It’s not that Tabula Rasa does it any worse than WoW, Vanguard or LoTRO – it’s just that it doesn’t really do it any better, at least in the early stages of the game. I think the subplots and missions miss out on some of the personality and humour you find in WoW or LoTRO, and around level 9 I could feel a grind developing. This is still a huge improvement on the pre-WoW days, when the grind used to kick in straight away, but it’s still a disappointment. On the plus side, Tabula Rasa does score highly for the sheer quantity and choice of its missions, so at least you’re rarely stuck on one dull collect-a-thon for long.
It also has to be said that while the game overall is very solo friendly, particularly as other players are usually happy to help you out while passing through, the instanced quests, where you’re basically on your own or with a pre-made group, are very tough on the lone player unless you’re of a high enough level. Sadly, you won’t find that out until you try them. In my experience, it’s not as easy as it is in, say, Guild Wars, to find a pick-up group to do such a quest with, and Tabula Rasa doesn’t have that game’s AI heroes or allies to help you through.
This isn’t a disaster by any means, but it contributes to the feeling I get that Tabula Rasa was designed to change the MMO world in the era before WoW, but now we’ve had WoW, LoTRO and Guild Wars, a lot of its innovations seem less inspired. The real-time combat is brilliant, no doubt about it, but TR still feels like the sort of game that hardened MMO players will know and love, but the casual crowd will get annoyed or confused by. Crafting, for example, is barely explained and a hassle, while the mechanics of finding and joining a group aren’t made a key part of the early stages in the way that they are in WoW and Guild Wars.
You can see that features like the raids, which actively change the status of areas of the map, are designed to create the impression of a dynamic, constantly evolving battlefield, but while it’s impressive to see Bane forces drop-shipped in, Halo style, rather than simply wandering aimlessly around, the overall effect isn’t quite there. The moral choices, meanwhile, don’t have as much impact on the game as you might anticipate. Take the drug-run mission or turn the dealer in? Arrest the alien peacenik or let him escape unharmed? Either way, it doesn’t really seem to matter. All in all, the world still feels a little artificial.