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.