I’ve said in the past that the addictive nature of World of Warcraft comes from the vast number of connected activities and player-driven goals. It’s a buffet of things to do, and you can focus on the parts you enjoy the most. Combat, looting, leveling, questing, auctioning, crafting, fishing, cooking, harvesting, exploring, raiding and PvP-ing. Each is a fun activity, and each one enhances your ability to advance and enjoy the others. Auctioning lets you get loot which lets you level up easier which lets you push into new areas where you can gather new materials you can use to craft items which you then put up for auction, etc. It is a game where there is no good time to quit, and another reward is always around the next corner.
The major problem with Tabula Rasa is the small number of activities, several of which are unfortunately hamstrung in some way.
If any game should have the freedom to make mysterious and fantastical worlds, this should be it. These are distant uncharted places, and their terrain is about as thrilling and mysterious as the English countryside. I’m a short drive from scenery more bizarre and alien than anything I saw on these supposedly far-flung planets. Compared to the vast and diverse scenery found in World of Warcraft, the places feel bland and samey.
A hallway-styled canyon. A world of fantastic spectacle this is not. If you are unfortunate enough to make the long pointless slog through this canyon, you’ll find it ends – I kid you not – in a dead-end waterfall. Turn around and walk all the way back.
The terrain is often walled off with absurd cliffs that have you running a Guild Wars-style rat maze. (Although thankfully you can jump in this game, which at least saves you time when your goal is below you. Still, all too often I found myself needing to go Northwest if I wanted to reach some point south of me.)
A lot of what makes a vista compelling is the ability to see the horizon, which you can’t do here because there’s always a ridiculous sheer cliff staring you in the face. Getting to a new area usually means the same stuff, but with a different color of fog. And to move from one area of the world to another you have to crawl through loading-screen caves. Boo.
Variety is the spice of life , so this canyon is a slightly different shape compared to the previous one. It has a big blue thing in it, which will help you remember which particular canyon you’re in when you log back in later.
George Lucas takes a lot of (well deserved) abuse these days, but the guy had a knack for making fantastic worlds that are rich in culture and visual spectacle. This game could have used a good dose of that sort of imagination.
If someone sends you out to get ten spider jibblies, then every spider you kill will drop a jibbly.
The walkie-talkie icon over her head means she has a quest for me. I think I’m supposed to report to her so that she can demonstrate the weapon she’s holding. Unlike our primitive shotguns and EMP rifles, these aliens have weapons beyond our understanding. Their people call this one a “Bow and arrow”. Wild.
This seems unrealistic to me. Shouldn’t some of them get destroyed in combat? It would be better if only one in ten spiders actually had the item you want. It would make the game much more exciting, wondering if the next one you kill will be a winner!
I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Naturally, the fact that ten spider jibblies = kill ten spiders is most welcome and removes a lot of the annoying nonsense we find in other games.
On the other hand , the quests themselves feel very generic and have almost no continuity. As is my custom, I started the game with reading each quest and dialog presented to me, but most of them were just too mechanical to care about. Eventually I just started clicking “Accept Mission” without reading the filler.
A few quests offer interesting moral choices, like being asked to deliver stolen medical supplies or turn them in to the authorities. These choices spice up the game a bit, but I was never invested enough into the setting to care. I didn’t agonize over good or evil, I just turned in the quest with whoever happened to be closer. I wasn’t really connected to the setting enough to worry about the “war effort”.
In WoW, some quests were part of a series, where you would re-visit a particular NPC many times and learn more about (and sometimes solve) whatever problems were affecting the given location. Other quests are simple one-shot “go kill or fetch X for a reward” deals. Tabula Rasa is made mostly of the latter sort, and I think a few solid anchor characters with multi-stage plotlines would do a lot to enrich the setting.
While having all the armor look pretty much the same is indeed realistic (although if we were going for realism then they should be issuing you armor instead of selling the stuff) it negates the appearance-building aspect of the game. I know I’m not the only one to see some max-level hero in World of Warcraft, clad in glittering majestic armor and wreathed in particle effects. Someday, I’m gonna look like that guy. That’s not relevant or possible here. I have to mouse over characters and look at the tooltips if I want to tell the newbies from the demi-gods.
