My weekly column at Guild Wars Insider is up!
This week I explain why the Guardian is my profession of choice, and why you should play one too.
My weekly column at Guild Wars Insider is up!
This week I explain why the Guardian is my profession of choice, and why you should play one too.
As I mentioned in my previous article about the stress test, I spent a lot of time exploring the PvE side of Guild Wars 2. One of the things I love most about the game is how you can just stumble upon interesting NPC interactions, breathtaking vistas or, in this case, a jumping puzzle hidden away in an obscure spot on the map.
I should begin by saying that I had no prior knowledge that this particular area even existed. While there are several videos out now concerning the Collapsed Observatory, at the time I was just wandering the area around Isgarren’s View and taking in the scenery. My hour-long adventure into the observatory all started with finding a river that led to a waterfall in the cliffs. I followed it on a whim, wanting an answer to a simple question…
Where does it lead?
Upon closer inspection, I could see that the waterfall was tiered and led further back into the rocks. It looked passable. The only problem was figuring out how to get up the edge. Now that I’ve seen footage of people far more skilled and resourceful than I am making it look easy, I’m a little embarrassed. At the time, however, I was happy to dust off my old Mario platforming skills and look for a foothold in the rocks.
After equal parts of stumbling and bumbling, I managed to get up the ledge and enter combat with a lethargic ooze that had apparently been waiting on me to bring him lunch. It wasn’t too difficult to persuade him to abandon that idea, but I did find it odd that he was just hanging out in this obscure corner of the map.
Unless, of course, I was on to something more than just a random cave.
As I made my way deeper into the cave, I noticed the signs of ruins. It seems I was approaching an ancient and forgotten structure that was buried beneath the mountain.
I know that has to sound odd or overly dramatic when you read about it on a blog or watch it in a video, but I assure you that at the time it was an extremely genuine and heartfelt moment of discovery for me. For an hour at least, ArenaNet had given me a completely unique and unexpected MMO gaming experience. It was true exploration.
Every Indiana Jones scene I committed to memory as a child came rushing back.
What was this place? Would there be any treasure? Were there traps?
DID I NEED A BAG OF SAND?
A little deeper inside, and the stream ended into the rocks and I could not follow. Some of the water trickled by a once massive stairway that had long ago rotted away, and plummeted down several dozen yards into the waterway below. The ruins were still impressive, and I could see oozes had set up homes inside the hollows of the old tower.
There were no signs of the men who had built this ruin, nor any hint to its purpose. I knew that to explore it further meant I would need to jump, but I hesitated. Would the ancient, splintered stairway hold my weight? Would I leap onto rocks only to have them crumble under me and send me to my death far below?
I’m playing a MMO and actually having these thoughts? I’m experiencing wonder and anxiety in equal measure, and while I know I’m in no real danger, I had no desire to have to return to the Cereboth Canyon Waypoint broken, bloody and beaten.
So I jumped.
And kept jumping.
In some places I would slowly edge myself off my perches. In others I would use an ability to grant myself a Swiftness buff and leap forward with all my pixelated might.
I took my time and carefully plotted each new move.
Eventually, and without dying I might add, I came to rest in what appeared to be a dead end. Barred windows of a what once must have been the enormous main structure lay before me. I had apparently come all this way for nothing. Trapped by my own curiosity, I had run out of options.
After a few moments, I decided to do what I had purposefully avoided doing while jumping repeatedly from a precarious heights…
I looked down.
And there he was… A veteran troll. Eight feet of green and mean, just waiting for me to jump down into his reach. If I thought I was ticked off being trapped in a dead end for a few minutes, I could only imagine what kind of mood Captain Cuddles was in.
To make matters worse, the floor had crumbled away in several places, revealing the rocks and water far below. I worried that if he had a knockback, I’d only trade one death for another.
I jumped anyway.
What happened after was an epic battle the likes of which Harrison Ford himself would have appreciated!
I was a bit worse for wear, but I survived.
I was just turning to scout the area and hopefully find a way out when I saw it…
Granted, it was no Ark of the Covenant, sacred Sivalinga stone or the Holy Grail. Hell, it wasn’t even Kate Capshaw. (Good thing too, because I would have left her in the box.) But it was something, and it was all mine.
I could tell you what was inside, but I won’t. The reward at the end was great, but it wasn’t the point. Much like Indy finding the cup of Christ, the prize wasn’t the cup itself, it was the journey and having faith rewarded.
My faith in ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 certainly was. I bought Guild Wars 2 in advance for many reasons, but I never anticipated that a real sense of adventure would be one of them.
My advice is, do yourself a favor. Don’t spoil it for yourself by looking up every detailed video you can find. I’ve shown you where to start this particular puzzle, but I’ve been careful not to give too much away. You only get once chance to experience things like this for the first time. Don’t cheat yourself.
Just when it seemed that the horrible sinking of 38 Studios had bottomed out, the story finds a way to get even worse. Not only haven’t employees been paid in well over a month, not only were they all fired without notice earlier this week, now some employees are being told that they’re owe second mortgages on homes that 38 Studios was supposed to sell last year.
