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Chryses's articles and reviews

A gamer for over 25 years. I play cards, boardgames, table top games, PC stand alone but more than anything I am a huge MMO fan. I go by the name Chryses, I have been Guild leader, trooper and crafter. I am an avid writer and I welcome you to my blog.

Author: chryses

Tabula Rasa - starter review

Posted by chryses Saturday November 3 2007 at 11:16AM
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Tabula Rasa is a game that only receives hate or love postings on these forums.  I have been a gamer for over 20 years and I decided to purchase Tabula Rasa today to find out first hand what this game has to offer and tell it how it is...

PC specs: 2 gig Corsair ram, SB FX-i Audio 5.1, AMD 4400 dual, 2x7600GT Nvidia, old hdd.  Game runs at 30-40 fps on 1024x960 and everything on high.  At very high it drops to 20fps but this only adds some lighting effects. 

** Please note: I have not played Beta.  My only exposure to this game is reading threads, official postings and looking at screenshots and small clips.  My expectations right now are average to below average.  

Day 1

I purchased the box at my local game shop.  Instructions very simple and even though I had to set the account up it was a straight forward process.  Installation is around 4-5 gig and prepare to wait approximately 1 hour for patching if its downloading around 133KBs.

Box contains instructions (probably wont use as its not that extensive, pure fundamentals) a quick reference card and map that will be very helpful.  The standard 1 month free still applies and I decided to purchase a 3 month sub so all in all it will cost around 53 pounds for 4 months. 

Day 1 review score - 70/100 (Pretty much what I expected but slightly impressed it was so easy)

 

Day 2

(Playing time approximately 4-5 hours / level 5)

Please note this is a longer post as its the first day and I want to give a quick snapshot.  I will talk about gameplay tomorrow...

Last night I finally jumped into TR and I am glad to say installation was very straight forward and it was only about 1.5 hours for the initial patch.  Creating a character was relatively fast since you can not fully customise your avatar.  Don't worry though there are plenty of options but if you insist on changing the size of your nostrils or eyebrows then you will be dissapointed. 

Your rookie avatar starts in a drop zone where you receive some basic training and your first mission is to defend a base.  My first reaction was of dismay due to the graghics looking slightly dated and colours rather neutral but this was sorted quickly after tweaking graghic options.  Then the fun started...

Heading towards the base I really felt like I was in a war zone.  The Bane land from drop ships and this created a sense of panic on the battlefield so I opened fire along with the other 5 NPC's who were supporting me.  About 30 minutes later and after some training missions I am standing on the ramparts blowing away bane with a big smile on my face.

SNAPSHOT

Graghics - If you love flowing fields of flowers and sandy beaches with red crabs then this may not be for you.   Its gritty, futuristic, lots of battlements and very war torn.  Avatar's look great and my system runs the game at a pretty high spec so no complaints at all. 

Sound - Normally I don't even mention sound but I just have to on this occassion.  Its the best sound I have heard in an MMO.  You don't have elvish ghosts wailing on in the background or some orc grunting while he is thumping a head against a wall.  This is sound on the immersion level.  As you play TR you will hear gun fire in the distance with troops yelling for backup, drop ships flying over head and the Bane yelling that they smell human etc.  Also the mission givers actually do talk which helps with the overall RPG element.  Picture yourself  and several allies crouching behind sandbags firing multiple rounds into an invasion force with NPC's yelling out orders etc.   Enough said...

Gameplay - I want to talk about this in more detail on my  3rd day.  However I want to get some things straight here.  I read too many posts about people saying combat is boring since its 'auto lock', fire and that there is no difference in cover etc.  For the record cover does makes a big difference to the damage you inflict and take.  If you crouch and fire you will do maximum damage as opposed to running and firing where you do a lot less.  They state this in the game and several NPC's tell you this and if you flick over to the damage log you can see it in black and white.  So that is the official line so don't listen to idiots who say otherwise.   

Crafting - I thought I would touch on crafting even though I have not tried it.  I am a hardcore crafter at heart and in almost every MMO I am the one making items for myself, friends and clan members.  I have recently seen some threads on how bad crafting is in TR.  Personally I don't care either way.  The game is too fast paced and full of action and the idea of having to craft for hours on end like Vanguard doesn't make sense.  I have found recipes from kills so I will discuss this more later. 

Community - I have not spoken to anyone in-game yet however TR is setup so you don't feel bad when attacking the same creature.  In fact the game is about jumping in and helping others out and it seems the XP is split depending on damage done so I can't see any issues over stealing kills.  I personally loved crouching behind ramparts and using my rifle to assist other players.  Unfortunately there are the usual fools in chat spamming about lag and how nothing works.  Today when they announced downtime (also advertised on their website) you had people mouthing off.  Shame really as I know this game will slowly develop into a niche game for a mature gamers so hopefully this will dissapear.  

