Like a clean tablet on which nothing is written.
I have long been fascinated by MMOs. I continue to play them, though I think they are a form of brainwashing or maybe some sort of neural parasite. To date, my favorite MMO has been City of Heroes, and here's the big clincher that will probably tell you whether my opinion is meaningless or not, I hate World of Warcraft. I don't mean that I didn't enjoy playing it - just that I thought gnawing my leg off would be a better way to spend my time. In comparison, City of Heroes engenders no desire in me for appendage chewing. So, how does Tabula Rasa stack up? I ended up wanting to gnaw off only a toe or two, probably one on both feet. You know, to balance things out.
[image1]With a name like Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa, written by Richard Garriott, directed by Richard Garriott, and made by Richard Garriott Productions, you expect a fresh new look on MMOs. In terms of story and writing, Tabula Rasa gets off to a very slow start. The plot does begin to pick up, but the way it’s presented is very wooden, especially where it concerns symbols of magic which look like logos of corporate sponsorsh… I mean, runic glyphs from ancient folklore. An ancient race of aliens seeds worlds across the galaxy with these symbols of magic that certain special humans (read: every player) can make use of. They have left statues around to explain everything, which wrings out, well, the magic of the plot. There’s no wonder, no mystery, no excitement – just a few bland speeches. Tabula Rasa manages to take a premise as interesting as unraveling the mysteries of an extinct alien race and make it rote and boring. It's pretty depressing.
The basic structure of an MMO is to drape a simplified RPG system on top of a real-time yet curiously turn-based combat system, with some side-shows like crafting and god-awful amounts of crank-turning. I assumed that Tabula Rasa would be a low-grind, action-oriented game encompassed by a sweet candy shell. Or at least an RPG system of some depth beyond “this stat makes you punch harder”.
Tabula Rasa manages to get some of this right, while utterly failing in other respects. Tabula Rasa has solid action gameplay, with a lot of jumping and running about while shooting your guns wildly. It's a lot of fun for a while – then you'll begin to notice that aiming actually isn't important, as every shot is determined by an underlying dice roll, and all the mouse action is about as irrelevant as the electoral college. Not having to aim and not being punished for moving is nice and all, but they don't actually change much. You can do much the same in World of Warcraft and City of Heroes.
For cracker and mustard quests, Tabula Rasa takes after World of Warcraft, allowing players to accept all kinds of missions. I typically had around seven things to do as I ran about shotgunning the helpless forest creatures, invading aliens, shotgunning more helpless forest creatures, and invading more aliens. I also frequently collected organs from these helpless forest creatures for scientific research, cooking, and general euthanasia. Ah, nothing like a forest creeper filet topped with alpha-male Concordian rabbit paste.
[image2]When you've had sufficient fun slaughtering a dozen porn golems and delivering another IOU, you'll probably start looking into larger, team-oriented tasks. Tabula Rasa comes with some excellent instances, or "excuses for not dealing with all those spawn-camping jerks". I like instances – partially due to my raging misanthropy, and partially due to the average MMO player's aggressive misanthropies. On that note, Tabula Rasa has, thus far, attracted a surprisingly mature audience. You likely won’t be accused of homosexuality simply for walking through town to sell the spoils of your daily grind.
The whole process is reasonably well-managed. A solid user interface, essentially ripped straight from World of Warcraft but given a silver coat of paint, allows for fairly easy command. The number of widgets is a little overwhelming at first. There are gauges, floating indicator icons, radial menus, constant streams of text, and toolbars all over the place. Fortunately, a lot of it can be ignored, and you can carry on gleefully stomping on the heads of dumb animals and aliens.
One of the best features, however, is how characters grow. Unlike just about every MMO in existence, every character starts the same and grows to assume different roles. At level five, characters choose to go down one of two routes; specialist or soldier. At levels fifteen and thirty, these roles split up again, lending a refreshing and more organic progression than that of most MMOs.
[image3]Complementing this is the clone system, which makes going down alternate character paths quick and painless. Kick some ass, earn some clone points, and you can duplicate your character at any level he's thus far attained, making it easy to take your character down an alternate path, whether to correct a mistake or just to see the other side of the fence. It definitely, makes the usual level grind easier to swallow. It also means Dolly has competition, baa!
How does Tabula Rasa stack up? Well, all things considered, the slate is not blank at all. It is still very much an MMO, despite it wearing some action game skin and howling at the moon an awful lot. Tabula Rasa is, however, a slightly better than average example of the MMO's out there, and brings a lot of the breadth of play from World of Warcraft along with some gameplay that is similar to City of Heroes. Despite my general disdain for chewing on my feet, I have to give this game two detached toes up.