My “Review” of TERA Online (or at least, its Open Beta). Yes, I use the quote marks as usual. I am not sure one can review an MMO based on one weekend of play, so please take my comments with a box of salt.
However, you should know that this commentary comes with no previous bias. I have not been following TERA at all, and I didn’t make the connection that this was the game with all the commercials from that MMA guy until after the fact. I just got an email with an invitation to the open beta, and I am always down for that. Its also worth noting that the political system is supposedly a big part of this game, but it was not open for the beta and I know next to nothing about it, so it is not covered here at all. So without further ado, in the usual format, my “review”.
A New Spin on Old Ideas: The first thing I have to say is that I was thrilled with the class selection. Having a healing class that was pet driven (Mystic) and whose heals actually geographically deployed powerups was a lot of fun for a guy who is used to just sending in his pet to attack and then nuking the hell out of one target. I also spent about half my time playing around with the Warrior class to see how melee really worked. It brought back some fond memories of the Devil May Cry series (particularly when I gave the Slayer class a whirl). I enjoyed that the warrior class tended to be a giant hat tip to Musashi, with a spiritual tint to the abilities and removal from its usual role of “tank.” There is definitely a skill and learning curve to be tended too, particularly for melee classes. Solo play with the Mystic was for the most part a breeze, with the warrior it was for the most part a challenge. Eventually you will get the hang of dodging and ducking – but here is the great part – you may master the basic moves, but the opponents keep changing, and so do their tactics. So each new quest and quest area will also bring with it renewed attention to how you play your class. The skill chain you set up that worked great with this guy may not be useful at all for that guy. Whack-a-mole this game is not! Which leads me too…
Action Combat: I can see where the idea that this is the first true action MMO could come from. All of your gameplay and strategy are forced to be fluid and ultimately three dimensional. Healing takes on a whole new challenge when you have to be actively viewing your intended ally. Many of the skills have components that are location based in a whole new way. Its like growing up playing wargames on squares and hexes and then diving into the world of miniatures for the first time, where the only measure of distance is with a ruler and relative to the units actual location. Same thing here. There is the usual cone and AOE and so on, but the battle no long involves orienting oneself around a North-South pole of tank and mob. Standing still will get you dead in a hurry. Skills are important, but skill chains (which are conveniently activated player customizable) generate interesting tactics of their own. And then there are the mobs, which come in big, medium, and small variety. Its not unusual to have to face one or two normal sized mobs with a squad of smaller mobs in tow, both of which may be using different strategies. This is where group combat really shines, allowing groups to tackle challenges and quests in a way that really does make the game better in a way beyond artificially tweaking the xp curve with, say, the size of the group.
Player friendly. I talked with one person over the weekend, another MMO player, who was surprised I was even playing TERA. The words “Korean grind-fest” were used. If that is the reputation or rumor about TERA, it is unfounded. The leveling time I encountered was part with most other games I’ve played, like TOR and WoW and so on. It may feel longer since it involves doing something other than mindlessly hitting the same five buttons in order over and over while chatting with your friends about the latest Jennifer Love Hewiit show over VOIP. Call me crazy, but that’s a good thing in my book. I am a casual MMO gamer in the sense of time invested, not in the sense that I want all my games to play out like the latest Zynga Facebook monstrosity. Beyond that – lets talk about other things, like the fact that you not only have the usual “port home” skill on a timer, but a common mob drob is a “safe haven scroll” that drops you back at the nearest quest hub, and stacks in your inventory. Or that flight points are unlocked by level and storyline, and not by whether or not you slogged cross-continent to get there. Or that you get your first mount, with a 140% speed increase, for free, when you finish the introductory island (level 10-12). Or that crafting and harvesting are not limited artificially but open to whatever you want to pursue. Or that you can mark quest mobs on your map and on their nameplate so you can find them with no fuss, even that one boss guy you just got vague directions too. Or that you not only have healing potions, but regeneration motes that drop from mobs, healing you and cutting down on down time between combats. Or that campfires can be used (or build anywhere) that raise your stamina – boosting your basic levels of HP and MP up to 30% – and that those fires can have buffs added to them to just about every other statistic. And that is above and beyond the usual doubling rate for “Rest XP.” Quite honestly, I’m not sure what more they could have done to make the game *more* convenient.
Beautiful. Yes, I’ll talk more about the overly sexy toons in a nother section. But in general, the graphics on TERA are easily the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO. And they are optimized to the hilt. I can’t run TOR on anything other than minimal settings, and even then my PvP FPS is about 8. Yet I have a computer that should be running that game easily. Meanwhile, in TERA, my computer which doesn’t clear the recommended specs, can run it with great settings and amazing detail. I played even in the middle of some dense player formations and never slowed down once.
