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Going toe-to-toe with TERA's first beta weekend


Over the past months, many fans of En Masse Entertainment's upcoming "real action combat" title TERA have been wondering whether the game will ever see the light of day. Between sparse development details and word of legal troubles, TERA's future seemed to be in constant jeopardy as cries of "vaporware!" grew steadily louder. Well, those voices can finally have a bit of a reprieve because over the course of this past weekend, players were able to jump into the world of Arborea and experience TERA's action combat firsthand.

I was among those players, and after a joy-filled romp through TERA's gorgeous landscapes (thanks in no small part to my fabulous guild -- hi Territ!), I'm ready to conjure up some thoughts that will hopefully somewhat resemble my impressions of the closed beta weekend. So if you want to know whether the game's real action combat hits the mark or it's a swing and a miss, follow me past the cut and let's take a look.

Let's start with the basic and the obvious: The game is gorgeous. TERA is easily one of the most graphically stunning MMOs I've played in recent memory, and on top of that, it ran smoother than a hot knife through butter on my mid-range machine, so you don't have to be worried about turning your computer into a nuclear reactor just to run the game. The UI is generally well-designed to allow players to keep their eyes on the action and not on the hotbar, and extensive customization allows you to tweak your interface until it's just how you like it. Personally, I recommend rebinding the Q, E, and F keys to additional abilities for easy access during heated combat (since it's hard to reach anything beyond the 5 key without taking your hand off of the movement keys), but it's entirely a matter of personal preference. I'd also like to take a moment to praise the visual design of the title. We all know that a great graphics engine means nothing if the design doesn't back it up, but the character and mob models are well-made, animations are eye-catching and fluid, and most of the monsters you'll run into are unique to Arborea.

Now for the good stuff. Character creation is simple but extensive. You have your usual customization options such as a variety of hair styles, hair colors, voices, and so forth as well as a number of sliders that can be used to fine-tune facial features. Unfortunately, however, there's no way to adjust body type, so you're stuck with whatever the game gives you. For the purposes of the beta weekend, I rolled a High Elf Warrior.

TERA's character select screen. Note the dashing baby blue cuirass.
Most of the game's general mechanics are much the same as those of many other modern MMOs. Questing consists of finding a guy with a glowing thing above his head and doing what he asks in exchange for experience, gold, loot, or whatever else happens to be in his pockets at the time. The quest objectives generally amount to kill X mobs, but the combat is enjoyable enough that this really isn't that bad a thing. However, if you're one of those people who craves a ton of quest variety, you're not going to find it here.

So how's the combat? It's good, but I actually think that's a bit of an understatement. After years and years of combat systems that amount to "target mob, press hotkeys, repeat until one of you is dead," TERA's active combat is a breath of fresh, adrenaline-filled air. Even the lowliest of mobs becomes an exciting fight as you dodge and block attacks and wait to exploit an opening.

Many people have been talking about how factors such as lag will ruin TERA's reaction-time-dependent combat, but during my time in the beta I experienced absolutely zero problems regarding latency. There were a few times in PvP when I believed I was out of my enemy's attack range but a couple of hits still landed, but they were close enough that it was a difference of inches rather than meters, and for the most part lag didn't influence the outcome of a fight very much if at all. While PvE is huge fun, the enemy AI is neither particularly intelligent nor particularly challenging (at least at earlier levels). I did notice a significant difficulty ramp occurring as I leveled up, however, so it's possible that TERA just eases players into the basics before unleashing an onslaught of wanton destruction upon them, but we'll have to wait until the next beta weekend to find out for sure.

PvP is where the combat really shines. While battlegrounds weren't available for testing during the weekend, there were more than enough duels to go around. I won't make any comments on class balance as I honestly haven't had the opportunity to really look into it. I can say, however, that I didn't feel that any class ever had a particular advantage over me. Some 1v1 matchups will be a bit one-sided (if you're a Berserker, good luck catching that teleporting Mystic), but I've never been one to judge a game's balance around 1v1s.

