Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Soloability of Instances in Tabula Rasa

Like I was hoping to, I had some time last night to try out my 1st instance in Tabula Rasa. I started writing this a just a general impressions of my time in the first instance of TR, but as I went along it morphed into a near entire play by play of my time spent in the Pravus Research Facility last night. It made that much of an impression on me. It's been a while since I had so much fun running solo in an MMO, and especially in an instance. Not since Van Cleef and the Deadmines have I felt so involved in something "epic". LONG post ahead, so reader beware. :)

Of course I didn't go into said instance until after I had completed some other nagging quests around the Concordia Wilderness. Namely, I was tasked with taking out some named mobs and gunning down some hefty duty Predator-class Bane ships, getting a Forean's codex back from a giant armor-plated Xanx beast, and taking out the Three Devils (3 Bane officers) so I could collect a certain plant from around the lake they patrolled and save the Corman people from a form of Malaria.

All in an evening's work. I did these three quests with the help of some nice folks I met while working my way to each of the quests sites, at least I did the latter two with groups. The big Xanx (sort of spider-like giant monstrosities) wasn't so much a hard hitter as it was a pain in the arse to bring down as a Specialist. You see Specialists are one of the two branches you choose at level 5. The other is Soldier. Both can perform extremely well and last long in combat, but the soldiers have the edge in combat, while we specialists have the edge in survivability and supporting skills.

So anyway the Xanx was a tough mother to take out, due to extremely potent shielding/armor. The best way to drop those down on an "elite" mob like this is to use an EMP chain-gun (soldiers only) or a nice big ol' EMP bomb. The trouble with using a bomb against a Xanx is that they're meant for melee combat. At range or on the move around them, they're harmless, but to use a bomb you need to get in close and personal. Luckily, before I had to take the risk of getting in on the big bastardo a few fellow AFS folks joined me and we took it down with minimal fuss. My radial shield regeneration tool kept my Soldier friends alive, and she was dropped within a minute. We specialists definitely are valuable in that respect. I can dish out the damage and keep myself a live, but it's nice to know that what I lack in pure fire-power I more than make up for in keeping my less resourceful friends alive.

We proceeded to move east across the Wilderness and took out the Three Devils. Again, the strategy was get in drop an EMP bomb where they're huddled firing shots into you, and watch the little f**kers go BOOM! Shields gone, they were ripe for the picking. After this quest, my groupmates went their separate ways, and I went hunting for some Predators.

The night before, I had attempted to take out these buggers. Predators are big roving ships that look like an evil version of Boba Fett's mode of transport. They hunt in packs, are deadly from close range, move quickly, and are extremely potent when they self-destruct near death. My 1st attempt at taking them out was ill-advised. I had read that EMP damage did the best against them, but didn't realize they were so deadly up close, so I ran in with my only EMP gun at the time... a shotgun, thinking if I stayed behind them I'd be fine. Wrong. Within seconds I was dead.

So last night I tried a different tactic. I followed the road I had seen them on last and came across the same group of three harrassing the local Xanx population. From behind a bunch of sandbags, I crouched and whipped out my regular physical damage rifle. Taking them out from range was my only chance, and staying far away at the same time. Waited for my sights to get bead on one of the bastards, and pulled the trigger. 300 points of damage per shot, the shields dropped, then its health dropped... before he could even close in on me he was on the ground in pieces. There were still two more to worry about though. Back-peddling and keeping my range, I took them out bit by bit until they both were huddled messes of refuse on the road. Job well done.

Those more middling tasks complete (albeit exciting as they were, and I did save the Corman people from a plague), I had bigger fish to fry. There was something rotten going on at the Pravus Reasearch Facility, the dead being brought back to life as machines by the Bane... and I needed to check it out.

One of the cool things, and there are many, about TR's instances is that they scale. If you bring one guy in there and then go in later with five, you'll notice a big difference in mob density and strength. This takes a page right out of the old CoH playbook. So as a solo adventurer, I can stand a chance on my own in said instance, so long as I play wisely, take my time, and maybe put a level or two between you and the average mob.

