I am beautiful. Seriously, I'm the best-looking game character that has ever pretended to live. Not only am I gorgeous, I'm lethal. With my massive lance, heavy shield, and ridiculously tight dress, I can make short work of pretty much any foe with the stones to come at me. I am as dangerous as I am attractive, and that is saying quite a bit.
This is TERA. Launched in the west by En Masse Entertainment back in May, the fantasy MMO promised gorgeous graphics, fast-paced action combat and a different way to experience a now-familiar formula. Lured in by pretty trailers and compelling class descriptions, I picked up the collector's edition of the game just before release. I played for a few weeks, streamed it a couple of times, and promptly forgot it existed. When my initial 30 days expired, I never subscribed for more.
But now TERA is going free-to-play. And since En Masse was kind enough to give me (and everyone else) a couple of free weeks of playtime before the F2P transition, I figured now was as good a time as any to revisit the title and see if removing my wallet from the equation would be enough to keep me engaged.
The answer? Perhaps.
Returning to the shield
My first order of business in coming back to TERA was reviving my former main character, the aforementioned gorgeous tank. It took few minutes of squinting and clicking to remember what each of my abilities did; after a quick self-administered refresher course, I began to feel the old wheels turning. I picked up a few quests and headed out into the world, ready to lance the first available monster in the face.
To call TERA one of the best-looking games on the market would be a dramatic understatement. Even with the graphics turned down a notch so my aging rig doesn't turn into a smoking fire pit, TERA puts on a visual show that's virtually unmatched by any other MMO. The world is lush and beautifully rendered, the animations are smooth and natural, and there are enough particle effects to make ILM blush. Every character, monster, item and setting in the game is crafted with an immense attention to detail that begs to be seen. If you play games for eyecandy, TERA is something you should probably be doing.
"Pulling off a last-minute block against a huge monster...is the purest form of TERA delivering on its promises."
Combat is also a joy, immediately satisfying and visceral. Even playing as a Lancer, a relatively boring solo class, provides plenty of chunky smacks and smashes for the combat-centric gamer. The visual appeal and responsive design of TERA's combat are enhanced by a combo system thats easy to learn but hard to master. It's not difficult to understand the basic rhythm of attacks, but developing mastery over how to position monsters, when to use what attack, and how best to maximize your efficiency requires a much greater effort, especially if you play a melee character.
Of course, my job as a Lancer is to tank, and tanking in TERA is extremely fun and challenging. It's about much more than simply stacking defense gear and looking like a metal wall; you have to actively block attacks by raising your shield at the right moments and keep enemies pointed in the right direction due to most abilities hitting the entire group. A missed block results in massive slams to your health, especially if you're tanking one of the game's many enormous bosses. Blocking requires mana, though, and mana must be generated by attacking. This makes playing a tank a crazy mix of attacking and defending, with every decision you make critical to the success of the party.
In moments like this, TERA shines. Pulling off a last-second block against a huge monster while your party lays into him is the purest form of TERA delivering on its many promises. Missing a block and getting laid out is as clear an indicator that you're not quite up for the task of tanking as any I've seen in a game. As I said in my EVE post last week, I do love consequences in my games.
Becoming the Mystic
I'm well aware, of course, that not everyone plays a tank. So after shaking the rust off my shield and re-engaging with TERA in the way I was most familiar, I rolled a brand-new character to get a grasp on the early game moments and see the title from the perspective of a newbie. My new character, a Mystic, was immediately dropped into a chaotic battle and was for some reason level 20 with a ton of confusing abilities that I had no clue how to use. I didn't even understand basic casting, much less the array of powerful spells at my fingertips. This "into the fire" tutorial is supposed to be TERA's way of showing experienced players how different classes will look as they level, but could be a bit overwhelming for those new to the game.
"It's here that TERA falls short, its attractive design and compelling mechanics collapsing into a scattered jumble of apathy and boredom."
After pushing through the initial scripted events, my character was then de-leveled (no explanation given) and reduced to a reasonable number of powers (one). The story picks up in TERA's starting zone, and it was here that I began to remember why I left the game in the first place. TERA is a combat-based MMO, and the main selling point of the title, besides the obvious "girls in small costumes" thing, is that the combat is fast, raw, and intense. The problem is that because TERA focuses so heavily on action, nearly every single quest or task you encounter in the game is centered primarily on fighting things.
I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that 95% of the quests in TERA can be summed up as, "Go here, kill some things, come back." And while the combat is exciting, especially for DPS classes, eventually the well runs dry and you want to do something besides kill 10 of blank or eight of blank or collect five blanks from blanks by killing blanks. It's here that TERA falls short, its attractive design and compelling mechanics collapsing into a scattered jumble of apathy and boredom.
Because so much of the game hinges on its action combat mechanics, whether or not you like TERA will come down to your ability to commit to its story and its characters. If you care about encroaching wildlife or dangerous big-ass monsters because you're actually into the story, you'll find plenty to keep you playing. If you can't get into the story or find some other sort of motivation, the constant "you're not grinding because these are quests but don't they feel a bit grindy?" leveling system will quickly wear you out. Even the dungeons, as fun and rewarding as they are, are so packed with trash mobs that your enthusiasm is well and truly gone by the time you reach the end. The last boss in an instance isn't a climax so much as a reprieve.
Overall, TERA is a beautiful, fun game with some niggling problems that keep it from being subscription-caliber. Despite its beauty, there's not enough variety to keep the average gamer (like me) engaged enough to invest $15 a month, and the grindy nature of the title will wear out all but the most enthusiastic of players. TERA feels very much like the MMO version of holidays in your hometown -- it's nice at first, but after a few days of crushing monotony and a couple of run-ins with people you never really liked all that much, you'll start to remember all the reasons you packed up your things and got the hell out of there.
However, as a newly christened F2P title, TERA will certainly sit at the top of the heap in terms of production value, exciting encounters, and content offered. And while you may not want to spend all of your time in that too-familiar hometown of yours, it's always nice to swing by for a visit to see the familiar sites and troll your old stomping grounds.
TERA going free-to-play gives players the opportunity to make it their second, less serious MMO. That's a slot I think it will fill quite nicely.
MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions can change with them. That's why we're here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? That's what we're here to find out as Massively gets its Second Wind!