Tabula Rasa:

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Sep 24, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 35 comments

From the opening cinematic of the game: The last refugees from Earth exit the ships that delivered them from their burning homeworld.  Like the Tabula Rasa players that embody them, there just aren’t very many.
From the opening cinematic of the game: The last refugees from Earth exit the ships that delivered them from their burning homeworld. Like the Tabula Rasa players that embody them, there just aren’t very many.
Tabula Rasa was a gift from Leslee during the great games deluge of ’08. (She was actually at the Tabula Rasa launch party and met designer Richard Garriott. What I want to know: Was he dressed like a general?) Leslee was also one of the people who helped me with my WoW comics for Stolen Pixels. It’s things like this that warm my blackened heart and teach me the true value of friendship. (Or at least the true value of finding good people to leech from, which is pretty much the same thing when you put it on the blackboard.)

Anyway, I really like the sci-fi vibe of Tabula Rasa and so I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. This series may or may not dominate the site for a couple of weeks the way my World of Warcraft series did. Do bear with me.

Geeze.  I don’t know why people aren’t playing this game.  It has a hot girl on the cover.  What else do you need? Buy it!
Geeze. I don’t know why people aren’t playing this game. It has a hot girl on the cover. What else do you need? Buy it!
I’m entering Tabula Rasa without having read much about it. The game seems to have gotten a “meh” reception, but aside from Yahtzee’s review and a few forum-level rumors, I don’t know why the game isn’t thrilling people. The gameworld will occasionally reach “Medium” population levels at peak hours, and is nearly empty at other times. Where is everyone?

When I played World of Warcraft, I’d see people chatting about other games:

“Have you tried City of Heroes? I got bored with it.”

“I loved it. I still play sometimes.”

“That’s cool. Let’s go to deadmines.”

But in Tabua Rasa the chat often devolves into bitter complaining about how much all the other games suck, and in particular how bad World of Warcraft is. It sounds more like sour grapes than anything else. I don’t usually think of annonymous open chat as something that can have a subtext, but if there is one here it’s, “Our game should be more popular than World of Warcrap. Or at least more popular than it is now.”

Where is everyone? Why aren’t people playing this game? Is it bland? Buggy? Frustrating? An overlooked gem? A diamond in the rough? A great game forever marred by a bungled launch? This series is going to try and answer that. This isn’t anything as morbid as my Hellgate: London autopsy series, where failure was assumed. Maybe the bitter Tabula Rasa players are right. Maybe this game should get more attention.

I want to clock a few more hours in the game before I start making definitive statements. I will show my hand a bit by saying that my time with the game last weekend did not reveal any egregious faults.


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35 thoughts on “Tabula Rasa:

  1. Zereth says:

    Supposedly, Richard Garriott has claimed that he’s fascinated by the Korean MMO market and their games.

    When I heard this, suddenly my experiences in the Tabula Rasa beta made so much more sense.

  2. Kevin says:

    Tabula Rasa? Never heard of it. Does it have a downloadable demo?

    Let’s go to Gnomeregan.

  3. Ralff says:

    From my time playing Tabula Rasa (not much, just a few days during the beta), it seemed basically exactly like World of Warcraft, but with a coat of sci-fi paint and more guns.

    Maybe they’re bitter about people like me claiming their game is exactly like WoW?

  4. Eric Rossing says:

    This is a little off-topic, but this Ralff’s comment was exactly my experience with Lord of the Rings Online: it seemed a lot like WoW, but with the Tolkien IP rather than the Blizzard Warcraft IP.

    And since I only need one WoW and Blizzard’s is the one my wife and friends play, that pretty much settled whether I needed LOTRO also.

  5. Greg says:

    I’ve heard the exact same thing in EVE, with players talking as if EVE is the greatest MMO of all and WoW is the root of all evil and filled with 13 year-olds and nothing else.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if you hear the same thing in all the other MMOs.

  6. wererogue says:

    My theory – anyone who can put up with the inherent crap in MMORPGs is already enjoying WoW. Anyone who can’t has worked it out already and isn’t interesting in playing a game with those issues.