Reckoning may be the title of the studio’s only game, but I hope it’s also something that their entire management core has coming. Someone should see jail time for this. Schilling is sending out tweets wishing people well, but hey may want to limit his interactions to finding a lawyer instead.
I admire and respect Taugrim. When playing my Bounty Hunter in SWTOR, I trusted his insight as a skilled player to help me get the most from the class.
I am also finding that I agree with a great deal of his game design philosophy as well. In this case, he has a brilliant article outlining why having both an upfront cost AND a subscription fee is a death sentence for any MMO that isn’t World of Warcraft. (In my opinion, even WoW’s exception to the rule won’t last forever as AAA games with a F2P model exceed WoW in terms of quality.)
He shares my view that Guild Wars 2 will have a dramatic impact on the MMO landscape, providing exceptional gameplay and content for a one-time price.
It is an informative read.
I recently began writing a weekly column for Guild Wars Insider which will focus on the Guardian profession. It will run every Wednesday, and will cover every aspect of playing this awesome profession!
Today’s article is a very brief introduction, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of the GWI team!
Diablo 3 has released, and the gates of Hell have once more opened upon an unsuspecting world!
Well… okay, more than a few of us were expecting it. It’s been over a decade since Diablo 2, and that Deckard Cain guy won’t shut up about it. We’ve all been waiting for it. Some of us were even fortunate enough to participate in the beta in the months prior to release. I think I’ve killed the Skeleton King Leoric about three dozen times or more across all of my beta characters. At the end, I was farming rare drops off him by rolling a new character over and over again just for that purpose. It’s the only way to farm bosses since Blizzard has nerfed the rare drop rate of bosses after your first kill with a specific character. I’ve tried my hand at the economy using both the gold and real money auction house. I dabbled in crafting. I used every skill on every class and experimented with every rune available. I experienced everything the beta had to offer.
You wouldn’t think the first part of the game would hold any surprises for me, but you’d be wrong. The real surprise was when I finally logged into the game and created my first character, and it still somehow managed to feel new.
Maybe it’s the fact that the difficulty has been scaled up slightly even on normal mode. I’ve noticed that I’m not cutting through enemies in quite the same way as I did pre-launch. My barbarian is still a big ball of carnage, but what used to die in two hits now takes three or four. Unlike in beta, I’ve actually had to use health potions a few times early on. Clusters of enemies still produce kill streaks that make me chuckle menacingly, but they hit a bit harder than before. When facing the Black King, I had to stick and move a bit rather than just going toe to toe. It wasn’t rough going by any stretch, but the slight increase in difficulty on normal mode was noticeable and appreciated. The real question for me was, what dangers would I find later in the game?
BEYOND THE BLACK KING
The answer, which is probably obvious to fans of the genre, is that I found the much the same experience I did at the start of the game all the way through to its end. An ever increasing number and complexity of creatures sought my death in new and more diabolical ways, and when I slaughtered them wholesale they dropped better and better loot. That’s what normal mode is all about.
The way most veteran players look at it, normal mode may as well be called story mode. The entire play through was fun, no doubt about it, but I never felt I was in any real danger of dying until the very end of the game. My Barbarian rolled through enemies as easily as Ash in Army of Darkness. There was no finesse to it, and I was fine with that. I just found the biggest group of enemies I could and went at them head on until they exploded into a shower of gold and items.
In between the carnage, Diablo 3 does have an interesting story that weaves everything together. While I’m not a huge lore guru, I certainly had no trouble understanding the history of the series and how things led up to where they are now. The game features several interesting characters who have stories of their own, and whose fate I actually cared about. Even the Lords of Hell were more than just generic villains, and they differed enough in their personalities that it was easy to see how they went about planning the downfall of mankind in unique ways. Overall, I found the narrative of the game to be far better than I had anticipated. Blizzard could have taken shortcuts here, but they didn’t. It’s a shame that more developers don’t put more emphasis on making their stories more than just a threadbare excuse to tie action sequences together, even if the story isn’t the game’s central focus. I’m looking at YOU every Call of Duty game ever made.
Another thing I am a fan of is how is the customization options available to my class. I hear that this situation is only temporary (more on that later), but for now it is extremely enjoyable to chat with my friends who rolled a Barbarian and see how differently we’re playing them. Right now, I’m opting for what I call my Wolverine build. I’m primarily dual wielding, and I make heavy use of the Frenzy ability that increases my attack speed the longer I’m in combat. I put the rune system to good use, finding ways to heal myself while using devastating offensive abilities. I also focus on weapons that give me health every time I hit with them and which further boost my attack speed. To add to this, my preferred armor features passive health regeneration, a great deal of strength and a boost to the amount of healing that health globes provide. I may not hit as hard as some of the other bruisers out there, but it is amazing to see how much punishment I can take considering how quickly I can refill my health meter. It may not be optimal, and I’m not expert on the game, but I can’t argue with the amount of fun I’m having.
Because of that, it was easy at first to overlook Diablo 3′s shortcomings, but there are a handful worth mentioning.
