What is TERA? It’s a new action MMO by the Korean Bluehole Studio that mixes old and new MMO components arriving at a time when the traditional pay-to-play, monthly subscription model demands a staggering amount of content to justify the ongoing cost. Does TERA offer the quality and quantity to stand out in the current MMO landscape and warrant your hard earned cash?
The world of TERA, actually named Arborea, is an interesting one. The world consists of two continents, Arun and Shara, which were dreamed into existence, as the lore goes. These two titular titans became the continents, and their tears became the surrounding oceans. Arun and Shara dreamed up twelve godlike beings who began to war with each other on Arborea. As multiple races began to populate the world, the war peaked, and the gods fell. The remaining seven races have banded together under the banner of The Valkyon Federation against a mysterious new threat, The Argons, who have emerged from the ground and are TERArizing Arborea’s inhabitants. Throw into the mix the mysterious Island of Dawn’s sudden appearance between the two continents, and you have the foundation on which the events of TERA are set to unfold.
This setup provides the backstory for the character you choose to play as in TERA. The selection and creation tools are fairly standard, with a healthy selection of races to choose from. Races cover the spectrum from humans, pseudo humans, and elves, to larger fare including the horned hardened Aman and the intelligent Baraka, to the exotic Popori, a race of small animal-like humanoids. Yes, you can play as a chubby little humanoid pug. You also have the fairly creepy and pedophilic Elin who fill the waif anime schoolgirl requirement of a Korean developed game. Coupled with the Elin, the half naked Castanics and High Elves give TERA a strong fetish vibe that pushes the sex appeal too far. The character models are exquisitely rendered and gorgeous to behold, but the overt exposure is unnecessary and highly impractical for monster slaying.
On the topic of visuals, this is an area where TERA absolutely shines. Nearly any screen shot will show you how sharp this game looks. The environments, characters, and monsters are highly detailed and imaginatively designed. This is supported by healthy draw distances and great lighting, and the game ran very smoothly for me everywhere except the city hubs on my two year old rig with settings at maximum. The only graphical negatives worth mentioning are the rare poor animations, such as the turning of your mount, and the occasional delay in texture appearance on NPCs, where they show up as opaque bluish silhouettes before filling out as you get closer. I attribute both the pop in and the excellent lighting to the use of the Unreal Engine 3.
After choosing your race, you can select any of the eight classes including quick and heavy melee types, ranged, magic and support classes. The classes differ quite a bit in their tempo and play styles, so you should be able to find one that fits. Once you choose your class and name your hero, you’re off to explore the mysterious Island of Dawn in the prologue chapter. This serves as a great way to get a feel for each class, because you play as a level 20 with spells and abilities already unlocked. After learning the ropes, wasting some monsters and slaying a boss and a half, you start over on the Island of Dawn as a level 1 and begin the game for real. Sadly, the prologue is the same for every race and class, so the only real value comes from testing a level 20 character without putting in the hours to get there. Once you start TERA proper at level 1, you get the first real sense of the world that has been created.
And what a world it is. TERA is a huge land containing numerous varied environments for your traversal. Even the small fraction that I was able to explore in just over 30 hours ranged from seaside to mountains, from bayou like marshlands to arid plains and deserts to all varieties of backwoods forests. Towns range from the most meager of encampments to capital cities, but as with most MMOs, they don’t really have a lived in realistic feel. The game starts on the Island of Dawn where you learn the gameplay basics, but it really opens up once you reach the capital city of Velika. From Velika you can wander into the surrounding areas and get on to actually exploring the world.
TERA is populated with all manner of beings, good and evil. Most of the inhabitants are people living in small villages and encampments that are scattered throughout the world. These people all require your help in dealing with the problem of encroaching monsters. The creatures are well designed, covering standard fantasy tropes like centaurs, unicorns, and fairies, but mostly exist as more imaginary and imposing creatures. Sadly, in my time with the game, the problems of Arboreal inhabitants don’t get much more interesting than killing those monsters. Of the many draws TERA has, “story” isn’t one of them. In the wake of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the lack of narrative and voice acting during the majority of quests is even more glaring. Is that a knock against TERA? Perhaps. This lack owes more to the different emphases of the two games than a straight deficiency though. There is some mention-worthy work, notably the always-excellent voice acting of Michael Hogan, but overall there isn’t much in the way of character. While the backstory is interesting and sufficient, TERA’s focus is reflected in the game’s simplistic questing.
