After the Tabula Rasa NDA was lifted, a number of people have written their views of the game as it is now. I would not say reviews, since it is still in beta and changes are still happening. Calling comments on beta reviews is a bit unfair at this point.
That being said, I have also played a bit in the Tabula Rasa beta – not as long as some people and I have not tested out all aspects of the game yet. Some aspects of the game may also change – there has certainly been some changes during the time I have beta tested it.
Overall, I like the game set-up. It is a SciFi themed environment where Earth is gone fater an alien invasion. The small remains of mankind that still remains and are able to fight have joined up with other alien, but friendly races to fight the bad guys. It is a refreshing change from the mostly fantasy-oriented MMOGs out there, although the setting is a bit niched. Far from everyone will enjoy running around as a soldier in a war that is constantly going on around you. While almost all MMOGs do have fighting as a major ingredient, the setting is usually not a literal war going at all times. Rather other MMOGs have worlds in which there are many small skirmishes happening among a number of other things.
For me this setting lends itself to a game that you should not spend long sessions and lots of hours in – perhaps 30 minutes to 2 hours at most in a session and not every day. I think this perfectly fine and I would suspect there will be more niched theme MMOGs coming out in the future. Adaptation for shorter play sessions and more niched themes is to me the path the MMOGs will have to go to attract a wider audience in total than today and Tabula Rasa seems to be going in that direction. This game itself will not attact a huge number of players, at least not a huge number that will spend a lot of time in the game.
Tabula Rasa’s character creation is a bit so and so to me. There is not a huge amount of options on outfits and characteristics. While I can understand that too many options on outfits would perhaps not work out so well with the military theme, a few more options for face and hair would have been nice. I am spoiled with the character creation in City of Heroes/Villains and the creation in Tabula Rasa pales in comparision. But frankly, it is just as bad as in most other MMOGs to me. It is possible to get characters that look cool/nice, even though the variations are limited.
Character management after creation has both its good and bad points. You can colour you armor/outfit, so you are not necessarily stuck with a particular look and there can still be some differentiation between players , which is a good point. The cloning mechanism is also excellent – if you want to make a new character one can clone an existing one and the character will start from the point of cloning and not from level 1 again. I just wonder why it took so many years for MMOG developers with this simple yet brilliant feature.
All clones/characters will share the same last name though – and this does not matter whether you have actually created a new character from scratch or whether they were cloned. There is both good and bad points about this. A good point is that it is easier to find your friends regardless of which character they are playing. I am not certain whether the last name will be globally unique or just for a specific server – there has only been one server for each region and I have only played on the Euro side. A good and bad thing is that you loose an anonymity option, you can be found if the last name is known. It is bad if you want to spend some time for yourself for a while, but good that griefers have less options to hide. I would have preferred the City of Heroes/Villains approach with a global handle which is completely separate from the character names. It is a bit better than not having any mechanism at all to tie characters together though.
All characters share the same footlocker in game, so one can easily pass equipment and money between characters. This is a very nice feature which one can see in Everquest 2 also and it only makes sense to have that in place with the cloning system.
The main activity you do in Tabula Rasa is fight. There is a war going on and one has to fight the main enemy, the Bane and its various troops. The critters in the environment can sometimes be hostile as well, but the major enemy is the Bane troops. Combat is fairly fluid, fastpaced and good fun.
The user interface mechanics are a bit different for target selection, although I do not think it is a huge difference compared to traditional MMOGs. The user interface is simplified a bit compared to traditional MMOGs with fewer skills and actions available though hotkeys – tactical decisions focus more on movement, positioning, type of weaponry and ammunition rather than a broad variation of skills/powers. I applaud that they try to clean up and simplify the interface and provide more space for viewing the game rather than the user interface on top of it.
Missions is one area where Richard Garriott has been talking about the differences that Tabula Rasa brings to the table, with the ethical parables – i.e. there may be multiple options to choose from at some point in a mission and the choices may have consequences further down the road. While there certainly are such missions and I have played some, that is not the bulk of the mission content, nor should it be. There are both good and bad missions and you can find the “kill 10 boars” types of quests as well – I really hope they keep these to a low amount and tie them in with a good storyline, which I do not think they have always done today. But the actual mission content seems to me that it is still in a bit of flux and the end result may perhaps be a bit different from what is in the game at the moment.
One type of mission that was recently introduced was “target of opportunity” missions – these are mission objectives that essentially may pop up at various points and which may earn you some titles/badges at least. This seems to be a bit similar to the badge mechanism in City of Heroes/Villains (or titles in EQ2 and deeds in LoTRO).
You improve your character with experience points, which you of couse obtain by killing mobs. Fast and furious killing is rewarded, the faster you kill mobs, the more experience points you get for each kill – up to 6 times the base experience. You also get more experience from doing a “finishing move” on a mob, when opportunity arises. This encourages “thinking on your feet” and also makes a voice communication option more interesting to have when grouping. As I undertand it that is a planned option in game and I think that will be an important part to have in the game.
Overall the environment I have seen, i.e. parts of the planet Foreas, are pretty nice. It does give a bit sense of exploration and wondering what is around the corner. I have not seen that many parts though, so I am not sure how much variation there actually is at the moment. I do not want to exploe to much though, since I prefer to do that after release and in conjunction the advancement of my real characters. Crafting is one area I have not tried yet, although that is on my to-do list.
I have not seen any mention of what business model NCSoft will be using for Tabula Rasa. Some people seem to have assumed that it will be a regular $15/month subscription model, but until I see an official statement on what options players will have for playing the game I am not assuming anything. In the long run I think the regular subscription model used for many other MMOGs in the Western hemisphere will not be the best option. As the MMOG genre develops, I think this will change in general as well.
To me Tabula Rasa share some similarities with The Agency from SOE. They both seem to be fastpaced and fairly simple-to-get-into games, aimed at providing some good fun in reasonably short time and with a bit of a niched theme. SOE has announced that The Agency will be free-to-play with microtransactions and I would not be surprised if Tabula Rasa goes with some similar model.
I have not really grouped in Tabula Rasa, not have joined a clan or managed a clan in the game. These are important parts which I have yet to say something about. Also, community aspects will also need some time to flesh out a bit, but is a vital part for the game. Most what I have seen so far is good enough for me to want to continue play the game. But longetivy for a game like this is about the people you play with and how group, clan and general community is handled is what I think can make or break long term committment to this game.
My favourite MMOG at the moment is City of Heroes/Villains, which is also the MMOG that I have played for the longest time, even though it is considered by some to be “shallow” and Tabula Rasa also gets such remarks. To me it is not the amount of features available in the game that makes or breaks the game, it is how well people interaction is supported throughout the game. It is the people that makes the game in the long run and without that no game will hold interest for particularly long.
When the game is released I will buy it, got the pre-order bonus pack already and will get the rest later. I think the game shows some promise and some good fun and it will be added as another MMOG title to play – not replacing any old titles though.