Four races. (Three of which are locked at the start.) One starting area. One name per server. Homogeneous looking avatars and armor. There aren’t that many ways to spend your two-skill-points-per-level that make sense. Most of it you’ll be putting into whatever armor and weapon type you’ve chosen. All of the weapons of a given type look the same and sound the same, regardless of level. There just isn’t much to experience here. In other games, people will play numerous characters and classes and races and genders in varying locations with different weapons and divergent skill point builds.
This could have been a fun activity, but the lack of variety leaves you with few meaningful choices.
Spread around the gameworld are these Logos shrines, alien devices which will bestow a “Logos” on you. This could have been a cool little mini-game, in a “find the hidden packages” sort of way. But you need various logos to be able to use your class skills, and other ones are marked on your map. What could have been an interesting reward for exploration is turned into a mandatory fetch quest. This could have been another activity, but it’s really just part of the leveling system.
Here I am, getting a dose of forbidden knowledge from a logos shrine. To bad coming here is mandatory, and not a lucky find.
The Tabula Rasa crafting system is an interesting start, but it didn’t excite me and it doesn’t really add any real depth to the game. You find recipes and find gear. You tear the gear apart into components. If you find the right recipe and the right components and you’re the right character class and you’ve dumped enough skill points into the right crafting skills, then there is a chance you might be able to craft something 6.3% more effective than the stuff you got from enemy drops.
I really tried to use the crafting system, but it was never remotely worth the time and effort required. Since you can only build items for which you have a recipe (and recipes are consumed when you use them) you don’t have much choice over what you can actually make.
What could have been another activity boils down to a very convoluted system of random drops. It’s like a trick-or-treat where some houses give candy directly (random drops) and some give coupons which you can use to buy candy at the store. (The crafting system.) It’s still just random candy, it’s just additional expense and trouble.
Questing, leveling, and fighting over control points. That’s not a bad start to a game, and for a single-player game it would be just fine. But if you want people to play your MMO for months on end and rake in great big piles of money then you need to keep them busy to the point of near obsession. Tabula Rasa is a playground where you can amuse yourself for a couple of weeks, by which point you’ll have seen it all.
Leslee Beldotti mentioned the bugs, and I can’t add much to what she’s already said. The game should be in better shape than this so long after launch.
The most common thing said about this game is that FPS and RPG don’t mix. While I disagree, I don’t blame people for coming to this conclusion because Tabula Rasa doesn’t really sell the FPS/RPG hybrid concept all that well. This, coupled with the failure of Hellgate, probably spells the death of the sci-fi shooter MMO. This is a shame, since I love the idea and I really think the addition of FPS style gunplay helped these two games far more than it hurt them. FPS MMO is a good idea that will likely die not because of any inherent flaws, but because of lackluster implementation. Twice. Alas.
If you look at it as a single-player game, Tabula Rasa offered up more than enough gameplay to justify the purchase. Most big-budget games are clocking in at under ten hours these days, and Tabula Rasa can certainly top that. I think that if the game had some depth, more variety, and fewer bugs, could have been a serious contender against the other big MMO titles. I’m talking about the game in the past tense not because the title is doomed, but because the developers seem to have given up on it. Development has slowed to a trickle of minor updates, and nobody is prepared to expend the resources required to make this into the game it could have been.
The Strange Evolution of OpenGL
Sometimes software is engineered. Sometimes it grows organically. And sometimes it's thrown together seemingly at random over two decades.
The Best of 2012
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2012.
DM of the Rings
Both a celebration and an evisceration of tabletop roleplaying games, by twisting the Lord of the Rings films into a D&D game.
Shamus Plays WOW
Ever wondered what's in all those quest boxes you've never bothered to read? Get ready: They're more insane than you might expect.
This Game is Too Videogame-y
What's wrong with a game being "too videogameish"?