Ah yes, The Exiled Realm of Arborea; some of you may know it better as TERA, that wonderful MMO that everyone’s been talking about. Some are even going so far as to tote it as the “WoW-Killer™” that many have been waiting for. With some rather risque armor, an intriguing new combat system and some traditional aspects, it’s definitely been getting a lot of notice in the MMO market. TERA’s official open beta happened last weekend, and I have to ask: what do we have to show for it?
Game Previewed: TERA (Open Beta Weekend)
Release Date: May 1st, 2012
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Publisher: En Masse Entertainment
On the official TERA website, you’ll find a list of things that En Masse and Bluehole…(snicker)…Studio hopes they’re going to be bringing to the genre battlefield of 2012, and they break down into a few key topics: more tactical and skill-based combat, gamepad support, and all the “other stuff” you’re already familiar with in other massively-multiplayer games. From where I’m sitting, I can agree with almost all of their statement. The problem is that TERA still stumbles into pitfalls that can be the bane of the MMO.
Let’s get to the good stuff first; after playing for quite a few hours over the course of this weekend, I’ve got plenty of praise for TERA. They really took every ounce of power they could from the Unreal engine, and as a result it looks absolutely stunning. Characters and gear are well detailed, and their motions seem very natural. When most games choose a more “realistic” art style for an MMO, I tend to get nervous. One reason that the timeless World of Warcraft is still a standard to compete against is because their cartoon-ish art style has still maintained its relevancy. If a company chooses to go realistic there are only three outcomes: It’s abso-ballsy-lutely terrible, it looks alright, or it’s just gorgeous.
En Masse Entertainment and Bluehole Studio have managed to do the latter…est. Latterest? Regardless, they made TERA look beautiful… too beautiful. It’s as if Aion was Mary and Tera is baby Jesus, shining with light cast down from the sun. Everything is perfect and wonderful, with unicorns and rainbows… until you go where the bad guys are. Killing monsters becomes that much more of a gritty experience, as the mood that TERA conveys by its scenery has gravity to it. When you’re in a bad place you know it, and not because there’s lava flowing about the scene and imps are throwing fireballs at you.
The combat you use to dispatch said baddies reminds one of Monster Hunter or Diablo: very streamlined with the slightest bit of lag. The one thing that gets me frustrated with most MMOs is the few milliseconds of lag that happen between pressing a button and seeing the action occur on the screen. It’s a tic stems from the vast amount of first-person shooters that I play, where I can click my mouse and something will happen right away. TERA manages to do just that, and it really lets a person get into the groove of combat. The game forces you to see combat as a series of actions and decisions, not just a directional list of numbers that you have to press in a particular order. TERA’s menagerie of monsters make certain motions before doing certain attacks in the same manner that Monster Hunter monsters do, forcing you to pay attention to your targets movements instead of his caster bar or your Deadly Boss Mods.
TERA is about visuals, not just in-character graphics and environment, but even in combat. A crit is more than just a big number, it’s a big number with blood splattered across it. Monsters and your allies alike cause huge flashes of light and color to appear, a veritable fireworks display every battle. When you kill a monster, experience flies toward you from its body in the form of glowing orbs. These things not only serve to make everything look pretty, but it gives the player a visual representation of gaining experience. If you are off adventuring with someone and want to make sure you are both far enough away to make the quest go by quickly, but also close enough to both gain credit for kills, it is as simple as watching those little orbs. Yes, you could look at the general chat and see if you got +x amount of experience…but with so many monsters to kill, who wants to do that?
Options are just one of the many ways that Bluehole is trying to set their flagship game apart. Just as everyone wants to be original in an MMO, everyone actually approaches the game differently. Who knows, maybe there’s someone out there that would rather look at the general chat for gained experience numbers: the beauty of TERA is that it lets them. You can play with either a keyboard/mouse combo or a gamepad, and it’s super-easy to drag the UI about, customizing it the way you want. Again, options.
There are a few things about TERA that didn’t quite enrapture me as well as the flashy bits and the combat. You might not care as much about these issues as I do, but they’re worth bringing up even if only to present my complete opinion.
To start with, there’s no add-on support to speak of, the game’s EULA forbidding client-side addons that “make the game easier” while their diction tends to lean toward “no addons at all”. This regulation is in stark contrast to one thing that has allowed resident juggernauts like Warcraft to continue to thrive: the support of the community. A good community can make a game last long past its expiration date, and also allows for innovation. I’m a guy that loves to spend an entire afternoon changing the look of Minecraft or my WoW UI, so this saddens me a great deal.
Second, let’s talk about the characters: yes, the graphics are good, and the character models are very well animated…but you can tell that there is a serious lean in terms of who this game is marketed at, a certain emphasis on style over substance, or in the case of many female armor models, an emphasis on how little they can show before it’s hard to call it “armor” anymore. I may fall into that marketing demographic, but the High Elf Archer’s starting gear includes a pair of high heels… at least have some semblance of reality.
Beyond those two problems there is little to complain about in TERA. The community is fresh, and the channels are already full of gold spamming and trolls, as it should be. If you don’t like MMOs there is a good chance you won’t like TERA – even with all of their next-gen anti-traditional MMO stigma, it’s still just that: an MMO. The game has plenty of eye candy sans the little pedo-magnet race, features intuitive controls, and does a great job of making combat less boring. I for one will take the plunge and cast my hard-earned money into the bucket for at least six months. Let’s see what En Masse has to offer.