The MMO has done a great deal to change the way we gamers play: suddenly, we all were exposed to an electronic medium that brought us into contact with massive groups of people right from the comfort of our computer chairs. There are numerous examples of these games available on the market and each caters to a variety of tastes… for sword and sorcery fans there is Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar or the hugely popular World of Warcraft, and for those gamers who have more of a sci-fi bent, games such as EVE Online have been developed. Neither of these games are the topic at hand, however… today the subject of this review is Ncsoft’s futuristic MMO titled Tabula Rasa.
The core of the game is always the story, and so that is what we will talk about first… without spoiling the whole thing for you at home, of course. Tabula Rasa takes place in the far future, where humanity suddenly found itself at war with a highly advanced and highly aggressive species that the human race came to dub the Bane after they came to Earth and either conquered it or blew it up: no one knows for sure. Numerous humans were able to escape to another world with the assistance of alien technology controlled by a secret government organization that no one knew about until then. This new home for humanity is the staging area which the human race launches its assault against the forces of the Bane.
That’s enough for now.
Players of Tabula Rasa will notice a definite difference between this and more medieval games like World of Warcraft. This change just doesn’t come from the technology gap between the two games, although that is a factor, but the way the game is structured is an even more striking difference. In World of Warcraft you had a number of enemies and allies you could meet… humans, undead, Taurens, Orcs, whatever. In Tabula Rasa, however, it’s just the humans and The Bane fighting each other. This method means that your allies are more close together… you can see soldiers randomly grouped around the countryside, occupying small fortifications, and residing in larger bases. If this sounds less exciting, it should be stated that the Bane are in equally large numbers and can appear out of nowhere at you. Also, a large number of animals have been thrown into the bag, some neutral, some not, but they do mean that once you leave the base you’re not sure what’s going to suddenly be headed your way.
The way your characters learn abilities is also differently structured from WoW. World of Warcraft asked you to select your class right off the bat, but in Tabula Rasa, you precede through the various classes more slowly: everyone starts at the bottom as a recruit and then moves through two different kinds of tech trees. These are divided between Soldier types and Specialist types, which correspond roughly to warrior and support classes respectively. The difference in Tabula Rasa is, however, that the tech tree is arranged so that as you advance between these two initial classes, the player has the option of selecting new classes that have different abilities all their own. For those who proceed down the path of the soldier, for instance, those players have the option of being a commando, a sniper, or a spy. Those who follow the specialist route can become a healer, a sapper, or an engineer. The basic upshot of this is that while it may seem on the surface that your class types are more limited then WoW, Tabula Rasa’s skill tree system contains a lot of flexibility and in addition, you can also make clones of your characters if you wish to take your character down one path and then come back and try them on a different path.
In addition to the story, another important part of a successful game is the attention to detail and fortunately for us, Tabula Rasa has this in spades. First and foremost, you have the character creation screen where you can customize your character in pretty much anyway you like from hair style, to skin colorization (icy white, dark red, or bright green are all possibilities) to a variety of jewelry, clothes, and accessories to put your character in the most styling combat duds known to futuristic science. You can also change your character’s height, face, and eyes. You can’t give your character a very long nose, but perhaps, some day that will become possible.
The folks at Ncsoft have also worked hard to make as lifelike an experience as possible, and while this falls through in some small areas, such as the fact that most of the officers have the same facial colorization and body type, it is obvious that Ncsoft has put a lot of work into creating an immersive gaming experience. This can be seen, while studying terminals, you find not just useful information about the game but also personal details that are interwoven into the message to create the illusion that this is a document sent from one person to another. The behavior of the NPC soldiers has also been changed in a rather pleasant way. For comparison, in WoW, the NPCs would simply rush to your aid and then go back to where they were without a word. In Tabula Rasa they cry “we’ve got incoming!” when enemies come into their area or “Did you see that?” when a particularly exciting event, like the enemy dropping to the ground, happens. One part of you knows they’re still scripted bots, but by giving them a voice Ncsoft has made them less one dimensional.
There are a variety of bars that it’s necessary to keep an eye on in combat. A blue bar represents your armor, a red bar represents your health, a smaller orange bar represents your Logos power, and a narrower bar represents your adrenaline. Adrenaline is earned by fighting battles and armor is lost in fighting battles, but it will regenerate when you’re out of the fight. A typical combat scenario goes like this: you run into a group of Thorax, those are the Bane’s foot soldiers, and come off a little worse for wear. Your armor is almost gone and soon your health will start to be chipped away, but you’ve got some adrenaline saved up by duking it out with this group so you turn and kicking in your sprint ability, you dash for the far horizon and out of range. Your armor and health switch to regenerate mode, and you move on in search of other adventures… or you go back and lay into the troopers with your chain gun. As with so many other things in the game it’s all up to you.
The environments are also really something to see. They range from a blasted war torn landscape in which artillery fire drops randomly from the sky to do damage to you if you’re unlucky enough to end up under one of them; to lush forest regions that have creatures ranging from herds of wandering wild pig like creatures to creatures called tree lurkers that suddenly pop up out of the ground and slash at you. There are also a lot of natural quirks that have been sculpted into the game, such as one area which has a river that would normally terminate in a waterfall, but due to a large hole in the rock bed, actually turns into a swirling vortex that will drop you down into the water below should you fall into it. It’s not without injury to your character, but it’s not fatal, and it’s quite a ride.
To wrap things up, Tabula Rasa is just an all around a fun MMO to play and is chock full of neat sci-fi tech for us to play around with. The combat system is quite intuitive and easy to understand, the environments are beautiful, you can find quests and hidden areas everywhere you go, and perhaps most importantly there’s no risk of getting randomly beaten up during a quest. Try it: if you like MMOs and you like sci-fi you’ll find yourself drawn in quite easily