Developer: Bluehole Studio / Publisher: En Masse Entertainment / Played on: PC / Price: $49.99, $14.99 per month / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violence]
I don’t like to define one game against another, but in this case the opportunity is too perfect to pass up. In MMO terms, Tera is spiritually the complete opposite of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Where TOR focused on story but used nearly identical mechanics to World of Warcraft, Tera’s story is worthless, but creates MMO mechanics so satisfying that it’s just fun to kill shit. Having played nearly every MMO since Ultima Online, that’s a trait that is uniquely Tera’s, and means that this game deserves attention from any MMO fan.
Aside from a few failed experiments (Tabula Rasa springs to mind), nearly every MMO since World of Warcraft has operated on the same basic mechanics. Toolbars, cooldown-based skills, mouse-driven targeting, so on and so on. Tera controls more like a single-player action game. Whether melee or ranged, your attacks will connect or miss depending on your spacing and targeting rather than an accuracy stat. This makes combat much more direct and satisfying. Rather than select a target and click a toolbar ability repeatedly until an enemy dies, you directly swing the sword and mow through waves of enemies.
This also creates interesting combat mechanics. Take healing for example: you can’t directly target party members, so the WoW-standard click a party member and heal doesn’t work. To compensate, Tera has some clever ways to dole out the hit points. One involves activating a spell then mousing over party members to “lock on” to them, while another just drops a healing orb on the battlefield, requiring your party members to pick them up. The game also capitalizes on its unique combat with BAMs, which stands for–no joke–Big Ass Monsters. These are boss monsters that require a party of up to five members to beat, and generally jump around and attack like crazy. Fighting them is way more intense than any encounter I’ve had in an MMO so far.
The structure surrounding the combat and progression is as templated MMO design as you can get. You follow a string of story quests that pull you through the world, leading to quest hubs that send you out to kill X number of whatever. Neither the story quests nor the collection quests will keep you in rapt attention. Tera’s main story starts chasing some legendary hero that has gone missing, then switches over to portents of some world-ending demon’s resurrection. Granted, there can be comfort and charm in the familiar, but you’ve seen this story echoed in every other forgettable fantasy setting since time was time. Collection quests rarely stray away from “People here are cold so go get some pelts” templates either. The success of the game’s core combat mechanics are muted by the banality of its story and structure.
The rest of the game is a mix of clever ideas and bland inclusions for the sake of obligation. Crafting is in the game, but is one of the least gratifying systems I’ve seen. Rather than mete out new recipes every few points of skill, every recipe is divided into massive tiers that come every 50 points or so. That means you have to grind away on the same items just to get over the next big hump to unlock a whole slew of items you probably don’t have the materials to make.
Conversely, I love how Tera handles guilds. Every guild can upload its own personal icon, which is a point of hilarity in itself. In addition, guild masters can spend guild tokens that its members earn completing guild quests on guild-wide perks like XP boosts. There’s even a whole politics metagame where guilds convince players to “praise” them, which is a currency you can spend to capture a whole city. I’m not sure what that actually means though, as it has yet to happen in the game since launch. Sure does sound cool, but I doubt we’ll be reading EVE Online-level headlines about political conspiracy.
I’m impressed with Tera’s functionality too, which is probably thanks to the game’s headstart in the Korean market. Certain features that usually take a patch or two to arrive (guild banks, item sorting) are already available. The developers have also had time to suss out all the annoying bugs and glitches that are commonplace with MMO launches. My time in Tera was oddly free of all the nagging problems that you’d expect in a new MMO, which is uncommon and appreciated.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The awesome-balanced-by-boring trend continues in the game’s presentation. Tera is, unquestionably, the best-looking MMO in existence, though it is undeniably Asian. The game’s environments give your eyes a blowjob with vibrant colors and complex geometry that defies the flat and open fields that commonly dominate the genre. Character design is downright insane, too. You start innocuously enough with an effete elf man with protruding abs and before long you’re wearing a high-collared purple cheetah print trench coat. Tera also sets amazing new standards in impractical female armor, clothing its buxom warriors in attire that is not only impractical but also defies physics. This game is a visual event.
All of that is countered by noticeably bad voice acting–bad to the point where I figure they just asked around the office for anyone that was somewhat fluent in English and stuck them in the recording booth. Still, you won’t be getting any gratification from the game’s story, so it’s not like the VO is any worse than the writing.
Tera’s unique mechanics also retool the controls extensively. The WoW template has you running around with a mouse cursor to click on and target entities in the world. Tera defaults with mouse look on, while you can pull up the cursor by pressing alt. I am intimately familiar with WoW controls (since nearly every MMO since copies it), so Tera felt incredibly awkward in the first hour, but it clicked after that initial hump. Ever since, controlling has been effortless.
The direct controls also enable controller support in the game, which is supported so explicitly that a controller UI pops up when you plug one in to show you which skill is mapped to which button. The game only works with 360 or PS3 controllers, but I gave it a shot for an hour or two and it’s totally playable. You can even scale up the UI to make it readable on a TV, which was a unique way to kick back and kill twenty bears or demons or whatever.
Your interest in Tera will depend entirely on what you enjoy out of MMOs. If you want a game that changes up the typical MMO structure, Tera is not that game. It’s nothing but grind from start to finish, filled with template quests and an uninteresting story. However, if you have no problem with grind and just want a fun and gorgeous environment to slaughter fauna, nobody’s done it better than Tera.