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Destination Games
MMORPG | Setting:Sci-Fi | Status:Cancelled  (est.rel 11/02/07)  | Pub:NCSoft
PVP:Yes | Distribution:Retail | Retail Price:n/a | Pay Type:Subscription
System Req: PC | ESRB:TOut of date info? Let us know!

Review Part One - Levels 1 - 25

By Laura Genender on December 05, 2007 | General Articles | Comments

Review Part One - Levels 1 - 25

Overall Impressions

It’s hard to put a flat rating on the overall value of Tabula Rasa. As a casual player, this game will hold a lot of fun missions and gameplay for you; it’s both challenging and accessible, with easy to form groups and easy to solo content.

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For the hardcore gamer crowd, though, this game is going to give a rather lackluster experience. There’s no much to do in the high-end, and the closer you get to max level the less polish there is on the gameplay. Don’t give up hope yet – the control point system holds a ton of possibility if they ever add clan-controlled control points, and we never know what will be added in the upcoming updates.

Gameplay

Since my First Look article, the game has lived up to my standards of “fun” though the polish is slowly peeling away as I march through the levels. Levels 1 through 15 were smooth and enjoyable, with one minor bug in a small, unimportant mission. My entire time spent on Concordia Wilderness (the starting map) was a blast.

Things changed, though once I left Wilderness and entered Concordia Divide/Palisades. It almost feels like they rushed the game out after polishing the first map, with intentions of catching up after launch. There were/are issues with control points not triggering correctly, missions with broken steps, and bosses not spawning. A lot of the issues – especially those on Divide – were fixed with the last patch, and I’m sure the Palisades bugs will be next. The good news is, the bugs are getting fixed quickly and developers are listening to what bugs are high priority to the players. The customer service team is also on top of things, and will fix missed flags/bugged missions for you if you petition. If you’re a casual player you should be fine to start Tabula Rasa today; if you’re a hardcore leveler, expect to outpace the fixes and content quickly.

Other than the bugginess, the majority of gameplay is engaging and exciting. Control Points, especially, are absolutely fantastic. It’s hard not to feel invested and immersed when you see that red flag glaring at you off your map, and you know those damned Bane just took over River-base Krimm. Even if you don’t need the attack tokens, it’s hard to resist haring off to retake the Bane base.

Defense is just as fun; the Bane come in three waves of increasing strength, starting with a couple of drop ships and ending with a massive influx of attackers. Base defense is a bit unbalanced now, favoring shotgun hit-and-run techniques, but once the shields are down everything’s fair play. In general it takes 4 to 5 skilled players of even-con to successfully attack or defend a base, but I’ve enjoyed Control Point gameplay whether flying solo or with a large group.

Instances so far have been a bit less exciting – while they’re a great change in pace from “kill 10 of this, bring me 5 of that” they’re fairly uneventful. Most MMOs have used instances as a tool for storytelling, where players can have a persistent and eventful effect on the world since – well – they’re the only ones who see it. In TR, instances feel severely underutilized. I’ve yet to do anything groundbreaking or important, and the largest “effect” I’ve had in an instance is that it doesn’t respawn or something new spawns.

I’ve also had instances that are just obviously badly designed. I spent over an hour this past weekend in the Treeback Camp instance in Palisades before I quit out in disgust.

The first mission in this instance worked fine for me – I had to go in and shut down some machinery. To do this, I had to clear my way past a bunch of nasty Bane, including a daunting boss and his Technician minions. Once I finished this I ran back to the AFS camp and received my next mission – to kill the Bane boss I’d already killed. Who didn’t respawn. And even though I’d killed him, I didn’t get any credit. To finish this instance, I needed to restart – and instead of doing that, I just left to play something else.

The best instance I’ve run (so far) was Eloh Vale on Concordia Palisades. I won’t give any spoilers but if you’re a TR player, make sure you run it and relish it. It’s the best instance in the first three maps.

Enough about missions and maps – let’s talk characters. All players start as recruits, then at level 5 choose between the Soldier or Specialist line. At 15, you get another class choice: Soldiers can become the heavy weapon/armor wielding Commando or the fast and stealthy Ranger; Specialists choose between the Sapper specializing in robotics and shields, or the Biotechnician specializing in biologicals. Players receive another class transfer at level 30, further specializing their skills and abilities.

While I’ve grouped some with the other classes, my specialty is with my own class: the Sapper. There are certainly some balance issues – the Hack skill isn’t working correctly, the Rangers are dominating Control Points with Carpet Bombing, etc – but overall I think the classes have enormous potential for fun and engaging gameplay. I love having my healing and repair tools, and being able to hack robotics, but I also wish I could use chainguns and graviton armor. Every single class has something I envy and something I wouldn’t want to give up.

And in Tabula Rasa, it’s easy to play them all. At levels 4, 14 and 29, and as rewards for certain missions, players are able to “clone” their character. The clone has the same amount of EXP, the same flags, and the same class, but all of their skill points are unspent and you can redo their appearance/first name. If I wanted to go back and try a Biotechnician, I wouldn’t have to reroll from level 1- I just load up my level 14 clone and select the other class. With the clone system, you can experience different playstyles without completely repeating the game.

