E3 2009: Impressions of Heroes of Telara

To be honest, when the Heroes of Telara trailer first released, much of what we heard was "been there done that" from readers and friends. "Fantasy has been done to death" was another. That's why we were glad to see the game actually in play behind closed doors this last week at the Trion World Network space at E3. While we only saw a pre-alpha copy of the game (and would point out that it's what they used for the trailer) it's certainly raised our interest over the initial impression we had.

In motion, Heroes of Telara actually made some of us of think of an updated, shinier version of Guild Wars in terms of very pretty and highly-detailed stylized (yet somewhat realistic) graphics. As was explained to us by Chris Mancil, the Director of Community Management for Trion, one of the largest things that they feel will set Heroes of Telara apart from many others is that they are working to keep the game server-based. Their plan is to attempt to keep most of the "action" server side as is possible so that they can add new events into the game without having to send along enormous patches to players all the time. All assets will still reside client side, but they'll be able to manipulate game-play by telling the client to modify where things spawn, how things interact, and the like. From little things like different vendors having sales to large zone-wide events, it will allow them to change anything and everything on the fly and make Heroes of Telara feel more like it's taking place in a living, breathing, dynamic world that players will want to "live in, explore, and play."

Additionally explaining mechanics, Mancil noted that the game will allow you to change classes on the fly - so long as you are in a city or town when you do so. All players currently have the ability to switch to one of the four basic classes; Warrior, Mage, Cleric and Rogue. By doing this, we have the ability to fill any of the normal trinity roles, or pick a class able to solo more effectively in different situations if that's preferred. The other nice thing about this is that armor, weapons and powers all change across the game as you switch classes, meaning you don't have to run back to your house or dig around in your bags or bank to swap armor. One click, and you're moving on with your game time - a considerate move we approve of most heartily.

The mobs we saw in the one area were incredibly detailed, and the "Grave Lord" boss that we got to see used a cool necromancer-type effect to raise zombie monsters out of the ground and send them after the warrior Trion was demoing. Once defeated, the warrior found a power "sub-class card" on the Grave Lord that allowed her to essentially permanently 'steal' his necromancy power. The card became incredibly useful later when an even bigger boss lumbered into town and started destroying the place, but wasn't responding to melee attacks. Switch that necromancy power in, and send wave after wave of zombie minions in after tasty boss brains. Yummy! As Mancil noted, it's "all about allowing people to be the right hero at the right time" when it comes to changing classes and using different abilities, giving even more options to those who want to play solo, or in smaller groups.

Another nice thing we noticed during the Heroes of Telara walkthrough was the fact that friendly NPCs nearby ran to assist with the fights, which we were assured are faction-based, and will react differently depending on your standing. Precisely how important faction-based play is to the overall game we can't say, but we get the impression that the mechanics will at least be more interesting than "grind 500 palm fronds for a pair of special faction socks while the NPCs stand idly about." That's a big win in our books, if so. Tedious, annoying faction grinds for nothing more than trinkets are so 2008.

Perhaps the coolest mechanic we saw at this early stage happened after the boss was defeated in the village. The entire village shifted from being overcast, dark and foreboding to being peaceful and under a starry sky - a simple state-change on the servers. Torches were lit, and the NPCs came out to celebrate our victory, walking up to the Warrior and cheering her on for achieving a victory against the big nasty monster that threatened their city. As a message went across the server of the daring deed, fireworks lit up the night sky, and the NPCs threw confetti - a suitably heroic ending to a nice first look at this game.

In short, if you're burned to a crisp on fantasy settings, Heroes of Telara probably won't appeal to you. If you're interested in mechanics and a different take on an old genre, the lofty goals that Trion is setting for itself in terms of what they're wanting to achieve may well pique your interest regardless of setting. Of course, if you're all about fantasy MMOs, then Heroes of Telara should definitely go on your watch list. With eye-candy, solo and small-group friendly mechanics, and the ability to really make your character feel pretty heroic, we're curious to see just how this one will continue to develop.
Massively was on the ground in Los Angeles last week and covering all the latest E3 MMO news coming from the convention. Check out our breaking coverage (or all the Joystiq network E3 reporting) and keep your eye on Massively's front page for the latest developments.
This article was originally published on Massively.