Earlier this summer I had my first opportunity to get some hands-on time with TERA at E3. While I wasn’t part of Ten Ton Hammer’s team that got to sit in on one of the group demo sessions, I still managed to spend a solid block of time playing the game as a Sorceress out on the show floor. I recall being instantly drawn in not just by the incredibly detailed graphics, but by the interesting blend of fast paced action with golden age MMOG concepts like being able to kite mobs as a spell caster.
But as much fun as I had watching the sensual swaying of my female high elf character’s hips when casting charged spells, after reading Ben’s full report on the group experience at E3 I knew I’d want to be checking out that aspect of the game as soon as possible.
As luck would have it, I was given the chance to do exactly that last month at gamescom, and then again this past week at PAX Prime. Interestingly enough, the two demo sessions proved to be radically different experiences. One of them left an incredibly positive impression while the other proved to be so chaotic that our group didn’t just wipe, but were given the great (dis)honor of earning a tally mark under the “fail” column on a whiteboard before being shown the exit with a handshake and a smile. But before getting too deeply into the details on how all of that transpired, let me take two steps back to share my impressions of the group play Ben and I were able to experience at gamescom.
For that event, our group consisted of 3 members with me once again stepping into a DPS role as a sorcerer, only this time as a sexy female Castanic character. Since I’d had the chance to muck around with the different skills for that class at E3, it didn’t take me all that long to get the hang of mixing instant-cast fire spells while on the move with a more powerful, charged electric spell. Another key ability in my arsenal allowed me to rapidly regain mana, though doing so would be interrupted by movement which meant I had to remain constantly aware of my position during combat.
The same holds true of really all of the sorcerer’s abilities. While some can be fired off while on the move, the charged spell would move towards my target a bit slower so it was critical that I was not only aiming properly, but that I did so within close proximity to our group’s healer in case I pulled agro while Ben, our group’s tank, was busy shaking off stuns.
The dungeon we ran through was relatively short, but we were told that it was an open world zone that anyone could go into and explore at any time. The gameplay consisted of a series of encounters that scaled up in difficulty, from a smaller group of normal mobs leading up to a climactic boss fight. Even being short by one player in our group, we still managed to take down all the bad guys with relatively few deaths, and I was pretty much sold on the idea that grouping in TERA was just as epic as Ben had claimed it to be based on his experiences at E3.
This was in the back of my mind when Ethec and I stepped into the demo space for TERA this past weekend at PAX Prime. This time around we were also joined by members of the Lorehound team, rounding out a full group of five including our group’s healer which was played by one of the TERA devs.
To begin the presentation, we were each introduced to our characters and their core combat abilities as well as given some of the background for the area called the Vale of Fang which we were about to enter. Apparently Ethec’s character, Bob, had died numerous times prior to our demo which may or may not have been a foreshadowing of things to come.
This time around I played Zeke, a human archer. My main bow attack could be fired off rapidly with a simple left mouse click, and then I also had access to a powerful AoE attack that would rain a volley of arrows down on my foes. Each class present also had access to a special defensive ability that could be quickly accessed by pressing the C key, and in the case of my archer I would fire off a powerful bow attack, the force of which would send me flying backwards out of melee range of my attackers.
A last thing we were asked to direct our attention to before getting started on our demo was a whiteboard hanging on the wall of the presentation space. Apparently the TERA team at PAX had been keeping a runny tally of the wins and failures of the various groups that had participated in the group demo so far that weekend. At that point there were 8 wins and 3 fails listed, and we were encouraged to aim for becoming win number nine for the week.
Stepping into the first massive room of the dungeon, we were confronted by a much larger group of mobs than I had expected, and while the fight was fairly chaotic we still managed to survive the encounter in spite of not really having a full grasp on the strengths and weaknesses of our individual characters. All the while we were also given plenty of tips and pointers on which abilities we should focus on using, and reminders to remain constantly aware of our surroundings. I also discovered that my AoE attack seemed to be a channeled, point-blank attack, or if not I never did quite figure out how to direct it further away from my character.
The oddness of firing off a massive volley of arrows down on my own head aside, in the end it seemed as though our group just might survive long enough to face one of the massive bosses. Then again, maybe I was simply being overly optimistic.
By the time we entered the third large room, the difficulty had scaled so rapidly that I could barely keep track of where my team members were during the fight let alone find a good position to plunk arrows from to avoid drawing agro from a good half dozen mobs at a time. One by one our group started to fall, and by the time our healer died the writing was already on the wall. Literally if you consider that we’d just earned ourselves the fourth tally mark under the “fail” column.
And just like that, our demo session was over. Call it what you will, but after being thrown in at the deep end and getting our asses handed to us by encounters no doubt intended for advanced group play, I wasn’t left with quite the same positive vibe I’d had at both E3 and gamescom earlier in the summer.
Don’t get me wrong, the game is still incredibly fun to play and I can see a lot of potential for both the solo and group aspects of the active combat system. Maybe I’m just a sore loser, but being labeled as such on a whiteboard and sent packing simply wasn’t the epic group experience I had hoped for this time around. Still, I’ll be keeping a close watch on TERA because I genuinely enjoy MMO gameplay that challenges your abilities and doesn’t simply hand you rewards on a silver platter with little or no real effort involved. And group play in TERA is certainly a challenging and rewarding experience which I look forward to experiencing again. Only next time, hopefully I won’t be taking such a swift dirt nap.