Once again I bring you a misleading list of gameplay aspects. I just want to caution you that while I have nothing bad to say about the game, which should not be construed as some sort of malformed praise. While what we have here is indeed fairly well done, you should not take my lack of hostility as a recommendation. The shortcomings of Tabula Rasa aren’t in what we’re given, but in what’s missing. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Every base has a waypoint marker, which lets you instantly teleport to any other waypoint marker you’ve visited. (The game is even nice enough to excuse this limitation with some technobabble about imprinting your DNA onto the waypoint and such.)
This is not a game bogged down by miles of dull travel. Like Diablo II, you’re never more than a waypoint jump away from whatever level of action you’re in the mood for.
Tabula Rasa has the most forgiving death system I’ve experienced in an MMO. There is no item loss, no XP debt, and no direct loss of cash. When you fall, you are given the option of being transported to the hospital or waiting for an ally to revive you. All of your equipment is damaged by 10%. (The cost to repair this is very minor, and even into my mid-teens the post-death repair bill feels like chump change.) When you revive, you’ll also be affected by the “Resuscitation Recovery” condition, which just means you can’t be healed for 30 seconds.
Going to the hospital also inflicts “Resuscitation Trauma”, which is a 20% reduction in attributes for a mere 5 minutes. That’s pretty reasonable in my book. It’s a mild penalty that discourages death without punishing you by making you stop playing. In World of Warcraft, the post-death effects were so strong as to make you helpless. But here you can actually jump back into the fray as long as you’re careful. The quick transport system lets you get back to the action without a bunch of dull hiking. Tabula Rasa is a game designed to deliver a steady supply of action.
The way class selection is handled is simply brilliant. You don’t make any long-term gameplay decisions at character creation. Instead, everyone starts off the game as a recruit. Once you hit level five, you choose one of two branches of specialization. You can become a Soldier or a Specialist. At level ten, you will again branch out. If you chose Soldier before, you can now choose between Commando and Ranger. By the endgame there are eight unique character classes.
The beauty of this system is that you aren’t asked to make any long-term commitments until you have some idea of what you’re doing.
In WoW, most characters are pretty much the same at the beginning, and you have to go for about ten levels before you get a feel for what your class is really like. If you find it unsatisfying for whatever reason, you’ve got to start another character and crank through those early levels again.
By level five you have an idea of how the game feels and what activities you enjoy, which gives you a clue as to which way you might want to specialize. This reduces the number of decisions new players have to make in ignorance. As a bonus, the system makes a lot of sense.
Not content with letting you make long-term character decisions after you’ve learned about the game world, Tabula Rasa also lets you explore the various branches of character development without having to level up a new character. When you come to one of the various forks in the road of character development, you can create a clone. This acts as a sort of save point. The clone can look like whatever you want (it can even be a different gender) but it will retain all of the leveling and skill selections you’ve made. If you find you don’t like being a Ranger, you can switch to an earlier clone and choose the Commando path instead. The game is really generous with character space, letting you have up to 16 per server.
Cloning can also serve as a crude rename / appearance change, as you can make a clone with the name and look you want and then abandon the original. You earn clone tokens just before you make key class decisions, so you should be able to explore all of the classes without repeating unnecessary levels. If you make a lot of different characters (like me) then this will cut way down on the number of times you should have to replay the newbie areas. In fact, once you make your level five clone, there is no reason you should have to replay the first four levels again.
Like the system of class development, cloning is an elegant system that makes the game fun and integrates nicely with the setting.
So we’ve had three posts now where I’ve praised the game. Tabula Rasa is indeed very good at what it does, which is to provide a huge outdoor world where you knock down endless waves of enemies and engage in a little lightweight leveling. Having said that, I think I’m about done with it. While I give the game points for delivering a polished and focused experience, there just isn’t that much to do here besides shoot stuff. Playing Tabula Rasa is like playing an FPS where the plot never moves forward. It’s fun, like ice cream. Also like ice cream, there is only so much you can take in a sitting.
Only killing things? How is this any different from World of Warcraft?
I’ll answer that one in my next post.
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