Day 2 review score - 80/100 (Game delivered more than I expected, no obvious bugs or performance issues and above all I had a load of fun)

 

 

Day 3

(Playing time approximately 9-10 hours / level 9)

 
Today I really feel I got my teeth into this game and I am only level 9 still. Highlight today was helping to defend a Launch Zone in Concordia Wilderness and for me this is where TR really shines. Last night I and several other players found ourselves swarmed with Bane. Along with our NPC’s soldiers and a Mech Warrior we mowed down dozens of the enemy. Sounds great? It is but that wasn’t the end. This morning I logged on thinking I could find my cosy spot on the rampart and collect my mission tokens by sniping the odd invader.   No chance! Upon logging in I found the base overran with Bane and when I say overran I mean swarms! The NPC’s were trying their best but the last thing I remember was an alien the size of a tank eating me for breakfast. So I decided it wasn’t the best place to hang out and after checking the map the once human held landing zone is now showing up as owned by the Bane. So the game shows it is fluid and with no ‘real’ defence humans will lose their positions. How does that affect players? Well for starters I have 4 missions to cash in there and of course you lose access to the shops etc. On top of all that, if players don’t keep the invasion at bay it becomes increasingly difficult to get around as you find yourself cornered by patrols.
 
GAMEPLAY MECHANICS
 
 
PERFORMANCE: I thought I would get this out of the way right at the start.   Performance on my rig (spec above) runs smoothly 100% of the time and the lowest I have seen the FPS (Frames per second) is at 30 and I still don’t see any lag or stutter. Rather amazing considering that for most of the gameplay there are multiple NPC’s, Avatars and enemy in your area and this was also tested when the server was at ‘very high’ pop. Big well done on the performance guys!
 
AVATAR:  At first I found the Avatar slightly confusing to move around but as always I became use to the controls soon enough. You have several emotes that are done quite tastefully and there is the normal jump and crouch etc. What I really like is the option to zoom so you can look over your shoulder that is very handy for sniping and having a better view in bunkers etc. Importantly all the avatars look excellent and are the best I have seen in an mmo.    
 
INTERFACE:  I really like the interface in TR. Push ‘ctrl’ and you get a radial menu that gives instant access to all areas. Inventory automatically separates your items into categories (no more shuffling your arrows into one bag and ore into another!). Better still you can access a merchant screen, character screen and inventory screen at the same time. This means you are able to see what you are using, what you have in your inventory and also what you want to buy. They make it easy to compare as it shows your equipped item and the item you are considering at the same time. With the amount of games and MMO’s out there today a sloppy interface is not acceptable and I am happy to say TR comes up trumps on this as well.
 
COMBAT:  What can I say? TR is the definition of combat and I feel that the designers put all their hard work into ensuring this core component of the game is exceptional and they are not too far off. Combat in TR flows smoothly and easily. You find yourself worrying about the next alien trying to rip your head off and not the controls. It is easy to swap between weapons, abilities and still control your avatar while under heavy fire. A lot of people complain that combat is too easy as you can autolock. I disagree. I never use autolock unless I have a specific target in a middle of a large group. The game is much better played by actually aiming. As stated yesterday there are big bonuses for crouching and gaining cover. Notably if you are getting hit and you run behind a tree you tend to get minimal or no damage so you won’t see any bullets doing a Kennedy and turning corners!
 
In summary the performance, interface and general gameplay is excellent. So far I have not found myself shaking my head at some illogical design and that is always a good sign. In all honesty I really can’t pick up one negative area of TR as far as the mechanics of the game go. It really is jump in and begin firing…Its as easy as that. 

Tomorrow I am going to talk about the environment, missions and playability of TR. I really wanted to give it a good go before doing so.

Day 3 review score - 84/100 (Game continues to deliver more than I expected.  The battles to defend or reclaim human bases have really made this game stand out for me and I hope there will be additonal content I have not seen or is coming that will keep me playing for many months.)

 

 

DAY 4 

(Playing time approximately 11-13 hours / level 11)

In danger of sounding like a fanboy I really want to put down what I love about the gameplay and what I don't like about it.  Here goes...

WHAT I LOVE AND HATE ABOUT TR

LOVE - Tabula Rasa has 'in my view' the potential to really be a massive success and although not challenging some of the giants such as WOW (sorry for using that word in this blog) it will definitely capture a mass audience that will remain for a considerable amount of time. Why? Because its different and there is no other game out there that really competes with it and for SCI-FI boys like me its our only release from Pippin and Frodo etc.  The game does not try and be everything to everyone (Vanguard anyone?) instead it focuses all its raw potential at combat and the battle environment you and your fellow players are raging in. Grinding, we all hate it and generally it stinks so much it can drive you to insanity.  In TR combat is so much fun you don't even realise you are completing missions.  Today I actually spent 2 hours smashing the hell out of the Bane while crouched behind sandbags on a hill side.  If you want to get up close and personal you can and with level 3 hand-2-hand you can do some serious damage.  Not to mention the very cool animation showing you kicking the guts out of a bane, seriously you do!  So there you have it in a nutshell, TR does what it says on the tin.  Want a SCI-FI that is gritty, fast paced and with multiple enemies dropping all around?  Fancy fighting off a horde of Bane on top of a rampart all the while sniping at long distances and then jumping off the wall to rifle butt a critter in the face. BOOM! TR is your game.

