Revisiting Drago's Vision of Tad Williams' World
Over the past few days, I've been playing Drago Entertainment's Otherland, an MMO that came out in 2015 and that is based on the wildly popular fantasy novels by Tad Williams. Over the course of the last nine months or so, Drago has taken over creative control of the game that seemed to have lost its vision early on. While things aren't perfect...yet...developers are committed to bringing Otherland back from the edge.
To say that Otherland's September 2016 launch was lackluster is to underestimate how rocky its start truly was. Over time, things didn't get any better as the publisher demanded that developers remain quiet and did not allow them to interact with the community. In addition, a number of patches were withheld pending a "relaunch" for June. As a result, the community dwindled and the bugs and issues remained. Most of what remained the community figured that the game would die a quiet death, a huge disappointment given the popularity of Williams' novels and the rich potential they offer to the MMO genre.
In August of 2017, however, the Otherland Steam page suddenly came back to life with new posts from Drago Entertainment, the actual developers of the game. The new publisher, made up of original backers of Otherland, had handed creative control of the game and all customer support duties back to the developers. Pushing up their collective sleeves, work began. Since that time, Drago has actively and often engaged its community and has worked hard to make the game not only playable, but fun.
With that in mind, I dove into Otherland. I'll admit up front that I've actually never read Williams' novels, though I have long known about them. That said, the images and screens from Drago intrigued me with their curious mix of fantasy and sci-fi. What I was greeted with was...surprising. Every character pretty much enters the game as a basically a class without much definition and that will develop over time. I played as a Warrior, as I usually do in a brand new game, though I could have chosen Assassin, Marksman or Energizer (pretty much a Mage).
Playing through the tutorial, I found that Otherland plays much like any "standard" MMO. I escorted NPCs. I killed X-mobs. I worked through learning how to fight and not to die and all of the things you usually are taught in your infancy.
Here are a few thoughts I had about some of the game's primary systems:
Questing is arguably one of the most difficult things to innovate in today's MMO space. Otherland is interesting from a visual perspective, but from a questing perspective, it's pretty much what you'd expect: Escore this NPC here, go kill 10 of those guys over there and so forth. Follower quests, in particular, are frustrating as the NPCs must have the biggest aggro range ever and routinely would die as a result.
Story is also a Tad (see what I did there?) disappointing in that you don't actually learn all that much about Williams' universe, though you clearly see it. More immersion into the world would be amazing and is hopefully something that the recently-added 130 new quests will provide.
Graphics really are spectacular in Otherland. While not, perhaps, the end-all-be-all of Black Desert or some of the other similarly aged MMOs, Tad Williams' world is definitely brought to life. Add in the wide variety of the different worlds, each with its own theme, and you have a game that, at least visually, can bring you in.
Performance & bugs are an ongoing process by Drago. Over the course of the last several months, patches have been deployed to bring players fewer crashes and better FPS. While my rig never encountered any performance issues, there were bugs that were annoying. This is clearly still a huge process for the team to work through.
Combat is fun, though not without its own issues. Otherland features action-combat that is fluid and interesting, though it can be clunky at times. Hitboxes feel off from time to time. One of the most persistent annoyances was the wild swinging during combat that didn't seem to actually have any impact on my opponent. It's possible that this was due to latency or to other issues, but there were times when it was tooth-grindingly frustrating.
When all is said and done, Otherland still has a lot of issues and it's clearly not a game for everyone. However, Drago is committed to making it into a game that they can be proud of as well as a game that players will want to play. The developers are full engaging their community and are active on both the game's Facebook page and on the Steam page / forums as well. Whether or not they can bring the game back from the brink remains to be seen, but no one will be able to say they're not trying.
The bottom line is that if you're looking for a F2P game where you can interact with the developers to bring a beloved IP to life, Otherland is one to look at. Seeing the fond affection that Drago developers have for Otherland and the dedicated, if small, community they're working with, it's possible the game could end up being something pretty cool.