Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tabula Rasa On Hold

I quit WoW once I had seen all the sights I wanted to see and I knew that the rest wasn't worth the effort. I quit Lord of the Rings Online when I realized that the gameplay just didn't do it for me anymore. So why am I deciding that now is the time to quit Tabula Rasa? I've been totally digging this MMO. It's managed to turn traditionally slow MMORPG gameplay into something much more exciting. So if the game plays great, then what's the freaking problem?

As time passed playing Tabula Rasa, I began to realize that it was a really lonely game. I grouped up whenever there was an opportunity, and that was always fun, but over time it happened less and less. I started making it more of a priority, but the vast majority of my time was still spent solo. I think there are a couple factors at work here. One obvious problem is that the game hasn't been a smash success, and the population is on the decline. Spread the few players over segregated servers and level ranges and the result is that there are few people that you can actually play with. This is made worse by the fact that the traditional instanced group activities have zero replay incentive - loot is completely exchangeable in Tabula Rasa, so the only reason to run an instance is for the quest, and once you've done the quest there's no reason to return. So your only potential partners are people that are in your level range and haven't run the quest yet, and there just aren't enough of them. The fact that Tabula Rasa is lenient about group composition and travel is great, but it can't make up for a lack of players. It makes me feel guilty, because I know that me leaving doesn't make it any easier for the people I'm leaving behind, but the whole thing was starting to feel like a diluted single player game.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem whatsoever with a single player game in a large persistent world. That's how I find myself playing most MMOs. But if you're going to survive completely on that, you need something driving you forward that's as powerful as a traditional singleplayer epic. Tabula Rasa is overall weak on story and environment (although it does has its moments). Towards the high 30s I ran into a long stream of lackluster content that just killed my mojo. If there was some social gameplay to distract me I'd probably keep on truckin', but without that there just wasn't enough to pull me through.

I can blame that weak content for my waning interest, but there's also a bit of a flaw in the character development track. Through the lower levels you are very involved in shaping your character to your play style, with your final class decision happening at level 30. That's a great moment, and after that you've got quite a few levels to break in your awesome new abilities. But after you've pumped some points into them and found your balance you realize that there's nothing more coming. You'll get more points to allocate, making your abilities slightly more powerful, but there's nothing significant that will change all the way from 30 to the level cap at 50. By the late 30s I felt like I'd already mastered my arsenal and had nothing to focus on next.

So it was that I found myself with no one to play with, no interesting story to pursue, increasingly repetitive environments, and no long-term developments to look forward to. Basically, the long-term appeal was gone.

So I've put my Tabula Rasa account into hibernation. I could go back and start with another class, and that does intrigue me. In fact, even after everything I've said above, just thinking about the game makes me want to play it some more. But I think I'd rather put this one on the backburner and see if the development team can flesh more things out in the following months. I hope they do, because the moment to moment action of this game is still my favorite for any MMO.

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