E3 2011: En Masse interview delves into TERA's political system

Let's get political! Today at E3, our very own Shawn Schuster got the chance to talk to the fine folks at En Masse and about their upcoming action MMORPG TERA and its groundbreaking new political system. En Masse's Associate Producer Stefan Ramirez said of the political system, "If TERA's action makes the combat fun and engaging, then the political system brings a whole new depth to player engagement." How exactly are the folks at En Masse going to accomplish this new level of engagement? Well, follow along with us and we'll tell you.

First and foremost, it's important to note that TERA's political system is entirely player-driven. There is no script and no plan, and it's entirely up to the game's populace to decide how the politics on each server will play out. The player's overarching goal within the political system is to become a Vanarch, the leader of a province. The benefits of becoming a Vanarch are many, and in the words of Mr. Ramirez, Vanarchs "have a shit-ton of power, a shit-ton of money, and a shit-ton of fame."

But before we get to any of that, perhaps we should clarify how exactly a player becomes a Vanarch. There are two ways to do this: through popular vote and through brute force. The popular vote route is precisely what it sounds like. A player campaigns, garners favor with the playerbase, makes promises he probably won't keep (hey, this is politics after all!), and does everything in his power to ensure that, come election time, he's the one who's put in office. Stefan was careful to note that exactly how a player does this is entirely up to the populace. The player could run a clean campaign, helping people out and making a name for himself as a paragon of goodness to sway the vote in his favor. Alternatively, he could go the underhanded route, making deals behind the scenes with other guilds and players and even buying votes if he's rolling in his money a la Scrooge McDuck. Needless to say, this leaves a lot to the players and offers a spectacular opportunity for those running for the position of Vanarch to get creative with their campaigns.

Then there's the brute force route. While Stefan didn't go into incredible detail as to how the brute force method exactly works, what we managed to glean was this: A player and his guildmates can go into TERA's battlegrounds and PvP their way to the top of the ladders, gaining infamy as they go. Eventually, a player can take control of a province through PvP supremacy or popular vote. Regardless of which route a player chooses, however, he will end up at the same endpoint with the same powers and the same term limit of two weeks.

Onward to the shit-tons of power, money, and fame!

We'll start with the power. A Vanarch's power comes in many forms, but what it essentially boils down to is this: A Vanarch has complete control over his province. He's able to raise or lower taxes, open specialty shops within his province, enable open PvP within his zone, run his own events, and imprison other players. I'd be willing to bet money that at least half of you did a double-take at that last one, but don't worry -- your eyes aren't playing tricks on you. Stefan very clearly stated that the Vanarch of a zone would have the power to imprison "jerks and assholes" who come through his province. Unfortunately, no other details on how exactly that will work could be provided. Still, a Vanarch has absolute power over his province, though how he runs it is entirely up to him. He could be a kind and benevolent ruler, lower the taxes, disable PvP, open a lot of lovely specialty shops, imprison problematic players, and throw grand parties for everyone. On the other end of the spectrum, he could be a complete despot, raising taxes to insane levels, encouraging a free-for-all PvP slaughterhouse, and imprisoning anyone who looks at him sideways.

Next comes the money. You'll notice that one of the powers a Vanarch is granted is the ability to raise or lower taxes in his province. Well, if he so desires, he can raise taxes and then open specialty shops selling exclusive goods or hold huge events to draw players to his province. Players will come for the specialty shops or events, spend lots of money on the province's exclusive goods, and get taxed out the ears, while the Vanarch sits back and swims in his pool of money. Obviously, the position of Vanarch is not just prestigious but profitable as well.

And finally, the fame. If you're successful in getting yourself elected Vanarch, you'll probably have at least a little bit of this to begin with just from running your campaign or battling your way to the top of the PvP charts. But once you're firmly seated in the Vanarch's chair, the fame only rises from there. For starters, anyone entering your province will immediately see your name listed as the province's ruler. On top of that, you and your guild will get "the sexiest rides in the game," so anyone who sees you rollin' around with your posse will know immediately that you're in charge. The fact that you're probably rich enough to toss money around left and right might tip a few people off as well.

"OK," you say, "I'm in power, and I've got all these badass perks, but how do I make sure I keep them?" According to the folks from En Masse, Vanarchs remain in power by accruing Policy Points, which can be earned in one of two ways. Which way a Vanarch goes about earning them will likely depend on what kind of a ruler he is. The first way is through popular vote yet again. All you have to do is get recommendations from other players to keep you in power, making this the perfect way for a just and kind Vanarch to remain in power. After all, if a Vanarch keeps taxes reasonable, holds entertaining events, and provides unique items through his province's specialty shops, why wouldn't other players want to keep him in power? If a Vanarch chose to take the despot route, however, he's likely got a line of players with torches and pitchforks just waiting for him to be ousted, in which case he's going to have to take the second path to acquire his Policy Points: Vanarch quests. These quests are extremely challenging missions that, in many cases, involve taking down a BAM (big-ass monster). Of course, players won't be able to do this alone, so that despot Vanarch better hope he hasn't pissed everyone off just yet.

Of course, just like any sort of player-driven system (as sandboxes have shown us time and again), TERA's political system is ripe for corrupt players and guilds to take advantage of it. En Masse, however, anticipates this. The company realizes that players will become extremely cutthroat to get into, and remain in, positions of power, and the team looks forward to seeing what players do with the tools that the political system provides them.

So there you have it, folks, one of the first looks at TERA's political system. This is only a small teaser of what the system entails, and there's far more to be revealed in coming weeks/months/years/millennia. One of the devs dropped another small teaser near the end about the Exarch, who is just like the Vanarch except that instead of ruling a province, he rules an entire continent. But unfortunately, that's all the information we got in that regard, as the steady stream of "we're not ready to talk about that yet" just keeps flowing. Hopefully this was enough to satisfy the bloodlust of all you crazed TERA fanatics out there, but if not, just go check out all the pretty screenshots and trailers and wait for the next juicy tidbit from En Masse.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.