Subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) are in a bit of a pickle at the moment. Apart from World of Warcraft (which is not at its peak anymore – just look at the dropped users), most MMORPGs are seemingly having to turn to free-to-play methods to keep the income coming in to cover costs of servers and other expenses. Unlike before, gamers aren’t willing to easily give up money for subscriptions – Star Wars: The Old Republic and the troubling release of The Secret World being recent examples of this, with no doubt more happening down the line. Publishers are still trying, and the most recent to step up to the plate is Tera, “the first true action MMORPG.”
The game begins with your created character starting at level 20. This sounds bizarre, but to be fair the prologue is rather clever. It gives the gamer a sneak peek at what the character’s class can become when it levels up. During this tutorial phase of the game the key aspects of Tera become clear – movement, quests, interaction, it’s all the same as other games in the genre. One thing that is evidently different is the combat – the shining star of Tera. The marketing team knows this because a lot of their promotion is based around this “true action.” I can see why the publisher is confident. I have not played an MMORPG where the combat has been as exciting, rewarding and personal as in Tera.
What makes the combat so great is that everything to do with fighting is done in real time, making it feel less like the typical MMORPG with their time-based auto attacks, and more like an action game with a third-person camera. Attacking, defending and dodging (using MP, which regenerates as you attack) is done with much more freedom than the fighting that normally comes with this genre. Combat is challenging, because you cannot use a lock-on mechanic to make sure you hit targets. Instead, it is all down to the skill of the player and their ability to master the weapon of choice. Using swords means you have to get in close and swing the blade with clicks of the mouse, while using an archer means you have to manually aim at the desired enemy with a crosshair and shoot, making the long range classes feel like you’re playing a third-person shooter. Removing the “click and watch hero do stuff” approach – part of every MMORPG nowadays – makes whichever class you pick feel distinctive in its play style. Due to the feel of the combat, fighting enemies is much more fun and involving as a result.
Seven races fill the world of Tera, and you can be any of these when creating a character. Included are some of the classic races, like Humans and High Elves. Tera also has diversity, with the Aman, a draconian race; the Baraka, giant, beefy male race; the Castanics, horned people; The Elins, an innocent nature loving race who look like little girls; and lastly, the Popori, cute, stuffy animals that remind me of pandas and podgy raccoons, all looking vastly different from one another. Each race comes with their own set of skills, so it’s not just about a character’s looks.
After picking a race, players need to decide from one of eight classes. Each one fills a characteristic role – MMORPG players will know what these are, such as “tank” or “DPS.” The Slayer, for example, is the melee damage class of the game with their giant swords, while the Priest is the healer, casting spells with their magical abilities. I am not going to go through each one (more information can be found here); all that needs to be said is that each class feels different because of how they play in “true action combat.”
A shining example of this “true action combat” is how you can get away with soloing most of the content that is not part of the group dungeons. A good illustration of this is taking on Tera’s Big Ass Monsters (the game’s term, not mine, which it abbreviates to BAMs). These towering beasts act like world bosses and can easily give your character an arse kicking. The real time aspect of the combat makes it so that Tera isn’t totally about stats. Any other MMORPG will need players to act in groups to take down monsters that are much stronger than them. Not here, though. If gamers are good at reading movements from monsters then they can take down a BAM single-handedly, and blooming hell it feels good doing just that. In a sense, it is as personally rewarding as taking down a monster in the Monster Hunter series, and sometimes in Tera you can be battling for 10-15 minutes as you try to defeat one by yourself. It’s a nice change to be able to play a MMORPG that isn’t completely reliable on how good your stats are.
Once you get past the combat then things become all too familiar. Quests are no different than any other MMORPG. Tera recycles on the fetch, hunt, protect and find quests a little too much. It is a real shame that the developers focused on making the combat so different that they forgot about the other aspects of the game, and in all honesty it makes Tera a chore to play through during the early part of the game (pre-level 20) because all you are doing is killing small groups of enemies time and time again, coated in different names and colours. The BAMs rarely make an appearance till later on.
Things get better once you hit level 20 and the instances/dungeons open up. I suppose you could call the first 20 levels somewhat of a giant learning experience, but that does not help that it can become boring. Working as a group to take on a dungeon and to be welcomed at the end of it with a BAM or a couple of BAMs can be a stimulating experience, and again the combat is the star of the game as players take on their respective roles to defeat the boss of the dungeon. Finding new friends and team mates will always be a main attraction of MMORPGs, and these dungeons are Tera’s way of getting you to work together.
Level 60 is the game’s maximum level, and once you have hit that and explored the areas and quests on offer then you are left with taking on more challenging versions of the dungeons. The endgame for Tera is not that exciting. There seems to be some cool additional content and bosses coming soon, but at the moment you’re left with dynamic events in selected areas, where players must defend against an invading force. Overcome these events and rare rewards will be offered. An amusing feature of Tera is the political side, where a player can run for office to rule the land and offer procedures that will help their guild and other players, such as changing the tax rate or changing the services of non-playable characters. The PvP is somewhat lacking as there are no particular game modes. Guilds can attack other guilds and try hunting down members, and teams can also organise deathmatches and set rewards, but there’s no World of Warcraft battleground-style events here. (Update: Patch released on 22nd August added this in, but wasn’t in when the reviewer played the game.)
Graphically, Tera is beautiful with its use of the Unreal Engine 3. I would say the game is one of the most visually stunning MMORPGs I have seen to date. The world looks colourful, with every area having a distinctive look – feeling organic with the incredible use of lighting and textures. The art team have made it so all the vistas in the game are a sight to behold. Monsters and characters are all detailed, while looking great and animating well. When it comes to aesthetics, Tera isn’t matched. Although, I can see some people not liking the stereotypical Korean aspects of Tera’s character design, mainly the little girls because every female race gets skimpy armour to wear. These were slightly censored to look more appropriate for the western market.
Tera sure makes promise on the “true action combat” that it so advertises, but that change alone to the MMORPG formula isn’t enough to flip the genre on its head, especially when you’ve forgotten about other aspects of it. Sure the combat is brilliant, but if the questing is repetitive and dull then people are going to get bored. Variety is important when you want gamers to stay playing a game, and unless Tera grows over the months through patches that add fresh content, then it’s not going to be much more than a side-quest of fun while gamers wait for the next MMORPG to arrive. Tera will become known as an impressive looking title with the best combat in its genre, but as a game, not quite as great as it should have been.