Tabula Rasa (Hands On)


posted 8/8/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC

[EDITOR’S NOTE: It is important to note that these impressions are based on a beta version of the software and will probably change between now and when the game is released. This is especially true for MMO’s so take the following preview with a grain of salt. These impressions were based on the first open press beta and since this exchange NC Soft has released a new client]

Richard Garriott leveled stern criticism at online game developers recently.  The once and future Lord British proclaimed that the MMO genre hasn't progressed in a decade, with the majority of MMOs hashing and rehashing the conventions put forth in EverQuest or (his own) Ultima Online.  His point is arguable, for and against, but them's fightin' words nonetheless.  The only thing louder than Richard Garriott's new-fangled Tabula Rasa General's uniform may just be Richard Garriott himself.  But when a game designer's resume spans nearly 30 years, from his premier title, Akalabeth: World of Doom, and up through 19 iterations of Ultima titles, … well, at that point, the hecklers stop heckling, whip out their wirebounds, and start penciling notes.

Tabula Rasa, executive produced by the aforementioned Garriott, is gunning for a late 2007 release, and his team was kind enough to invite the gaming press in for a sneak preview weekend before going Open Beta.  GamingNexus Editor-in-Chief Chuck Husemann and Editor Randy Kalista took two of the keys, took Richard Garriott up on his offer, and took a trip into Foreas, the host planet of Tabula Rasa.  The following is a dramatic recreation of emailed experiences bouncing back and forth between Chuck and Randy during those few days. 

Randy:  In the spirit of "first impressions," what are some of the good, bad, and ugly things you've run across so far in Tabula Rasa? 

Chuck:  I'm at level eight right now, and it's got some promise -- I've played almost every game Richard Garriott released over the years -- but I'm not sure there's any way they could release Tabula Rasa this year.  There are too many bugs and too many things need ironing out that I think it will be tough to have a good launch before the end of the year.   

I'm enjoying the game a lot though.  I really like the real-time strategy aspect of taking territory away from the Bane(the bad guys in the game).  But it's currently very buggy and rather frustrating that we aren't able to get a feel for some of the back and forth so far.  I dig the run-and-gun style, but it feels a lot like Auto Assault.  What do you think? 

Randy:  Auto Assault certainly came to mind … minus the incessant junkyard collect-a-thon from Auto Assault drops.  Instead, in Tabula Rasa, I'm running out of credits trying to keep my ammo stocked.  I've recently learned how to use a chaingun, but I'm also learning that its upkeep costs are spendy.  

I'm with you on not being able to capture back sites from the Bane.  I was running around that friggin' Wilderness L.Z. for half an hour, trying to figure out if the mission was bugged, or if an invisible wall was set up by the developers.  

Additionally, slow spawn times are creating some serious campgrounds in areas.  I had to pitch a tent in the cave below Pinhole Falls in order to nab my quota of flying, two-tentacled octopus creatures.  I do like how the enemy is constantly dropping in, knockin' on the front doors of the bases, though -- even popping up inside of the walls.  Keeps the bullets flying, even when you're in a "safe zone."  Also, the methods behind the spawning seem more natural here, too.  Instead of creatures just reappearing out of thin air, they're beamed down from dropships, they're hitting the ground and bounding out of dense woodlands, they're pulling themselves up from underground.  Yes, they're still "spawning," per se, but at least an effort's being made to make them do more than just "blink" into existence.

I've run across several memorable locations, too:  Pinhole Falls, the Memory Tree, and the Twin Towers of Light thingies (when you see them you will think of the World Trade Center).  I haven't made it all the way around this particular island yet -- the map holds plenty -- and you're a level ahead of me so far, so you've probably spotted even more sights.

It's silly how the NPC soldiers run around cussin' up a storm, but anything written in the text that's even remotely mistakable as a 'bad word' is covered up with a string of **********.  Some NPCs were even being censored when talking about "Pinhole" Falls, heh heh.  Ah well.  That hypersensitive filter will get some fine-tuning, I'm sure.

Mostly I appreciate how tautly written the missions are.  They're on par with WoW's writing.  (And hopefully no one would think that's a bad thing.) 

Chuck:  Give it time, as the crafting stuff kicks in around level eight or so.  Not sure if it's as bad as Auto Assault yet, but I hope not. 

It does feel like a constant battleground, which is cool, but I'm interested to see how that works with a higher/lower population of people.  Once you get past the n00b areas it gets harder and harder to move around without having to fight every few minutes (which does work at a certain level given the nature of the game). 

Missions are decent - but nothing really new.  Have you done any of the Logos missions yet?  There at least 20 of them and it's a pain to track all of them down.  The cool spell stuff they bestow does work though from a narrative sense.

Did you clone when you reached the specialist/soldier branch or not?  Kind of a cool feature as you can create alt's quickly without having to suffer through all the tutorials again and it seems like there are enough slots that you can explore all the different options the game has to offer.

I heard there will probably be a patch tomorrow (July 31) or Thursday, so hopefully it will fix the capture bug.

What level are you at right now?  I'm about halfway to nine right now with my main character. 

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