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PAX East 2012: TERA hands-on

In the service of Massively's ongoing PAX East 2012 coverage, I spent some time today in and around the TERA booth, ogling the pretty trailers and getting a seat in a group press demo to tackle some fun high-end content in the form of a five-player encounter with an Argon boss. Read on for an overview of what I saw!

Gallery: TERA PAX 2012 | 11 Photos

There was almost no way this demo could be anything but a good experience, with four press folks running various assigned roles within the group and a wily, battle-ready dev coming along as the party healer. Yours truly had the dubious glory of running a Lancer and being the tank, which I'd like to say was an admirable gamble on behalf of Stephen, the dev talking us through the demo. We were guided into and through a rather lovely gauntlet of guards and patrols, getting comfortable with our skills and party roles until we came to the boss (the "BAM" in En Masse's parlance) and had a pretty epic showdown. With a tried-and-true healer backing us up and expert advice coming in over our headsets, there was very little danger of mission failure.

That said, even though this combat felt relatively safe in terms of our not really being worried about party wipes, it was pretty awesome in its own right. I'm not a natural-born tank, but a couple of minutes of fighting with the provided skill set left me feeling really comfortable in the role. While I'm typically a vocal proponent of more loose party structure and flexible combat roles, I'll cheerfully say that it's definitely enjoyable to have a set task and focus on it. Screw DPS, screw mitigation; I was in there to soak up damage and make these monsters hate me, and that was really fun. The group gelled pretty well, and after only a minimal amount of "see that white ring there? Stay in it or no heals for you," we found ourselves to be a competent fighting force.

The boss fight that we saw wasn't anything revolutionary; he was a big, hulkingly impressive bundle of muscles and special abilities. He allowed us to get him down to about 75% health before pulling some Transformers-level stunts with surrounding environmental props, turning himself into a heavily armored juggernaut and totally refilling his health bar. There weren't really any nail-biting moments, although there were a couple of close calls with the glass canon. Like all the best combat, though, it was incredibly rewarding. Players were given everything they needed to succeed -- useful skills, special attack broadcasts from the monster (he'd do an adorable little toe-tap in preparation for a really nasty stomp AoE), and an informative UI -- and were rewarded with victory when they responded well in combat. The fight was appropriately gratifying; it didn't have the glory of an against-all-odds sort of defeat, but the combat system is engaging enough to make every victory enjoyable.

I have no idea what to say about the party UI because I wasn't really aware of it at all. I'm sure that, were I considering support, that party UI would become infinitely more important and noticeable. It seems to be fairly informative; I know that whenever someone was poisoned, his or her health bar turned an obliging sickly green as an extra cry for help to the healer. As a strictly tanky character, however, I knew my job was mostly focused on making sure that the orange hate ring was centered around my feet at all times. I actually love that orange hate ring and other mechanics like it because they're incredibly sensible. I had a couple of hatre-inducing skills, and I never had to spam them because I never had to guess whether or not the boss was more ticked off at me than at anybody else in the group. Whenever the DPS player did too well at his job and got the monster well and truly angry with him, there was an instant and obvious signal of that on the screen, just as there was an instant and obvious signal when I did my job and successfully redirected the baddy.

The flow of combat is wonderfully smooth, and it's nice to see so many of En Masse's big words regarding TERA's action and pace of battle borne out in gameplay. Being able to wholly block attacks with my right mouse button shield ability was gratifying (much more gratifying than, say, the retaliation-type skill that popped up whenever I failed to block a particularly ugly attack), although at one point, the thought hunching down behind my shield and effectively fending off the blow from a weapon several times the size of my entire character struck me as entirely peculiar. Skills were prettily animated, but not distractingly so. Even during the more intense moments of the bossfight, with skills and abilities going off left and right, the visual field of combat was very informative and navigable, which is (in my book) a tremendous feat.

The developers have done a wonderful job with the implementation of the combat system they've chosen. While this demo didn't really cover PvP or more open-world PvE, what we saw was compelling and inviting. I can only hope (and test, soon, as the next open beta is mere weeks away) that the rest of the game is as well-constructed.

Massively's on the ground in Boston during the weekend of April 6-8, bringing you all the best news from PAX East 2012. Whether you're dying to know more about TERA or PlanetSide 2 or any MMO in between, we aim to have it covered!

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