My Tabula Rasa Review with at least a paragraph for 12 different aspects of the game.
Backstory/Lore/Story: A killer opening cinematic sets up the backstory about alien Bane invading present day (or maybe near future) Earth and people able to fight back being evacuated off planet with secret alien technology previously recovered from somewhere and developed in Area 51. We’re not told what happened to the people stuck back on Earth. This small force of people desperately fighting aliens reminds me (in a good way) of Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Aliens, Stargate, and the new Battlestar Galactica. Deeper parts of the story are revealed by chatter from npcs, Quest storylines and videos at the beginning of some Instances. Very engrossing so far and free from confusing multiple storylines from previous games like in WoW.
Questing: Mostly typical World of Warcraft style quests: Kill X numbers of monsters, Collect X number of things, Find X, Escort X to somewhere. But you also get some new ones like Defend or Attack a base since the Bane can attack and take over bases. A few quests give you an “ethical parable” and the choice of two different options to complete the mission. Choosing a different option may mean different outcomes later but I’m not sure how meaningful these quests are yet. The quests don’t have any indication of how hard they may be or if you need a group but at least up to level 16 you can solo most things if you want, although there are a few boss killing quests that pretty much require grouping. Most quests give you a marker on the map where you can complete them and a waypoint with the direction to get there and you can turn the marker on and off, which is neat and should save a good bit of consulting reference websites. Also there are multiple instances of each zone on each server, so if you find the game overcrowded or you want to find a base that is under Bane attack, you can switch to a less crowded instance zone. This does lead to people having to port to different instance zones to group up, but I haven't found that to be a big deal so far. So far there are 7 instances of the starting zone (Wilderness) and 4 instances of the second zone (Divide).
Level System: You can advance up to level 50. It goes pretty quickly up to level 10 and then you notice its starts taking a little longer each time to reach the next level, which is what WoW did and is fine with me. You get new Attribute and Skill points to spend each level but you don’t have to pay for training or even visit a trainer until you hit levels 5, 15, and 30. At those levels you get to make a choice about the specialization of your character. Everyone starts off as a Recruit and then at level 5 you chose between Soldier or Specialist and at level 15 you make another choice between two class and you make a final choice at level 30 for one of the eight end level classes. Soldier leads to classes such as Guardian (tanks), Sniper (hunters), and Spy (rogues) and Specialist leads to classes like Medic (Priests), Engineer (Pallys with the transport ability of Mages), and Exobiologist (Warlock/Necromancer). Before each career choice, you get the opportunity to make a clone of yourself. That way you can pursue a different class or the same character with a different build of skill points (you can't change your Attributes after cloning). And you don’t have to level up a new character from scratch to do it. All of your clones share the same last name so people can identify you. You get to chose a new first name and appearance/gender for each new clone and your clones can make clones too at levels 5,15, and 30 and as a rewards for completing the big "Targets of Opportunity" questline in each zone. Apparently you won't ever be able to re-distribute your skill points once they are set, but since you can earn multiple clone credits for each end level character, they should serve the same function as a re-redistribution.
Transportation: There are plans to introduce some kind of vehicles in the game (garages are already in place) at a later date, but right now you run or teleport everywhere. The first two maps aren’t terribly big, so running isn’t that bad and you can train in a sprint ability which makes you run faster using Adrenaline gained from fighting, but some character abilities need that Adrenaline for fighting moves. The first two maps have at least six bases or outposts with teleporters, but you have to run to that base the first time in order to be able to teleport to it later. Teleoporters save a lot of time turning quests in. Also after level 30, Engineers can train in a field teleportation ability to transport themselves and others to bases.
Death and Healing and Repair: You have Armor and Health to protect you from death. Once you Armor is gone, your Health usually goes pretty fast, but Armor lasts awhile (at least up to level 16). Your Health and Armor do regen pretty fast, even during combat. So far it takes at least 3 or 4 normal enemies within 2 or 3 levels of you or some kind of boss to kill you most times. When you die you can choose which Hospital on your map to respawn at. You have to run to a base and enter the Hospital there to be able to respawn there. The only penalty for death is a 5 minute rez sickness where your Attributes are lowered by 20% and it stacks for 5 minutes more each time for like 3 more times if you die really quickly. You can buy a rez trauma kit to get your Attribute points back, but you can only use them every 2.5 minutes. You can also buy or make Health Kits but so far they aren’t that useful because if your Armor goes away you are usually going to lose Health faster than a Health Kit can replace. There are healing disks those who went do the Specialist (not Soldier) path can use, armor repair tools tend to be more useful since your health tends to go down pretty fast once your armor is gone. I’m sure Healing abilities will play a big part in the End Game because already some of the bosses are hard to kill and regen Armor and Health very fast. You usually lose about one durability point on your items after 10 minutes of combat or one death but they recently changed things so that each melee attack damages your weapon one point, which kind of sucks in my opinion. You get into the habit of repairing frequently because your Armor points actually get lower as you lose durability so they become less effective long before they become broken. So far there has been a repair/medic npc inside every Instance, which is really nice. Players can put points into training to make repairing and healing more effective or even to rez fallen players. Players can repair their armor level lost during combat but they still have to go to vendors to repair the durability damage done to armor and weapons.
