TERA Review

Ten Ton Hammer
Ten Ton Hammer Rating
In the Northeast of the Old City in Shanghai lies a majestic five-acre garden called the Yuyuan Garden. Built in 1577, the enticing enclosure has served as inspiration to artists and poets for centuries.  Today you can still walk the gardens and take in the stimulating scene of the Grand Rockery, or catch a glimpse of relics from the Ming Dynasty in Yuhua Hall. And after you're done pondering the pavilion in the Inner Garden you can grab a Big Mac at the McDonald's across the street.

Familiar elements in a distant location can be a welcome luxury when sensibly offered , but at the same time too many creature comforts can turn the experience from exotic to mundane. This was the haunting thought that kept repeating itself in my head as I played through Korean-gone-Western MMOG, TERA, developed by Bluehole Studio, published in the US by En Masse Entertainment, and published in Europe by Frogster.

TERA is a game that certainly offers a fresh appeal on a maturing genre, but is there quite enough "new" here to satisfy change-hungry MMO gamers?

Gameplay - 87 / 100

Picking up the game and diving in won't prove difficult for most players particularly if they've played an MMO before. This doesn't mean it won't take a few moments of adjustment, however. First and foremost TERA was built from the ground up as an action-based MMO game. There's simply not much action in the point and click controls of traditional MMOs. So the first adaptation period comes right at the beginning with the understanding that the mouse controls the camera and the mouse buttons and numerical keys are combat actions. Alternatively, one may opt to play with a controller instead which will offer quite a different experience than most other MMO games.

Once acclimated the process of the actual gaming is conventional: follow the trail of NPCs that offer quests, perform said quests, continue to next area. This breadcrumbing has become a standard in modern MMO games and there is plenty of it to be found in TERA. What lies between the quest turn-ins is what elevates this game from the unremarkable to the unordinary. And that is the combat.

TERA Archery

Take aim at real action combat in TERA--even at a range

If the questing in TERA is run-of-the-mill then the combat is a finely tailored, distinguished commodity. It's elegant in its modesty and easy to understand: point your crosshairs in the direction you want to perform an ability and press the corresponding key. If playing a melee character you can string maneuvers together in a graceful dance-like chain of combos. Or, if ranged play is your fancy, take aim with almost FPS precision and round out damage with a glorious blaze of spells and projectiles.

These moves can take time to perfect but they separate the average player from the excellent. Skill-based combat is rarely executed well but TERA has managed to bring the concept into the realm of reality with their system. Regrettably, I found I wasn't handicapped so much by the game mechanics but rather by my own interface tools. Playing with a mouse and keyboard wasn't nearly as effective and fluid as playing with a controller until I tried it with my Razer Naga mouse. Once I had all of my abilities hotkeyed to thumb buttons I felt empowered, in control, and balletic in my bashing of baddie's brains.

Perhaps best of all is the streamlining of skills. In a case of emphasis on player skill the adage of "less is more" holds true and Bluehole seems to have understood that concept by a humble offering of skills and abilities. As you level up you learn more skills, as is again traditional, but never are there too many skills. My hotbars were never teeming with abilities I would only use once per day. The abilities are streamlined and purposeful without being superfluous. You get what you need, and use what you get.

For all of its dazzle in providing a revitalizing approach to MMO combat, TERA does exact a price on the social game. The combat is so involved that it leaves one little room for much else. You won't be chatting with your groupmates or guildies while killing the evils of Arborea. Typing text while connecting combos is near impossible, though the game does offer some quick macros that allow you basic responses like "follow me" or "busy fighting" with the click of a button. It even takes a considerable measure of dexterity to employ a push-to-talk key while stringing attacks.

For the most part the inability to quickly communicate while fighting isn't a gamebreaker, but it does become increasingly challenging if you enter one of the game's instanced dungeons. Unless everyone in the party knows the dungeon inside and out (which is unlikely in most pickup groups) you'll need to take time to plan and discuss. Once synchronous with your groupmates though, the instanced dungeons provide challenging content and clever scripts that are rich in fun, even if a bit prosaic.

As if in contradiction to the social drawbacks with the engaging combat, another new element TERA brings to the MMO buffet is its political system. These systems have been toyed with before in various free-to-play titles and a smattering of Eastern MMO games but the system in TERA is the first time the concept has been introduced to the Western audience on such a large scale. The idea is relatively simple: players level 20 and above vote once per month on their Vanarch. Vanarchs are responsible for setting and collecting taxes from NPCs and with the funding are able to open new merchant NPCs and fast travel routes. The political system itself promotes a very social game, as campaigning for votes plays a huge role in a candidate's success, as does the guild the candidate leads. Yet, as in real life, the political game takes place at a remove from the core progression of the game for most players, and is (at least at the early stages) relegated to novelty feature status.

Graphics - 97 / 100

Flying into Velika will leave you breathless At first glance TERA may come off as a boilerplate for Asian character and video game graphic design, and there is some of that. There are the big-eyed anime-style child races along with the cutesy personified cuddly animal races. There are the ladyboys and libidinous female models. But stereotypes aside, the world is vivid and painted in rich deep tones that seem to beckon you into the screen. The cell-shading is remarkably theatrical which painted with the calculated palette makes each area of the game enticing and exciting. Flying into the city of Velika for the first time is nothing short of breathtaking. You'll almost want to abandon reality to fully immerse yourself into the vibrant landscape.

Sound - 82 / 100

The musical score in TERA is as animated as the characters themselves. Each theme blends almost seamlessly into the next as you travel the world and change environments. The composition is always appropriate and often subtle which complements the delicate details in the artwork. You'll often feel an emotion applicable to the setting and wonder where that sensation was coming from exactly, until you notice the understated musical score.

The sound effects are equally impressive. You may not immediately notice the sound of your soft leather soles beating on pavement as you run through the cobble streets of Velika, but you do notice when they're not there. The same holds true for the well placed chirping of birds, babbling of running waters, and flapping of Pegasus wings. The soundscape is not overstated but done well.

The voice acting is a different story. While not terrible, the dialog is underwhelming at best. This is an example of being slapped in the face by something out of place.  Seemingly random quests will split off into a cutscene that, for the most part, serves little purpose. I didn't find any of the cutscenes entertaining or felt they were of any extra value. If anything they broke the rhythm of the gameplay and body-checked me out of my immersive experience and into the cold boards of disjointed storytelling.

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