Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Faults of Tabula Rasa Thus Far

I know over the past two days I've been nothing but optimistic for TR. It really is a lot of fun. But let's do something I don't always do here, let's list the faults I find in the game, and address the ones I see around the internet.

-My Own Personal Nitpicks-
These are ones that matter to me. The others that some fellow players have an issue with like the UI or crafting are listed below. In no particular order...

1.) No Screenshot Tool/Hotkey - What the hell? Really? No screen capture ability? Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it in the beta? When did this get removed and why? Pvt. Hudson was telling me it's due back soon, but I wonder why it's not in. I'd love to give you guys a nice shot of Johnny Bildo, but until this goes in I cannot.

2.) Thumbnail Images for Items - Very vague and misleading. Not unlike LotRO when it launched a lot of the thumbs for items in your inventory are the same across several different items. One look at an ammo vendor in an outpost will make this readily apparent. All grades of ammo of any one type look the same. The only way to tell the difference between lower level ammo and higher level ammo is by the name and description. There really should be a visual distinction in my book, though I know that would mean a hell of a lot of artwork... still, these are nitpicks so let me be.

3.) Lack of Information on Systems - One thing that troubled me in beta, and is still present here but I've grown accustomed to it through experience, is that there's a general lack of info concerning weapons and skills. To a complete new person, the stuff you're presented with within minutes of killing your first few Bane must seem mind boggling. EMP Damage weapons, melee damage and ranged physical damage on a rifle at the same time, medpaks, dye kits, shotguns, rifles, lightning skills, spirnt skills... and on and on and on.

The game's tutorial mission does a good job of showing a player to work in the world and how to level up, and do missions, but there's little in the game to denote the weapon types, and how they work, what they're good against, etc. To be fair this info can be found on forums, in the game's guide, from other players, and more importantly the manual (RTFM!), but in today's age of gamers it should be IN the game itself and clearly presented. To be fair once more, it's not the typical sword/gun does X amount of damage in TR either... it's much more complicated than that, and it shows. There's a learning curve not really to the gameplay, but to the numbers-game within TR.

I really dig it, but I can easily see it throwing a lot of folks for a loop, and I also wish I didn't have to work so hard to learn the systems. That's the source of my claim here. It shouldn't be hard to find the info.

4.) Higher Level Folks One-Shotting During Outpost Captures... - At first, I didn't mind this so much. But soon, I realized how cool the Freezing Modification and Incendiary Modification upgrades that you get as rewards for completing the Outpost Capture missions are. Now, when an OP goes into contention and I rush to its area to help the fight, I get a just a tiny bit ticked when I see level 30-something players taking out all the Bane to claim the tokens needed for the quests themselves.

They have every right to, sure. But I think there's room for better design here. make it so that anyone who damages an enemy in an capture can get a token from said enemy for example and increase the number needed if you must. Or make it so that higher level players get something else entirely so we aren't forced to fight over targets for tokens. It's not a huge problem, and that it's one of the only major gameplay issues I have tells me that I haven't found too many gameplay faults that bug me a lot in TR yet. Maybe I won't for a while. That's certainly refreshing.

-The Nitpicks of Others -
These are the issues others might be having with TR, and I'd like to address them. My comments here might be either in aggreement or rebuttal, so ye be warned.

1.) Control-Scheme - A lot of your MMO vets hate the Pseudo-FPS controls with a passion. I've grown quite fond of it, but many haven't and likely never will. It's not favored by everyone, that's for sure. But, as fate would have it, the Devs have listened to this common complaint from beta... it just seems few folks bother to notice it. Under the options/controls area of your UI you can clearly see a place that's labeled "Style: FPS" (or something of that nature).

Here you can switch to "Style: MMO", and suddenly the need to cycle through skills and weapons using the Q and E keys or pressing a number and then right-clicking to activate the skills is gone. In place of this method is a much more familiar set-up. Press 1-5 to pick your weapon, and left click as normal. Pick 6 - 0 to use whichever skill is tied to whichever weapon... no right-clicking necessary.

As Hudson about this, and he'll tell you. If you simply cannot stand or cannot get used to the FPS style, just switch it. Makes a world of difference.

