Man, I’m glad that contest is over, because it means I can now talk about something else. Like Tabula Rasa!

I got a three-day trial of the game from my friend Wynne McLaughlan, who is actually a designer on the game now. I was…trepidatious about playing it because I really, really didn’t want to dislike something so many people I like worked on. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem.

Tabula Rasa almost defies description. It’s an MMO, but it plays a lot like a shooter, except when it doesn’t. I got a character to about level 11 over my three-day trial (would have been higher but I had my daughters’ birthday party that weekend).

So what’s the basic gameplay of Tabula Rasa? Well, you outfit your character with weapons and armor. You drag the weapons, items and abilities you want to use to a quick-use bar that maps to the number keys at the top of your keyboard. Then you run around looking for enemies to fight. When you find one you can lock on target with the tab key – or not, since the game auto-locks onto whatever enemy is under your cursor when you pull the trigger. Then you fire at the enemy by left-clicking, usually dancing around trying to avoid return fire, until one of you is dead. You may also use Logos abilities during the combat, which you do by right-clicking. You also run around exploring, doing quests and trying to find more Logos symbols so that you can become more powerful. That’s basically it. Armor and health are handled in a very Halo style – both recharge over time, with armor quickly but only when you are out of combat.

What I loved:

* You loot enemies shooter-style, by running over their bodies instead of having to interact with a GUI. YES YES YES.

* Killing several enemies in a row gives you an XP multiplier, which increases as long as you keep your streak going. I got mine up to 150% and I’m pretty sure that’s not the max multiplier.

* Lots of quests and a good quest progression. The game does not just throw you into the Wilderness without any sort of guide; its quest progression (at least in the starting area) is as good as World of Warcraft’s.

What I hated:

* Resurrection trauma. Resurrection trauma in Tabula Rasa lasts for five minutes. It’s not quite as debilitating as World of Warcraft’s, since it only drops you to about 70% of your stats…but it happens every time you die. Plus, your armor seriously degrades with each death and there is no on-screen indicator to tell you this, so if you’re a new player and not used to the system and you try to jump right back into the action, you’re going to die again quickly. And then again even more quickly. Until you finally look at your character sheet and see that your armor is 0 and all your stats are red…at which point you clue in to what is going on. Now when I die I immediately repair and then spend the next five minutes turning in quests or fighting enemies significantly lower in level than I am until the rez sickness wears off. It’s kind of annoying, though I did become a more cautious (and therefore probably better) player once I figured it out.

You do not pick your class when you start the game. Instead you begin to choose your class at level five. You must choose to either become a Soldier or a Specialist, and each class has branches that allow you to specialize further later. Basically the Soldiers are the damage dealers and the Specialists are the support. I went Soldier.

The thing in the game that I enjoyed the most was after I had gotten my Shrapnel Bomb up to level 2, at which point I would run up behind a group of three Bane thugs that had just teleported out of a dropship, pop them with the Shrapnel Bomb to immediately remove all their armor, and then kill them with 2-3 shots of my shotgun. I could do that all day.

Base defense can also be quite fun…until the game decides that it’s time for the humans to lose this base and sends an absolutely overwhelming force at it, at which point the prudent player will immediately hit the teleporter in order to get away quick before the base’s capture point switches allegiances (at which point the teleporter doesn’t work any more).

I didn’t manage to do any crafting, although I had several recipes drop. But the crafting system I observed looked a heck of a lot like Star Wars Galaxies’ system, where you have a recipe that requires certain skills and components and once you fulfill all your prerequisites you go to a crafting station to actually do the work. I’ve no idea if the system is as punishing as SWG’s (where you could lose incredibly valuable resources and possibly even die for critically failing a crafting roll) but I kind of doubt it.

So is it good? Hell yes! It’s the second-best MMO I’ve ever played after WoW – and I’ve at least tried practically every MMO out there. Will I be subscribing? Well, no…but it’s because I simply cannot afford another timesink if I want to get Planitia finished. So I guess I should say “not yet”.

If you pick it up, look for an engineer named Salter at Alia Das (the first base you come to after finishing the tutorial). Because he’s named after me! He’s even a quest target, though the voice actor for the questgiver mispronounces my last name as “Sattler”. Why does everyone do that? He’s also apparently got a bad dust habit…