First and foremost, it’s no secret to anyone that the game’s launch last week didn’t go smoothly. Blizzard’s decision to make the game require an active online connection, even for single player, has turned off a lot of people to the franchise. While it didn’t stop me from buying and playing the game, the fact that I can’t just boot it up on my laptop on the go without first having to make sure I have Wi-Fi available is a black mark. As it stands, I don’t even know if I’ll bother installing it on anything other than my home desktop.
The other problem with this model is that you can’t expect players to be happy about the requirement for an active online connection if you, as the game developer, cannot provide them with an active online connection. Server issues led to downtime during the first few days of the game’s launch, and it frustrated a hell of a lot of people who bought the game just for the single player experience. While things have smoothed out a bit in the days following, Blizzard hasn’t won themselves any fans. Perhaps it will pay dividends in the long term, but that remains to be seen.
Speaking of the single player experience…
DIABLO 3 SEGREGATES YOUR FRIENDS LIST
The experiences my friends and I have had thus far with Diablo 3 has very much been an isolated, single player experience that is briefly interrupted by temporary multiplayer. The reason for this is that each of you plays the game in different ways at different times and with different levels of dedication. Unless you intentionally make a blood pact to only play specific characters together, you’ll find it difficult to share the game with your friends. Of my entire friends list, only a handful seem to have characters within a 10 level spread of my own. This may slow down a bit in a week or so when we’re all knee deep in Hell mode and not progressing as quickly individually, but then again it may not.
While it is a vastly different game, I keep comparing this experience to Guild Wars 2 and how the sidekicking system present in that game will scale down the stats of a higher level player when he enters a lower level zone. I really wish something like that was implemented here, even if it was just an optional check box in a menu somewhere. I’d love to take my mid-30s Barbarian and help out my girlfriend on her level 12 Demon Hunter without it turning into s scenario where I murder minions by the hundreds and she just sits back and collects loot. At that point the game is just a glorified escort quest instead of a shared, mutually challenging experience. The other problem with this is that because I’m so much higher level than she is, I’ll actually reduce her experience gain. In that way I’m actually hurting her experience (literally) instead of helping it.
REAL MONEY AUCTION HOUSE. REAL MONEY CONCERNS.
While the real money auction house isn’t even in the game yet, it is coming soon and is already a cause for serious concern. Not only does Blizzard have to deal with the dreaded “Pay To Win” label that many are sticking Diablo 3 with, but any security breaches that compromise player accounts could potentially result in the loss of real world currency. Even though the game has only been out for a week, and despite Blizzard stating that its decision to enforce a persistent online connection was for our own security, many Diablo 3 accounts have already been hacked. Unless this gets resolved extremely quickly, it could end up turning a lot of people off from the game. This is especially problematic for Blizzard considering this is an issue unique to Diablo 3 that will not be a concern in competing titles like Torchlight 2 and Path of Exile. Any while we’re on the subject…
WHAT GOOD IS THE AUCTION HOUSE ANYWAY?
Players are limited to 10 auctions at a time, but the game throws loot at you like a rigged slot machine. Most of it doesn’t vendor for much, and the rest you can disenchant into crafting components. Anything left over you can place on the auction house, but you have to be extremely selective in your listings. As it stands, prices for goods are all over the map as players blindly post without any real sense of item value. This should resolve itself over time as the player economy matures, but at the moment it’s a crap shoot. The only real usefulness I’ve gained from the auction house thus far is for hunting down very specific gear qualities for Nightmare mode and beyond that fit my play style. Maybe that is the whole point of it. I probably wouldn’t be as sour about the feature if it maxed out at 100 auctions instead of only 10, and I really hope the auction limit is increased in the future. In the short term however, I’ll barely utilize it.
HIGHER DIFFICULTY. LESS OPTIONS OR MORE?
Congratulations! You’ve defeated the game on normal mode! Grab your loot and get ready for Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes.
Each of these modes requires you to beat the game on the previous difficulty level in order to unlock it. Each is progressively more deadly with enemies who are tougher and smarter, and who drop greater rewards. In an ideal game setting, you could defeat these modes still playing your character in the same manner as you did in normal mode, only with greater skill. But is this really the case with Diablo 3?
To its credit, Diablo 3 offers an almost hidden feature called Elective Mode. Turning this option on means your ability choices are no longer constrained by their category. In the case of my Barbarian, this means I can run without a Defensive skill at all, and instead use that slot for another offensive ability. At the start of Nightmare mode, that is exactly what I am doing. I’ve opted to swap my Defensive skill for the chance to use an additional Secondary skill. In this case, it is the Rend ability. I’ve also chosen to double up on my Tactics, using both Battle Rage and War Cry for the buffs they give and because I have an ability that makes each of these shouts heal me over time. I won’t sit here and claim it is an optimal build, but it’s certainly fun to play, and I appreciate having options like this available.