Economy and Looting and Expenses: You automatically get credits for every enemy you kill, so you don’t have to actually loot the bodies to pick up those credits. More than half the time other loot will drop. The presence of loot is indicted by a white triangle so you don’t have to run to every corpse. The trash loot sells pretty decently and Armor, Weapons, Crafting Recipes, Ammo, and Quest Drops occur fairly frequently. So far I haven’t had any trouble getting decent Armor and Weapons for my level just from drops. You get better drops inside Instances. There are increasing levels of quality for Weapons and Armor and nothing so far is bind on pickup or bind on equip so you can trade with others or save for your clones, even after you use an item. So far there isn’t an Auction House, but a Military Surplus store will be in the live version and you will sell some things on consignment there and which should presumably making crafting easier and improve the game economy. Also there is no mail system yet and I haven’t read anything from the Devs about that. There is a Trade channel but no one uses it in the Beta so far. But honestly at level 16 and below I haven’t really needed to buy or trade anything, but I’m sure it will be necessary as you get closer to level 50 and and also useful for twinking out your clones. Your main every day expense will be ammunition. So far I spend about 50% of my credits on it. You do get ammo from 25% of your drops. You can make ammo from certain items you loot, but its not clear yet how many credits that will end up saving you. You also have to spend credits to make certain items but they are revamping the crafting system, so its not clear how much you will spend on it on average. At least you don’t have to pay to train, which was a pain in WoW. Not sure if you will have to pay for vehicles when they get added. I’m a packrat and keep most of my drops for crafting and my clones and I still have a pretty decent amount of credits after paying for ammo. They recently increased the storage space of your backbacks, so storage isn't that big of an issue, especially if you store things on clones you aren't using.
Combat: You have two main types of weapons in this game: guns and Logos abilities. Guns are similar to real life models but more advanced. You have pistols, rifles, shotguns, chainguns (machine guns), leech guns (steals health from enemies and gives it to you and your friends), rocket and grenade launchers, biological injection guns, polarity guns, laser swords, and a staff. All weapons so far (with maybe the exception of the sword) do ranged and melee damage. They also do different types of damage so sometimes its best to switch your weapons around because some enemies are more resistant to certain types of damage (laser, ice, virulent, electric, emp, sonic, fire). Different weapons are also more effective from different ranges and the different classes each have at least one type of weapon only they can use. Logos are letter gylphs from an ancient alphabet left over from an advanced race called the Eloh (aka The Benefactors). You find these Logos at different areas on the maps (often having to fight your way to them) and combinations of two or more of these Logos along with class training points allows you to use different kinds of “magic” abilities. Everyone can use the Logos “Lightning” attack ability and the different classes get specialized abilities like a Damage Over Time attack or an Energy Shield ability. The Logos system is pretty cool and adds a lot to the game story and mechanics and is also a functional language made up by the game’s creator and his girlfriend.
When you attack, you have a target reticule. There is almost, but not quite, auto targeting in the game and also somewhat sticky targeting as you or your enemy runs. Combat tends to be more fast paced than in WoW, but not nearly as quick as a first person shooter, so the sticky targeting isn’t really that big of an advantage. Sometimes it is hard to target a specific enemy or ally within a group, which can things like healing tougher. Some guns and abilities do AOE damage, but so far that damage doesn’t seem to hurt you or your allies except for rockets which can hurt you with splash damage if your target is too close. Some of the Bane will run around during combat and sometimes you will want to move in order to target more enemies or to take cover. If you crouch down behind something, your enemies do less damage to you and crouching lets you do more damage with most weapons. The top three players to do damage to an enemy get increasingly lower levels of Experience Points for damaging an enemy. This encourages you to help other players who are getting swarmed or fighting a boss. Only the top person on the damage list seems to get any loot though. That will probably lead to some kill stealing situations in the game, but also gives regular players a way to fight back against professional gold farmers. Some Logos abilities depend on your Power (i.e. Mana) and Adrenaline (i.e. Rage) levels and your guns will overheat after a certain amount of firing and also jam when fighting slimers and this adds more elements of interactivity to the game. Combat is fairly involved, especially against harder enemies but not a contest to see who can aim and press the trigger first. It’s a step up from the “Click Once to Attack, and Wait” feel that much of the combat in WoW has.
