More Tera-ffic than Tera-ble

Tera Screenshot

HIGH Getting a rare enigmatic drop from a dungeon boss.

LOW Spending thousands of gold trying to enchant that engimatic weapon to +9.

WTF Why do all the female characters look like prostitutes?

Gamers who still crave level grinding and dungeon looting after exploring all the nooks and crannies of titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic and World of Warcraft (WoW) might want to give En Masse Entertainment's Tera a try. Why? In an ever-more-crowded massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) market, Tera distinguishes itself from the pack in one very important way: it features action-oriented real-time combat.

Rather than tabbing and targeting enemies while clicking buttons on a hotbar, Tera invites players to actively move and attack during each and every encounter. This makes the experience feel more like a traditional action-RPG than a standard MMO offering, and it is easily this title's greatest accomplishment. Having spent years playing various games with traditional MMO combat set-ups, Tera's battle system is sublime in comparison—and I'm not sure I'll ever be able to enjoy a "regular" MMORPG after this experience.

Having said that, I admit that I wasn't sold at first. One of the problems with implementing this sort of combat system is figuring out how to overcome lag between the player's computer and the game servers. Using an active, real-time system like Tera's sounds great on paper, but if there are any latency issues at all, the whole thing would quickly crash and burn as players tried to move or perform attacks that became delayed. Fortunately, this is almost never an issue in Tera. The game will occasionally (like all online games) suffer from a "lag spike"—but in almost 300 hours of playing, they've been few and far between. Naturally, there will be some variation based on the quality of the individual player's Internet connection, but those with a decent ISP shouldn't have an issue.

When I discovered lag wouldn't be a cause for concern, the next challenge was learning how to actually play effectively. After setting up a character, the game plops the player into a world filled with conflict. The first time through, there's a sort of tutorial level—the newly minted character is suddenly level 20 and has some skills at their disposal. This is a brief introduction to the combat system—and a few minutes later players are back to level one and situated on what veterans lovingly call "Noob Island."

The real-time combat allows for constant movement, with standard and charged attacks at the player's disposal. The catch is that there's no lock-on targeting and the enemies move as well. This adds an element of strategy to boss battles as players must decide when to charge power moves, how much to charge them (they have levels—higher charges take more time to fully prepare), and to make sure the enemy hasn't moved during that time period. Early on, this leads to a lot of whiffing.

Tera Screenshot

Once players get used to the flow of combat, Tera really shines. The game is loaded with larger-than-life monsters, both in dungeons (five man affairs currently—there are no bigger "raid-style" missions available yet) and in the main world,where "BAMs" (Big Ass Monsters) can be found. These encounters are suitably epic. However, the real plus of the combat is the way it makes killing regular monsters more than busywork. Clearing "trash mobs" on the way to a boss is usually tedious and dreary in an MMO, but Tera's combat is frenetic enough that the player always feels engaged. Whether with a mouse and keyboard or an Xbox 360 PC controller, the battle system of Tera is a treat.

On the other hand, aside from the fighting engine, Tera is a fairly traditional WoW clone. Players will pick from a number of different races (some with both genders represented, others with just a single option, all the females disturbingly sexualized), then choose a class. Choices are standard—there's the heavy armor-wearing Lancer who serves as the game's tank class (a recent patch has also made it possible for warriors to tank as well), the ranged DPS of archer and sorcerer (sorcs are essentially the game's "glass cannons"—huge damage, but very squishy when attacked), healing priests and mystics, and melee DPS in the form of Slayers and Berserkers.

Tera functions exactly like WoW in that players move through content by grabbing quests at a village or town, completing them, then getting quests that move them on to the next village or town quest hub. The quests themselves are awful if you've played WoW or any other WoW clone in recent years. They all invariably revolve around "kill 10 of X" or "Find 6 Widgets" and they're obviously busywork. It's disappointing to see a game that worked so hard to distinguish itself with a combat system just phone it in when it comes to quest progression, but that's what happened here.

The quests will take players on a fairly linear path through the game world. Unlike WoW, which offers several different zones for each level range, Tera tends to funnel everyone through a singular path to endgame. This isn't an issue the first time through, but leveling an alt-character can become tedious. There are some options as players approach the end of the grind, but the bulk of the leveling experience currently offers only one real path.

