Tabula Rasa Beta: First Impressions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Adam (Vergil)   
Tuesday, 11 September 2007

As mentioned last week, I was surprised to discover that I had made it into the Tabula Rasa beta.  My guess is that I signed up for the beta some time months upon months ago (perhaps even last year) when I first heard of the game and thought it sounded interesting.  Of course, I probably heard this in the midst of the days where WoW was the only video game I could possibly care about since I was still callous to Guild Wars, the Wii wasn’t out yet, and the PC game market wasn’t churning out things I cared about.  So yeah – definitely last year…

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In any event not one to let an opportunity to try a hot new game out for free, I have been trying the beta.  It is a beta, so there are some areas that are lacking polish (random tutorials that still say “Placeholder text” and the occasional crash) but those are to be expected.  Those things aside the game is fun, if not very unconventional, at least in the MMORPG sense.  

For those of you who are entirely unfamiliar with the Tabula Rasa set up, the game is set sometime in the near future where Earth has been invaded by a horrible alien race.  Caught completely unawares, the planet Earth was devastated.  However, the leaders of the world knew the attack was due to come, that Earth would have to play its part in a galaxy wide war someday.  A selected population of humanity was whisked away before the attack and sent through worm-hole portals to alien worlds to begin the fight back.  You play as one of these humans, torn from the modern world of the 21st century sent to alien battle fields to wage war on alien enemies.   Your primary tools are lots and lots of fire power an alien power called “logos” which is more or less your magic.

 This plot, while familiar, is a new one to be executed on the MMORPG scene, and as such it lends unique flavor to Tabula Rasa.  Your character looks like a modern human, has modern human hair and facial hair options and little details such as sunglasses.  I’ve seen a few characters running around with mutton chops and aviator glasses, which I got to say, is unique – which is about all the good I have to say about it.  Your armor isn’t large medieval plate mail or leather, but rather looks like modern or futuristic combat fatigues and combat armor.  Gone also are melee weapons, at least at first, and instead you are given a number of first-person-shooter standby guns from rifles to pistols to shotguns.  These guns work much like their FPS equivalents, and you can switch in between them mid combat as the situation changes.  What’s nice about this is it makes you feel very versatile in combat out of the box, allowing you to snipe some targets from long range, switch to spells or a shotgun when they get close, and if you want, you can even beat down your foes with your guns (and for some guns, this is a surprisingly effective technique)!

The game’s class system works a little like Ragnarok Online’s where you begin in a newbie class called “Recruit” and as you level, you choose to branch into a specific class.  The branches only come two choices at a time however.  One goes from Recruit to either Soldier or Specialist, which is basically “combat” or “support” designation.  From there you can specialize in heavy weapons, stealth, healing support, mechanical support, and what have you.  I haven’t done any group activities in the game yet, but as of yet I can’t imagine the classes are there for any more than to give players multiple choices on what they want to play.  This might change closer to the end of the game when a “melee tank” style class finally becomes available, but given the game’s open real time combat I have a hard time believing you are going to need to do group encounters worrying about aggro tables and what not.  The demand may still be there for a healer though and I do see those.  Still the character classes feel more derived from something like Team Fortress, an FPS, than an MMORPG like WoW.

While there doesn’t seem to be an option for re-specing your character, every time you make a critical class up decision you are given a credit to clone your character.  I haven’t attempted this yet but it sounds like it is to allow you to change your mind without having to start over at level one, while still given weight and purpose to the decision you make with a given character.  I plan to try it out at some point.

So far the game has had more good than bad.  The setting is interesting and what well fleshed out quests I’ve played have been fun.  Combat is great with its real time element and it’s great to be able to explore the world alone and know you can fight several times your number in enemies for you are in danger, especially after WoW’s insistence on 1on1 combat and Guild Wars’ requirement for parties/henchmen.  The crafting system gives you access to the ability to make neat support items, including dye to color your armor, and the materials are all either acquired off of drops or purchased from vendors.  You never have to make a bunch of things you don’t want just to learn how to make the thing you need.

There are a few problems though.  Sometimes the character animations don’t seem to be as nice as those found in either WoW or Guild Wars, which is easily something that might be changed post beta but it was noticeable upon start.  The game also has real performance issues when the game gets crowded.  I don’t just mean this in terms of lag either.  It seems that while the game isn’t “instanced” in the way Guild Wars is, it still creates multiple instances of each “zone.”  What’s great about this is it means that if a particular version of the zone is too crowded for my tastes I can get on a waypoint and switch instances of the zone to a less populated zone.    The problem is that this system is needed desperately.  The frame rate in highly crowded zones is atrocious and finding things to kill to complete your quests can be a big problem too. My greatest pet peeve of all though is that there are several quests that have you going through a cave to learn a new Logos ability.  When you reach the end of the cave, there will be an object you have to interact with.  The problem is only one player can interact with the logos at once, and so if a ton of people are trying to get at it, you have to wait for others to be done. After 2 minutes of standing around in a big group trying to use the logos ability and getting “that object is busy” error messages, I became quite furious.  Had I not learned about the ability to switch to less crowded areas, this probably would have made me quit the game. The game could also use some performance tweaks.  It looks nice and all, but it doesn’t look nice enough to justify how hard my computer seems to work to run it. 

Another annoying thing is that you have to purchase your own ammo.  While this doesn’t sound too bad and I can understand why they make us do so, it proves problematic when you realize all of your weapons are ranged weapons that use up ammo.  It becomes quite discouraging when you get a new weapon that you think will be awesome, but find out you don’t want to use it just because it’s an ammo hog, and a 2 currency units per shell for basic ammo, it gets expensive.  It hasn’t been a problem so to speak yet, but I do feel like I’m perpetually poor, always buying just a few hundred less bullets than my max currency would let me afford.  This is especially painful since you know that there isn’t a melee class you could have rolled to avoid this problem.  I suppose one could start to rely more on logos abilities instead, but only if you’ve completed the quests to get the tablets unlocked you need to use them.

All in all I am enjoying Tabula Rasa but more playing needs to be done before it earns any kind of recommendation.  I like it because it’s different and in many ways its difference is a good thing.  Still though, the way the game flows makes me pine more for Hellgate: London which I think will deliver a more solid and fluid game experience at the sacrifice of less of the Online part (which I am personally fine with).   I will say that if this game ends up charging a monthly anywhere near $10 or more I wouldn’t recommend it in its current form.  But then again, it is only a beta.

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