Tabula Rasa

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: NCSoft

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PC Preview - 'Tabula Rasa'

by Steven Mills on Sept. 13, 2007 @ 6:40 a.m. PDT

A heroic task awaits you. Just beyond your galaxy, an ancient malevolence has embarked upon a covetous rampage. This demonic juggernaut seeks nothing less than the total enslavement of every world it encounters. Your world could be next. Developed from the ground up to be stable, fast and fun, Tabula Rasa represents a refreshing new approach to the design of multiplayer online games.

Genre: MMORPG
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: Destination Games
Release Date: October 16, 2007

Richard Garriott has brought a lot to the gaming industry; he's responsible for the Lineage and Ultima franchises, City of Heroes, City of Villains and the hotly anticipated Tabula Rasa. He started out as a game programmer on the Apple II, and 28 years and over two dozen games later, Garriott is now the executive producer for Tabula Rasa. NCSoft has published many MMORPGs recently, including Guild Wars and its expansions, and Auto Assault. Some of these MMOs have been huge hits while others have not, but Tabula Rasa definitely shows great promise.

Tabula Rasa certainly isn't your typical MMORPG. Garriott was anxious to step away from the overused medieval, fantasy sword-fighting and magic-casting universe, so TR places you across many unique planets, filled with beautiful jungles, volcanic moons, and exotic alien civilizations. Rather than fighting boars and dragons, you'll battle aliens, mechs, and vicious unknown creatures. TR is set thousands of years after an ancient and highly advanced alien culture realized the key to a powerful science that unified all their known theories of physics. Finding this key unlocked the abilities of Logos — the game's "magic," if you will — which grant special powers such as manipulating matter, energy, and force in powerful new ways.

Aside from the different types of Logos that can cause destruction to your foes and the surrounding environment, TR introduces a variety of weapons with a futuristic look and feel, including blades, machine guns, pistols, polarity guns, rifles, and shotguns. These weapons can be used alongside Logos to wreak havoc until sundown. Utilizing a third-person view of your character along with the ability to adjust the camera, the game could easily be mistaken for an FPS. The title features crosshairs for your weapons, and left-clicking fires your current weapon, while right-clicking activates the currently assigned Logo. Other basics are at work here, like the WASD keys controlling movement, and the mouse being used to control the camera. This tried-and-true system works amazingly well for TR's exciting gameplay.

All new players start off as a Recruit, a class which has basic armor and weapons, no specific skills, and some general knowledge. From there, they can branch off into Soldiers or Specialists, with the former being more geared toward armed combat, and the latter serving as support characters. The third tier consists of Commandos and Rangers for Soldiers, and Sappers and Biotechnicians for Specialists. Commandos and Rangers are packed with more firepower, while Sappers specialize in hacking and Biotechnicians use their knowledge of biology and Logos to unlock healing, poison, psychic, and biological abilities. The fourth tier of classes includes two branches for each third-tier class, which further specializes in a specific function.

Despite the FPS feel of TR, it's most certainly an MMORPG. Unlike an FPS, you don't need to have headshot-caliber aim; you simply point your gun in the general area of your target and fire, and the game takes care of the rest. The title also has general RPG attributes like leveling up, hit probabilities, and critical strike chances. The online play and RPG and FPS elements come together to create a distinctive experience.

Perhaps the coolest combat in TR comes when fighting enemies that require specific tactics. One of my favorite foes is the Stalker, a huge creature that has a large turret mounted atop its head. The turret may be powerful, but it fires pretty slowly, so the trick to fighting the Stalkers (without turning into Swiss cheese) is to run around them while firing so that the turret can't catch up with you. The Stalker also has a guided plasma bomb that it shoots out every so often, but an animation shows it charging up before detonation, so you'll have enough warning to (hopefully) scramble out of the way.

Experience in TR is calculated by kills, but chained combos also play a role. The more enemy kills you can "chain" together before you die or stop the mayhem, the higher your score multiplier will be, and the more experience you'll get. This causes some intense action when fighting a swarm of foes, and it could lead up to some electrifying end-game content for TR.

Huge battles are what make Tabula Rasa so intense and help set it apart from the crowd. Current MMORPG systems simply involve grinding and questing, while combat in TR involves killing a few monsters or fighting off a large alien squad from an attack. Everything makes a difference in this game. An alien civilization may lay siege to the base in which you're currently standing, and without your help, the location could fall into enemy hands. However, if you're there and willing to help, you may be the hero of the day for other players who may visit that base later and find happy NPCs instead of hateful aliens.

Even the instances in TR are exciting. Instead of running through, killing enemies, and fighting some bosses, TR instances add an extra dimension to the gameplay with objectives and options. For example, if you were to take out some security cameras, enemies wouldn't be aware of your arrival, so there would be fewer reinforced defenses up ahead. However, if you're in a hurry or simply forget to take out a security camera along the way, you can expect to encounter more of a fight.

Aside from creative and innovative gameplay, TR is relatively lag-free and looks great, with its beautiful planets, lush landscapes, and detailed alien and weapon models. What's better than blasting tons of alien troops as they try and attack your base, and then looking into the distance to see friendly reinforcements flying in? Nothing — except perhaps seeing all of the dead aliens after the fight, when the base has been deemed safe. Ah, some of us are thrill seekers!

Ultimately, Tabula Rasa seems to really aim for large group battles. Teaming up with friends to annihilate wave after wave of alien forces is what it's all about, and TR does a great job at making the experience fun and eventful. The title has many great features and exudes promise, and whether you're an MMORPG fan, FPS fan, or an admirer of futuristic settings, Tabula Rasa has it all. It's an action-packed MMORPG with a great storyline, a vast arsenal of weapons, and the potential for massive amounts of destruction.


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