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Hands-on with Tabula Rasa's next patch: harder enemies good for the game?

Chris Chester

Tabula Rasa is a peculiar game compared to many in that the difficulty of enemy encounters usually isn't measured by enemy strength, but by their numbers and composition. Man to man, your typical AFS soldier is more than a match for even the toughest units the Bane can throw at them. While that would seem to make the game a cakewalk, this is balanced by the fact that the enemy usually travels in roaming packs, containing enemies of different types that complement and balance each other. The difficulty of the game is largely derived from finding ways to pick apart these units before they can burn you down.

Among the many changes to come to Tabula Rasa in the most recent patch on the public test server is a new, enhanced enemy AI. For whatever reason, the Destination Games team decided to amp up the difficulty of enemy encounters by increasing so-called "aggro sharing" between enemy monsters. Having given the new build some time on the test server, we've got some thoughts and criticisms.

While we've only had direct experience testing the new AI in a limited capacity in the lower levels of the Wilderness, we did in fact notice a dramatic change to enemy behavior. Even in the Tier 2 levels, traditionally one of the easier portions of the game even for those not acclimated to TR's gameplay style, things have become considerably bleaker. Attacking any enemy seems to draw others out the woodwork in droves.

We tested out the Targets of Opportunity, trying to take out some of the named enemy bosses wandering around the Wilderness. It might be a matter of opinion, but we think that the difficulty is simply too much. After killing our named enemy, we spent the better part of five minutes just trying to shave off all the adds that had come trying to fry our asses for killing their buddy. By the time we had the immediate area even remotely clear, those same named bosses that we had already killed had respawned and were on their way back to our location. This, we think, is a bit much.

Moreover, the CP assault and defense gameplay that we have come to know and love, particularly after the changes made in patch 1.6, is on the brink of collapsing under the weight of this new change. As we discussed in a recent feature on CP assault, part of the skill necessary for capturing control points is knowing how to attack strategically, and picking off small parts of the larger mob of enemies one after another. This is only made possible by the fact that the other enemies are preoccupied by other things.

With the change to the AI, the whole mob seems to turn their attention to you at the slightest provocation, and things go awry awfully quickly. Instead of it being a game of strategy it becomes a game of numbers. There's very little time to plan attacks and consider the way you're going to cut your way through your enemies when they all just rush at you in a big horde. And latency in the game being what it is, you're often dead before know it or have a chance to react. This is not the way.

Kagasumi from the NCsoft staff is asking the player community what they think of the changes. While some seem to be harboring a fairly masochistic "bring it on!" attitude on the AI tweak, we're going to have to throw our weight behind those that think the changes need to be scaled down. We're all for a good challenge in our MMOs, but the trend set by this new patch is going to lead us down a dark road. At the higher levels, it's going to become extremely difficult to play the CP game solo, because it'll be utterly impossible to even out-heal the damage inflicted. Sure, it encourages group gameplay, but we'd like to see the casual-friendly solo game be kept intact.

What do you think? If you've tested the changes, what kind of experiences have you seen? If not, do they sound like they're taking the game in a direct that interests you? Now's the time to voice your opinion, after all, while the changes are still in testing.

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