The Tabula Rasa Pre-order Head Start began when the servers went live on Monday. I got into the game on Tuesday and have been playing quite a bit since. Here are some early impressions of the game in its current state that will launch on Friday.
After logging in and creating a character, I found myself in the tutorial area, and no offense to Captain Burba, but I didn't want to skip past this first part of the game. After running a few short missions designed to give familiarity with the controls and interface, I made my way into my first combat with the Bane. The combat in Tabula Rasa is fast and dynamic, and even though it gives the impression of FPS-style combat, it's not quite that reflex/"twitch" orientated. You put your cursor over a target and mouse-click to fire, but there is still a die roll behind the scenes that determines if you hit or not. It is a welcome change from other MMO's that have the "stand still, auto-attack" as the base for their combat systems.
After repelling a Bane attack, I had survived my trial by fire and was ready to join the AFS on the frontlines. The main areas of the game have several numbered instances, much like the city areas of Guild Wars. This can make for some interesting play, as while an outpost could be controlled by the Bane in Wilderness 1, if you were to go to Wilderness 3, the AFS could be in control of the same outpost. Can't turn in a quest in one instance? Jump to another. Ding, grats! In short order, I had reached Level 5 and was ready to make my first career path choice. While some may decide to use the clone system at this point, I decided to hold of until the second career branch at Level 15. It only takes 20-30 minutes to reach Level 5, so choosing between Soldier and Specialist isn't that big of a deal.
The game is performing really well with very little lag. The server I'm playing on, Pegasus is at medium load most of the day without showing any signs of sluggish behavior. Finding groups isn't that hard, and that can be important if you are a Soldier who likes to use chain guns. Chain guns are currently the largest money sink in the game. At 3 credits per shot, I spent 4000 credits to solo a mission that paid out 1500. Grouping is the way to save money for sure.
My experience with the crafting system so far has been selling every schematic and component I have found. It costs money to craft an item, and currently there is no mail system or any type of auction house. To craft effectively, skill points that could otherwise have been put into combat skills must be used. As for the crafting system itself, it's not as bad as the one in Auto Assault, but that is only because there are fewer total ingredients to keep track of in your inventory.
There are some early annoyances with the game, the largest of which is the complete lack of user interface customization. If you don't like where the radar, inventory, chat or character stats windows are, tough, you're stuck with it. The only thing the player has control over is the size of the chat window, and the only option is to make it bigger. Yes, the large, intrusive chat window can be made to be larger and more intrusive. Pro Tip: Turn off General Chat; your game experience will be richer for it. The other main annoyance is the trick or treat emote. If this is any indication of what I have to look forward to during special holiday events, I won't even bother logging in.
I've already started planning my alt characters and there is a feature that makes part of that easier. All characters on an account share the same footlocker or bank. This means that gear that I find with one character can be stored for another to use. With the absence of a mail system, this is an even more simple and efficient way to transfer equipment and money.
So far, Tabula Rasa is fun and more importantly stable. There are a few bugs still but nothing that kept me from playing and enjoying the game. I'm hoping to get out of the Wilderness area before the official launch on November 2nd and up to my Tier 2 career of Ranger. Look for a more in depth review of Tabula Rasa after the official launch here on WarCry.