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E3 - Tabula Rasa - Hands-on Impression


Tabula Rasa

Since GDC, I have been looking for a chance to try out NCSoft's upcoming futuristic MMORPG: Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa. Happy to find it out in the open in the Barker Hangar at E3 2007, I took the opportunity immediately.

After a brief tutorial of the visual displays and keyboard commands, I found myself in a base. Two NPCs had gold markers on their head, showing they were waiting to issue me some missions. The first mission was to travel east and find another NPC. He doesn't tell me why, or what I'm delivering, just to find him. The second mission is to collect ten Grubber Steaks. Again, the NPC offers no other explanation as to what they were, or where I could find them. I understand military personnel not liking questions, but even this curtness seemed a bit off to me.

I circled the base twice before trying the door that clearly looked locked with energy beams. I walked through them without a mark, even though they were solid to my energy weapon. That makes sense, when you think about it.

Unlike the typical MMORPG, you can't just rush in headfirst and slaughter anything you can find. Right away, I was distracted by the missions at hand with an assault on the base I was approaching. It was explained to me that defending bases is essential to the game. Enemies will constantly be trying to invade what they can, and if the bases aren't defended, spawn points will be lost. Without a close spawn point, missions become harder and harder to complete. This element gives a real-time advantage to controlling zones.

I set out to defeat the current forces, accompanied only by some NPC combatants. There were multiple kinds of monsters on the offense. At this time, the physics of attacking was explained. In order to do maximum damage, you must be still, crouching to steady the weapon. Standing is slightly less effective, but moving while firing at a moving target is a practice in futility. Also, different weapons in my arsenal did better against different monsters. Finding the right combination was easy to do and added a cerebral feeling to the battle.

While dealing with these monsters, I thought the wildlife was attacking my foes, but as it turned out, they had no interest in anyone being in their space. I was attacked just as often as they were, requiring me to strategize even more with my assault patterns. The NPCs were no slouches in recognizing danger either, showing some fine tactics of teamwork, even with my undisciplined assistance. The fighting was so intense I forgot I was even playing an MMORPG. I became so excited that I'd forget which buttons would change weapons and skills. I just wanted to survive.

Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa already sets itself apart from most MMORPGs with the spin of science fiction instead of the fantasy scene. It takes it one step further with constant action hard to find in a typical RPG, online or off. How this will translate into a full server wasn't something shown at E3, but the thought of full scale war was appealing. Trying to sneak through such a chaos to get your missions accomplished definitely has its appeal. I did manage to find those Grubber Steaks as well. Hope the man likes 'em raw.

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