Mixing class-specific skills and abilities with the standard firearms that all players use from Recruit onward, TR combat is nothing short of fun and engaging. It’s the fast pace of a shooter – with a lot of action and motion going on at all times – but without the need for twitchy reflexes or perfect aim. Battlefields feel realistic and dynamic, with separate NPC factions all pursuing their own goals. AFS patrols will attack Bane and other hostiles; Bane will go after Xanx; Treelurkers will go after Boargar. There’s always something going on, and some way you can interact with and effect it, whether it’s helping the AFS with heals or added DPS, killing the Xanx then turning on the Bane (the enemy of my enemy is not my friend!), or however you choose.

For anyone who’s wondering – crafting is still a snooze. See the First Look for a complete description of the entire system in about one paragraph.

Performance

My Tabula Rasa experience has been technologically near-flawless. In my month+ of playing, I have had one crash – no weird lag, connection issues, or server issues. Going off of personal experience, I’d have to give this a 10/10.

That being said, I’ve seen plenty of complaints on our forums and other areas, and I’ve had several friends discuss zone-specific lag or inexplicable connection issues. I’m not sure why I’ve had such a different experience from other players – or if the issues I’ve heard about are just vocal minority.

Graphics, Art and Sound

At first, I disliked the Tabula Rasa art style. Set in a post-apocalyptic alien world, it’s more about being functional than being pretty – and it’s often about being half wrecked and covered with Bane infestation. Character creation feels very limited, especially for the females. There are no long hair or feminine outfit choices, and a lot of the pieces are a punky sort of ugly.

But after cranking up the graphics (which are rather clean), the world has started to grow on me. The integration of native landscape with destroyed wreckage actually creates an attachment to the world, and I’m angry at the Bane for ruining the obvious beauty and peace that once was. Around settlements and Logos points you can still find curling vegetation and exotic flowers. Out on the battlefield, it’s nothing but dust and shrapnel.

The music is upbeat and one of the few game tracks I didn’t turn off in the first 30 minutes of gameplay. The deviation from average_classical_fantasy_score_001 is refreshing, but that’s to be expected in the post-apocalyptic setting. It’s neither intrusive or genius, and does a good job of fading in and out of the game world.

Community

While I left the music on, General chat was quickly turned off. The single, small box was nonstop ticker-tape of WoW comments, deviating so far as to say “WoW rocks” or “WoW sucks” at least three times in any ten minute timespan. The few people I grouped with seemed cool, quiet, and competent so the General spam can likely be attributed to a very vocal minority. Another added benefit of the mostly soloable content is that you mostly avoid the community if that’s what you want.

Contributing to the community deficit is, assuredly, the clunky UI. It is impossible to shoot your gun, guide your character, or do much of anything in-game while you’re in chat mode. In a world where combat never ends, not even in outposts, there’s just no time or reason to endanger your life with text. Integrated voice chat makes grouping a little easier, but the game’s really screaming for an FPSish hotkey system, with simple keybinds like “Come here!” or “I need shield repair!”

Ethical Parables

The following paragraphs were originally included in the “gameplay” section, but I figured some of you readers might not find this as interesting as I did. Suffice it to say that, if you’re not into roleplaying and storyline, this section is probably safe to skip.

Both inside and outside of instances, players will run into missions that the developers refer to as “ethic parables.” While I haven’t met many TR roleplayers, this has been great for me and the personal development of my character; I’ve mostly chosen a sort of Chaotic-Good personality, where I do the right thing whether or not it pleases the AFS.

These choices normally don’t have much of an actual effect; there are a few differences in reward choices, which missions you get offered after the “ethic parable” mission, etc. What is noteworthy is that these missions actually stand out, and are memorable events for me.

The early drug runner mission has been used as a Tabula Rasa “ethical parable” example plenty of times, so let me give a different one! On the Palisades map, my mission. An Unexpected Test, sent me out to find a squad of lost Foreans in the Deadwoods. I found the squad close to the mission giver, but there was still one squad member missing – a young Forean named Sohrani. They told me that Sohrani had run off toward the caves, and asked me to go find him.

Sure enough, I found Sohrani in the indicated caves. I talked to him and he gave me his Honor Band, explaining that he had run away in fear and was too ashamed to return. He asked me to tell his family that he had died, so that he would not have to return in shame.

I returned to the Foreans, who of course asked me where Sohrani was. I could either tell them the truth, or give them his Honor Band as he requested and let them think him honorably dead. I thought Sohrani was pretty cowardly, though, so I told him where he was holed up, thinking they’d go fetch him.

Instead, they basically blacklisted the poor guy, saying that he brought shame and dishonor down on his entire family. While this little soap opera has little bearing on gameplay, it’s something I remember and have a personal investment in. I actually feel pretty bad for ratting Sohrani out, with the way the Foreans overreacted.

 

Pros Cons
    Attentive customer service
  • Interesting and innovative combat
  • AWESOME fun defending and attacking Control Points
  • Smooth game performance
  • Attentive customer service
  • Fresh art style and music
  • Easy to group OR solo
  • Boring crafting system
  • Bugs and mission design issues
  • Clunky UI
  • Lackluster community, but no real need to interact with others anyway!