Imagine if you were sitting at home, minding your own business watching reality tv, and a honking great spaceship crashed through your roof. Now imagine that you managed to escape the devastation and the relentless onslaught of alien troops to be evacuated from Earth and conscripted into a new military force to fight this enemy across countless worlds.
Welcome to Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa.
I purchased the preorder on Friday evening and then spent the next couple of hours doing the download and install. Unfortunately, the available beta times don’t really work well for us Aussies. Our weeknights don’t fall into the available times. However, the beta servers are open all weekend US time. That meant up early Saturday morning, ready for enlistment and training and to kick some Bane backside.
I’ll note at this point that I just want to give my first impressions of Tabula Rasa in this post. I don’t think it’s fair to give a review, or even a preview since I haven’t played enough to see all that it has, or doesn’t have to offer.
I did enjoy the time I spent playing over the weekend. I created a character called John Stropp. When you create your first character, you pick a surname and a first name. The surname will then be used for all the characters you create on that account. The character creator is fairly flexible, but is still limited. It’s nothing like NCSoft’s stellar character creator in City of Heroes/Villians. I ended up created a fairly tall guy with dirty blond hair, a handle bar moustache and sunnies who looked a little like a 70’s pornstar. Play that funky guitar riff!
Once I created my pornstar character, I was dropped into the tutorial. It’s pretty basic as tutorials go, and is mission based in your own instance much like COHV and LotRO. I was instructed in the use of the UI and weapons. I was also given my first taste of Logos which was a energy attack.
There is also the need to pick the right weapon for the right opponent. Some of the enemies are immune to physical attacks but will get taken down easily by an energy weapon, while others are immune to energy weapons. This will probably mean that players will need to keep a reasonable stock of weapons in their backpack for the right occasion. I like this, it reminds me of Asheron’s Call where players needed the right combo of weapons and armor to be effective. Lugians if I remember, were highly vulnerable to electical weapons.
Weapons come in four types. Projectile, energy, canister, and rockets. I haven’t picked up any canister or rocket weapons yet, but I’m finding the projectile and energy weapons suitable for nearly everything I’ve encountered. There are pistols, rifles, shotguns and chainguns, at least that’s what I’ve picked up so far. I find I need to switch fairly often. As I said above, the right weapon for the right opponent.
The environment was well done. The first major area is called Wilderness, and it’s pretty much a forested area with rivers and waterfalls. Again, I have a low end video card, so I didn’t see the game in high detail mode, but the graphics are still very nice. I’m seriously considering a new video card just so I can see these games in all their glory. I didn’t notice any major graphical bugs.
The missions and NPCs seem to be reasonably well thought out. What I saw was pretty much standard fare for the MMO genre. There seems to be a decent number of missions to do, and it looks like the missions will take a player through the levels required to get to the next area. Speaking of which, the wilderness area is pretty big. It will take a while to get through.
The main enemy is a species called the Bane. It’s probably more correct to say that the Bane are made up of multiple species. It reminded me a lot of the enemies in games like Unreal 1 and Halo. So far, I haven’t had much trouble with any of them except for the bosses. By crouching and using cover, my attacks were more effective. The enemy AI is pretty standard, that is to say dumb. I did notice from time to time that they tried to outflank me, but it didn’t make that much difference.
My benchmark for game betas is Lord of the Rings Online. Say what you will about lack of content at the high end for LotRO, it was one of the smoothest betas I’ve ever seen. When Lord of the Rings Online was released, it was ready to be released.
Vanguard: Saga of Heroes on the other hand was released way too early. It was full of bugs, unpolished, and really needed six to twelve more months of development. The Vanguard developers didn’t listen to their beta testers.
First of all let me say that I like this game. I had fun playing it, even when things didn’t really work perfectly.
It’s also a beta, and yes there are bugs. Nothing spectacularly show stopping mind you. Most of the issues I had were with getting stuck in the terrain, a few invisible walls where there shouldn’t be, and some slight targeting problems. In fact, the issues were really to do with lack of polish. I did hear some beta testers talking about unfinished missions, which may be why I couldn’t complete one or two of the missions I did. On the other hand, I might simply have just not found what I was looking for.
As I said earlier, it’s too early to really make a judgement about Tabula Rasa. However, I’ve read a number of commentors say that they think that the game is a bit thin. Sadly, I think I have to agree.
The problem I think is that the gameplay will turn out to be fairly one dimensional. There seems to be only one real style of play, and that is using guns with some Logos action in the mix. Games like WoW, LotRO, and the like have a number of classes which allow a player to mix it up. Mages can be Frost, Fire or Arcane. There are Tanks, Rogues, Hunters with lots of variations. Tabula Rasa does allow specialisation of your character into a Guardian, Ranger, Demolitionist, Medic and the like later in the game, so it’s hard to say for certainty on this, but I’m not sure it will really make all that much of difference to mix up the gameplay.
Overall, Tabula Rasa is way closer to LotRO on the scale than it is to VG:SOH. However, that is not to say that it is ready. The game is scheduled to be released on October the 19th which is less than a month away. I think it’s too soon.
The impression that I got after a weekend in the beta is that there is probably at least three months necessary to polish up the game. Unfortunately that will push the release out to January/February when every other MMO is set to release. I’m not sure TR can stand up to Warhammer, Age of Conan, or the Wrath of the Lich King.
Will I buy Tabula Rasa? I’m not sure at this stage. I had fun this weekend, and it has science fiction, lots of guns, evil aliens, and tons of potential. Is that enough?