Brackish Waters

how my gaming and life coalesce.

A clean look at Tabula Rasa

TR_logoLast Friday I received my invitation to join the large number of players who are currently testing the new MMO Tabula Rasa. I had been following this game for some time because I got my first taste of gaming with FPS games and the thought of a good FPS-MMO would make my world complete. I occasionally find myself leaving MMORPGs for a spell to get my FPS fix because its just something that an RPG cannot provide: that rush and excitement of battle, the speed and exhiliration of war that I hope I never see in reality but my inner animal craves. What I had hoped Tabula Rasa would be is a great pairing of the systems I have come to love and become a game I would spend a lot of my future gaming with.

This is partially a submission I posted in the forums and also a bit of a review on the individual systems of the game. I hope that this gives those of you who are considering the game a small outlook of its current state and enough information to make a decision on whether to pickup this title on release. As with every MMO, its constantly changing and what I am currently playing will not actually be the form on release day.

Character Creation
There are a couple of issues I have with the character creation system in TR but overall it is on par with what you would expect from playing World of Warcraft: set models with limited customization. My initial observation when looking at the screen was that it was just too dark. This is echoed by the guys over at F13 and I was kinda hoping they were wrong. I had difficulty seeing how my changes were taking affect because of this limited light and the fact that the model kept moving. There were some basic customizations like color of hair and styles applied to the model like glasses and adornments, but overall the majority of the character creation process applied to a section that was completely useless. You had the option to customize your armor from a variety of sets and color selections. Whats a real shame is that this armor gets replaced almost instantaneously in game.

Why not take the time to give the player a chance to add certain elements such as a biography or background for their character? Give them maybe a choice to add a location of where on Earth they came from and maybe their previous professions, you know, a little RP section. Add something to give the player enough time to bond with their avatar.

Video Options

The options available to you are also equivalent to something like WoW when it first released. Limited to specific aspects of the game that could help the player make a definite impact on performance but not nearly enough to appeal to the core players who like to tweak everything. There are universal settings in a profile-like section to quickly jump from one type of look to another but overall the section is smaller than those who are used to options from Vanguard or EQ2.

One of the most frequent questions I get when I talk about TR is if the game is in First Person. No. There is no option that I could find that offers this perspective but they do offer a close over-the-shoulder view that kind of made me sick. If you are hardcore into the first person camera, you can try this but I would recommend the default view. There is a lot going on around you and even in this pulled back interface it can be hard to catch it all.

TR_3rdPerson

Good luck running straight. I found this view worked best when crouched behind objects or doing some crazy strafing. Your results may vary.

User Interface
The interface has some good and somewhat questionable elements to it. The quest tracker system is very good and I like that I can keep any number of objectives that I want on the screen. This is something I felt is lacking in EQ2 and a couple of other games especially because so many of these are focused on quest based character advancement.

TR_Hotbars

The hotbar is split in two parts, one for your left mouse button and the other for your right mouse button. Only one ability is mapped to these mouse clicks at a time and you simply use your 1 – 0 keys to cycle between which you are using. I think this is pretty efficient and offers me plenty of flexibility before and during battles. If there was anything I could add to this element of the UI, I would add the option for an additional bank of keys accessed via Shift keys and that they were always shown. As I see it now, you can switch quickly between banks, but only one is ever in  constant view.

There is one function of the interface that I did not like and its something I hope is added in the future. The fact that the interface is fixed and no option is available for the player to move anything around to suit the players preference is not something I understand. While this may be in place to allow the game to introduce you to the new elements the UI, it is something that will need to be added in the future. More freedom please, your players will thank you for it.

EnvironmentTR_MotherShip
The environment in this game is excellent. The structures are fitting to the setting and they look great. It may be my system or the settings I was running the game at, but the actual flora in the game seemed to be lacking compared to the structures. Again, I think this was my settings. One of the best views in this game is the sky.

It took me about 3 hours into the game before I actually took a second to look around at everything that was going on but I was pleasantly surprised to see the beauty in it. There is a large moon or planet which I think is called Areki orbiting the world I am on and a LARGE Bane ship right above me. It was pretty cool to see the ships arriving and departing from the mother ship and then seeing those ships drop off new Bane on the planet. Highly immersible environment.