How long will I be able to get away with it? How long can I really play my character the way I want to? From the accounts I’m hearing from other Barbarians who are way ahead of me, then answer is not for very long. In Hell mode (and Inferno mode after) greater and greater emphasis is placed on Defensive skills since the Barbarian is forced into melee range with creatures that can kill him in the blink of an eye. Gone are the days of being a cyclonic juggernaut of rage fueled destruction. Now you’re hiding behind a shield and running away until your Defensive abilities come off cooldown. I understand the practicality of it. You shouldn’t be able to always stand toe to toe and trade blows with dozens of demons, but it would be nice to have options other than turtle, nuke and kite. If the game really boils down to just that over and over again for my Barbarian, then I won’t be playing him long term. I’ll be forced to reroll a ranged class that allows me to adapt my play style at higher levels and not totally reverse it. There is a big difference between those two, and only one of them is fun.
Diablo 3 was well worth the wait, but it isn’t perfect and it isn’t for everyone. Learning skills as you go and implementation of the rune system aren’t popular features with some Diablo purists, but I love them. I still find there is an acceptable level of customization to be found in the game without getting bogged down with old mechanics. The same can be said for the lack of town portal scrolls. Diablo 3 gives you the ability to port to a safe place at will. Some will call that catering to casuals. I think of it as removing an artificial and useless “feature” that got in the way of how I played other Diablo titles.
I’ve found the cinematics, art style, voice work and sound effects all to be superior. It may not be as dark and consistently foreboding a color palette as some where hoping for, but it is certainly nice to look at.
While I wish it was easier to make Diablo 3 into a multiplayer experience, I’m hopeful that in the weeks and months to come this will be less of an issue. For now, I’m mostly content taking on the game in single player while chatting with my friends individually.
I already feel like I’ve got my money’s worth out of the game, but then again, I only payed for a downloaded standard edition. If I had fallen for Blizzard’s Annual Pass “deal” for WoW and the price of this game was a full, contractually obligated year of propping up their stale MMO’s subscription numbers, then I’d probably be ticked off. Thankfully that isn’t the case.
If you’re a fan of the dungeon crawler genre, and you aren’t turned off by the online requirement, real money auction house or the emphasis on the single player experience, then I’d absolutely suggest picking it up.
Remember Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning? I barely do. I played it a little, and got a few hours into its world and story, but it never clicked with me. It received decent reviews, and I know a lot of people out there who love the title, but I’m just not one of them. To me, Reckoning seemed like a Fable reboot set in a generic world. The cartoonish art style and bland voiceover work didn’t impress me. The lore failed to engage me, or give me a reason to care about what I was doing. I got a kick out of the combat style for a bit, and I enjoyed the finishing moves for awhile, but it got repetitive very quickly for me. Nothing about it gave me a reason to want to rush home to play it after work, or to set aside other titles in order to finish it. It isn’t a bad game, but I found it disappointing given everything it was built up to be at point of sale.
What really sucks is that I wanted to love it. I wanted it to be great. Curt Schilling (yes, THAT one) is the man behind 38 Studios, and while I may not be a fan of the baseball teams he pitched for, the man has the infectious enthusiasm about games that only comes from being an avid player. Aside from his natural ability to throw a baseball and the millions of dollars he made doing it, Curt is a gamer just like the rest of us. He even went so far as to sink $30 MILLION of his own money into his game company. If that isn’t passionate dedication, I don’t know what is, and I personally admire him for it.
The downside of passion is it comes from the heart, not the head.
Now Curt and his company are on the ropes, and are up to their necks in debt while still trying to promote the development of their Copernicus MMO. Being unable to meet payroll isn’t a sign that the quality of business decisions being made at 38 Studios matched their enthusiasm. There is a comprehensive article on the Forbes website that has more of the gritty details.
I really hope they’re able to pull through. Curt is exactly the kind of person who should be making games. If you need any confirmation of that, I encourage you to watch the full video below of the MMORPG panel from PAX East 2012. Curt isn’t reading from cue cards. He doesn’t speak like a man who was fed what to say by PR and Marketing reps. He speaks like a gamer, because he’s one of us.
I just hope his total contribution to the hobby we all love isn’t just one mediocre title and a cautionary financial tale.
I had another chance to get some hands on time with Guild Wars 2 during Monday’s stress test. From 11am till 6pm PST, ArenaNet opened the servers once more and allowed us to play the same characters and the same build as the previous beta weekend. My plan was to cram as much structured PvP as possible into the afternoon, but as I wasn’t able to queue up for the first twenty minutes of the stress test, I decided to move on to Plan B.
Plan B ended up being so much fun, I never made it back to The Mists.
I started off running around Divinity’s Reach, just getting a feel for the city and trying to do a better job of capturing its look. One of the main things I love about Guild Wars 2 is the simple pleasure of wandering around a city, overhearing NPC conversations and exploring its streets and buildings. I find myself getting the same sense of wonder and curiosity as I do when I travel abroad in the real world.
While the skyline of Divinity’s Reach is certainly impressive, what blows me away is just how dense it is, and how its streets and alleyways look lifelike and natural. In other MMOs I’ve played, the cities are often laid out in a very simplistic and artificial way. They remind me of the old maps I used to make as a novice Dungeon Master for Dungeons & Dragons. Each of the spaces I designed all fit perfectly within the square block guidelines of my graph paper. They were functional, but sterile and artificial.