Your tasks during the game are a continual string of hunting and gathering missions. They follow the standard MMO formula of finding a quest hub, grabbing available quests, heading into the wild to slay X monsters or bring back X monster bits, then heading back to turn in the quest. Even when you think the quests will be more interesting than that, they usually aren’t. You might be tasked with investigating or collecting evidence about something. Guess what you’ll be investigating, and who has what you need to collect. Yep, monsters. Kill them and proceed.
There are also the standard delivery quests to move you into a new region, and the occasional escort mission to change the pace. Really, the tasks are the thin candy shell around TERA’s chocolaty center: the combat. Progression proceeds quickly in the early game, and kill quests usually only require a few monsters, so you can continue to higher level areas quickly, or continue enjoying the sweet chocolate as you choose.
TERA very much lives up to its claim of being an action-MMO. Combat varies by class, playing out quickly as a melee class like Slayer, though never really at God of War levels as has been suggested. My play time was mostly spent with my heavy melee Berserker class with combat more similar to a traditional action RPG such as Fable or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Combat is different enough from other MMOs that it takes a few levels to get used to managing attacks, defense and spell/item usage. Instead of controlling camera and movement with the left and right mouse buttons, in TERA, they control your character’s attack and defend/evade.
Evasion covers blocking, forward rolling, or quickly back stepping to get you out of harm’s way. Managing evasion at the time as I was attacking, gauging MP usage and healing, all while actively keeping my reticule on the target made combat with my Baraka Berserker a tense affair. It is legitimately fun. The lack of lock ons and auto attacks may not sound revolutionary, but it is a welcome change in combat, and goes a long way toward relieving the monotony that would otherwise arise from the monster slaying quests. The combat excitement is tempered a bit by the ease of most of the encounters. Through level 25, there was very little challenge. It was fun, yes, but there was little chance of dying randomly.
Of course, you can always go looking for trouble. The quests that are most different from the norm are the group based fights against the imposing Big Ass Monsters (BAMs) and the instanced dungeons. Fighting BAMs comes during otherwise normal quests where you must form a group to take down the occasionally world-sized boss monsters that are minding their own just waiting to be slain. The dungeons, which become available starting at level 20, are similar to BAM fights except that they are instanced, and require longer lead up time to the boss, but offer up the best loot as rewards.
TERA implements a number of small, but welcome, additions that help to smooth out the gameplay. When you have to take out monsters, you can often click their name in the questlog and their location or stomping ground will light up on the minimap, making them easier to find and cutting out some of the frustration of feeling lost. Also welcome is the unrestricted nature of crafting in the game. You don’t need to select specific gathering or crafting professions. You can pick up and make what you like, and get better at crafting by doing it. TERA also offers up tweakable UI out of the gate and support for 360 and PS3 controllers, though my PC doesn’t play well with my Dualshock3. Your mileage may vary.
The future seems bright for TERA. One of the more heavily advertised features is the political system, which has yet to be implemented. If you have political aspirations, and a guild to back you, you can campaign to be elected Vanarch of a province (something like a mayor?), and then rule your province for three weeks. Vanarchs can set taxes and open specialty shops in their provinces, as well as earn or lose fame for the guild they represent. I am extremely interested to see how the politics play out in TERA and what effect they have on the rest of the game.
Guilds are already present, and are prepared to dovetail nicely with the upcoming political system. Guild quests are seeded throughout the game that can be completed to earn Catharnac Awards that contribute to achieving and maintaining guild levels. Initial Vanarch elections will be happening over the next few weeks, and should drive people to do some guild building, which seems like a healthy way to enrich the game. High level PvE content, called The Nexus, is also in the works to add more meat to the end game in terms of high level raids. It is a good sign for the game that even without the politics and end game raids, TERA is engaging and rewarding enough to challenge the established MMOs, and it should only get better with these additions.
TERA is beautiful to see and explore, and exciting to play. It may stick too close to some of the generic conceits of MMO gameplay, but it most definitely offers a unique and enjoyable experience. As I reach the middle levels of the game, the combat is getting more complex, the group content is opening up and the political system is on the horizon. I can’t wait to see more. I don’t choose MMO’s lightly, so it is telling that two weeks in, I have cancelled my subscription to Star Wars: The Old Republic in favor of TERA. I know which world I want to spend my time in.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.