Keyboard vs. Controller. While I played just fine on a keyboard, coming up with some pretty interesting ways to chain skills and use my class to the fullest, I still can’t see how you would play a character at max level, with some 20+ unique skills to draw on, without a controller. And that alone may be the only obstacle a lot of MMO players will find that turns them away. Granted, most of us have a 360 or PS3 also floating in our house, and the items to connect the controller to our PC run a measly $10 (or sometimes less), the idea of playing with a controller may just seem to be foreign. In fact, the whole action combat system itself calls for a change in they way people think about and approach MMO’s. That may be the ultimate death knell of this game, or what resigns it to a niche location. And let me say that while I understand this, it does not in fact bother me in the least. My first MMO, EQOA (May It Rest In Peace) I played with both a keyboard *and* a controller…at the same time! Its one of the few times I have utilized macros to the hilt, chaining warnings of adds and low health with roots and aggro decreases with glee. In fact, while this will be a barrier to the general populace of MMO gaming, its got me wondering in truth if its not just what the doctor ordered for the genre.
Kill Stealing is Back! Without a traditional targeting system, you run into some unique problems. Like kill-stealing, which used to be dead. Several times on the weekend I tossed off a basic ranged attack, only to see someone come blurring into the mob in a melee charge. And then I knew I could walk away. Because no matter what happened next, the AI was going to react (intelligently I might add) to the threat in front of it…and I was going to get the credit for that kill. Tagging of the mob is active, but its hard to tell who is sizing up a battle when you don’t see a toon 20m away staring down said mob because they have them targeted. Also, because the aggro system works a bit differently than Yellow/Red (with a rage mechanic and creatures that actively react to your presence, even when you are not acting threatening), this can happen entirely by accident. And that’s not even taking into account what happens when you love playing a Sorcerer but can’t aim your fireballs worth a flying poo and you end up tagging some mob you had no intention of crossing wands with. You can tell TERA has tried to address this somewhat because all the skill ranges are lower than the typical 30m you find in other MMO’s. My standard magic missile attack for my Mystic had a range of about 18m, and that was my longest. But I’m not sure that’s a solid solution to the problem. I think it might be time to rethink the tagging process and how that works, at least for TERA.
The Character Models. Yes, they are way too sexy. You know things are bad when you breathe a sigh of relief that at least the outfits of the race that looks like 10 year old girls is *mostly* decent, if a bit too much purple leopard print and 1960’s era Playboy Bunny outfits can be considered decent. So in this case, decent is more relative to the fact that the opening outfit for female Elf/Castanic leather armor wearers looks like something out of a Wicked Weasel swimwear catalog (And no, I’m not going to link to it, and you should be fully prepared for what assails you should you decide to go looking for it, lol). And it doesn’t get noticeably better when you get to metal armor either, with half the outfits looking like a full-lingerie version of the Everlast Chastity Belt from Men in Tights. And speaking of men in tights…the boys be showing some skin too. I couldn’t find a single male Elven/Castanic outfit that wasn’t bear chested. Usually with a fur coat or some bondage equipment thrown on for good measure. Stick in a few pandas to appeal to the WoW crowd, and you’re off!
Variety is the Spice of Life. And you won’t find any in your gear or outfits. When you create a character you get to preview how they would look in four different outfits of the armor type you wear (the first of the four is the actual starting outfit), and as far as I can tell from looking around at all the characters in the starting island and capital city – that may be the only four armor models available period. And of course you are stuck with the one weapon your class is allowed to wield. God forbid an Archer should have a sword or dagger for close in work, or a priest should ever wield a scepter instead of a staff. But then, this tends to be an industry standard these days, so its more of a gripe than a deal breaker. Now there is one notable exception to this…
Glyphs and Crystals. Even if you don’t have a lot of variety in your looks or available weapons, thanks to these two little gems (pun intended) you have a staggering amount of control over the statistics and ways you can influence your skill and weapons respectively. Glyphs are like a more flexible and precise AA system – allowing you to add duration or power or crits or even extending the abilities of a particular skill. Crystals have lots of very precise statistical benefits you can plug (and unplug at will) into your gear. Not only can you put in something to boost your crit, you can have a standard boost, or sacrifice some utility for a bigger boost – say, a higher crit percentage than the normal crystal boost if it only works when your opponent is knocked down. A straight up MP regen boost – or a bigger one limited to blows you land when behind your target? These are great little ways to boost your ability to build and plan your character, without tying you down into one particular skill tree or even a handful of particular builds.
I had fun. Ultimately, this is my biggest tilt in favor of the game. I came into it knowing nothing other than it was an eastern import that was an “action mmo” and may require me to use a controller. I ended up playing it almost exclusively over the weekend, despite the opening of the test server once again for WoT, and despite having a night when I could have played TOR instead. I had fun to the point where I have TERA bookmarked on Amazon and am seriously considering purchasing it and paying the sub fee. I can’t think of any recommendation greater than that to give you.
If you don’t think you will enjoy TERA, skip it…its pretty obvious what it is, and if that doesn’t appeal to you, don’t bother. If however, it sounds interesting to you, if you want something a little more involved than the standard MMO, something a little different, then this may just be the shot of caffeine you’ve been looking for to wake up your MMO life.