  7. Karl says:

    Greg, Guild Wars and City of Heroes are both (in my experience) free of WoW-bashing. It’s occasionally been mentioned in my hearing in GW, but just in passing and perfectly politely.

    I always wonder when I hear people claim all MMOs are just like/trying to copy WoW, to what extent this is really the case. The LotRO demo was hilariously WoW-esque, but GW and CoH are both quite different in my view. Possibly because I mainly focus on the skill system in MMORPGs; they both have their own shtick where skills are involved. GW treats it like a trading card game making you choose from lots and lots of skills with subtle and complicated effects, while CoH makes players very diverse with lots of powersets that accomplish the same task in different styles. WoW plays it most ‘straight’ as I see it, with a steady progression of skills for each class that you add to your steadily-increasing set of button bars as you level.

    But does all this diversity count for much, or is this all sufficiently WoW-clone that nobody cares whether the skills come in varied TCG hordes, lots and lots of tiny superpower packets or a straight ‘you can play your class better with this new trick’ progression?

  8. Radio Babylon says:

    i bought it a few months ago, played it for a few days, and cancelled. bored the hell out of me. but then again, so has every other mmo ive ever tried. im starting to think im just not mmo material…

  9. BlckDv says:

    I played Tabula Rasa in beta for a couple of weeks with a couple of friends with whom I had played City of Heroes and WoW, they wanted a more sci-fi setting, and I had fond memories of Planetside. I was frustrated endlessly, and if I had not felt a social obligation would not have been likely to have played more than my first two days.

    I found the “tutorial” to be anything but a helpfull introduction to the game, I was shocked that minutes after agonizingly designing a character, all the unique bits were hidden under identical gear to folks with my same “class”… not that I am saying TR is unique in this flaw… but my biggest gripe was the combat/weapons system. To me, the combination of being limited to basic weapons until having made substatial progress in game, combined with a combat system that borrows heavily from FPS was too much to bear. I found that I was forced to use my mouse to aim and fight like I was playing unreal… but still was expected to use my mouse to operate menus to select spells and powers like a normal MMO, two uses that do not synergize well at all. If I’d been able to customize my UI like WoW, I may have been able to make a layout that removed some of this.. but the default layout was not very intuitive to me.

    Planetside billed itself as a MMOFPS, and so I embraced and accepted that I would have to aim and fire, and make smart use of cover to fight well, stats or no stats.. but one day into Planetside my toon was allowed access to very good sniper rifles and bombs, giving me the firepower to make up for demanding skill. In WoW I can tab to target and hit fire.. and let my toon aim for me, allowing me to not mind investing time to get gear capable of one shot kills. In planetside, I must select the target, make sure my weapon or spell is on my small menu, then continue to keep correcting my aim the whole fight, forcing my mouse to be unavailable for UI manipulation while fighting, regardless of if my toon is a total wonk at guns or a top notch marksman… the FPS experience, but inside an RPG interface.

    I may be a unique demographic, but mixing FPS and RPG playstyles is hard to do in a way that does not anger me, and TR failed big time.

    I have no animosity to folks who still play it and enjoy it, but the experience is actively frustrating to me, so that I cannot even borrow a friends account and enjoy an hour of play.

  10. Factoid says:

    BlckDv: Man…planetside…that game was a total flop. It was a great concept: persistant world FPS based around a never-ending war for territory control in a sci-fi setting. Sign me up! In practice though it was incredibly underwhelming. Broadband penetration wasn’t high enough yet, so you had a lot of players with crap connections, and without a decent instance-server infrastructure the game could never replicate the performance of standard multiplayer FPS games. hit detection is a huge problem in an MMOFPS, I imagine. It’s a lot of work for one server to figure out whether player A shot player B when there’s 16 players on one box…put 2000 in there and you can see how that might get problematic.

    I guess I shouldn’t say it’s a “lot of work” because in terms of processing time it isn’t really, but it requires a delicate balance of timing between host and server.