In Guild Wars 2, cities like Divinity’s Reach and Lion’s Arch have a very organic look to them much like real cities do. There may be trade districts, but you’ll often find vendors in various areas of the city, seemingly running booths out of whatever space they could find. The alleyways, side streets and dead ends all imply a very natural imperfection – the kind that happens when you take an idea and add the chaos of real people into the mix.
After Divinity’s Reach, I decided to move on to Lion’s Arch and see a few more wonders of the world that I missed during the first beta weekend.
I’m unfamiliar with a lot of the lore from the original Guild Wars, but I do know that the present city of Lion’s Arch rests upon the watery grave of the former city. I had heard you could dive down into its massive harbor and see what remained of the ruins, so I decided to grab my breather and my spear and see for myself. Fans of the original game can probably pick out more distinct landmarks than I could, but even I had to pause and take note of the twin lions still keeping their silent vigil.
Much like the architecture of the cities, Guild Wars 2 does an excellent job at realistically representing the passage of time. My brain knows that the ruins of Old Lion’s Arch are just a collection of art assets, but the attention to detail and the way it complements the lore gives the feeling of a real place that was once inhabited by heroes long dead.
The new city reflects this as well. How do you rebuild a flooded city that is also a graveyard of hundreds of ships? How else? You use what you have on hand and incorporate the ships into the new structures! I respect and admire how logical that sort of thinking is, and how much consideration went into thinking about what real people would have done if confronted with that sort of catastrophe.
After coming up for air, I took a swim over to the diving board that I missed last time I visited Lion’s Arch. I love how fun and frivolous a detail this is for a city that is probably teeming with uncertainty, fear and doubt. As the only city that isn’t associated with one particular race, Lion’s Arch boasts the highest racial diversity of any other place on the map. Bringing together people from all corners of Tyria would mean bringing all of their prejudices as well. The city is run by a Captain’s Council comprised of naval veterans and privateers who were instrumental in carving out a city from the ruins and defending it against the undead minions of the Great Dragon Zhaitan. The threat of the dragon and the walking dead is ever present. It is only natural that a wise ruler would allow his people a means of relaxing and getting some enjoyment out of life.
When you reach the top of the path to the diving board, you can pick up a pair of diving goggles nearby which allow you to twist and tumble during your dive. I tried my best acrobatics, but due to the lag of the stress test event I ended up looking like a man having a seizure mid-air. If you look at the photo above and see the beach far below and to the left…
That is where I am standing in this shot. Even this doesn’t do justice to the scale.
I’ve never played a MMO that rewarded exploration in this manner, and I haven’t even touched upon the hidden jumping puzzle that I stumbled upon while roaming the countryside in Kryta. (More on that in another post.)
Guild Wars 2 is filled with unique places that beg you to find out what is over the next hill or swimming below the waves. After diving, I decided to see just how deep the harbor of Lion’s Arch was. After sinking down into darkness and kelp, I found this fellow who seemed just as surprised to see me.
I could easily go on and talk about every area I visited, but I know I wouldn’t even scratch the surface of what there is to discover in Tyria. In every other MMO I’ve experienced, it was all about leveling as fast as I could in order to play the “real game” at max level. Some of them may have had decent stories; Star Wars: The Old Republic certainly has a stronger personal story than anything I’ve played through in Guild Wars 2 thus far. Other games, like World of Warcraft, may have impressive lore. The problem is that in each of those games, I never really felt a connection with the world around me. I could appreciate what they had to offer, but it was all just window dressing on my way to end game. With Guild Wars 2, playing the game IS the end game. If I want to just jump into structured PvP, I can do that without leveling. I can battle in World vs World from very early on in the game. If I want to backtrack and help a friend in an area that is lower level than I am, I still get a challenge and full experience reward thanks to downscaling. It just makes all other MMOs feel like they were on rails by comparison. The sense of freedom is as refreshing as it can be daunting at times. I’m so conditioned by hovering, yellow punctuation marks that I still catch myself wondering what to do next sometimes.
What I finally realized is that what really sets Guild Wars 2 apart from other MMOs is that other MMOs tell you what you’re supposed to do. Guild Wars to asks you what you want to do.
DISCLAIMER AND INTRODUCTION
Since reviews are just opinions and opinions are subjective, I think it is important to set the stage as to what my gaming preferences are and why I’m playing Tera in the first place. I am not typically a fan of Korean MMOs or JRPGs. The last Final Fantasy I played was FFVII, and while I enjoyed games like Secret of Mana and Xenogears in my youth, it was mainly because they were the only RPGs on the market. Western RPGs at that time were few and far between, and generally weren’t very good. I respect the influence that Asian titles have on videogames, but a lot of the staples of these games just don’t appeal to me. It’s a matter of personal taste. I freely admit it. I like my blue skies to look like blue skies, without random golden runes all over the place. I dislike games which force grinding. I prefer my heroes not all be teenagers with spiked hair. I don’t care for anthropomorphic animals, and I don’t see the need to ever play a character like this one…
If Tera was any more Korean, it would come with a side of kimchi. Because of this, when I found myself looking ahead to the 2012 MMO releases, Tera Online wasn’t on my radar. It looked like Aion, and I consider that game to be a dodged bullet. The only reason I decided to give Tera a second look was due to the fact that it comes up frequently in a lot of posts and discussions about Guild Wars 2. Both share a more action-oriented combat style than traditional WoW-based MMOs, and both have fans who claim that their chosen game is the true next gen title. Often these discussions devolve into pointless flame wars arguing the merits of each game while bashing the other. I’ve already purchased Guild Wars 2 and played in a beta weekend, and I already know it will be my MMO of choice once it releases. I love the fluid combat, dynamic events, lack of tanks and healers, the WvW, structured PvP, the quest design and the more familiar western style fantasy setting.