HATE - Ok hate is a pretty strong word but hey I am trying to be fair here.  As I don't really 'hate' anything about TR I am going to try and look at the game from a different view.  The game does not have a crafting system to speak of.  In fact its almost exactly the same as EVE Online.  Find or buy a Blue Print and you can make that item at any station for a cost as long as you have the parts.  Personally it fits into the fast paced side of the game but for the hard core crafters out there it just may not be enough.  Environment can also be an issue for players that... well...just want to be left alone sometimes.  I remember my days in Vanguard exploring rolling hills and deep forests and not really having too many issues.  Outside the 'small' bases you are literally a stone throw from a Bane wanting to share your liver with his kids.  Will this game have enough for the non SCI-FI fan?  Not sure...I can see a lot of people enjoying the combat for a week or two then hating the fact that there are no downtime moments with other players such as taverns, Crafting Station, merchants etc.   The game is a FPS with a great RPG element therefore I personally will continue to play EVE Online and possibly WAR when it comes out as I will utilise TR for my 'I want to shoot the s$%^ out of everything' mood. 

Day 4 review score - 85/100 (Today I managed to semi-complete an instance that gained me additional Logos.  Unfortunately the Mortar and a huge spider managed to make my life miserable.  This is important because the game does not fall over just so you can level.  I really had to work my butt off for it and you can definitely gain a sense of achievement.  Either way that Spider has my name written on its forehead...Enough writing now, back to TR.

 DAY 5-6?

Unfortunately a quite large disturbance known as work has finally beaten every minute of game time out of me and I could not log on to TR for a couple of nights.  I have however in that time convinced 2 colleagues to purchase the game and hopefully I will be able to experience some grouping which I will then discuss here over the weekend.    

Day 5-6 review score - 86/100 (So why have I added another point to my review score since I just stated that I haven't played since Day 4?  TR gets an additional point because all I want to do is log on and play the damn game.  So in my book that is worth at least 1 point!

 

 

DAY 7

For the past couple of days I have really focused on grouping with fellow players and completing every Instance on the starting map.  So far I can say the experience has been good.

INSTANCES AND GROUPING

 

INSTANCES

 

I for one never liked Instances as most other MMO’s I have played that contained them tended to have very little public space and personally I like to roam.  Fortunately TR does not have this problem and for those that are concerned don’t be.  TR has a huge public space where you complete most of your missions and defend or attack ‘Landing Zones’.  In the starter map there are approximately 3 instances and instead of them being a necessary burden they are immersive, roughly 45 minutes long, continue to develop the storyline and above all very different from each other.  It is obvious a lot of time and effort has been put into each Instance and it shows.  I have managed to almost complete one solo but I would suggest having at least one additional squadie.  One of my favourite Instances so far is when you have been given the task to find out why your allies have been turned into human killing zombies.  Upon entering an ‘Aliens’ like base you see the poor bastards being churned out on a production line.  Obviously you only do the right thing which is to blow most of them away and the machine that is creating them.  May they rest in peace…

 

GROUPING

 

Grouping is the main reason why I gave up on Vanguard since the game is too group heavy and when you mix that with a small population it allows two options, grinding skeletons or crafting and neither is that exciting after any amount of time.  That’s why for all upcoming games like TR, grouping has been my only real concern.   Thankfully the developers at TR have found a nice balance and created a game that by its very nature encourages players to group up at certain locations and work as a team even if your are not officially part of one (A key point I have suggested for Vanguard  in previous threads).  When I decided to embark on my first Instance I put a call out in the LFG channel and I found myself fighting alongside fellow players within a few minutes.  The population obviously has something to do with it but I believe there are some key points why it’s not a burden to find a group:

 

  • With only 3-4 instances in the 'current' map players are always seeking a group for similar missions.
  • Instances can take as little as 30-45 minutes so you will find more people willing to jump in and help out at short notice.  No planning in advance needed.
  • LFG channel is well used and easy to access.
  • No need for level barriers when grouping so you won’t find yourself kicked when a better Tank turns up.
  • With teleportation between Landing Zones all party members can get to the Instance within 5 minutes. 

For the healers out there TR does need you!  In 2 of the Instances our group would have taken heavy casualties if it wasn’t for the specialist repairing our shields and health. 

Day 7 review score - 86/100 (The developers at TR have really made an effort to make instances enjoyable and immersive.  Coupled with easy grouping and relatively short completion time TR has continued to draw me in and as a casual gamer (these days)it suits me perfectly.  Is TR big enough (yet) to be the 'only' game for a serious gamer?  I am not sure but as a big EVE Online fan it has turned out to be the perfect companion.