Social Interaction: The game has a fairly robust chat system and a friends list and you can form squads with up to six members and also permanent Guilds. But people are hesitant group at the lower levels in Beta. I’ve only grouped a few times, the first time when there was 5 of us camping a Quest boss. I’m not sure yet how you can tell if someone is in a guild. I haven’t gotten any personal offers to join one yet. Also you can only see someone’s name and level if you target them and sometimes that is hard to do if they are moving so it makes it more difficult to talk to them. There is in-game voice chat for squads that seems to work well. Some people are helpful in general chat, but a lot of people seem to want to talk about World of Warcraft or other games so it is a good thing you can disable the general world chat channel. I’ve only needed to put one person on my ignore list so far. Hopefully people will get more cooperative in the Live Version and as their characters get higher in level.
As it stands right now you can put training points into 4 different crafting skills. But most people will probably want to save those points for other abilities since you only get about 104 total training points and it would take over 120 points to train fully in every non-crafting ability you have. As the system stands now, everyone will probably use a clone as a crafting mule to make stuff for their main characters. But that could change if recipes or crafting materials become bind on pick-up or equip or if they implement level requirements. Some of the raw material you use for crafting drop from enemies and there are Salvage and Tissue extractor kits in the game so possibly you can get more specialized material from corpses with training. Right now all crafting recipes are one time use so you have to continue getting drops or buy or trade to make more items. There is a tier system for raw materials like scrap metal>electronic parts>electronics>weapons grade electronics but its frustrating when you have the raw materials but can’t get the recipes needed to turn them into something higher in the crafting chain. You can make increasingly powerful grenades in all the 8 damage types as wells as things like Health Kits. You also get recipes to increase the bonus stats already present on some armor and guns (kind of like Enchanting in WoW). You have to dissamble armor and weapons with Attributes to get one of the 40 or so specialized items used in the armor and weapon upgrade crafting recipes. You have from a 60% to 90% chance to get an item from dissambly and from a 25% to 50% to successfully use that item in a recipe and a 25% to 37% chance to destroy the item you are upgrading. You can also upgrade higher class items more than once, so with the chance of failure and item destruction, the surviving best upgraded armor and weapons might fetch a good price at the Military Surplus Store once your character and their clones outgrow the item. Hopefully crafting will improve after Tabula Rasa goes live. Being able to permanently learn at least some of the recipes would be a step in right direction I believe. The better crafting turns out to be, the better the economy of the game will be.
Instances: So far there have been at least four instances on the first two maps. There seem to be at least 3 quests for every instance and they all add to the story behind the Instance as does the video that plays when you enter most of them. The Instances on the first two maps seem to be designed to take an hour or less for an average party and can even be soloed by persistent players (although soloing has gotten harder since the last Beta patch). There are some respawns in the Instances but most of the hardest enemies don’t seem to respawn so if you make a suicidal attack and take out one or two you can eventually take them all out. But I have run into a few bosses that I can’t solo at my level so you may have to wait to level up a bit if you are a hardcore solo player. It will be interesting to see if the higher level instances can be soloed and under what circumstances. I read that in the World of Warcraft Beta, the Devs didn’t like the fact that players could slowly work their way through the Scarlet Monastery dungeon after many deaths so they increased the respawn rate of the enemies inside the instance. The Tabula Rasa Devs seem to take a more relaxed view of things. Time will tell if this leads to any problems due to exploits and/or professional gold farming. Personally, I find it refreshing. I think running an instance with a party is interesting and fun because so many abilities and some tools and weapons (like the Leech gun) lend themselves to group play and this fun should increase as players get closer to level 50.