That doesn’t mean Tera doesn’t have anything to offer however, and the passion of the game’s fans piqued my curiosity and made me want to find out what I was missing. Graphically it looked impressive (even if it isn’t my style), and the combat absolutely appeared to be more fluid and skill based than WoW or SW:TOR. I finally convinced myself to try it so I could see first hand what it was all about. I trusted that I could keep an open mind.
I cancelled my auto-renewal subscription within an hour of buying it.
That may sound harsh, but I decided to give Tera 30 days to impress me without any strings attached. Coming off of paying for SW:TOR for five months, I didn’t really feel like making the same mistake of subsidizing a game I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. My goal with Tera is to experience as much of the content as I can in this 30 day window and decide then, and only then, if it is worth a monthly fee.
Please note that I will make frequent comparisons to other MMOs as a means of getting my point across. Game design doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and it is helps to compare and contrast other titles on the market in order to show what makes Tera unique as well as providing points of reference.
Despite my initial reservations, I have found a fair bit about Tera that I really admire. There are plenty of flaws as well, but I’m having fun with the game overall. From a graphical standpoint, Tera is a very pretty game to look at. Character models and the environment are simply fantastic.
Not everything with the game is perfect in the graphics department however. While I haven’t experienced too many problems early on, issues with model load times can detract from the overall experience.
Aside from that minor complaint, I haven’t ran into any frame rate or latency issues, despite running the game on high settings on a three year old system. I haven’t visited any major player hubs yet, but everything has been extremely smooth thus far.
The combat is as compelling and action based as I had hoped. Even at early levels it never feels as static and stale as World of Warcraft. Dodging and side-stepping are key to avoiding damage entirely, and it is great to have a game determine your success based on your skill and awareness instead of the stats on your gear. It isn’t perfect, and some classes make more use of mobility than others, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. The only downside is that you have to root yourself in place in order to use abilities. Even default attacks like basic sword swings make you stand in place during the animation. It feels less dynamic and fluid than Guild Wars 2 does, although I suppose a potential upside of this is that victory won’t always mean circle strafing your enemy from range which is a habit I fell into during the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend. Another tradeoff is that enemies in Tera seem to do a much better job (at least at early levels) of indicating when their attacks are coming. If you get hit by a mob in Tera, you’re doing something wrong, but even then you can easily live through a few hits with even lightly armored characters. At least that is how it seems early on. In Guild Wars 2 you can play a heavily armored class and get creamed after only taking a couple of hits, and enemies are much less forgiving in telegraphing their movements. Tera combat is enough to keep me engaged. Guild Wars 2 combat keeps me paranoid – at least in melee.
One feature I’ve found helpful is the ability to adjust your character’s orientation relative to your targetting crosshairs. This allows you to customize the experience to your play style. The following screenshots show examples of the default positioning compared to max right, max left and slightly elevated positioning. I found that using a slight offset of one or two clicks to the left put enemies in the center of my screen, allowing me an unobstructed view of their attack animations. It is a small tweak, but one that I wish more games would take advantage of.
Another feature of Tera’s combat that I really enjoy is the block ability of the Lancer and Berserker. Blocking attacks replaces your ability to dodge them like other classes can, but it mitigates the damage you would otherwise take from a direct hit. The Lancer excels at this absorption tanking, shrugging off all but a fraction of incoming damage with his block. The Berserker’s block by comparison is more of a parry, and doesn’t deflect as much damage as the Lancer. It makes for interesting combat, and they’re two of my favorite classes to play as a result.
Breaking down the rest of my early impressions is probably best handled with a simple pro and con listing.
Collision Detection – While I’m uncertain if player collision detection will have a downside at any point, like people crowding around a trainer or quest NPC, I really enjoy enemy collision detection thus far. The fact that you can dodge through enemies makes getting out of tight spots easier, but it still places a lot of emphasis on positioning and control.
Quest Log - Quests in Tera are boring, but at least the log has some nice features. I really like being able to click on the names of NPCs and creatures and have my map highlight their locations. You may not even have to read the quests because of how great the log is.
HUD map and UI – Right out of the gate you can move around all of the UI elements. Being able to resize, hide and customize your UI is something every MMO should launch with. I’m sure even BioWare would agree. The HUD map is extremely nice and functional as well. It almost makes the minimap redundant.
