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Tabula Rasa - hands-on

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So the Earth was destroyed - space invaders, inevitably, going by the name of the Bane. What chance did humanity have? We can barely get into orbit. The Bane crosses galaxies just to burn worlds.

A few of us managed to escape through the uncovered technology of the Bane’s estranged brother-alien race, the Eloh. We found other races willing to resist the Bane and bound together into a force that called itself the Allied Free Sentients. And a lucky few - including you - discovered they were “Logos sensitive” and able to unlock the mysterious powers of the Eloh. What can we do now? Maybe nothing. Maybe anything. Maybe everything. Wiped clean, humanity’s Tabula Rasa awaits your mark.

Appropriately enough, that’s the situation Richard “Lord British” Garriott found himself in after leaving Origin, the company he founded, in the clutches of Electronic Arts. He was able to recruit the key personnel who had created Ultima Online, the first genuinely successful commercial MMO, for a new project, which has been six tempestuous years in the making now. Finally, we’re invited to their Austin headquarters to pore over the marks Garriott and his team have chosen to make.

It’s an interesting game. Starr Long, original Project Director of Ultima Online, talks about their desire to go back to first principles, imagining what an MMO could be like without the detritus of influences. No fantasy setting. No taking turns to bash monsters. At it’s heart, Tabula Rasa is a third-person shooter, like Gears of War. It is, as one of the beta-testers said on the open chat channel when we were playing, “a breath of fresh air.”

The biggest difference in approach is combat. Based around your character’s abilities rather than your own ability to point a cursor over someone’s head, Tabula Rasa’s combat is more about situations than bare number-crunching.

Cover counts. Half-conceal yourself behind a tree and you’ll get a defensive bonus. Crouch to hide even more of yourself and you’ll get more, as well as a bonus to hit. If someone manages to outflank you, on the other hand, you’ll be at a considerable disadvantage. This leads to a fluid jockeying for position for both players and AI, rather than simply standing nose-to-nose and cycling through your most powerful attacks.

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