Archive for November 4, 2007

Filling the blank slate

November 4, 2007 3 comments

The pre-order headstart has passed and finally the real and actual launch of Tabula Rasa has taken place now on Friday November 2nd. This is probably a relief to Richard Garriott and his team to have reached this milestone, but probably also a bit nervous – will they get a good enough reception of the game from the target audiences so they can continue and build upon what they have?

I have no intention of writing a review of the game, but will add a few observations and comments here after a few days of playtime.

Currently four servers/worlds are provided – 3 located in the US and one in Europe. The European one is quite crowded at times, although with the exception of a few zone instances it seems to work quite well. Overall the launch has worked pretty good from what I can see – not perfect, but I have not seen any serious problems either. Only one server for Europe seems a bit low though, given the amount of people playing – there has been login queues to get on to the server during the weekend. On the other hand, those that have bought the pre-order but not the actual game may still be playing until beginning of next week. So there may be some people that will not play anymore and there are likely be more intense play close to launch than it will be later.

There is one annoying bit which is still around and have been there through allt ime I spent in beta – sometimes when logging in and selecting server to play on it then gets stuck in “sending server request”. Nothing more happens and no timeout – or perhaps a very long one. Kill the application and try again and it may work next time – or perhaps get the same problem again.

I must say that I am bit disappointed by the maintenance schedule. They seem to have put the schedules almost at the same time, regardless of which time zone the servers are located. In the European case, the downtime is scheduled for 10:00-12:00 GMT, even on weekends. This is 11-13 CET or 12-14 EET and at least on weekends there will be plenty of people that would like to play at those times.

First, I like the rebalancing they have done lately – some encounters are more difficult now and they also changed the types of mobs in some locations. Overall I think that has been good. It will depend on the type of career path where the difficulties will be.

As always nowadays it seems, MMORPGs get too much garbage talk in their general chat channels and Tabula Rasa is no exception. Fortunately it is easy to turn off.

Cloning is limited, one basically gets a clone point at each tier, plus one if one completes the Target Of Opportunity (TOO) missions for a zone. The first choice is when it is time to level to level 5. This happens so early in gameplay that there is not much point in cloning at that point. Just playing through the tutorial will get a character almost to level 4 typically and going through the tutorial does not take too much time either. Since there is only two choices at level 5 (soldier or specialist), spending perhaps an hour extra by not cloning then might be useful later, if one wants to try both of these paths.

The combat mechanics works quite nice and it has good fun. The slots for weapons and tools are not enough – only 5 and only 1 bank of them, as opposed to the ability slots. But this is probably intentional, to force a choice of weapons/tools for the situation rather than having everything available right away.

There is a bit of running around at it may take a bit of time to get from one place to another, although not too bad. And in the case of Tabula Rasa I really do not mind that – they have done quite well in making an environment that feels more alive and fluctuating compared to many other MMORPGs. Not that there are huge changes, but the behaviour of the NPCs and mobs do provide a more live feeling than in many other games and it makes travel more interesting. I do like exploration in general, but it becomes more fun with these added touches.

Fighting for control of the various control points in a zone has been good fun so far – the mobs are plentiful and typically also higher level than the rest in the area, battles can be intense and death can be swift and fast. I do wish that one would not have to get the particular assault/defense missions for a control point to gain the tokens involved to complete those missions. With only space for 20 active missions at a time, the control point missions could take up a sizeable chunk of the possible missions if one would like to jump into a few of them on a whim.

The logos system is quite nice to use to build up the abilities. While a number of them can be obtained through missions, some does not have a mission associated with them and will only be found with some exploration.

Clan mechanics, friend lists and chat and the community tools in general are a bit rudimentary as of now. I do not think it will make or break the game, but some improvements would be welcome – allow some communication between people even though they are not online at the same time would be one thing on my list.

The crafting system are more two related but different systems in my mind. One system is for making various type of consumables. One can get the ingredients as loot, buy them or craft them in some cases and one needs a one-time recipe – also possible to get as loot, or mission reward. For this type of crafting one has to invest skill points to be able to do the crafting. Crafting here is always successful.
The second crafting system is about enhancing weapons and armor. The ingredients here are different, they are obtained by dismantling other enhanced items. Recipes are also needed here and they are also one-time. However, no particular skills seem to be needed to be able to do this type of crafting. It is not always successful though, there is chances of failure in both dismantling and enhancing items – in some cases it is possible to destroy the item one wants to enhance. It is not clear to me yet what affects the percentages here. This system was introduced quite late in the beta, replacing a similar but more limited system.

The web site only provides some limited information for the first system, assuming one looks at the US web site – the European versions have less information available. Maybe they have not translated everything to French and German yet and want to keep all European pages to have the same amount of information. It is too bad though, because this may give the impression that the European side may be a bit second rate – at least if stays this way for long. It is not the first game it has happened for though and it may just reflect on cultural and organisational differences between continents. As someone who works for an American company here in Sweden, I can certainly relate to potential issues there.

I am hopeful for this game, it provides some good and fun gameplay and for me it will work as a nice complement to City of Heroes/Villains – both are easy to get into and play in fairly short sessions and have a bit of fun. Both have relatively fast-paced combat (for MMORPGs) and some good story content.

Categories: Tabula Rasa