Tabula Rasa means a clean start, literally a cleaned tablet, a point to start afresh. It’s not only a game title, but an expression of what Richard Garriot wanted to do with this new game. Richard Garriot’s Blank Slate. Subtitle: “Stop judging me by Ultima”.

I’ve played a lot of MMOs over the years. I played Ultima Online before it had any expansion packs at all, I played EverQuest, Earth & Beyond, EvE, World of Warcraft, Asheron’s Call, EverQuest 2, Dungeon Runners, Guild Wars and, of course, my running habit, City of Heroes. I’ve currently got running subscriptions to Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and, courtesy of Eurogamer’s Free Trial, 3 days of Tabula Rasa.

I played TR in beta, but didn’t get far beyond the tutorial, due to lack of time, a series of busy weekends when the servers were up, and the servers not being up when I did have time to play. I found the interface clunky and annoying, and there wasn’t enough explanation of how it was supposed to work. This was, apparently, something they listen to feedback on and have done better with, and I had fewer problems with the interface this time.

Tabula Rasa succeeds in at least one of its aims: It’s a different type of MMO in large areas. It falls heavily into some other clichés, but generally it’s a different play experience than the rest of the options on the market. The two things that separate it are the Sci fi world (In which it is not unique, but is rare. Admittedly, the options for new MMOs appear to be “There are too many Fantasy MMOs! Lets make a Sci Fi one instead!”) but, more obviously, the lack of turn-based combat. TR plays more like a First Person Shoot-em-up than the standard First Person Diablo 2 combat system. It has a more subtle class system – in that you don’t pick a class on creation, but instead take a series of choices at level boundaries which shift your abilities in a certain direction. For example, first you might chose between being a Solder and a Specialist, and then later take up the subclass Ranger, and later on a further subclass below that. It’s a system that works particularly well with the Clone mechanic, which allows you to take a copy of your character, strip back all its choices and skill point spending and build it back up as something else, You can then play this new character separately.

None of it’s new, though.

The crafting system is directly out of Current Generation MMO Design 101, the combat is remarkably similar to Planetside (A game I’m pleasantly surprised is still running), including the constant back-and-forth shifting of control zones. The only thing not similar to anything else in existence as far as I know is the GUI, and that’s one of the weakest elements of the game. I’ve frequently died in game as a result of not being able to activate a health-pack quickly enough. This might just be me, though.

Anyway, I’d recommend giving it a try, it’s got a lot of original elements. I will say this, though, download the client first (2.4 gig) before activating your trial key, as otherwise you might spend half your trial looking at the download meter 🙂