A Real Battle: Improving Tabula Rasa
I tested Tabula Rasa and played a month of retail before I moved on. I recently reactivated my account so I could check out how the game has improved. What I found was a mixed bag of pleasant surprises and still-needed changes.
Tabula Rasa is certainly a better game than it was a few months ago. The game runs better and the developers have taken away some annoying game play elements - such as awarding assault and defense tokens for individual Control Points. They've added new consumable items and, most notably, an Auction House. Lightweight changes such as these will not, however, make TR a better game in the long run. Even major additions promised since beta - PAU's, Command Opportunities, and expanded PvP - are merely feature-list fodder; real change is needed.
Tabula Rasa has a few major problems (in my opinion) that, if they were addressed, would greatly improve the game.
* The "war feeling" is lacking. There is no sense of a battlefront in Tabula Rasa. Everything is scattered everywhere. Bane drop in all over, to be opposed by only a handful of AFS soldier NPCs who otherwise mill about without rhyme or reason. Where are the large offensives, planned strikes and counter strikes, and so forth? It doesn't make sense that planet-wide WARS are fought on a squad-sized scale. Control Point assaults and defenses just aren't enough.
The above willy-nilly approach to the war prevents players from making any kind of impact beyond the Control Points. You can't clear an area to safely get through because you'll just get randomly spawned on by bad guys who have the ability to drop in wherever they want. How can anyone win a war against an enemy who can literally teleport in behind your defenses?
Furthermore, it is absurd that AFS and Bane NPCs do so little damage to one another. I know its that way for a reason - so they don't clear each other out - but it also cheapens the war-feeling. To me, its ok to let NPCs slug it out. Let the NPCs wage the large-scale war. Players are more like operatives, taking specific missions and only mixing it up on a large scale when we want to.
* The second biggest thing for me is the extreme lack of variety in the game. There are far too few weapons and abilities available to the players. This results in a very limited number of ways to attack the game's challenges and a lack of customization for your character. I'm not talking hair style or armor color, I'm talking about equipping your character with weapons and abilities so that you can more strongly customize your playstlye within the classes the game provides.
* The final thing I see wrong with Tabula Rasa is the fact that the game abruptly forces playstyle changes upon its players. This is especially apparent at level 30 when you train in your final class. For example, as a Recruit, then Soldier, then Ranger, most players use Rage in combination with a ranged weapon specialization (thanks to a lack of viable alternatives). But once you change to Spy, your class-defining playstyle changes to MELEE strikes from an AMBUSH position, which is almost totally opposite of what you were doing before. And if you go Sniper, then instead of charging in, machine gun and Rage ablaze, your class-defining playstyle involves a more methodical long-range attack. Why teach one playstyle for 29 levels only to totally change it up later on?
Some people may enjoy the change, but I think a better way would be to give players more options in lower-tier classes that clearly support a particular playstyle in which the top-tier classes specialize. For example, I would like to see more skills in the Soldier and Ranger class that support melee and stealthy game play so that once you graduate to the Spy class, you know the ropes and can build upon what you've learned before, and truly come into your own with the Spy's powerful and specialized abilities.
Tabula Rasa has a good base from which to build, but if Destination Games decides to focus on City Of Heroes style TACKED-ON FLUFF additions without first addressing the CORE feel of the game, then Tabula Rasa will remain a four-server wonder that'll have a hard time holding onto players when new MMORPGs come out.