and whoever else was available handling the social media channels and the forums informing players of what was happening and posting ETA times and so on. Here, there is silence. It is also the first weekend after launch and there is nothing but crickets from the developers. As far as I know, the first weekend after an MMO launches is always a very busy one as people try out the game. I would assume the same could potentially happen here since the game is on Steam and that often attracts lots of potential players.

But enough about that for now. There actually is a game somewhere and I can share with you what I have seen and experienced, even though it was not much yet. The game’s character creation is rather fast as there aren’t a lot of things to do. You can choose gender, size (including body proportions – this is nice!), skin colour (e.g. orange), skin pattern and I think that’s it? Some options are locked. But there are no hair styles, no changing of facial features etc.

The game has four different classes. Two are melee/tank (warrior and assassin), two are ranged/heal (energizer and marksman). Nothing too spectacular or exciting if you ask me. You can equip three weapons and switch between these, though. I am not sure yet, but I assume different weapons have different stats and effects. For example, one weapon to tank and one to dish out damage. Other than that, I have not yet seen a way to customize your playstyle further. I also do not know yet how to get new skills as even though I levelled up, nothing happened apart from a message telling me I levelled up. What I did like was that before you lock in your class choice, the game lets you enter a mini tutorial with each class where you can try it with lots of skills unlocked and some easy mobs to hit. Since I am never certain about what class “clicks” for me, I really like this feature! During beta, I had one of the two ranged classes (I think it was the energizer), but did not like it at all. I just stood there, kept my mouse button pressed to shoot repeatedly and hit 1, 2 or 3 depending on cooldowns etc. Now for the game’s release, I chose the warrior which is a lot more fun to play. I got a giant polearm and can just slash everything in range. :p

So far, the story is okay. I have to say that I do not know much about the world of Otherland. You are in a virtual reality and there are a lot of different settings. The giant chess pieces seen in the trailer above are in the tutorial, for example, among a lot of other settings. It is a virtual reality world, after all, so all settings are possible!

I saw the eDNA mentioned in the gamescom trailer above. This feature is certainly in the game as I could extra eDNA from enemies I had killed, but other than an animation and a message that I did collect it, nothing happened. I looked at my inventory, but could not see any indication of this eDNA, so I don’t know where it is or what I can do with it. I guess this would be nice to be explained in the tutorial. Or maybe it gets explained after entering Lambda Mall. My warrior made it there (now in the launch version of the game), but I had to get to bed when I last played, so I could not continue with the story. Another feature I had seen in the trailer was housing. According to a post on Massively back in August 2015, this feature should be in!

Something to be very careful about is the character deletion process. Right next to “create”, there is the “delete” button. I had hit that one during beta but nothing had happened. I logged in with my character (as it hadn’t gotten deleted after all) and played. Then I logged off. When I next logged in again, the character was gone. When I tried to make another character with the same name, it said that the name was already taken. Yeah, thank you? So I made another character. This was during beta and support (via Twitter DM) offered to undelete my character or free up the name for me to use again, so I don’t know if they made any changes. But having the delete button right next to the create button with no further confirmation if you are sure about wanting to delete and then on top of that a delay of when the deletion happens? Not good!

If it hadn’t been for me wanting to write about my impressions, I don’t think I would have continued playing. The combat is rather boring, but I admit that this was mainly my impression when playing the ranged class and it may just not be the right class for me. The graphics are really neat, though! Especially the background images are amazing! What you cannot see in the pictures is that the NPCs are not moving. They are frozen or something. However, some of them aren’t. They stand still just as the others, but as soon as you get too close, they attack you. So, if I had to choose one thing that stood out for me – positively – it’s definitely the look of the world!

What the game did achieve, however, was that we ordered the first Otherland novel in English now. Bookahnerk has read all of them years ago, but only in German. Now it’s time to read the original. And since I’ve never read them at all, it’s a perfect time to start for me. :)

TL;DR: This game gets no recommendation from me at the moment! I don’t think the developers/publishers take the game seriously or else there wouldn’t be such a lack of communication, especially now that the game can’t be accessed by some or all players. However, I do want to find out more about it. And if the game turns out to be as bad as the Steam reviews make it seem to be, I now own the first novel of Otherland in its original English version and will happily just read this book instead. :p

*This was after I got woken up by a stray pigeon that had accessed our flat – but that’s a different and very short story as it flew back outside when I scared it… only that I had been too awake then and decided to get up and try to play Otherland so I could write about my impressions. :p