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Adam Tingle Posted:
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Sometimes books, films, and comics just cry out for online licensing. Whether it is Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, or Star Trek these intellectual properties excite gamers everywhere, each salivating at the chance to auto-attack a Klingon, or /dance with a Hobbit. Of course the MMOutation isn't always a success, or entirely goes with the formula of the genre, but what if your favourite IP happened skipped merrily, hand-in-hand with the idea of virtual worlds? The Otherland series by Tad Williams is almost tailor-made to convert into an online game. Connecting to an interactive Internet-like source called "the net" people can travel to any realm of imagination, becoming who they wish to be and doing whatever they want to do: Does this sound anything like an MMO-lover's need to immerse themselves into the role of dwarf for a weekend?

Gamigo's latest jaunt into the realm of licensing has seen them return with treasure in the form of Otherland. Developed by Real U using the lore and locations of the novel series of the same name, I can't think of a better use of the source material or one that gives itself so readily to the genre.

Unlike your standard goblin-em-up, the Singapore-based studio is taking a different tact with their game. Gone are the standard character creations, and certainly the traditional fantasy setting has vanished - this is a game in which cyberpunk, medieval, and sci-fi, all collide. The developer has poured equal measures of The Old Republic, World of Warcraft, and Second Life, mixed it up, and the resulting gloop looks to be one of the most innovative in MMOing - and this is not highfaluting talk, Otherland is one of the most impressive looking F2P titles to date.

Powered by the Unreal 3 Engine, the two zones that were previewed The Lambdal Mall and Eight Squared popped with the type of graphical snap expected of the Epic creation. The former location is a techni-coloured, high-tech dreamscape, that looks like a J-Pop music video more than a city. Signs of the virtual reality are abundant from the lines of code scattered around the peripheral areas, whilst also managing to look the Internet from Futurama. The sleek, immaculate look to everything illuminates every sense, and the amount of social areas, mini-games, and shops to take in are outstanding.

This is where Otherland's more social aspects thrive. Taking your plain, generic avatar, you can load up a template class, whilst also customizing your appearance and body frame. Real U have perfectly encapsulated the feeling that this is a virtual world to immerse yourself in. You can buy cosmetic items for your character, indulge in mini-games, or even sit around one of the many social areas taking in the sights and sounds of the environment. The developer's have taken that all important step in realising that gamers need both hubs and combat zones to keep up the illusion that this is an adventure rather than a simple train-ride of connecting zones all racing towards the cap.

And speaking of levels and experience, the game also differs once again. All weapons and armour can only be equipped when a player has a certain amount of Technical Points. These can be earned through combat and other such activities, meaning that the experience of questing and general MMOing runs hand in hand with the more outlandish social elements. Interestingly, this system also means that while TP dictates your inventory, the game itself is actually classless, meaning that you can pick and swap between roles as either tank, healer, or DPS at the click of a vendor shop button.

The more traditional side of the experience in the form of Eight Squared is no less impressive. Transporting via portals to the varied landmasses in the central Lambda Mall provides a perfect juxtaposition for players as they leave the techno locales of the hub to medieval, high-concept landscapes of the chess-inspired map.

Eight Squared is a leafy, docile looking piece of land, where idyllic hamlets nestle amongst trees, and peasants go about their lives - all in the midst of a real-life chess game. Overhead tower massive holographic pieces, whilst on the ground two opposing factions battle amongst themselves in a perpetual never-ending game as a King is missing from the battleground.

This kind of farfetched and yet highly unique and imaginative areas, give Otherland's its most impressive and exciting appeal. You feel like any kind of crazy situation may be at some point implemented into the game, and with the help of Unreal Engine, what a sight it all is to behold.

As Otherland takes place in the Multi-verse, this gives the developer infinite scope with which to create zones and locations. From WW1 trenches, to far-futuristic envisioning, and further to Roman cities, anything can appear within the game - and while the developer is keeping their locations under lock and key for the moment, if the two playable zones are anything to go by, they will be impressive.

Zones such as Eight Squared also exhibit the games combat skills, as well as crafting. The usual gamut of enemies are present, and so is the entirely familiar "!" above NPCs heads, but it is the poking and stabbing bits that are different. Rather than sticking to a rigid formula of targeting, Real U have opted for a non-linear system in which any swipe or stroke can affect all enemies that happen to be in range. What this means is that the combat feels more akin to Fable than WoW, and with an array of hotbar abilities to boot, it never feels dull.

To facilitate combat and to stem the tide of mindless grind, questing will also be a major focus. With the license under Real U's belt, this means that storyline quests will expand upon the bountiful lore of Otherland, whilst also giving something slightly more exciting than the humdrum "Kill X of Y, because I said."

Crafting also takes a different turn. When an enemy is slain, instead of dropping generic loot X, instead you can collect items.  Or you can choose to harvest the "eDNA" of the creature, and if this is done enough times you will gain the ability to craft whatever weapon or armour they might happen to carry. It is an innovative little system and with enough tweaking could lead to masses of customization and individuality amongst players.

Another intriguing element to Otherland is that of the MyLand area. Like other instanced housing zones, the developer's have created a space in which players can craft and sculpt their own slices of paradise, but also these can be filled with mobs, and also give opportunities for PvP, and even global scale guild versus guild combat.

While details are still relatively thin on the ground, if the landmasses are of any sort of size in relation to the studios ambitions, this will make for one hell of a customizable battleground. Clans will be able to create vast continents filled with visions of their imagination, whilst also warring for control with enemies.

Expected in Q3 Otherland is shaping up to be an impressive, unique, and highly hybridised vision of an MMORPG. From socialising, to crafting, and further to adventuring, the Singapore developer has left no online-shaped stone unturned: I can't wait to get my hands on the final product.


Adam Tingle