At each industry event that I attend Â at least those with playable versions of MMOGs to check out Â there ends up being one title that I find myself going back to play whenever I can manage to squeeze in a few extra minutes between appointments. That affords me the opportunity to get a broader perspective on what an in-development game has to offer, as well as the chance to gauge general attendee reactions to the show floor demo.
Mostly though, IÂll make a point of going back to play the games that I consider to be flat out fun experiences, and E3 2011 was certainly no exception.
IÂve had the chance to play TERA at numerous industry events now, but something about the game truly resonated with me this time around. The fact that this is the first time I had the chance to play not just one, but two of TERAÂs melee classes, the Warrior and the Berserker, no doubt contributed.
The TERA Demo Strikes Back
For those of you who may have read through my hands-on experiences from PAX Prime 2010, youÂll recall that I loved the gameplay but felt as though our demo group had been thrown in at the deep end before getting a chance to learn how to swim. We wiped within minutes, had our loss marked up on a white board for all to see, and were sent on your merry way. Not only did it taint my overall impressions of group combat situations, but I barely felt I had a grasp on TERAÂs unique approach to combat before my character took an everlasting dirt nap.
Thankfully, the group demo at E3 this year not only went much, much smoother, but it was a downright blast to play. Our group was pitted against one of TERAÂs many BAMs (otherwise known as Big Ass Monsters) to help showcase one of the types of quests available to players as part of the newly unveiled political system.
For my role in our group, I ended up playing the Warrior. The warrior is one of the gameÂs two tanking classes, though unlike the main tank for our group Â a Lancer Â the warrior wields two swords and relies more on avoiding damage rather than absorbing it.
The avoidance factor became readily apparent with a quick tap of the ÂCÂ key which would let my character dive out of the way of incoming attacks. Between dodging the special abilities of the BAM we were up against (in this case a giant dragon) and scurrying around the immediate vicinity to peel adds off our groupÂs archer and casters, it was a breath of fresh air to play a tanking class that felt agile and able to do more than simply stand rooted in place going through a boring skill rotation.
An interesting takeaway from playing the warrior in particular is that it also punctuated how critical communication is for TERAÂs group encounters. Since healers in TERA donÂt simply stand in a corner playing a yawn-fest game of health bar whack-a-mole, that meant I had to pay close attention to when and where I was leaping and diving. On the one hand, it was critical to dive out of the way of incoming AoE attacks, but on the other you had to pay equally close attention to where AoE heals were being placed so that you didnÂt completely avoid those as well.
Overall, our group encounter was one of the most satisfying IÂve had in ages. The fight itself was pretty intense from start to finish, but I was having so much fun the entire time that it seemed to pass by in a flash. By the time our appointment came to its inevitable conclusion, I was already trying to figure out when I would have room in my schedule to go back and play the game again on one of the show floor demo stations.
And as soon as I had a small block of free time, thatÂs exactly what I did.
Rage Against the Skull Thumpers
For my solo experiences with TERA this time around, I lucked into playing the Berserker class. I say lucked, because I have a natural tendency to play casters when given the choice. But, much like my group experiences playing the warrior, spending some time with the berserker gave me an all new appreciation for what melee combat could and perhaps should feel like in an MMOG.
The berserker is one of TERAÂs DPS classes and is instantly recognizable by the massive two-handed axes they wield. In sharp contrast to the warrior, the pace of the berserkerÂs combat style is much slower and more calculated. However, donÂt take that to mean itÂs any less engaging overall.
One of my favorite aspects of combat with the berserker is that, through clever use of animations paired with the sheer size of the weapon I had equipped, every swing of my axe felt genuine. In most MMOGs, a slower, heavier weapon basically means you auto attack less often but you never get the sense that your character is hefting around a massive chunk of metal. Not so in TERA.
Instead, each attack gave me a real sense that my character was exerting itself in direct proportion to the size and weight of the weapon it was wielding. The overall effect was that the berserkerÂs combat pacing may be a bit slower, but each and every attack felt nothing less than brutal, and I loved it.
Another key difference in combat was that the ÂCÂ key allowed me to plant my axe in front of me to block attacks rather than dodge them. Since all enemies in TERA have a ÂtellÂ (this even includes other players in PvP settings) when theyÂre about to unleash a larger attack, timing blocks played a critical role in survival.
A proper block would also stun my attacker briefly, making it much easier to follow up with a slower overhead attack, knocking my target to the ground in the process. It took a little bit to get used to timing my attacks vs. blocks, but in the meantime that also helped me get a feel for one of my favorite retaliation skills for the berserker.
Certain enemy attacks would send me flying back and leave me prone to follow-up attacks while pulling myself up off my butt. However, the game will also present you with contextually appropriate skills that can be used simply by tapping the space bar. In this case, my retaliation attack would send me leaping through the air and smacking my target over the head, turning the tables on them by planting them on their own ass instead.
A Brief Aside on Character Creation
Before wrapping things up, I did take a little bit of time to check out the options currently available during character creation. If youÂve been paying attention to TERA at all, then I probably donÂt need to tell you just how expertly crafted the character models are in the game. YouÂll have plenty of presets to choose from once youÂve selected a class and race, but the usual plethora of sliders is available for the obsessive eyebrow tweakers out there.
An interesting inclusion in the creation process that caught my eye though, is the rating system assigned to each class in the game. Each class is assigned between one and five stars to give you an idea of relative difficulty associated with its unique play style.
To give you an idea of what that means, IÂll use TERAÂs two healing classes as an example. Since healing in the game is just as rooted in the Âaction combatÂ the title is known for, the Priest receives a four star rating in terms of overall skill needed to excel at playing the class.
By comparison, the Mystic receives a five star rating. As I learned from one of the many helpful devs from En Masse out on the show floor, this is due to the fact that mystics can also summon pets, so it adds another layer of depth to a class archetype thatÂs most commonly associated with drooling into a cup while watching little red bars go up and down.
Thankfully, TERA isnÂt that kind of MMOG so expect your skills to truly be put to the test when opting to play either of the available healing classes.
We still donÂt have a confirmed release date for TERA, but given the complexity of the newly unveiled political system IÂm more than happy to wait a bit longer to play the live game if that means TERAÂs metagame turns out to be just as compelling as its combat system.
Still, even after being one of my most played (and enjoyable) MMOG experiences at this yearÂs E3, the game has definitely got itÂs hooks in me, and I canÂt wait for my next chance to play it. In fact, TERA is my personal pick for Best MMOG at E3, and that says a lot considering the calibur or titles being shown at this year's event.