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Choose My Adventure: At the end of TERA

Eliot Lefebvre

All good things must come to an end, including my run of Choose My Adventure. There have been high points and low points, good parts and bad, but there's only so much time to cover the game. And so I leave TERA, confident that while I may have missed points, at least I have a broad sense of the game. That's certainly less... straightforward than previous installments of this column have been for me.

My impressions of TERA have really been all over the map. There are things I absolutely love about the game, but a lot of them are minor touches. There's one part that I think is absolutely brilliant, and a lot that's absolutely juvenile. The game has a lot of systems that are essentially filling space without adding anything. And as a result, it's really hard to classify the whole game as being good or bad or neutral.

Yes, the male elves are achingly pretty, but that's not really the same as...Let's start with the most apropos part of the game, the one that I've been sent into three weeks in a row: dungeons. I finally took Rielene into the dungeon, and it still wasn't any different. It was a lot of familiar elements in a game that doesn't need them, a lot of imports from the classic holy trinity design when the game is almost screaming to do better. It's the same stuff I spent two weeks talking about, and repeating it for a third week feels more or less pointless.

The dungeons are functional, definitely. They're not broken; they're just lacking in anything that would give them a unique touch. It's the same problem that the game's questing has, a sense of just going through the motions for content, providing the required parts before throwing you into combat.

And therein lies the problem. The game's combat is excellent. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination -- some classes really need some combat speed improvements, for instance -- but it's the sort of thing that's just fun to do. That's the biggest reason I'm so enamored of BAMs: It's just you and the game's combat. It's tightly designed, gives players a great deal of agency in their successes or failures, and manages to stay elegant despite balancing several things at once. One-on-one duels with enormous monsters are well-handled, and neither becomes trivial or bland.

Of course, that agency is part of why dungeons become so disappointing. Why not have a game where the damage-dealing players didn't automatically skip any abilities related to defense? Where healing is in place specifically to cover for occasional failures rather than to provide a constant safety net? Where everyone in the party has to know how to deal with getting a monster's attention? You know, something truly unusual?

That's just frustrating to look at. The game wants to stand out, and yet it goes out of its way to use a bland implementation of everything shy of combat -- and that's when it has implementation that's not just flat-out bizarre.

...well, -this-.Case in point: PvP. I received a couple of questions about why I didn't include PvP on any of my polls, and that's largely because the powers that be saw fit to not include PvP as an option outside of an open PvP server. I like PvP quite a bit. I also like ice cream. That does not mean that I would be happy if someone ran up to me and shoved my face into a bowl of ice cream while I was in the middle of doing something else.

There's also the GvG system, but... that doesn't seem to have a whole lot of ramifications outside of the political system, and it's not something you can jump into at a whim. The result is that PvP is a lot more absent than it ought to be if you want participation to be voluntary, which is something of a shame. I seem to recall a promise that warzones and the like are incoming, but I can't talk about the game that will be, just the game that is.

Crafting and enchanting, meanwhile, are seriously frustrating pieces of work. I explored both in a cursory sense, and I can see why trying to enchant your gear would be an exercise in inches. I've heard some people claim that it's absolutely required at the high end, which seems entirely unnecessary to me; the game already has a gating system in place via the combat, something that relies less upon boosting stats and more upon just learning patterns and getting practice. I can't comment on the endgame, but it does sound suspiciously similar to other Korean games.

Really, the game has two things to recommend it: the combat and the graphics. And the graphics are wonderfully well-done, but they cause an entirely different problem -- the game is screamingly sexist in its armor designs.

Yes, neither gender of Castanic wears a whole lot of clothes. But male Castanics in full plate are dressed in something that's recognizably full plate. Form-fitting full plate, but still armor. Women, meanwhile, are dressed up in... well, I'm not sure what to call it. Not armor, certainly. It doesn't even really qualify as clothing in anything more than the broadest sense.

There's some real beauty here, but I'm not going to miss it.And there's no choice here. You don't get the option of whether or not your female characters are sway-backed models in skimpy clothing; that's just the way it is. And if that seems fair to you, please imagine the roles reversed, with attractive and straight-backed women dressed in elegant and concealing clothing while all of the men are armored in shoulderpads and banana hammocks. And possibly sporting an exaggerated pelvic thrust.

I suppose I should count my blessings insofar as they at least gave the Elin shorts intead of the underwear of the original Korean version, considering that Higiri's plate armor never wound up covering anything lower than her upper thighs the entire time I played her.

If the game is doing all of this for some overall purpose, I could evaluate whether or not it worked. But it isn't. This is the sort of immaturity that you expect people to grow out of once they leave middle school. It's a bunch of pointless marginalization, and about the nicest thing I can say is that it's all too stupid to really be seen as offensive. Despite my hopes to the contrary, it's ridiculously sexist, and while it might not stymie your enjoyment of the gameplay, it's not something to feel good about endorsing.

The big problem is that this is all TERA has. Once you get rid of the combat and the leering male gaze, you're left with a game that merely does things competently.

So is TERA a good game? If you're looking for active combat, unquestionably. The battle mechanics leave pretty much every other active battle system dead in the water. I know some people are waiting for Guild Wars 2 strictly for the combat, and I say without reservation that you can just buy a copy of TERA now and save yourself the time. But if you don't care about action combat, really, it's got nothing to offer you. There are enough discordant notes that bring down the overall experience, so I can't recommend it without reservation.

That's the end of my run; next week, it's Beau Hindman's turn in the big seat. But as always, I've still got a poll for useful feedback in the future. Thanks for being a great interactive audience, and I'll be back for another round in a few months.
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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