Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa
Reviewed: 11/16/2007

Richard Garriott’s Tabula Rasa, NCSoft’s newest foray into MMORPGs, has been a long time coming. After Richard Garriott, better known as Lord (now General) British, was tapped for the lead position, much of the previous work on Tabula Rasa was scrapped. Richard Garriott is somewhat of a superstar in the world of PC RPGs, if such a title exists. Beginning in the early years of computer gaming he helped shape the fledgling RPG genre in the west with Akalabeth in 1980. Garriott soon after created the Ultima series, one of the longest running PC RPG series in history. Garriott was also a producer for Ultima Online, one of the first commercially successful MMORPGs.

Whether it’s Everquest or World of Warcraft, most MMORPGs put players in a realm focused more on fantasy. Tabula Rasa, however, has a sci-fi setting, one setting which has been mostly under served or less than successful in the MMORPG world. It is a world of technology, aliens, and multiple planets in a different galaxy as ours. Earth has been invaded and conquered in just five days by the Bane, an advanced alien race from the planet Thraxus, who had been given much of their knowledge and technoledgy from an altruistic race known only as the Eloh, as the story goes. But all was not lost for the human race as the governments of the world knew in advance this attack was coming. Using advanced alien technology placed on Earth eons ago by the Eloh, an alliance of Earth’s governments secretly evacuated humans that could help advance the human race. Not only skilled workers or scientists but also those who would be capable of fighting off the Bane on the distant planets that humans would be forced to begin calling their homes.

You must, as one of Earth’s few chosen survivors, help your compatriots defend the last remnants of the human race. You are not alone on your quest however as humans have allied themselves with other alien races fighting to deffend themselves from the Bane. Collectively known as the Army of the Allied Free Sentients, they use the technology and powers of the ancient alien race the Eloh. Players begin their careers as lowly recruits. Tabula Rasa uses a reverse tree class system which will branch out into four tiers of greater specializations. Recruits choose to become either Soldiers, the more combat capable branch, or Specialists, the “backup” or support characters in the first skill branch at level 5. From that point players are allowed greater specialization at levels 15 and 30. Players can choose to focus on the healing and biomedical/crafting arts, hauling out the big guns or explosives, or waiting for that one perfect shot as a sniper, among many other careers.

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Phew! What’s that smell!?

Combat in Tabula Rasa is largely unchanged since beta, with only a few tweaks to weapon and armor damage types. Designed to be a much more frenetic and fast paced in comparison to more traditional MMO combat systems, players will fire their weapon manually while the aiming is done automatically. While in combat players can move around making it harder for them to be hit, but this also lowers accuracy. Different variables are taken into account that can affect your damage, accuracy, or ability to dodge. One thing players will be keen to remember is to always try and take cover when in a firefight and to keep their target in the optimal range of their weapon of choice. Also, key variables such as height advantage, and the type of weapons fire being used (AKA laser, sonic, physical, etc) can work in their advantage.

There are many types of firearms and a few melee weapons to choose from. A wise adventurer will have a variety at their disposal and will change as the need arises. From the long-range rifles in which you will need to take the extra time to crouch to further your accuracy, to the close-range conical blast of a shotgun, to specialized weapons for individual classes, each weapon has an opportune moment to use and the best players will be those who can emply multiple strategies. Although not completely unlike many MMOs already out there, gamers should love the frantic pace of combat.

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Does this make me look fat?

Key to the world of Tabula Rasa is the Logos. Logos is a language created nearly in its entirety by Richard Garriott and his girlfriend, designed so that it could be understood by most people, regardless of their native language. Logos are designed to look very similar to pictographs or hieroglyphs. Special abilities or techs used by characters will require knowledge of different Logos symbols in order to be successfully employed. Logos beacons will be found by players, generally through quests, but many will be hidden among different maps for the player to discover on their own, some of which will have locked force fields requiring the knowledge of other Logos to unlock.

Gameplay in Tabula Rasa while still trying to be a fresh and new MMORPG, maintains the genres’ carrot and stick approach. This is not necessarily a bad thing however, as it increases the depth of player involvement that can be found in previous iterations on the genre. Players are encouraged to read the entirety of quest dialogue prior to accepting a quest, not due to necessity but because of sheer desire to see what was written as they can be genuinely enjoyable. Kudos must go out to the writers and scenario desires of Tabula Rasa, as it is not often that one can write a compelling quest premise in a few short paragraphs.

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Ooooh, shiny!

The mission structures are varied as well and generally break down into one of three categories. The first and most prevalent are the missions received from NPCs all over the different planets that can be performed by a solo character and take place on the persistent world. The second are a bevy of instances in which players, generally in allied in a squad in order to complete, work their way through non-persistent instances that are generally heavily scripted leading to some of the more fun blast fights in the game. The third and most recently added missions are wargame missions. These have been created to give players new ways to experience PvP for themselves. Wargame missions include traditional dueling arenas. Some of these arenas will enjoy classics like capture-the-flag and team-based objective missions. Each of these areas will have leader boards and public scores available on the official website and update daily. There, clans can fight it out for bragging rights on their servers.

Tabula Rasa is a very fun and engaging experience. It is rare to find new MMORPGs which hold the players attention all the way through the grind, Tabula Rasa does a good job with a wide variety and large quantity of quests and missions. There is little need to sit in one spot and farm for that uber leet piece of equipment, as many of the quest items are more than adequate. Tabula Rasa will not be a great evangelical beacon to players who do not already follow the church of MMORPGs but among its people it is a bright young light that many should give a chance and follow. For players looking to try a new MMO or any fan of a good science fiction game, this is the one I would suggest.

-Michael Wayland

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Good
Graphics Great
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Great
The Verdict: 8