2.) -The Overall UI Setup- This one I'm going to partly agree with and partly disagree. The UI in TR is a very unique bird. Minimalist is the best way to put it. Health, Shields, Level, and Power are all on the lower left corner of the screen, while the radar is on the lower right, and your skill/weapon bars are in the middle. There's a yellow XP Bar scrolling across the screen just above these as well. In the top right the quest-tracker does it thing, while in the top left the chat window scrolls on and on with the rambling of the populace.

It works, it's functional. The graphics on the UI, while nothing to write home about, are very fitting for the Sci-Fi feel of the game, and the Radial Menu (reached by holding down CTRL) is a nice little feature to stay away from taking up more screen space by using static buttons somewhere along the bottom.

But this set up is far from ordinary isn't it? As MMO vets, we're used to by now having the radar on the top right, our health on the top left (by default), and chat and experience along with skill bars along the bottom. Certainly, getting used to the chat on the top left is a task in and of itself. It just doesn't feel right. All of this could be alleviated by letting the community create mods, or by freeing up the sections of the UI to be scaled and moved around by the players.

3.) -The Maps- The Maps in TR are awesome, I'll go on record as saying. I really do like the way they're done. They're presented as images taken from a sattelite and presumable published to your Soldier PDA or summat. They're not the hand-crafted drawings you'll find in most Fantasy fare, but all the info you need can be found on them. Blue areas with Medical Crosses, and Portal Tooltips are more often than not your quest hubs and outposts. When said blue spots become red, they're under contention and it's time to kick Bane ass. Little white stars denote different areas of the map, such as Memory Tree Hill, Corman Lake, etc.

When you highlight a quest in your quest log to be tracked, a little orange walkie-talkie shows up both on your map and as a directional arrow around the radius of your radar. It's not quite a giant point arrow and beam of light that Auto Assault vets will remember, which is nice as the orange indicator shows you the general area of the quest, but leaves the exploration of said area still in tact. Another thing about TR, at least in the Concordia Wilderness (1st area) is that the zones are memorable enough that once you traverse a patch a few times, or even once, you know it. If you're good with directions. And if you're not. You have a compass, a radar, quest indicators, and even signs along the main "roads" pointing you all over the place. If you get lost in TR, it's your fault not Destination Games'.

4.) -Crafting and Economy- Crafting was added late in the beta. Simply put, it doesn't have the polish to be anything more than a nice little bonus right now. The Devs know this, and are feverishly working to make it something worth the points you must spend to excel at it. You have to spend skill points on crafting, as it's designed at the moment, and this might be part of its current lackluster appeal. In a game all about war, who wants to be the guy in a tent making ammo and modifications for weapons, then finding it hard to fight because he/she has spent several skill points on crafting

I'm glad I dislike crafting in most games, else I'd be more miffed. I hope it gets righted into something more useful and interesting over the coming months. The Auction House that's coming in the 1st big update (on PTS now) should help to start revealing whether or not there's going to be a real economy in TR or not. At least we're getting these things sooner than CoH for a game focused on fighting and missions.


I'm sure I didn't touch on all the complaints out there, but I believe I touched on the majors, and of course my own tiny nitpicks. But by and large, after about 10 hours played in the retail version of TR, I'd say for someone looking for a change of MMO-Pace, you could a whole do lot worse than playing TR. Its long-term appeal is still up in the air for me, but if they keep it updated, fix some of the major issues (crafting namely for those folks), I can see TR lasting a long and healthy Sci-Fi life, and I can see myself playing it often over the coming years.

It deserves a place in the market, that's for sure. So get out there and try it. Crusty (The Bane) needs killing.


haslo said...

Hey there :)

I partially agree with your points. The whole control scheme gripe I don't get at all, and despite having been an addon fanatic in WoW the UI here seems just right for me...

The things that annoy me as well are basically the icon thing (particularly for crafting, since many things disassemble into same-looking bits). I might add the distinct lack of an auto-stacking feature in the footlockers, that makes sorting items (that look the same, remember) even more painful. And the crafting system of course, that just doesn't seem finished to me...

I can't really agree with the weapon/damage thing. It's fairly straightforward really, and what makes it even more intuitive is that every weapon does what you expect it to. Rifles have long range and do reasonable damage, shotguns are close-range AoE, pistols have high damage but low range and so on - you're not confronted with confusing stuff like injector guns until later on, and then you can still read the skill description. And the outpost issues, I haven't experienced those yet myself.

