by: Tony "RadarX" Jones
It's unlikely you've been able to avoid the buzz surrounding Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa over the last few months, but if you've been stuck in a world of Bejeweled, the warm sweet embrace of MMOG's once again awaits you. Come join us, we all float down here. Tabula Rasa, which means "clean slate" is NCSoft's newest science fiction themed, third person perspective, first person shooter MMORPG. It's ok to tilt your head like that because on paper it does sound a little odd and raises many an eyebrow.
The story on the surface appears to be right out of a dozen movies you'd see on the SciFi channel. An alien force invades Earth, so we just need Will Smith to save us, right? Wrong. These aliens, called the Bane, obliterate the entire planet starting with the Tulga Games headquarters, and intend to wipe our entire race from the map. Of course a few elite in the world governments were prepared for this and evacuated the best and the brightest to a secret location. They are quickly whisked into a wormhole transporter that has been keept under wraps (at least your tax dollars went to something cool) and sent to the frontlines of a galactic war.
*cue dramatic music*
The Bane invade an AFS Position
When you first enter the tutorial you'll notice immediately that the UI is a little different from what we've seen in other games. There aren't numerous hotbars with a dozen buttons, various boxes displaying data, or a bombardment of information that would make a space shuttle pilot begin to sweat. There is a single five slot hotbar for weapons, one for abilities, a minimap, and your health bars. The other feature that can give people a hard time is being locked into third person mode. Wherever you move your mouse is where your character is going to turn. While your mouse pointer will magically reappear when you use the tilde key or open your backpack you aren't able to do much until you close everything.
Where are the menus and icons to click? The developers have added in an interesting radial menu which you can find by using your control button. This gives you full access to every major command you could need to use in the game. For the crusty old MMOG veterans (which very much include myself) it's going to be a learning process to find things which is why I've remapped and learned all the keyboard shortcuts.
Combat is fast paced and exciting giving an almost console feel to the game. While you run around in third person you have a targeting reticule that will lock on any target that you mouseover. This "sticky targeting" as NCSoft likes to call it, allows players to avoid having the twitch skills of a 13 year old on a gallon of Red Bull. When a target is locked you start clicking until it stops moving.
This might make combat sound easier than finding a copy of World of Warcraft in Best Buy, but don't let its apparent simplicity fool you. All weapons have an effective range which must be taken into consideration and your choices must be made on the fly. Weapons also do different types of damage such as fire, ice, electric, sonic, laser, EMP, and more. Why do you care? Simple, because certain creatures are immune or more susceptible to certain types. So not only do you need to be aware of weapon range, but also that your sonic rifle isn't going to scratch that Predator aircraft.
The environments Tabula Rasa have provided vary from lush forests to barren mountainsides giving the player a variety of areas to experience. I found the game ran fairly well on a very modest machine so real gaming rigs should have no issue running on the highest quality. In high animation areas where large groups of Bane are attempting to assualt AFS positions lower end machines might feel the pinch but can still easily play.
While Tabula does have zones, they are only a handful and can very easily take 20 minutes to run from one side to the other. While I know the prospect of a lot of running thrills the masses, they've compensated by adding armor you can wear to increase your movement speed, and a teleporter location network for fast travel to places you've been already. They've also conveniently provided a number of respawn points you discover and additional semi-safe locations for you to repair, rest and generally be able to go to the bathroom.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Tabula Rasa Game Page.