to join the CVG community. Not a member yet? Join now!
15 Reviews

Tabula Rasa

Take control of humanity's last stand in Richard Garriott's galactic MMO epic

Open betas are awesome things; you get to play a game for free. Open betas are terrible things; the game you get to play may not be awesome, at least yet.

When I played the Tabula Rasa beta, I found myself charmed by some of it, but with a mass of worries. Now it's released, it's probably my favourite persistent-world MMO since City of Heroes.

Despite the differing theme, there are a lot of similarities. For example, it goes for all-out action against massed opponents. While in games like World of Warcraft you're being a little ballsy if you try to go more than one-on-one at lowish levels, with a mass of TR's area-effect weapons and plentiful ways to stack the odds in your favour, you'll be mowing down whole squads before you know it.


While it's not a first-person shooter, it often gives you a similar feeling to one when the action really kicks off.

Secondly, the attention to atmosphere. The alien worlds which you explore are often fluid warzones, in which the NPC allies (the faction all players join) and the dastardly Bane happily shoot the hell out of each other without the players.

Where most games are happy to spawn their orcs in fields to mope around, Tabula Rasa regularly flies in drop-ships to deposit a new attack wave or - at the least - does a sinister teleport flash. When you've got a Bane mothership lurking above the battlefield, it all ties together. It almost feels like Halo: The MMO.

But it still shares a basic structure with the rest of the genre. You get quests from people with marks above their heads. You run off and kill some people, and take their stuff. You sell it to buy some lovely new equipment. You level up. You gain new powers. Perhaps you team up with some mates and go off into a private instanced area for an epic mission. MMO stuff, you know.

Which isn't to say that the game's inventions are inconsequential. Take how Tabula Rasa deals with character development. Everyone starts with identical skills and abilities, but you branch at levels five, 15 and 25. At each of the forks you have the ability to create a clone of your progress so you can backtrack.

Then there's the combat itself which, while stat based, has enough twists to make it more than just standing still and shooting at each other. Partial cover leads to defensive bonuses. Kneeling gives you a damage bonus (but a vulnerability in limited manoeuvrability).

That you have to aim to get a lock and click repeatedly to fire with non-auto guns means you feel more connected to the action than the click-and-spray hosepipe of death of Hellgate, and things like chainguns overheating and the generally low level of damage it takes to kill most opponents means that combat feels like no other MMO.


Rather than the map being static like most MMOs, some settlements can alternate between allied and Bane control and the fights to claim or defend them lead to some of Tabula Rasa's most frenetic and memorable moments.

Not all of its moves come off. The much-discussed 'Ethical Parables' - quests with a moral choice element, and a hangover from developer figurehead Richard Garriott's earlier career building the ethically complex Ultima games - are very much minor details.

While it's a lovingly rendered world, the atmosphere occasionally cracks: while there have been far worse MMO launches, there are some rough elements, broken quests and interface issues that require a patch's loving attention.

But perversely, what I noticed most is the stuff that I didn't notice at first. Stuff that I didn't think about until I had a character in the mid-teens. Like how, despite the fact the game is based around a level system, monsters are flagged if they're likely to give you a kicking - and I didn't think about it once.

  1 2