You’re probably checking the date of this post and wondering why in the hell I’m going to waste your time reviewing Tabula Rasa; a game that came out in November, 2007. Well, to be honest, if someone told me I’d be reviewing it a month ago I’d have said you’re out of your fucking mind but I guess surprises come in the oddest forms sometimes.
Well, being in between games at the moment while waiting for Warhammer Online I decided I’d give it a try. To be more specific, another try which is why this is actually my 3rd 1st Impression.
My first experience with Tabula Rasa came in beta. At the time I was knee deep in World of Warcraft and other games so didn’t spend a ton of time with it. I think I hopped in, got to like level 5 which is barely out of the tutorial and never got around to testing it more. Well, my beta experience didn’t flag it as a failboat award so I ended up buying it around launch a few months later. I’m not sure if I had a memory lapse or something changed from beta to retail but my experience after buying it changed my previous opinion and the TR failboat I was sailing ended up crash landing “cock up island”.
I couldn’t even get into the gameplay because the game suffered from disastrous hitching. After some Google searching and forum reading, this was a wide spread problem across many people’s computers. My computer was well above the minimum requirements at the time, and even setting the graphics on low didn’t really help it. After a few days of unplayable stuttering I canceled my account (2 days into my first free 30 days) promptly uninstalled it and wrote Richard Garriott’s name on a list of people I wanted to kill.
Well, fast forward to August 2008. I’m burned out on World of Warcraft, Age of Conan is garbage, I don’t have the patience for EVE Online (i.e. playing an economy simulator) and Warhammer isn’t coming out till next month (although I’ll be playing the preview weekend starting tomorrow). I originally re-subscribed to Tabula Rasa basically on a whim a few days before Deployment 11. Upon entering the game I almost vomited on my keyboard as my character looked like a blurry mud pie. After checking all my settings and making sure I wasn’t accidentally running in 640×480, off I went to the trusty Internet. Turns out in optimizing the game for slower machines, they changed over to some new type of blur filter for anti aliasing in the game. Apparently the way Tabula Rasa’s engine uses deferred lightning, it does not simultaneously support hardware based AA so it uses a software blur filter to emulate it. After toying with different settings for a couple hours I called it quits. Well, 2 days later I get an e-mail that Deployment 11 has made it to live servers and to come check out all the new changes! I read in the patch notes that there was some changes to how AA was handled. Handy that. I sigh’d to myself and logged in. Apparently I am masochist when it comes to MMORPG’s.
Well, whether it’s idiocy or some sick curiosity that keeps me smashing my face into these troubled games, it has finally paid off. I logged in, my character was crisp looking, even though a little bit gay with his bright purple armor. No hitching in sight. Not sure if that’s because the game really is optimized better now or my new rig since 2007 is just far enough beyond the hardware requirements now that it doesn’t matter. Whatever the case, it ran buttery smooth.
“Well, now we’re talking” I thought to myself. I really had no idea how to play the game since most of my previous experience was troubleshooting random shit that wasn’t even my problem and they launched a new “boot camp” i.e. tutorial zone with this latest patch so I deleted my level 9 guy and started fresh like it was my first time playing the game. The new tutorial quickly got me up to speed on the basic gameplay and off I went into “the Wilderness” and my real review can start.
Note: I don’t like using numbers like 3 out 5 and crap when reviewing because I don’t really think that opinions translate to scores because you can’t quantify an opinion - at least in my opinion.
The way I look at graphics when rating them is to kind of stick to the genre at hand and compare within it. I don’t think it’s realistic to compare an MMO to Call of Duty 4 for example. So with that in mind, Tabula Rasa fairs pretty well in this department while comparing to other stuff in the genre even though it’s not a brand new game. With Lord of the Rings Online a notch ahead and Age of Conan leading the pack (about the only thing going for it) in graphics, Tabula Rasa looks great still and the “style” fits well within the sci-fi setting. Guns look cool, animations are good (although could use a few more) and armor is interesting. The armor coloring is a little weird, neon purple kind of subtracts from the seriousness of the game but maybe that’s in favor for some people. Luckily you loot armor paint like it was April 29th, 1992 and you were in an electronics store ganking VCR’s.
User Interface and Controls
I’m pretty picky about user interfaces. There is little to no customization in the default interface even via XML or some other flat file system aside from any game options. That’s kind of a no-no in 2007 MMO development in my opinion. I’m not sure if it was a time limitation or what that caused them drop the ball here. I’m not asking for a LUA development API like WoW, but even Lord of the Rings you could move crap around.
The only thing going for it is the default interface is decent as is. Good thing! Not sure if they were just trying to spite WoW by not copying it’s retarded default UI or they actually realized it was crap on their own accord and planned it on purpose. Either way, nice save.
