Posted Wed, Feb 15, 2012 by Shayalyn
Billed as “the first true action MMO,” TERA aims to keep you aiming (and dodging, and blocking). Does it deliver on its promise? And how does it stack up against its competitors in other departments? Our first look provides some answers.
The outcry from the MMO gaming community has existed for years—MMOGs haven’t changed much since the dawn of forbearers like EverQuest, and innovation has been scarce since World of Warcraft drew millions of players to Azeroth. It’s all the same old stuff—you build a character, hop into the world, start questing, and kill monsters by hitting tab to select your target, hitting auto-attack, and blasting off a string of abilities or macros using hotkeys. Arguably, the character development, questing and monster killing continue to exist because that’s simply how it works—we need things to do, bad guys to kill, and a cool avatar with which to accomplish it all. But what if a game developer changed up the tired tab/auto-attack/hotkeys combat rotation?
TERA, the upcoming Korean import from Blue Hole Studios and En Masse, aims to keep you aiming instead of tabbing as you fight the big, the bad and the ugly. From the moment we started hearing about TERA, we’ve heard its developers refer to it as “the first true action MMO.” And while it might not be the first strictly speaking—Vindictus did similar things, and so did DC Universe Online—it’s certainly one of the biggest titles to date to move away from the same old same combat scenario and change things up a bit, and the only one that’s unquestionably an MMO rather than a hub with instances or a console port.
I’ll admit up front that I hopped into TERA with some trepidation. I’m not an FPS player, and I’m actually pretty comfortable (okay, perhaps comfortably numb) when it comes to the standard MMO combat scenario. My fear was, well…that I’d suck at TERA. And perhaps I’m not great (I turned down every duel I was offered, and there were a few, because I don’t like to lose), but by the time I’d rolled through the early levels I was getting the hang of things and even beginning to feel twinges of uberosity.
First off, let me say that if this game is going to have any longevity for me, I’m probably going to want to look into controlling it with a game pad rather than keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse work well enough for all but one thing—moving around. And TERA is going to insist that its heroes (some classes more so than others) move around to avoid getting pummeled. For quick movement, the mouse and WASD movement controls can be a bit clumsy, but not impossible, to work with. Your mileage may vary. If you’re accustomed to going through the requisite gyrations with your mouse because of your experience with other movement-intensive games, then carry on.
When I arrived at TERA’s newbie area, The Isle of Dawn, after a brief (and not even remotely lip-synched) opening cinematic, I was greeted by an NPC and thrust into combat immediately. “Go, young recruit!” they told me, “Slaughter those ornery moving trees…for the Federation!” (I may be paraphrasing a bit.)
Combat requires a couple of things: you have to aim, and you have to be in range. Coming from a straight-up MMO background, my urge to tab-target was strong at first, but I overcame it. To attack, you’ll hover your cursor over a monster. If you’re in range, your targeting reticle will change to give you a sort of crosshairs and you’re ready to fire off one of your abilities. When playing with a mouse, your primary damage ability is automatically mapped to your left mouse button, and some sort of tactical save-your-ass skill is mapped to the right. In the case of my Priest, the left mouse button fired off a damage bolt and the right allowed me to throw myself a minor heal. As you acquire new skills, you’ll fetch them from your skill book and click-drag them to your menu bar, where they’re mapped to keyboard hotkeys. As you would expect, the UI itself is fairly customizable in settings, so you can remap hotkeys and arrange things as you see fit.
The critters you’ll kill early on in TERA are a cakewalk. For my priest, the ornery trees were barely able to swing a limb at me before I felled them. Even the caribou-like “noruks” I was asked to kill off were slow and plodding and found it pretty difficult to get close to me before I was able to add them to my list of species quickly vanishing (and yet somehow just as quickly replenished!) from the Isle of Dawn. Things got only a tad trickier when fighting clusters of monsters a couple levels later, but by that time I’d been given some sort of AoE skill to help me deal with them.