As for the screenshot feature, that'll come in the next patch :)

Oh, and you got yourself a new regular reader ;)

Bildo said...

Cool! Thanks for dropping by, Haslo. If you've ever got something you want to read my thoughts on, just drop me a line in the comments. I'm gaming for talking about anything.


As for the UI thing, keep in mind it's not my personal gripe. I put it under the Main Detractions category. I like it and think it's actually quite visually on par with the rest of the game's presentation. But I do wish I could move that danged chatbox. it just doesn't look right to me.

I know what you mean about the weapons thing as well, but I don't think I'm wrong when I say some folks would get frustrated wondering why they can't kill things from a mile away with their shotgun, or why they need to worry about damage types, or ammo, etc.

I like it, but I think the information ABOUT how all of it works and factors in could be more readily available.

I really am digging the game, aside from what things I've listed as my own faults. I'm a nitpicker, but fun's fun right?

Brenda said...

Use Fraps :) I didn't even notice SOE turned off screenshots in the EQ2 RoK beta until I accidentally hit the game screenie key instead of Fraps'...

I bought the full version. Totally worth it. Solved my problems of the screenshots the game takes not looking as good as the picture on the game itself, too.

Max said...

Great post Bildo, as always.

As for the Screen Cap, I'm almost sure it was removed to minimize NDA violations during Beta, which is is a futile move due to FRAPS and other similar apps, but I do think it was an oversight by the Devs following the launch fever run.

Rock on!

CuppaJo said...

Screenshot key added in the patch on test due out tomorrow, more icons on their way, we are working on ways to 'teach' specific systems and making a change so that ToO's don't require attack/defend tokens.

And yes, MMO Mode rocks.

Bildo said...

@ Brenda/Tipa: You are "teh smrt". Seriously, I have a full copy of FRAPS and completely forgot about using it. I'm so used to using if for video capture, that it just didn't dawn on me. :P

@ Cuppa: Gracias for stopping by with some updates. The ToO's by the way are one of my favorite features. I hope they don't severely increase in amounts needed come the later areas a la LotRO. 200 Bane? Fine. 300? Doable because the combat is just so brisk. Even 500 seems to make sense. But there's a fine line between noticeable grinding and fun.

AA managed to cross the grinding line with their Ground Zero PVP tokens, so I hope DG is aware of it... given the overall lack of grindy-ness in the early game, I'm led to believe they are.

And yes, as stated MMO-Mode does rock. But I've grown quite used to the FPS mode since way back in beta, and find myself wishing more games had this type of combat. :)

MMOcrunch said...

My biggest grip, aside from quest grinding, was all the mountains. God I hated having to go around a huge mountain only to figure out that I needed to go the other way. I swear can't they build elevators!

Solf said...

I'm considering trying TR again this holiday season.

By "again" I mean that I have bought preorder pack that gave me beta access and played some TR before its release.

The reason why I left in disgust was simple -- I found out that mobs have no reservations against shooting you through walls and even ground. Which made certain instance that was in part some kind of underground complex very infuriating and perhaps even impossible (to solo). It started with one mob that kept shooting at me from somewhere through ground... Then I went around some corner and met some more mobs.. I backed out -- but they kept shooting at me through wall... I ran somewhere and aggroed more and all of them kept shooting at me no matter what walls I put between us. So I died eventually. And left the game.

So could someone who is playing TR now clarify -- do mobs still shoot through walls or has it been fixed?

brackish said...

Sorry Bildo, catching up in the reader here and have been wanting to post on this. Work is crazy.

This and your previous post are really really good. I think you are giving it a fair shake and I kind of am afraid to look at the two new recent posts. :P

I feel like the UI could use some personal customization and the lack of control on the part of the player leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Giving the option of a movable UI is so basic in MMOs today that I was a little disappointed to not see it implemented. That being said, once they change this I feel I can truly feel better about the UI.

Crafting will need some work and I fear the addition of the Auction house on test right now. Nothing is BOE or BOP so I see issues coming here. Basic ones that spawn multi sided arguments that have all been said before.

Great arguement on the tokens! I totally agree and those quests are always the last ones I have finished. I have only completed one to date and thats in Wilderness because of the reason you state. Its just easier to get the kills. Lets hope they address this as well.