The first few levels of the game with the default “FPS” mode configuration seemed ok but once I had a lot of skills, juggling between them and activating abilities with the right mouse button became tedious and clumsy pretty quick. Around level 13 or 14 I found “MMO” mode in the control options. This helped a ton. How I can activate abilities just by pushing the number button and right click interacts with NPC’s now instead of “T” which was awkward anyway.
I understand that Tabula Rasa is trying to be a little “different” than other MMO’s with it’s default control scheme but I think they would benefit by making the “MMO” style the default for new players. It just works better in my opinion.
My biggest remaining gripe is that the action tray really needs to be about twice as big before having to flip between them. Same with the gun tray. Adding a second row on each tray would do the trick and wouldn’t hurt the UI in terms of real estate. This is where some type of UI modding system would be nice.
Story & Lore
I’m not going to get too much into this because it’s not something I feel right about reviewing in detail. I usually check out enough of the story and lore of a game to get the general idea and after that I am using the guy just clicking accept on the missions and going about my business. I don’t want to chat up an NPC. Just tell me how many fucking ferret hides you need and shut up! Anyway, the story seems decent enough to set the stage for aliens and humans killing each other. Not too hard to bake up.
Quite simply crafting blows. I’m not a huge “crafter” anyway so it doesn’t hurt the overall value of the game much to me. It just seems like the crafting system was rushed and not thought out too well. The basic sentiment is that you clone yourself around level 30ish and just have yourself a crafting mule of sorts with all the crafting skills maxed out and avoid wasting any skill points on your combat characters.
Kind of a dumb implementation in my opinion. There’s supposed to be a crafting revamp in one of the upcoming patches so whatever.
Combat & Gameplay
Now that we’ve gotten the standard “review” details out of the way. Let’s get down to what matters. Combat & gameplay.
The combat in Tabula Rasa and fast and fun. Running around shooting up squads of aliens fucking rocks - bottom line. The game is engaging has an awesome pace. While it has some underlying MMO mechanics such as stats and dice rolls for a hit/miss/resistance table, the “twitch like” gameplay is a pretty welcome change of pace. I did need to adjust the “sticky targeting” a bit to my liking but I thoroughly enjoy the combat.
Missions are your standard MMO assortment of kill quests, bring me 10 alien skulls, role play a Fed Ex employee, etc. I’ve heard a few people say Tabula Rasa is less like other MMO’s because you don’t have to grind… They’re fucking lying or stupid - maybe both. If you don’t like grinding, don’t play a MMO. You should be smart enough to know that by now. How fun the grinding/reward ratio is, is where it matters.
You can also do Control Points (CP’s) as a way to level, get mission objectives completed or grind prestige (a sort of secondary currency used for items/perks). The basic idea is that certain towns/outposts on any given map can be attacked by the evil alien NPC army. They’ll try to capture it and take it over. If they successfully do that, you can’t use the town/outpost for your gameplay needs such as turning in or picking up quests, using the vendors, etc. until you capture it back. Most of the time, this is pretty fun and I find myself just hanging around waiting for the next attack to defend against if I’m not in the mood for wombat killing or hiking up a mountain to notify a guy that bad guys are approaching the front; in future universe mind you where we can teleport and send radio transmissions - but fuck it, why not walk a written letter on foot - I should have named my guy Paul Fucking Revere. Anyway, getting back on topic. Sometimes though I just want to turn in my g 20 alien nut sacks and move about my day and have to take back the base before I can or go to a different map (instancing) and hope the outpost isn’t captured on this one. For the most part the good outweighs the bad though.
The scenarios, Tabula Rasa’s version of a dungeon are pretty fun in my opinion. They’ve all been fairly unique and have their own little stories and scripted events. One of the things I like is that the difficulty of the scenario scales to your party size. So far I’ve been able to solo or duo every scenario which is great for me.
Tabula Rasa was really a gem that you couldn’t see due to some technical problems early on in the game. In this case, through luck or circumstance I ended up finding it but unfortunately a lot of people never will because in today’s market game’s live or die by their launch success it seems and Tabula Rasa didn’t exactly make a big splash last November.
Fortunately the development team still seems to be cranking away at new features, fixes and balancing issues so there’s a chance that it can still grow some I think but it probably won’t ever reach too large of a market. I hope the people with the money controlling it don’t pull the plug prematurely.
It’s not perfect by any means, but Tabula Rasa is a good fun game.
P.S. I fucking hate Richard Garriott. Any twat that has enough ego to put his name on a game like that should die in a fire. The developers that actually do the work on the game deserve some respect for turning the ship from the titanic to a nice rusty but enjoyable fishing boat looking for a little love.