Did I fire shots that never hit their intended target? Absolutely. Mobs will slip out of range or move out of line-of-sight occasionally, and sometimes, when you’re simply not paying as much attention as you need to, you’ll find yourself missing your target because you forgot to take the time to aim. One thing TERA does well, though, is to ease you into this new(ish) form of MMO combat. Early mobs are easy to defeat, and the curve as they get progressively more difficult is a very gradual one. Only by level 7 or so did I start to feel as though, just maybe, things had gotten a hair more challenging. The first cluster of orcs I took on, for instance, had a ringleader who paced about the field. I found I couldn’t hit him very well when he was moving, even at a walk, and I had to wait for him to stand still before I could get one of my shots to land. I laughed at my newbitude, but this was my first glimpse of combat to come. I realized that hitting a moving target just might become a greater challenge as mobs got faster and their AI got smarter. Don’t get me wrong, though—easing into combat is a good thing, especially for someone like me from a non-console, non-shooter background. I never felt that I was over my head, but I did feel like the practice was preparing me for bigger and badder things to come.
While no game is perfect, and neither is TERA (I’ll get to that in a moment), the world of TERA is nothing short of stunning. The visuals have that dreamy, colorful, otherworldly feel we’ve come to expect from Asian MMOs. There was no shortage of impressive sights to see, from a blossoming tree looming like an umbrella overhead to a great chasm (go take a look when you get there—you can’t fall) with flowing waterfalls.
Character models are attractive with decent customization options. There’s no shortage of cleavage on the female characters, and males are ripped, right down to the Castanics with their exposed 6-pack abs. Clothing options are skimpy, particularly for the female toons. If you like the sexy sexy, TERA has it. And, as is the way with a lot of things that come out of Asia, there’s no shortage of cute here, either, from the adorable (but fierce) Popori to the childlike (and a little creepy), big-eyed, all-female Elins, right down to the sweet little monsters you hate to kill (but have to, because some NPC demanded it.)
Not only is TERA graphically stunning, but it’s smooth. I run 64-bit Windows 7 with a 2.8 GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1055T, 4 GB of RAM, and an ATI Radeon 5700 series video card with 1 GB of video memory. Granted, my specs are reasonably decent, but TERA ran beautifully for me on high graphics settings with zero lag.
So, we know that TERA’s combat is engaging. And, even from my initial low-level peek at the first beta weekend, I can tell that it’s going to get progressively more engaging as I level up. Even so, if you set aside the combat, TERA falls into the just-another-MMO category, which seems to indicate that our latest batch of MMO contenders just might be capable of only one innovation at a time. (Star Wars: The Old Republic players know what I mean. Strip away the voiceovers, cinematics and compelling storyline and you’ve got “space WoW,” amiright?)
I was disappointed to find that my first quest in TERA amounted to an NPC telling me that I should report to another NPC, just up the road, who told me that something was wonky with the creatures on the Isle of Dawn and I should probably go kill a few walking trees. After the trees were out of the way, it only made sense to gather some samples from the slow-moving caribou things. And the same system plays out as you level up—meet NPCs, meet more NPCs, and fetch/gather/kill things. We’ve been here before. Many times.
Except for occasional cinematics, the quest dialog is straight up MMO fodder, and not very interesting fodder at that. Sure, there are a few hooks here and there, but the quest dialog has a very been-there-done-that feel. If you’ve played an MMO in the past decade, you’ve seen similar storylines. At least where the newbie experience is concerned, its action-oriented combat style is TERA’s primary hook, not story. Despite a lack of innovative story, though, it needs to be said that TERA’s localization where dialog is concerned has been done well—even if there’s nothing new about TERA’s story, at least nothing’s lost in (bad) translation.
At the end of my brief weekend look at TERA I came away thinking that its combat was fun, and its visuals were amazing, but its leveling structure and quest storyline looked like the same ol’ same. Could things change as the game opens up at levels beyond the newbie experience? Certainly—that happens in most games. And, with combat as engaging as TERA’s combat is, the chances if it becoming the same old grind are minimized.