I'm hard-pressed to think of a game that I've had a more back-and-forth relationship with than TERA. When I first heard about the game, it didn't make an impression on me. Then I started seeing the screenshots, and I was interested. Then I saw more, and I was suddenly less interested... and then I started hearing about the game's actual gameplay, and I swung back around in the other direction. It's a polarizing game for a lot of people, but it's a game that deserves a little more love past those elements.
TERA was first announced a couple of years ago, released in Korea last year, and just released in North America and Europe about a month ago. A collaboration between the American team at En Masse Entertainment and the Korean developers at Bluehole Studios, the game got a lot of early buzz over impressive visuals and the promise of active combat. Not just mostly active combat, mind you -- actual action-based combat from the ground up.
Unfortunately for the game, it also started catching some controversy early on from a number of sources, starting when players noticed that women in the game were not overburdened with armor. This was only compounded by the Elin, a race that certainly does a convincing job of looking like preteen human girls. Suffice it to say that some models deemed "perfectly acceptable" to Korean audiences were deemed as anything but on this side of the pond.
Then there were the accusations of resource theft by NCsoft, the removal and then replacement of blood effects in the European version, PLEX-style play time purchases, Westernization debates... you get the idea. It's not precisely an unusual amount of controversy, but it is certainly a lot of controversy for the game even prior to its American release.
Once the game did hit release, reviews were mixed. Some people went so far as to condemn the game out of hand because the ladies of the game were clad in fairly skimpy outfits. Some condemned it instead because the game followed rote formulas in terms of quest mechanics and similar systems. And some ranted and raved with joy about the game's mechanics, claiming that even if you don't like the art direction, the active combat was worth checking out.
Me? I was entranced by the early art we saw, but the art direction of the finished game... well, it bothered me. And it still does, even now, because it's one of those things that gaming as a culture should really have grown beyond by now. Castanic women in particular are given way too little clothing, but they're not the only ones, and calling the women of the game overly sexualized isn't so much a criticism as a statement of objective fact.
On the other hand... is TERA really the only culprit here? RIFT's new expansion is being headlined by a woman who appears to be dressed in creatively glued tinfoil, to use an obvious counterexample. And the people crying that the game is catering to pedophiles might have their hearts in the right place, but it's a long hike to that conclusion. All of this stuff leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but it's a passive and aesthetic thing, something that can be overlooked if the game itself is good enough.
So the question becomes whether or not the game is good enough. And there's a lot to recommend it there even beyond just the active combat: the political system, an interesting world setting, and what looks to be a fairly open crafting system for those interested. I might not like the approach the devs have taken with female characters, but I can see past that to whether or not the game is any good.
So what will I be playing primarily? There are some interesting choices among the races. Humans are stock-standard in every way, of course, but then you've got the Aman, a former slave race with a fierce independent streak and a staggering resistance to pain. The Castanics might be the source of a lot of armor complaints, but they're also a unique choice -- an almost wholly atheistic race with an emphasis on crafts and art, independent and headstrong to a fault. Then there are the High Elves, former conquerors and uneasy allies that are still smarting from their only military defeat in three millenia, and the Baraka, giant-born scholars that prize learning and gentle contemplation over the conquest of their titanic cousins. Rounding out the list are the races I find least interesting -- the Elin, spiritual guardians of nature, and the Popori, awakened animals that work alongside the Elin to defend the natural order.
All of the races have access to all of the eight classes, which is something that always makes me happy. Long-time readers will know that I love melee combat, and the game offers that in four different flavors. Lancers are heavily armored tanks that use a spear and a lance to tear down foes while remaining safe, Slayers are greatsword-wielding engines of damage and destruction in light armor, Berserkers move in steady and aggressive arcs with an enormous two-handed axe and strong armor, and Warriors serve as evasive tanks or damage dealers with paired blades. Of course, there are other options as well. Archers focus on tearing down opponents at range with a fusillade of projectiles, while Sorcerers have a similar approach with magical projectiles. Priests prefer to heal and protect while handing out damage, and Mystics strike a balance between magical healing and damage.
What would I pick? Well, that's not really important -- the question is what you would pick for me. So go ahead and vote down below for my main character for this round of adventure, and check in next week to see how it went. I may very well be skirting about elsewhere as well, since I'm curious about the game. Based on a couple of reader recommendations, I'm looking at the Celestial Hills server as my new home-away-from-home, but if you'd like to suggest something else, the comments await your input.
Eliot Lefebvre has been choosing his own adventures for three months, but now it's time for him to head back to the front lines of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column where you make the choices about what our writer will be doing each week. Come back each Wednesday for a new installment and a new set of choices!