Archive for December 19, 2007

I’m doing my part

December 19, 2007 2 comments

Tabula Rasa has now passed the 50 day mark (including the preorder extra days at start) and I thought it would be a good moment to put down some thoughts about the game. Nowadays when I start playing an MMOG I almost directly decide whether I will continue to play the game or not. However, even if a game initially feels good and intersting that interest may fade after a while. For me that feeling seems to start appearing around 1 to 1 1/2 month into a game. This happened the first time I played EVE, Everquest 2 and Lord of the Rings Online, for example.

But now is the time to look at Tabula Rasa and I can directly say that this game is not one of those where my interest starts fading. In fact I am having a blast in this game and I expect that I will play the game for a reasonably long time.

What makes it so good to play then? For me the environment combined with the combat system and the mob/NPC behaviour help create a presence in the game that I have seldom seen in other MMOGs. It feels more alive than many other MMOG environments. The attention to detail in all of this makes it a very nice experience overall.

Greetings from Torden Mires - at least it is not raining on the vacation

Now, running around as a soldier in a not too distant future fighting some nasty aliens and get help from some other aliens must have some appeal those playing, otherwise it will probably not help so much that some of the game systems works quite well. Once the new shiny things in terms of game mechanics that is there to play with in an MMOG have become familiar, it is the setting, perhaps story line and the community and friends that will decide the longevity.

Another strong point for me is the story line. There are some pretty good missions and many of the instanced area zones that are available have some good stories connected with them and has in general been a pleasurable experience. There are a couple of these accessible from every outdoor zone. These instanced areas scale with the number of players in a squad (team) that enters the areas, in terms of number of mobs primarily and to some extent type of mobs. The level or the mobs and the area itself does not seem to be affected here.

The scaling is a bit subtle though and not as clear as in City of Heroes/Villains, which is not necessarily a bad thing. My impression is that the scaling fits small sized groups best if attempted at a level similar to what the mobs have.

Ah, the enemy-factory-must-destroy thing!

The game has a pretty linear zone structure, you start with three zones on the Concordia continent on the planet Foreas, continue with three zones on Torden continent on planet Arieki and then continue going back to Foreas and so on. At least the outdoor zones I have played in (7 so far) have that linear structure. For one or two characters I think that is not too bad, but if you are an altoholic and want to try out all or most of the career paths, some parallel zone paths at least towards higher levels would be good.

Fortunately the cloning system does not make you play though all zones and it also provides an option to try out different skill sets for your particular character also. In a way that is better than a respec option that other games have, because you can still keep the old choice and go back to that if you want. The bad part is that you have to set a new first name for the clone and the number of times you can clone is limited – there is not a huge amount of room for experimentation, so need to be used with some care at least.

Oh my God, they killed Kennilax! The bastards!

Clone points are earned every time one will have to make a career choice (at levels 5, 15 and 30) and also for every Targets of Opportunity mission completed. There is one TOO for every outdoor zone. Each TOO have a number of tasks to complete, like “kill 200 Thrax soldiers”, “find all zone Logos”, “complete all operations in zone” (missions in instanced areas). It is from the TOO clone credits that one gets the experimentation space for the characters in addition to the career paths. Many of the tasks can be obtained through normal game play if one fights, explores and go experience the instanced areas. Or so the idea is anyway. The TOOs have had a couple of bugs and issues with them, which has left some of them incomplete for a number of people.

That is also an impression that is there with missions in general also. While most of the missions work fine, there seem to always be some in every zone that have bugs. While it is not the end of the world, it can be a bit annoying at times.

Fort Defiance

Patches have been coming fairly frequent and fortunately they actually seem to fix and improve things. I must say that I am positive with the pace that changes, improvements and bug fixes are coming in. That is a good sign for the improvement and refinement of the game. Two career paths (biotech -> medic/exobiologist) have had a skill revamp which have been positive and they seem to make a good job in trying to make all career paths fun to play. While I have not reached the stage to have one of each yet, some friends have done that and say that this is the first game where they actually think all of the paths are fun to play.

In a recent patch the Military Surplus was added. This is intended to work as an auction house, however at the moment there is no bidding in place, one can only sell and buy at the buyout price the seller sets. The interface to the MS is pretty nice, has some decent filtering and automatically lists all the inventory (weapons and armor) content if you are going to sell something, in the same order it is in the inventory. It also automatically sets the price the vendor would buy the item for as the default buyout price, so one doesnot have to go to a vendor to check what the price would be there. Since there is also a small fee for selling an item, one would usually set a slightly higher price.

A good feature for the MS interface is that the view for bought items and money received for sold items is shared for all characters – there is no extra step here to transfer money and/or items to another character. While this is possible to do through the footlocker I think it is a wise choice to not force people to go through that extra step also, which is just a time sink.

The weapons and armor in the game have different levels of rarity: First it is the regular items that can be bought from a vendor or sometimes drop from mobs (grey) . Second is the modified items (green) which is where the items may have different modifiers for buffs, debuffs and character attributes. Next level is the experiemental items (blue) and finally the prototype items (purple), which are the most rare one. Up until recently all the items regardless of rarity had the same base stats if they were at the same level and type – weapons did the same damage, armor had the same protection. Only the amount of modifiers that an item could hold was the difference.

This changed in a recent patch and now the rarity of the armor and weapon also affects the base stats for the item, which now becomes a more significant factor – a purple weapon of some type and level will do 60% more damage than the corresponding grey weapon. Green and blue ones end up at +20% and +40% respectively. I think this change was probably necessary to get a healthy economy going with the introduction of the Military Surplus.

Since most items are not bound to a particular character there is a lot of items that can be sold and bought and if one outlevels a weapon or armor, it can just be put on sale. This I think will lead to that basically only experimental (blue) and prototype (purple) items will in practice be sellable and that can already be seen after a couple of days with the Milirary Surplus in effect.

For me the green items will just be sold to the vendor, or dismantled to get parts to modify better items with. Currently I am collecting parts which I will start to use when I clone a higher level character into becoming a dedicated crafter – just making sure I clone at a point with enough skill points to fill up all the crafting skills to max plus perhaps some basic skills in addition to that.

I also think that they will probably have to do a revamp of the crafting also, including the item modification system. Many of the dropped items have so many stat modifiers on them today that sometime there is not much that can be added to an existing item and one cannot remove stats without destroying the item. So some change will likely be needed to make that part of crafting more viable.

Is this a bad time to ask for directions?

But I am positive that good changes will come, the impression I have had so far is that the developers adaptive and are working to make things fun to play in practice and willing to change if their first approach turned out not to work so well. This is an important reason for me to be a bit forgiving about the issues that are present today – I am confident that they will be changed and probably in a not too distant future.

And for anyone that has read all the way here (good job!) and wonder about the headline – it is a quote from the movie Starship Troopers, which to some extent is a movie with a similar theme.

Categories: Tabula Rasa