Cloning and Respecting: So far there isn’t a way to reset or change your Skill and Attribute points once they are assigned. That could prove to be a problem especially in a new game where players are unsure of which Skills and Attribute are necessary for the Build or type of character they envision. The Cloning system can alleviate this problem to some extent. Say you are like me and want to make an Engineer as your main character. You could groom one of your higher level clones to be an Engineer and give them different Skills and then play both characters and see which one you prefer. But some people will probably feel compelled to go through this process several times and leveling up a new clone each time (even if you only have to grind 20, 10 or 5 levels) could get tiring. I think the ability to change things around at least once would be a big help. I also worry that having so many clones could lead to lots of players with “Alt-itis” or spending so much time on Clones that they don’t feel like they are really accomplishing anything. Some people can manage their time and successfully level up different alts and some people have trouble with this.
End Game aka Elder Game: I have seen a level 41 character but Ligos, the highest level accessible zone so far is for 38 and higher and has only been accessible a few weeks. A couple of weeks ago they made an announcement about some features of the game as you get closer to level 50. One thing on the list were Personal Armor Units (PAUs) beginning at level 40. They will be somewhat different for each class, but these armor suits will enhance certain abilities and make you more lethal. Also you will be able to command a squad of friendly NPCs and you can increase their numbers and effectiveness. Also in addition to the capturable Control Points, there will be Flashpoints in the game where at least one squad is needed to hold off a Bane attack. And finally Clans will be able to fight each other and get passive buffs while they do it and eventually have their own Control Points and other objectives to fight over. This all sounds pretty good. I’m hoping for a robust PVP system but I hope it doesn’t become the only meaningful endgame activity. Also Clans are supposed to be more powerful in PVP the more members they have. I’m not too thrilled about this for a couple of reasons. Number one, I know from more than 6 years of running and being in Squads/Guilds in online games that bigger is very rarely better. As a matter of fact both times my groups had a big influx of new members, a large part of them left within a few months to form their own group. Also if big clans have an advantage then this could lead to a situation akin to the Alliance/Horde imbalance in WoW. In other words if you want to succeed in PVP you may have to join a big clan, which is personally not a choice I would like to be shoehorned into. I guess we’ll have to see how this all works out, but on the whole it seems promising.
The Future of the Game: Hard to tell at this point. But Richard Garriott and others have been working six years on this game and you can tell a lot of the care they’ve put into it. A few weeks I was playing before work and saw Mr. Garriott log on as his General British character and ask everyone who was playing how things were going and if there were any bugs they would like to report. He only stayed online for 15 minutes before he had to go to a bug report meeting but its refreshing to see that type of thing from a Developer. Garriott has the power of NCSoft behind this game which should help a lot. I never played any of Garriot’s past Ultima games, but now that I’ve read about him, I’m impressed at what he has accomplished in his career. Also I think its cool to play a Science Fiction game from the son of an astronaut who is himself going into space next year.
I think a lot of people are like me and looking for a change from WoW or other games. But there are a lot of immature and fickle players out there. Hopefully there will be a big enough corps of mature players to make playing on a Tabula Rasa server enjoyable for me. I don’t think this game will be a runaway hit like WoW but hopefully it will be a big enough hit to continue growing at a fast pace. A MMORG doesn’t have to have 8 million or even 1 million subscribers to be a great, long lasting game. As a matter of fact, WoW got so big, so fas that new content was actually delayed because they had to deal with building more infrastructure to handle the huge playerbase. The announcement of the Stargate Worlds MMORG last year first got me excited about the concept of an action packed, science fiction game. Who knows how long the Stargate game will take to develop or even if it will ever be released, but I have feeling Tabula Rasa will fulfill many of the needs of myself and other gamers even if SG:Worlds turns out to be a game truly worthy of the Stargate franchise. Hopefully Tabula Rasa will be a game that myself and many others will come to love. It already has grown on me a lot during six weeks of Beta play.
I forgot to add a section about Music, Sound, and Voice Acting: The music so far is soft rock mood music akin to something from Giorgio Moroder or Alan Parsons (which I love). The tempo of the music does get faster during Bane incursions and some quests and instances. The music is kind of modern and I think it suits the game without distracting from it. The Sounds in the game are fairly distinctive and realistic. Guns make satisfying shooting and reloading sounds and machinery and nature can be heard, but it isn't overpowering. The Quest NPCs usually vocalize the first line of their quests, which is pretty cool. The voice acting seems to be just average so far, except for the one guy who does a killer Christhoper Walken impression over the loudspeaker of the main base of the second main zone. The rest of the announcements are humorous ones delivered in a dry style taken from the movie version of "M.A.S.H." This is one of my favorite parts of the game so far and leaves me looking forward to more witty humor further into the story.