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Choose My Adventure: Exploring dungeons with Higiri

Eliot Lefebvre

Rielene's poll last week pushes her toward BAMs, but for now we're moving on to focus on our other adventurer in TERA. Higiri is not venturing across sunlit fields and enjoying the open air; no, she was bound for the darkest realms, places where monsters gather and plot the destruction of joy in private. But in order to get her into dungeons, I had to get her through a fair bit of leveling first, enough to enter the first dungeon of the game.

I spent a lot of time questing with Higiri this past week, since that's easily the most efficient way to level, and as a result I had some further insights into the nature of questing in the game that build off of my insights last week. But running the dungeon was the centerpiece, and my runs through were... memorable, yes, but probably for the wrong reasons. And no, not in the "crazy, horrible party" sense.

You might ask why I keep trying to take these pictures if I think it's ridiculous cheesecake.  The answer is the same as why photographers in Antarctica take several pictures of snowy vistas.Unfortunately for me, the problems I had with Lancer combat back from the first installment didn't get ameliorated as I stabbed along with Higiri this week. She did pick up some further skills, but there was nothing that made the slow process any faster or more pleasurable. If Rielene had some problems with repetitive strategies, Higiri was like an automatic skewering machine. Attack, block, attack, block, block the big thing after its eyes flash, use Shield Barrage...

I would be lying if I said there wasn't something awesome about watching something twice her size flail uselessly at her shield, though. It didn't make combat feel faster, but being an immovable object had its perks.

The biggest thing that struck me as I kept questing was that TERA's greatest weakness is the fact that the designers clearly have a lot of lore written for the game. I never got the sense that the world had been thrown together, and for all its momentary appearances to the contrary, the game is definitely not a rehash of the usual Tolkien fantasy tropes. And you'd think that combined with the game's snappy quest text, all that lore would be very pleasant to play through.

Except for the fact that the quests barely hint at the lore.

Case in point: There's an entire quest line dealing with a group of devan insurgents that are generally making life awful in the forest. The devan are basically proto-Castanics that never grew up to be full-fledged people, something that's mentioned in the lore about the Castanics on the official site. But if you don't do that research, you're not given any of this information. All you know is that they look a lot like Castanics and someone mentions their similarity and how awful they are as if you should know all of this already.

But I don't know all of this already. The goal is to give you a feel for a world that's truly massive, but it does so by leaving out those parts when you're gently told things your character ought to be aware of. I feel like there's a lot of lore without any real way to piece it together into a coherent picture, which makes me sad.

Mind you, I would much rather have this problem than the usual umpteenth bland copy of Tolkien fantasy tropes. I can't help but think that the game would benefit from a Star Wars: The Old Republic-style codex system, somewhere to look up all of these crucial and interesting details if you're curious. Or the team could just write some of this into the quest text. You can't tell me the writers at En Masse can't manage smooth exposition.

Said writers are pretty bad at directions at times, but the game itself offers enough UI pointers for ambiguous directions that it's not an issue. And again, I was impressed by the actual text of the quests, which is part of why I quibble about things like transparency of the lore.

I told you, I look twelve but I'm actually forty-five!  Stop carding me!Regardless, I don't need to know what those bird-orc monster things are all about to know that they bleed when you stick something sharp in their midsections. What with one quest and another, I reached level 20, and I queued up for the first dungeon, the Bastion of Lok. As advertised, I was in the queue for roughly 15 seconds before I was given a group. I've heard horror stories for DPS players, and it doesn't surprise me.

Unfortunately, the runs through Bastion of Lok number among some of my worse gaming experiences. It's not that they were bad; it's that they made it clear that there was a better game just beneath the surface, and we weren't playing that game. And it didn't help that tanking with a Lancer seems to be a big exercise in frustrating decisions.

In the interests of fairness, I would like to point out a caveat: It is entirely possible that I'm just a terrible Lancer. Heck, forget "possible"; I'd upgrade that to probable. With practice and an inclination toward the class, I'm willing to bet that I could entirely subvert the issues I found tanking through BoL.

But what I did find was that I was stuck in an awful three-way split. I needed to use Challenging Shout to grab aggro, I needed to block to avoid dying, and I needed to attack to get MP for the first two. None of these actions was in any way compatible with the others. Either it seemed that the healer was spending far too much time trying to keep my health up because I wasn't blocking enough or I was blocking and nothing was attacking me or I was aggroing and blocking and running out of MP and dying. Part of the issue here is just the sheer number of monsters you're fighting much of the time. Getting the timing down for one monster is a bit tricky but doable; trying to weave in attacks while facing off against three monsters attacking at different intervals was not happening for me.

Again, this isn't a criticism of the game so much as a criticism of what I saw. It's possible that I'm not good at this, that my groups weren't good (although they seemed capable), or just that I'm not used to it. Feel free to munch on that grain of salt as we keep going. We're going to be here a while.

Bosses were appropriately enormous, so that's good.
The part that bugged me -- other than my being awful -- was that the game's combat seemed to be straining at the idea of having to fit into a holy trinity model. For all the talk I'd heard about how Lancers keep bosses stationary, the bosses we fought were happy to go bouncing around the room of their own accord even thought they were focused on me. It strikes me that the game truly wanted to make parties work in a more interesting fashion, like the mechanics were all leaning toward a sort of free-form system with tanks and healers taking the role and then assuming other roles as the fight wore on. I don't mind the holy trinity setup in the slightest, but in the case of this game, it felt not like a natural element of design but like something that was being shoehorned in.

As it was... I hate saying this because I consider it an insult, but it felt like a rehash of the worst parts of World of Warcraft. Except now the game was much more active and chaotic, and it felt like being a tank was even more a chore of weak design. The dungeon itself wasn't bad, but it was so steadfastly refusing to take risks or be original that I found myself disappointed.

That's not to say that everything was negative or even that I'm not having fun playing the game. Unfortunately, I'll have to leave the positive things like waxing poetic about glyphs for next week.

Higiri's off for next week as we turn back to our friend Rielene, who's looking for large monsters and corresponding rewards. But that doesn't mean that Higiri doesn't get a fresh poll as well, this time tailored to help push toward the elements of TERA that I haven't explored yet. I'm enjoying taking a look at the game through two different characters. Place your votes, and check back next week!
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!

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