All in all, there’s a lot to recommend Garriott’s world. It has atmosphere – with a war going on, all the players know exactly what they’re there for, and everyone seems happy to much in, blasting Bane troops that are pounding on weaker characters, aiding in the completion of tricky newbie quests as they pass by, and generally getting stuck in. To help this, the game even features periodic raids by allied forces on Bane control points and visa versa, during which everyone in the area rallies to the call so that they can collect the appropriate defence or offense tokens and so complete their own mission objectives. These raids are little fiestas of gunfire and carnage, and the game comes very close to realising its vision of an epic sci-fi conflict. It also helps that TR features some strong storylines, and that the instanced quests – the ones where the game creates a special version of a combat-heavy area for you and any squad-mates to enjoy – are set up beforehand by cool little cut-scenes.
Most of all, it’s nice to see some enemies with real character and backbone. After years of slaying rats, wolves and sprites in the early stages of an MMO, battling the sinister Bane forces is a real change for the better. The different classes of troops are almost Halo-like in their clear delineation, though it has to be said that the AI – while a cut above most standard MMOs – isn’t up there at the level of Bungie’s classic.
Meanwhile, hurrah for an MMO with a sensible system of teleports and waypoints, saving you the endless backtracking between quests and quest-givers that seems to be part and parcel of the genre. Hurrah too for a sensible attitude to death that doesn’t make your life miserable every time you wander into a Bane-heavy area or take on someone who’s too big for your current blaster.
However, there’s a whole host of ways in which Tabula Rasa isn’t as revolutionary as we might have hoped. A lot of the basic questing structure is tired; we’ve all done the bit where you build skills and experience, the bit where the world opens up and the bit where you go on to explore new areas before, and we’ve all done a million quests where you kill 12 of this and collect 6 of that, or where you have to find the lost brother/sister/cousin or check out an enemy outpost up the river.