What a lovely path it is, though. Tera borrows liberally from other MMOs (a friend and I regularly played "where did they borrow this zone idea from?"), but it's beautiful anyway. Flying into Cutthroat Harbor for the first time is stunning. Working through the "Harry Potter meets A Nightmare Before Christmas" inspired Eldritch Academy will convince players to stop and savor the surroundings. Almost every zone in Tera manages to evoke memories of something else, yet is so beautifully rendered that it stands on its own merits. This is a visually impressive title across the board. The characters, the bosses, and the world itself are all gorgeous.

When one gets tired of questing and dungeon runs, the game offers up the usual assortment of diversions. Crafting is a viable way to make better gear or money if one has the patience for it. There's a Player vs. Player system available for those who want to test their mettle against their fellow characters. A world-wide weekend event known as Nexus allows huge groups to take on even bigger monsters—and will make even the most powerful gaming rigs run at embarrassing speeds as they struggle to keep up. PVP battlegrounds will arrive in an upcoming patch too.

Tera Screenshot

Then there's also the much-discussed "Vanarchy" system. This mechanic allows players to run for political office with players voting in their choices. Vanarchs spend points to keep stores and trainers open each day, host events, and set the tax rates for the region. The Vanarchy can be used to make money, but doesn't seem to have a whole lot of purpose beyond that. My guild has held a Vanarchy through all three cycles so far—and even if you're not the candidate (I wasn't), all members of a Vanarch's guild get a specialized mount that's faster than any other in the game. I suspect there's more coming from this system in the future.

As far as my own experience with Tera goes, I’m someone who generally loves to play a glass cannon. As such, I considered rolling a sorcerer. Then I changed my mind and went with a Berserker instead. The Berserker is the only class in the game aside from Lancer that can wear plate armor, plus they use a giant battle axe as a weapon. As currently configured, the Berserker is sort of a "lost" class—there aren't many around because the damage per second output is so uneven (crits are big, non-crits are underwhelming) and because the game's boss battles require tons of movement. The Berserker doesn't move well when charging a special—the key to doing damage with the class. A recent patch has helped Berserkers be a little more viable, but the class still has a ways to go before it's on par with the other DPS.

My Berserker is currently at level cap (level 60) and doing endgame dungeons, but I also dabbled with a few of the other classes for comparison. For the most part, they're all balanced and useful at the current endgame, so players should choose what appeals to them and not pick a class based solely on how useful it might or might not be at level cap and beyond.

One final thing to note is that the biggest (and most annoying) endgame activity once a player hits the level cap isn't dungeon-raiding, but enchanting. Top level rare gear can be strengthened up to +9 through a process that involves using a reagent and another item type (weapon or armor) of the same item level. Sounds great on paper—but the reality is that getting an endgame piece of equipment to +9 status is incredibly pricey, time consuming, and entirely based on luck. Single attempts cost hundreds of gold minimum, only to end in failure, necessitating hours of farming in order to try again. A guildmate of mine blew well over 8,000 gold getting from +8 to +9. To illustrate how much gold this is, there are people who reach endgame who don't even have 8,000 gold in total! Honestly, the system is pretty ridiculous. No one's asking the game to hand them the best weapons and gear on a silver platter, but once a player has obtained them, they shouldn't have to go broke trying to upgrade them so they can continue to progress into the hard mode dungeons. (This says nothing of the obscene amounts of gold one can spend trying to lock in the right stat bonuses when identifying the weapon in the first place, by the way.)

Reviewing an MMORPG is always a challenge—the games are continually evolving, frequently updated and patched, and in an almost constant state of flux. This is particularly true in the months immediately after a launch. That being said, Tera is in surprisingly good shape for a game so early in its life cycle. The journey to level cap is mostly entertaining, endgame content is available, and the core gameplay elements are solid. Those tired of WoW's formula may find the quests annoying, but the real-time combat goes a long way in making up for the title's other minor transgressions. I've no idea what the future holds for Tera given the topsy-turvy nature of the MMO marketplace in general, but here's to hoping it sticks around—and that more developers emulate its fantastic fighting engine. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 300 hours of play was devoted to the game (completed 0 times).

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, suggestive themes, violence. Tera earns its mature rating—from the blood flying off enemies when they're attacked (which can be turned down or off) to its wealth of scantily-clad and disturbingly sexualized female characters, this isn't really a game for the young ones. Add in the online element (where you never know what other people will say) and it becomes clear that Tera should only be played by older teenagers.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Tera features voice acting and cutscenes, but the cutscenes do have a subtitle option. Hearing-impaired players will miss out on some of the localized dialogue and the music, but at least the quests are presented in text.

Mike Bracken
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