    Not that lag was really the worst problem with Planetside, because it wasn’t…the worst problem was what BlckDv described…the way they tried to balance level and skill. FPS games are skill-based twitch-games, and the Planetside folks thought they could design their way around that to make it more mass-appealing…it did not work.

  11. Deoxy says:

    Funny thing about WoW (from what I’ve seen) – it’s a very well-done graphical MUD. That is to say, I haven’t seen anything ground-breaking in the mechanics of the game (my exposure has been limited to about the first 10 levels of play once or twice).

    So, when people say an MMO is “like WoW”, that’s not surprising – mechanically, WoW is just a rip-off of the most successful MMO mechanics from the previous generation of MMOs (before the term was coined). Games end up “like WoW” because those are the mechanics that are known to work well – WoW is just the best known game to use them, not the inventor of them.

    None of this is meant as a knock to WoW, mind you – the work of a game is in the implementation, and they’ve (apparently) done pretty darn well at that. Oh, and the nice graphics (nicely balanced between “good” and “runnable”) are pretty slick, too.

  12. Chris says:

    It’s an overlooked gem. While first playing Tabula Rasa I definitely found myself wondering why there weren’t as many people playing it. It’s full of great innovations on the genre. After playing Tabula Rasa I had a hard time going back to the slow pace of more traditional MMOs. Maybe there just aren’t that many people who are interested in a shooter/RPG hybrid in a persistant world, but I think it’s brilliant.

    Unfortunately the lack of people to play with and the thin content at higher levels forced me to put it on hold, but I really do hope to return to it some day.

    For what it’s worth I blogged about my journey with Tabula Rasa here and here. I’ll be curious to see how yours compares.

  13. noneofcon says:

    I played the beta for Tabula Rasa for a bit, and the biggest thing that turned me off to the game was the lack of skills. Each class only got 4-5 skills per level I think, and most weren’t that interesting or just plain pointless.

    Take the armor skills, whats the point of Leveling you your armor or weapons skills if you know you will, just replace them in a few levels anyway? At least with WOW, there was a point of using lower level spells (better mana effecently and quicker to cast).

    Another thing was the chat system. Here is a hint for MMO developers, if your going to make a MMO, make the chat system easy to understand and use! I just remember the system being clunky and brothersome.

    Maybe things haved changed, but at the time I played it, it just looking like it would get very old very fast.

  14. Psychoceramics says:

    I had a good lol every time WoW came up in TR’s General Chat. The sheer amount of uninformed hate they exhibit is too much.

    I enjoyed my brief stay with the week-long demo. Every time someone asked what there was to do at max level, though, the answer was very sparse. It seems there’s no endgame, so TR would be nothing more than a sideshow. Log on, drop some air strikes on a Control Point invasion, log off.

    To the people claiming it’s the same as WoW, it isn’t. It’s more like an FPS, but in 3rd person. At least, that’s the way I played it. If they’re going to give me a point and shoot interface, I’m going to play it like an FPS. They even offer an FPS control mode.

  15. Galenor says:

    My brief excursion into EVE Online displayed a lot of hate for WoW, with people claiming it’s for kids and that only 13-year-olds play it.

    In WoW, i haven’t seen much of it. Recently though, WAR has been a favorite whipping boy in places, but never discussed seriously, just a “Guys you played it? Sucks ass. LFG”

    In totally offtopic yet still interesting news; EA is having legal issues over Spore’s DRM.

    For the tl;dr crowd: the fact that EA does not tell the consumer that the game installs a piece of software (which cannot be uninstalled) onto the system means that legal action is being taken. EA DO say there is a countermeasure in Spore, but NOT that it will auto install and update itself on the computer, and that the user has no control over it.

  16. Thanakil says:

    As for MMOs bashing WoW :
    It seems like any MMO, whe first released, will be FULL of people bashing WoW. And I really mean… A whole damn lot.

    As the MMO “matures” more people leave (just find that the game wasn’t for them) and then the WoW-bashing seems to go down a little. People seems to actually enjoy the game instead of enjoying the chat and being in presence of people not-playing-WoW. For some MMOs it seems to stop completely, but for most it will still happen every once in a while.