In short, instances in TR aren't built or designed like instances in WoW. They're much more akin to CoH or Auto Assault, and I mean that in a good way. These aren't places you go to farm loot or grind reputation, these are places you go for a more story-oriented experience, and after this 1st one I'm inclined to say they're better because of this simple fact. The instances in WoW, EQ2, or any other game that handles them traditionally are certainly story-oriented, but due to the nature of them, that they're meant to be repeated ad nauseum in order to attain certain loot pieces, they loose their shine for most players rather quickly.

In TR, their function primarily is story 1st, experience for gaining a level 2nd, and private hunting if you want to get away from fellow players 3rd. This is not to say good loot can't be found, but rather that it's not meant to be the draw and instead you're left with a place that's built for the story, for the experience (not xp, but actual experience), and because it doesn't beg to be returned to over and over, the players shouldn't end up dreading the sight of "LFM: Pravus Research" in general chat. I dug the choice in Auto Assault, one of that game's main shining points, and I dig it here.

So anyway, let's get to how it played and how I fared.

As Private Hudson has already mentioned on his blog, the instances are much like mini-zones. The maps (M key) look the same, only smaller, and there's even usually a friendly town where you can buy ammo, medical supplies, and where you'll rez upon death. Very cool. It's private too as I mentioned, so you can feel free to act as dumb as you want inside of them. For some good screens and video, check out Hudson's site linked above, as I once again forgot to make use of FRAPs as I was playing... doh! Also cool to note, is that when entering an instance, a short descriptive cinematic made out to look like a military personnel video plays to give you the run down on the area and what's going on, and why you're there.

The instance starts you off right in a nice cosy, familiar Forean town, where I was tasked with meeting up with one of the Forean women. She told me about how the Bane are using some technology or another to change the bodies of the dead, both Forean and Human, into Machina... reanimated robotic dead. She asked me to find out what the source of this horror was and to destroy it. With that knowledge and goal I set off to see my commanding officer who also tasked me to head up to the front lines and to do what I could to aid the AFS in the fight.'

I grabbed some ammo and made sure my armor and other equipment was in top condition and headed up the hill, out of the Forean village, and into the pits of a hell I had not expected. Gone were the green canopies of the Concordia Wilderness, replaced with the black refuse the Bane leave behind wherever hey go. Red, fleshlike organisms wrapped themselves around what remained of the harborage, and smoke clouded what should have been a clear blue sky. Unnatural is the best word to describe it.

A small contingent of troops stood wary at the edge of the Forean hold, and as I approached Bane dropships hovered into view, dropping soldiers, both alive and machine into the fray. We slaughtered them, leaving no living thing with breath, nor dead thing with unnatural life. It was hectic, but hardly deadly. Definitely the benefit of having more experience under my belt than the average enemy deployed there. On average I was 2 levels higher than them.

I made my wat east and north, following my natural line of sight and coming upon the Captain I was told to aid at the front lines. He thanked me for my work on the earlier fight, and sent me on my way. There was still the matter of these Machina to figure out after all. As I continued my winding path east, to where my radar system told me I'd find some clue as to where these beings were being constructed, dropship after dropship flew in, trying to impede my path, but I was no rube, ripe for the slaughter. My blood and body would not become one of the poor wretches I was forced to mow down to make my mission a success.

Mortars even tried to take me out, but with the aid of an EMP pulse rifle, and the distance of about 60 meters, they were but scrap metal mosquitoes to me. The hard part didn't come until I came over a hill to find a mass of about 20 Bane soldiers, and 10 more Machina horrors. Shotgun time, baby. With crafty use of my shield regeneration tool, and plenty of cartridges pumped into my shotgun, I slowly tore down the shields and eventually the lives of the Bane that assaulted me. As I said... nothing would stop me from seeing my duty done.