I'm on a horse.What's awesome about PvP? Pretty much everything. The action combat system brings a new level of intensity to player vs. player battles due to the fact that the outcome is almost entirely dependent on your skill as a player. Now, I'm not going to lie to you: Gear and level do matter. A level 20 character isn't going to stand much of a chance against someone 10 or 15 levels higher, but if you play your cards exactly right, you can outplay someone of superior gear or level, and I feel that that's the beauty of the system. Yeah, that Slayer may be five levels above you, but those five levels don't mean a damn thing if you don't let him land a hit. Overall, I think PvPers will get the most enjoyment out of TERA's combat, but PvE isn't anything to scoff at. Boss fights can be just as intense as any PvP, and the feeling of dropping a BAM thanks to good teamwork and skilled play is extremely rewarding.

Let's get to the nitpicks. I want to preface this by saying that this is just me picking away at the tiny bits that got on my nerves, and that the very fact that I have to split hairs in order to come up with negatives should speak to the game's overall quality. But no game is perfect, and TERA is no exception to that rule. Out-of-combat health regeneration is obscenely, painfully, mind-numbingly slow, even with the use of bandages, which I believe are supposed to be the key method of out-of-combat health regen. At level 22 (which was the cap for this test), I had 5181 HP (or more with buffs). The highest-level bandage I was able to purchase healed me for 75 HP every second over 15 seconds. So let's assume for a second that I'm reduced to 25% health, bringing me to about 1300 HP. I'd need four bandages to heal me to full, which is a full minute of downtime. Take into account that in most modern MMOs, healing items such as food, bandages, or what have you will bring you back to full health in a matter of five, maybe 10 seconds in order to keep downtime to a minimum. When a game has such amazing combat, I don't want to spend my time sitting on my butt waiting for my health to regen.

And then there's the self-root. Sigh. Now, I've heard that this becomes less of an issue at higher levels thanks to unlocked abilities and glyphs, but I've yet to experience that, so I'm just going with what I know, and what I know is that having ability animations that root me in place completely blows. As I mentioned earlier, I played a Warrior for this beta test, and the whole philosophy behind Warriors is that they fight with a pair of swords and focus on landing a flurry of quick-but-weak attacks in order to defeat their enemies. More importantly, they are evasion tanks. Their leather armor isn't going to do much to stop the force of an attack, so if Warriors want to survive on the front lines, evasion is their best line of defense. Why is it, then, that every single attack -- even my basic mana-generating combo attacks -- roots me in place until it's finished? Yes, I could break it early by using my dodge ability, but if I wanted to break an animation early while my dodge was on cooldown, I was screwed. Since I was playing a class that relied heavily on evasion and positioning to survive, that extra fraction of a second required to finish the animation was often the difference between avoiding damage and eating a power attack.

Flying into Velika
And hey, speaking of dodge being on cooldown, what's the deal with the seven-second cooldown on the EVASION TANK'S EVASION ABILITY? I understand the dangers of having too short a cooldown on dodge abilities; without that, people would be just dodging all the time and fights would devolve into some kind of bastardized breakdance competition. At the same time, only being able to dodge once every seven or so seconds is a bit of a pain. I much prefer Guild Wars 2's system, which utilizes a stamina gauge that depletes as players dodge. This allows players to dodge more than once in rapid succession, but once the stamina bar runs out, they're unable to dodge until it refills. Make it happen, En Masse! Not that it's especially likely that any core mechanics will be changed from the Korean version, but it's worth a shot.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed my time in TERA, though it wasn't without its quirks and foibles. The combat certainly stands up to the hype, and it really is a unique experience that you can't find in any other MMO on the market today. That said, there are some curious artifacts that betray its Korean origins, such as long HP regen times, self-rooting ability animations, and the Elin. I'm serious, here. Can we please put some more clothes on the Elin? They really don't need to be wearing Daisy Dukes, and we really don't need to see up their skirts. It's hella creepy.

This marks the end of round one of TERA's closed beta weekends, but there's still plenty more of Arborea to explore. The next beta weekend will bring a PvP server, a higher level cap, and (hopefully) access to the game's battlegrounds, so be sure to check back after the next test to get my impressions on PvP, crafting, and more. Until next time, Arboreans.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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