    As for Tabula Rasa : I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t find anything interesting that compelled me to keep playing. I had fun with it for a while, but in the end it just didn’t felt like I belonged to the game.

  17. Scott S. says:

    I played Tabula Rasa for a couple of weeks.

    I enjoyed it quite a bit at first, because the story/concept intrigued me, and because its FPS-style mechanics were different from anything else I’d played lately. (Yeah, I don’t do a lot of FPS…)

    But I soon found that I’d done everything. Quests were essentially all the same. (Granted, that’s pretty common for MMOs.) Monsters were very limited in variety. There were about four skills per character class, and two of those were weapon and armor use. The bad guys never developed much of a personality — the Charr in Guild Wars are very different from the Shiroken, and the goblins in Warcraft are very different from the dragonkin, but all the aliens and compromised robots in TR seemed the same. Crafting was pretty vapid. I could ask about what there was to do at higher levels and not get any answer.

    There just wasn’t enough content there to hold my interest.

    Sure, it probably didn’t have the budget of Warcraft, and I didn’t expect it to match Warcraft’s content, especially at launch… but it didn’t match, or even begin to approach, Guild Wars’ content, and I didn’t have to pay $15/month to play that.

    Maybe it’s improved since the launch, though.

  18. Mr_Wizard says:

    When I picked up Tabula Rasa, I was expecting something that was at least structured differently. I think there was real potential to take advantage of the military which all the players are supposedly a member. There could have been missions generated on the fly, the game could manage player traffic more directly under the guise of a central command giving orders.

    Instead, you are all basically mercenaries who go on “quests”, join “guilds”, and get missions from the Foreans (A.K.A Elves) or Coneheads. Not to say that an MMO should not have any way for players to form groups, or that there should be no special missions, but it adhered very strongly to the Fantasy MMO formula when they had an opportunity to use their theme in creative ways.

    Basically I feel they stuck too closely to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    It’s not bad, it just the same as any Fantasy MMO out there.

  19. The Lone Duck says:

    Part of the “Warcrap” whining arises from passive-aggressive desires for attention. They want to be accepted; they’re angry that their videogame lifestyle (ergo, themselves) is not widely accepted, so they unleash their fury by complaining in chat windows about games they aren’t playing. I know this is a bit absurd, and definitely unhealthy. But MMO players tend to border on the absurd and unhealthy. That’s my view. Even if all the statements are true, the venue is wrong. If I want to talk about WoW, I’ll play WoW.

  20. Aufero says:

    Parts of Tabula Rasa were a lot of fun at launch, (I really liked the assault/defense missions at control points) but my feeling after playing a couple of months and leveling a few characters into the 30’s and 40’s was that it was too buggy and incomplete to keep playing. It felt like it needed another six months of development to be a finished game.

    I haven’t tried it in the last few months. I really ought to go back and see how it’s coming along.

  21. Rick says:

    I’ve tried Tabula Rasa three times: once during beta, once right after launch, and once right after getting a computer that could actually run it.

    All three times I played a couple of times for a few hours each, picked up Guild Wars or City of Heroes, and forgot about it, and then a couple weeks later realized I wasn’t really playing so I dropped my account.

    The problem, for me, could be that I’m not a big FPS fan and I don’t like using the mouse for camera control (or as anything but a pointer, really). Mass Effect was compelling enough to overcome that issue. Tabula Rasa was not.

  22. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I think ZP coined the reason why Tabula Rasa, while being a very good game in itself, don’t draw much people into it’s net: it’s a mix of genres. People have to be attracted to both MMORPG and FPS to enjoy Tabula Rasa. Thoses who do love it very much, those who don’t go back playing Halo or World of Warcraft (not respectively).

    Which explains why there are so little people.

  23. The answer to your question, Shamus, is that YES, Richard Garriott was wearing this ridiculous-looking futuristic general’s uniform. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for the fact that he had his pants tucked into a pair of COWBOY BOOTS!

    Here’s some video of that launch party. (There’s a shot of me laughing towards the end of the video at 01:55.)