Controls
The controls I chose to use were the FPS controls of WSAD and everything else was pretty familiar. I found little issues here with the exception of the ability to crouch behind elements in the world to prevent your character from taking more damage. This aspect of “finding cover” is very fun to play with but I think the indicator needs to be refined. As it is now, the only way you know if you are adequately covered by the object you are hiding behind is if the mob you are targeting fires at you. This then adds a small yellow icon near the muzzle fire of their weapon and unfortunately only applies to the person you have targeted. The issue with this is that you constantly have 2 to 3 targets engaged and it would be more beneficial to know if you were adequately covered from all targets.

Flanking mobs adds so much to this element of the game that you are constantly moving and repositioning. Maybe if they just add the indicator to all mobs, not just the ones who you have targeted.  Maybe it would work better if it was shown on your character rather than the mob.  I’m not sure but I had a weird time with this and also my character would spout out “I can’t see the target” from time to time even though I was making some clear hits to it.  The “first person” view really comes through here when you are hiding and I highly recommend trying this if you are having trouble.

Game Play
The first part about game play that is integral to this game is the method of combat.

Shoot em up and kill em dead kid.

- Weapons
The weapons I tried came in a couple different damage types: Physical, Laser, Energy, and Biological. There were definitely more here to try and some of them, especially the melee weapons, looked fun. Everything uses ammo from what I could tell and its not that expensive to maintain your cache once you ding above level 6. Even the heavy repeating weapons were not that hard to keep filled once I hit level 10. The most notable thing about using the weapons in battle was that each had their own damage type and the mobs you were fighting had resists that would often force you to change guns mid battle. The UI is friendly in this aspect and I found it to be perfect for all encounters.

- Quests
Quests are not the backbone of advancement in TR but they definitely have their benefits. All of my health packs have come from quests and I have yet to run out of some of the fun items like sonic grenades and EMP bombs because there are so many quests that have these as rewards. One of the best things about quests is the map locations. You immediately know the approximate location to look for the quest update and I find this to be perfect for the game. In any other setting I would call this an immersion breaker.

I did experience a couple of the “ethical” quests where you have a choice on which way to go and I think they were well written. I’m not sure of the impact they had on my character when I made the choices I did, but I like the fact that the options were there and the reading was good.

- Inventory
Some of the good things about the quest system TR_Inventoryin TR is that items needed by the quest giver automatically go to a specific section of your inventory. This prevents you from accidentally selling the item to a vendor or having to worry about moving it around a hundred times. Also on that note, I have yet to run out of inventory space at level 13. There is plenty of room and multiple sections where loot automatically gets divided when you pick it up from a mob. I shouldn’t really say pickup, because although the option is there for the traditional loot right click, its not needed. A threshold setting in the game play options allows you to simply run over the mob you just killed to pickup everything available. I liked this a lot and it kept my bloodlust at a nice peak during battles.

- Experience
The experience gain seemed adequate and I had very few quests that I found myself out leveling. This probably had something to do with the journal where all of my quests are located having little information in regards to difficulty. I had no idea during every encounter if I needed to bring someone along or if I was doing something trivial and would receive no experience.

- Travel
The initial zone I came into after the introduction area is fairly large. It took me about 10-15 minutes to run across the entire region and from what I could tell, it held about 5 different instances. The game moves you around the map through large Star-Trek like transporters. You simply need to visit one before you will be able to transport there in the future. Pretty basic but useful enough that I didn’t find myself bored from running too far. Though, you really don’t have a chance to run far by yourself. Bane are dropped in at almost every 30 seconds and the zone is almost never quiet. Even when I thought I had found a nice valley to afk in for a few minutes the Bane managed to drop in 30 feet in front of me.

- Instances
The instances that I did get a chance to go into were well done and had an interesting movie about the region while you were loading in. There were multiple objectives in both of the areas I visited and some were given in the instance while the others were simply Logos locations I had picked up at a couple of the bases. These you do have to search for in the instance and no location is given. I spent some time grouped with another player and after about 2 hours we managed to finish both the instance and find all of the Logos locations.

- Voice Chat
TR does have an integrated voice chat and I thought it worked well. There were some drops in quality at times but I have no way to know if this was something on my end or the system itself. There is also an icon on the group window that tells you which of the players are currently talking. Pretty basic but it gets the job done and eliminates one barrier to communication for players.