In the distance, once the bodies of my foes lay around me, I spied a predator hovering about, hoping to find some reason to engage. I gave it a reason... about 400 damage per shot from my Laser rifle worth of a reason. Death was swift for that one. I then took out a hovering spotlight so as to not set off an alarm, and made my way towards the entrance of the main Bane facility, where I assumed I'd find the source of the Machina. I killed the two door guards, took the one's keypass, and went into the rabbit-hole.

Down dark, shadowed corridors of the facility, I crept as silently as I could. For a moment I wished I was a stealth operative, but only for a moment... the enemy inside this place was much less worrisome than those several dozen outside on guard. One by one, I rifled my way through their ranks, through locked doors thanks to a handy keypass, and all around the facility in search of some clue as to what was making the Machina. Finally I came to a window that looked out upon a massive central chamber, pistons pumped, gasses spewed, wretching noises were echoing throughout... and Machina came out of small portals like toys on an assembly line. Now... how was I supposed to get in there and put an end to the whole thing?

I continued searching around the place, came to a few dead ends with locked chests at their edges. Being a Specialist came in handy here. I whipped out my Cypher tool and unlocked them (think Rogue's lockpicking skill) and made away with some ammo and some crafting schematics. Finally, after a few more hallways explored and more Bane killed, I came to the entrance to that central chamber.

Immediately I was spotted by two Bane guards, and after dispatching them with my laser rifle, I took in the situation. Dozens, if not hundreds of Machina per minute were being produced by this thing, all of them making their way out of the facility via teleporters, presumably off to some war-torn destination or another to reap havoc upon what used to be their people. At the center of the massive machine was a large green fuel-cell. That would be my area of demolition. That was my target.

On the opposite side of the large room, I could see a commanding Bane officer and his cronies, standing vigilant guard at what looked to be the best way out for me after I took out this Machine. So before I started going kablooey on the Machina-maker, I decided to say hello to my Thrax (one species of the Bane) friends. I used my rifle to pull their leader and then worked on the lesser helpers as they rushed to my position. Using a ramp for cover I popped in and out on either side, using my shotgun to work down the remaining lesser soldiers. Then it was just me and the Captain left. One EMP bomb and a few dozen rounds of power cells later El Capitan was down for the count.

I stood atop the ramp I had just used for cover and fired about 10 rounds into the heart of the machine, with a loud fizzle and a lot of pop... the Machina-maker was no more. I'm sure there will be more where it came from, but for now, I'd certainly put a thorn in their side.

Nylla, the Forean with whom I'd spoken before going on my mission came just in time to congratulate me... good thing I didn't need her help. She told me that she was leaving her position in her tribe, and joining the AFS. She said she knows now what drives us Humans, and what we aim to do she wants to be a part of... namely, taking the fight to the Bane and teaching them not to f**k with the wrong kind of people.

I made my way out of the vacant facility, out of the area and went to see Nylla's superior at Memory Tree Hill. He told me he believed that Nylla made a righteous choice. That maybe it was time all Foreans began to place trust and do more to aide the AFS. He also pondered whether or not I and my fellow Humans were the chosen people the Eloh, great givers of knowledge, had spoken of so long ago as the bringers of hope to Foreas.

I hope we are. For our sake, for theirs, for my own... and the rest of all free life's.


brackish said...

Good summary of the instance.
This is how most of them seem to go and I get the feeling like I can do more with the computer terminals that I have actually been able to. I'm curious if anyone has actually blown that thing up from a computer or done a similar thing as we saw was possible from the beta movies and promotions for TR.

Those videos continue for the most part and I Have only seen 2 instances so far that haven't had them. This completely adds to the immersion level for me.

*vlad* said...

Nicely written, Bildo.

Logii said...

Excellent write up. I solo'd it last night and have to say its the best instance run I've ever done since the Baron run. I dropped WoW after 2 years playing in the middle of this year to start playing EvE so really didn't want to get into another WoW but I'd heard so much good about TR. And its true. Totally cool normal game play and blown away by the instances.
I hope it can keep it up.