    And you can leech off me any time, Shamus. I truly enjoy your blog/articles/comics/rants.


  24. DM T. says:

    I really enjoyed RGTR from early beta stages to the final product.
    At mid-range levels, the maps where nearly empty and I couldn’t find anyone to party with which led to a certain abandonment feelings on my part.
    at level 36, you’ve gotta find some alternating maps and more people to play with.

  25. Mephane says:

    One thing they *did* wrong with Tabula Rasa: No Demo, Free Trial etc., only some buddy program where you need to know someone already playing. I wanted to try it out, but since there was no way to do that without buying, I skipped the game totally.

  26. Chargone says:

    worth noting that in that Spored DRM thing, they keep using ‘uninstallable’ for ‘non-uninstallable’ .. whoops?

    humm.. i never played tabula rasa. i looked at the advertising a few times… might have got into it if i could actually afford more than one MMORPG at a time. sadly, i can’t. not so sadly, COH/V does Fine for me :D

    [got my villain epic archtype… bow before the might of the crab spider soldier! … seriously, i think that’s the closest you’re going to get to a genuine artillery piece in this sort of game :D ]

  27. Pat says:

    I’ve not played TR, but I think the people on there are right to worry about WoW’s impact. MMO games rely on the network effect to survive and currently that is working for WoW and against the others in two ways.

    First, the odds are most of my friends will play WoW. Hence, if I want to play with them, I’ll have to play WoW. They, of course, will be making the same assumption regarding me.

    Second, if I want to team up with strangers in game, WoW will have a lot more strangers to interact with, meaning a lot more time spent in dungeons rather than hanging around outside typing “LFG”.

    As games studios start to pump out more competing MMORPGs, WoW’s position in the market will get stronger rather than weaker. Everyone will play WoW and [other game], and the fracturing of the market will kill [other game] leaving WoW stronger.

    I suspect the thing that will really help is network saturation -i.e. when the WoW servers can’t keep up with the demand or when the number of annoying kiddies, spammers, gankers and attention whores gets in the way of the fun. That’s what finally made me stop playing WoW -it was too easy for one idiot to poison a whole instance run.

  28. K says:

    Way to make me want to read more. Post something! Go!!! Now!!!!

  29. krellen says:

    Karl is basically right about City of Heroes; sometimes there are references to the “other” game, and we all know what other game that is, but it’s rarely dwelt upon. We’re all too busy being superheroes (or supervillains) to worry about what’s going on in some other game.

    P.S. Super-Jumping is way more fun than flying.

  30. Flak says:

    Tried TR, got bored very quickly. Unlike other MMO’s you can run around and shoot stuff or…..well that’s all there is. It’s not FPS enough for the shooter crowd and not RPG enough for the RPG crowd.

  31. Karl says:

    I dunno how we got onto discussing CoH travel powers, but yeah I’m a Super Jump fan myself. When my computer isn’t chugging along taking over a second per frame as I travel. When it is doing that I find Flight much safer…

  32. I spent a month or so with TR: my biggest complaint was the lack of variety – in classes, in weapons, in skills, in environments, in mission types, in enemies, in…well, everything, basically. In particular, because of the limited variety in skills and the progressive cost of improving them, grinding feels even more tedious than usual because the rewards for leveling are so small. Base assaults & defenses could be a lot of fun, as were some of the instanced missions, but not enough to hold my interest for more than a few weeks.

    I think NCSoft really missed the mark with TR. It could’ve been a fun casual-friendly PvE Planetside MMOFPSRPG thingy. Instead, it takes the most grind-y elements of MMORPGs and tosses them into a forgettably generic scifi setting.

  33. Psychoceramics says:


    There’s a trial now. I learned a long time ago not to buy before you try.

    I can understand no trial during launch, since things are probably buggy or crashing or the queue is maxed out. Once thing settle down, there’s really no excuse though.

  34. Otters34 says:

    I really haven’t found anything ‘specially wrong with it yet, though I have been playing it for only a couple of days.As far as I can tell, it’s supposed to be a Massively Multiplayer Action Game, which is nice.

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