Character Progression
TR handles character progression through a profession tree that starts everyone in the same place as a grunt soldier and then moves them along to a refined version of that soldier. I hear a lot of gripes about the limited differences between the “classes” offered by TR and to be honest I have yet to experience all of them. What I did find is that the cloning function in the game is not actually “in the game”.

The clone system is given to players to allow them to save their progress with their current character by creating a new character at the same skill placement as the current one being cloned. What I find weird about this system is that you have to logout to the Character Select screen in order to do this. Did they not want to spend the time to place new structures or terminals in the game to provide a backstory for this system?

I hope to explore more of the differences between the classes later and find out if this really is a place for those looking for game play for their own Holy Trinity.

Bottom Line
After playing TR in its current format for 14 hours I should be able to say if the game is good enough for me to consider buying it on release. This is because we are pretty close to the release date and it should be in the form that they want to put it out to the public. During the hours I spent testing I ran into very few bugs and only found 5 that I reported. This is pretty good as they were basic bugs like descriptions and some map updates that were broken on the newest patch.

The game is highly playable and has little issues on my system which is about par or just below that of the average user. (ATI X800, 2.8 P4, 2g ram) What level I did play to, the game had ample amount of quests and an indication of where I could go next. The world itself is full of battles at constantly changing outposts and takes place over an very large and immersive world. How can a player such as myself not like this game?

I can’t, its too fun! The game’s fast combat and compounding experience are too satisfying for the grinding demon inside me. I like camping at times in MMOs and TR gives me just enough fun with its interactive environment to find a place I like and just hop around waiting for the sound of the next dropship of Bane fodder landing. Can this game keep me entertained to level cap? Probably not, but I never expected it to. TR to me is a game that fills a fix I constantly have in the back of my head that traditional MMORPGs just cannot satisfy. I truly wish that there was an alternate option for subscription or MT sales as I would be more than willing to say I would commit for the year ahead. As I see it now I plan on playing it for the free month that the game comes with and then reevaluating my subscription after 30 days. I like the game a lot, its just that saving the human race for the next six months is not worth the wife aggro.

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October 22, 2007 - Posted by | Reviews, Tabula Rasa

4 Comments »

  1. TR is definitely something different. I mean good different. I was in the earlier betas and I certainly enjoyed. Only complaint I had was I didn’t feel the bane tried hard enough to take over bases. Hopefully they fixed that.
    OH and the spandex armor.
    But other then that it was good plain fun.

    Great article Brack.

    Comment by hailin | October 23, 2007 | Reply

  2. I can relate with you Hailin on the puny Bane assaults. The good news is that this has been fixed with the later stages of beta. The Bane now drop in what is likely close to 10 drop ships worth of forces. These strike forces are lead by an officer unit and are comprised of a wide variety of Bane units, most of which are stronger than the standard foes of that region.

    The old assaults could be easily handled by the AFS NPC guards. The new assaults WILL overrun the NPCs and win if players don’t back them up.

    This leads to the fights feeling more real. You get reminded that you are in the middle of a war and that the Bane are serious about taking over. I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy fighting off the new Bane assaults when they occur, even if I’m just turning a quest in at the time or running by.

    As a side note, you now get special Attack / Defense tokens when capturing a Bane controlled base or repelling an assault, respectively. I was unable to determine exactly what the reward for collecting these tokens was, because the quest reward window for them was bugged at the time and not displaying properly. But nice to know its not a pointless back and forth fight.

    Comment by Galaji | October 23, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hmm Thanks for the extra info Galaji. This will definitely put TR back on my list for awesome MMO’s coming out.

    Comment by hailin | October 24, 2007 | Reply

  4. Thats true Galaji, I remember seeing a couple of named bane soldiers running around that were surrounded by a bunch of the grunts. These encounters took a lot longer to get through but it was awesome to see support from NPC come in on their own dropships as well!

    I bugged those tokens when I saw them and didnt get a chance to finish those quests unfortunately. It seems every base has the option for those rewards so I wonder what they are really supposed to do.

    In the first zone I was in, I saw atleast two bases overun by Bane during my 15 hours in that area. Its definitely a battlefront and a changing one at that.

    Comment by brackishwater | October 25, 2007 | Reply


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