Controller support – This is actually very cool. Chain abilities allow you a brief window to execute follow up attacks in a logical manner. When using a keyboard you simply hit the spacebar to execute the next ability in the chain. With a game controller, I believe your buttons will change on the fly to activate the next ability. I haven’t tried it, but I’m fairly certain this is how it works. It allows you to essentially pair down the controls into a handheld experience, and that is a pretty elegant way to do so. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Gathering Buffs – Regardless of if you choose to pursue crafting or not, gathering raw materials gives you a stackable buff to traits like your movement speed, stamina and mana regeneration. It is a small incentive, but it is a nice touch.
Ladders – This may sound like an odd thing to care about, but the addition of surfaces you can climb vertically gives the game an almost platformer feel at times. It also allows for drastic changes in elevation without the need for every bit of terrain to include a wheelchair accessible ramp like other games do. I’m not sure if Tera rewards exploration at all, and I haven’t seen any indication yet that it does, but it would be a shame if not. Combining terrain you can climb with jumping puzzles like those found in Guild Wars 2 could lead to some really devious ways to hide bonus content and rewards.
And since what goes up must come down, it is also important to note that fall damage in Tera won’t kill you. Instead you’ll be taken down to a sliver of health and have to regen or heal yourself somehow. Maybe it changes later on, and I sort of sadistically hope that it does, but it appears you won’t die to cliff bosses in Tera.
Holy Trinity – Dedicated tanks and healers are still present in Tera. I know some people love that kind of game design, but I’m pretty tired of it. I think it promotes stale PvE content that degrades into formulaic encounters. I could list all of my reasons for not liking the Trinity, but I’ve already written a full article on it. No need to dredge it all up again here.
It is even worse in Tera than in games like WoW or SW:TOR because in Tera your class options for tanks and healers are pretty limited.
Warriors are evasion tanks in Tera, and are highly mobile and fun to play. They require a high skill level. It even says so in the character creation screen. Unfortunately for them, it seems no one wants them to tank. If a bad Warrior gets hit, since he doesn’t have the damage mitigation of a Lancer, he dies. Loose boss. Wipe. Even if he is really good at his job and dodges around, the aggro mechanics mean the boss will promptly turn to face his new position. If this position is facing towards the party or raid, the fight can quickly go badly since all Trinity games rely on bosses NOT doing that. The final barrier to Warrior tanking is that the dungeon finder in Tera currently won’t even allow Warriors to queue up as tanks. I’m not sure how you overlook something like this in a game that launched over a year ago, but they have. So, if you currently want to tank in Tera, you had better roll a Lancer.
Healers are in a better situation, but not by much. There are two healing classes – Priest and Mystic, but thus far it seems far more emphasis is placed upon Priests since their healing style is a bit easier. There is a pretty decent Priest vs Mystic guide on the Tera Forums that helps explain this.
So out of eight possible classes, three are considered highly valuable while the other five are fairly expendable. On the server I’m on chat is filled with people calling for Lancers and Priests to be rolled because you need those two class (along with Mystics to an extent) to run dungeons. This sounds way too familiar to me, and it isn’t something I’m a fan of. I can fortunately get by because I enjoy tanking and my girlfriend is an excellent healer, but it still feels like last generation MMO design to me.
Story and Quests – The story of Tera is window dressing and is in no way important to the game. Something about how reality is two titans dreaming and some kind of darkness and blah blah blah a mysterious island needs explored. I watched the opening cinematics once and it did nothing to ground me in why what I was doing mattered. Even the opening prologue doesn’t make much sense since you start out already at level 20 for the length of it, and then start over at level 1 after it concludes. It’s really sort of pointless.
As far as the quests are concerned, they are all very static and dull and very reminiscent of World of Warcraft. Look for the exclamation point, talk to the guy, spacebar till you can close the dialog box, and then look at your quest HUD to see how many creepy mushroom things need to be killed or who you need to talk to next.
In a sense, Tera offers the opposite game experience than you’ll find in Star Wars: The Old Republic. IN SW:TOR story matters, and it is easy to get sucked into your character and get a sense of self relative to the world around you. Listening to quest dialog, at least the first time through, really enhances the experience. Where the wheels come off is in the actual combat, which is pretty standard.
In Tera, the story is almost an afterthought. I’ve already logged numerous hours without reading or caring about a single quest. I have no real sense of my character being MINE other than my name showing up near my health bar. I feel no need to do anything except click through it all as quickly as possible so I can get back to the fun and interesting combat the game provides.
Lack of Gear Customization – I know I’ve only scratched the surface of Tera thus far, but gear upgrades don’t really feel like uprgades at this point. Even if they were only cosmetic in nature that would be something, but most of my gear upgrades only offer a change in color. Weapons vary a little in design, but each class is locked to an extremely specific weapon set. Lancers always lance. Warriors always have twin swords. Sorcerers always have Tron discs. I understand there are crystals and glyphs and whatnot down the road that offer means of customization for your character, but I prefer being able to changes things up a bit. If I want my Warrior to use a giant, two-handed mace, then he should be able to do so. Maybe a lot of people won’t mind, but it bugs me.
