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Hands-On Preview -
Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa
Previewed on 9/15/07

The MMORPG genre has often been classified as stagnant for new or fresh ideas in the recent years. With behemoths like World of Warcraft raking in most of the market share, there have been many games with the “me too” philosophy of game design in hopes of taking some of the WoW pie for their own. Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa, from NCSoft, has decided to go a different route, one that they hope blends what many know and love of the genre with new a gameplay style.

With Tabula Rasa Richard Garriott, and NCSoft, will try to infuse a strong story and gameplay into their original world. Garriott, creator of the Ultima PC series, has created an extensive backstory and history that follows the remnants of planet Earth as it was invaded by the Bane. Earth, completely overrun within five days by this alien threat retreated, to the stars as the best and brightest were drafted to journey to new worlds recently discovered by using ancient alien technology, Logos created by the ancient alien race of the Eloh.

As one of Earth's survivors, it is up to you and your compatriots to defend the last remnants of the human race, with some help from the Eloh and their invention Logos. Each player will begin their career as a lowly Recruit and using a reverse tree class system will branch out into four tiers of greater specializations. 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 other careers.

Combat in Tabula Rasa is designed to be a much more frenetic and fast paced when compared to the more traditional MMO-style combat. Players will fire their weapon manually while the majority of aiming is done automatically. While in combat players can move around making it harder for them to be hit, while simultaneously lowering their 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. All of this leads to a rewarding feeling, as you do your best to constantly keep yourself and your squad in optimum strategic position, but not so much as to make Tabula Rasa feel like a frantic shoot-em-up.

Key to the world of Tabula Rasa is the introduction of Logos. Logos is a language wholly created by Richard Garriott and his girlfriend, designed so that it could be easily understood by anyone, regardless of their native tongue. As such Logos is designed in the style of pictographs or hieroglyphics. Special abilities or techs used by characters will require knowledge of different combinations of these Logos symbols in order to be successfully carried out.

While many quests and tasks in Tabula Rasa are of the standard kill X number of Y enemies and standard FedEx affair, it is nice to that many of these feature slight twists on their counterparts and are so well written that players may find themselves reading each line and being drawn into this world that Richard Garriott and his staff have so meticulously created. Along with the more mundane quests, Tabula Rasa has multi-tiered quests, many of which are instanced, in which tightly scripted and choreographed NPC actors take the player and their squad deeper into this new reality. Many of these larger quests and how players act within may cause real and longterm effects to all within Tabula Rasa.

Tabula Rasa is shaping up to be one of the most innovative mainstream additions to the MMORPG genre in awhile. This is sorely needed. While there are some minor issues, Tabula Rasa as of today would be one of the more complete MMO releases, which is known to be plagued with release date patches and game stopping bugs. It is nice to see developers straying away from the tired "swords and sorcery" fantasy worlds. Players interested in a “next-gen” MMO experience that strays away from standard genre conventions while holding on to those that made it an industry powerhouse would be advised to keep an eye out for Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa, set for release October 19th, players who preorder will be allowed earlier admitance starting October 16th.



-Michael Wayland