Gathering Failures?! – Apparently you can fail at mining or picking an herb in Tera, and it is a stupid and pointless mechanic. If I have the ability and skill level to gather a node, then don’t implement some crappy failure chance. This is just a old school grind mechanic and it has no place in modern gaming.
Mob Tagging - Another throwback to previous generations of MMOs, mob tagging and kill stealing is in full effect in Tera. Maybe I am spoiled by my recent experience with Guild Wars 2, but I hate this mechanic. If someone tags a mob, and I am not grouped with them, then I have no real incentive to help them. Additionally, if you have a number of people in a given area working on the same quest individually, you’re actually competing with them over spawns instead of cooperating with them. You always have the option of forming a party, but that’s not a very organic experience unless it is a guild mate or friend. Generally this whole system just means that the players around you are just in your way, and you are in theirs.
I’ve had a handful of times when an Archer tags a mob I am already swinging at with my Lancer. He then turns and fights another mob safe with the knowledge that if I kill it, he still gets the loot and experience. I can run off and drop aggro on the mob, but that usually wastes more time than it saves. It sucks. Any non-PvP mechanic that makes me see people around me as potential opposition is tedious and irritating.
The Keymap - Maybe this is minor, but it bugs me. You can’t click in Tera. Not a real problem for most players, and not one for me, but it means you have to rely on either a game controller or keybinds. What bothers me about this is that the keymap and help messages that pop up during play all reference the default binds. If you’ve taken the time to remap your binds, neither the keymap image nor the pop ups reflect the changes. It is a small complaint, but it is a little aggravating to always see “Hit the F key to interact with this chick in the tight dress” when my F key doesn’t do squat. Don’t even get me started on F1-F12. I use a Naga and Nostromo. I don’t even touch my keyboard except to type. F11 can kiss my ass!
No Organized PvP - There aren’t any battlegrounds or warzones in Tera Online. I’ve heard organized PvP is coming at some point, but it seems like half the MMO is missing. Maybe it isn’t fair that a lack of PvP in Tera bothers me while a lack of raiding in Guild Wars 2 doesn’t, but I guess I prefer dynamic content over rinse and repeat boss fights. Someone else may feel the exact opposite.
I’ve only just begun my adventures in Tera, and while there are several issues with the game that will likely make this a short term experience for me, I can at least understand why a lot of people would enjoy it. Many of the same aspects of the game that I dislike might be selling points for another player.
What I can’t argue with is that Tera offers a gorgeous and different experience than traditional MMOs like WoW or SW:TOR. It is absolutely worth playing if you’re on the fence about giving it a shot. The combat is challenging and fun almost in the same way that an action game is rather than a MMO, and it makes up for a lot of the shortcomings found in the questing system.
Looking ahead, I’ve talked my girlfriend into playing it with me, so rolling Lancer and Priest should provide us with a chance to duo Big Ass Monsters (BAMs) found in the game and to participate in dungeon content. I’ll post additional impressions of that content, and of higher levels of play, at another time. I’m not sure how much time we’ll spend in Tera now that Diablo 3 is less than a week away, but I’m planning to enjoy my 30 days and see what happens. It’s a big, colorful world out there, and it is fun to see where it leads.
I’ll also attempt to solo as much as I can with my Berserker, only because I can’t pass up the chance to run around on this ridiculous little Winston Churchill, pipe smoking, axe wielding, badger-dog.
Tribes released update version 1.0.961.0 earlier today, also known as the Tartarus patch for the new map it contains. After putting in some time with it, I think it is very impressive from both a player and from a game design standpoint. Tribes Ascend is a F2P model that continues to excel.
The video will do a much better job at explaining the new elements than I could, but what really got my interest is how Hi-Rez Studios is setting the bar for all F2P games and not just shooters.
For example, the part of the video that explains loadouts is extremely interesting to me. It is no secret that I’m enthusiastic about Guild Wars 2 and the ground it is breaking for the Free-To-Play MMO market. The Loadout model of Tribes Ascend, where you purchase new custom setups slots for gold and experience, could work just as easily in Guild Wars 2 when it came to multiple specs across a single profession. Instead of gold and experience, in GW2 you could unlock multiple specs with either gold or gems. Where in Tribes you save loadouts for weapons and perks, in Guild Wars 2 you could save loadouts for weapons, traits and utility skills. Giving players the choice to do this with currency from both in game and out of game would be a great way to boost the cash shop without it being unbalancing or “Pay To Win”.
I don’t think it would be too terribly difficult to add this kind of feature to Guild Wars 2. So long as spec swapping can only occur out of combat, I believe it would be an excellent convenience feature that many players would be willing to pay for. I know I certainly would.
Only time will tell what ArenaNet has in mind. Moving foward as the game gets further into development, I find it refreshing that we may see more and more comparisons of GW2 to other highly successful F2P games and less and less comparisons with older, last-gen MMOs.
In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying Tribes and trying not to get my ass shot off! Thanks to High-Rez for this quality update!
Oh, and someone needs to swap Katelyn Pitstick’s coffee to decaf. She’s flashing those wide Redbull eyes at the camera, and it’s kind of creepy. RELAX KATELYN!