Tera Online Early Access Impressions
By Jason Harper (Hhean), OnRPG Journalist
Tera Online is gorgeous.
You’d hardly think this needs pointing out, given the already stunning images that are no doubt encircling my prose as you read this, but I really can’t get over how good it all looks in motion. Every single race and creature has their own animation sets, not simply reused stock animations carried across multiple rigs, but unique movements that lend personality to all the various creatures found in the game. Everything seems to fit perfectly together in this really over the top world. When I’m essentially saying that a giant rock demon guy looks perfectly natural standing next to a miniature cat girl, that really is something worth drawing attention to. A game that can make my ridiculous looking character, a ferret wearing KISS inspired face paint and a nappy, still look good is worthy of praise. I don’t usually go for the kind of aesthetics that Asian MMOs feature, but I have to say that Tera is going to have to be the exception to that rule.
Little touches on the camera are small but welcome additions that show the care and attention the game has been given. The game encompasses the camera style of a third person action title with the way that as you zoom the game centres the camera on you from very far away, then shifts very slightly to the right as your view gets too close. As you zoom in further, rather than burrowing into your characters head, it first switches to a full frontal shot of your character, perfect for checking out gear or making screenshots. When making use of the game’s flying transportation system, the camera pitches as the creatures wheel in the sky, giving a real sense of momentum as they move.
They say beauty is more than skin deep, and Tera certainly is no brainless bimbo. You’re still going to be jumping through hoops for static NPCs, and crafting is still an uninteresting bar watching exercise, but there’s much to be said about the game’s combat. While the game doesn’t break the MMO formula in the wider sense, the game’s combat is a breath of fresh air.
TERA’s quest structure is well paced for the most part, encountering few roadblocks and an even progression across most areas. The text though seems to vary quite a bit in terms of quality. Some of it is humorous, and most of it gives enough of a context for why you’re going to go out and beat the living tar out of everything you meet. That said, the game does seem to have a few odd relics left from the game’s translation process. As a prime example, there’s an early quest to kill a bunch of enemies and take their “ovaries”. I’m really hoping that was some kind of magical doodad and not…. something else.
There isn’t too much variety in what you’ll be doing in these quests, unfortunately. There are some fetch quests, some (not so horrible) escort quests and a few interesting ‘wave defense’ style quests that I frankly wish there were more of. Most quests, however, are simple “Kill X of Y” affairs, so if you don’t find fighting these varied creatures fun, you’re going to have serious issues with the game.
This is why the game’s combat is simply going to make or break the game for most people, and is the main thing that differentiates the game from its competition. The combat itself is not as action oriented as something like Vindictus, but it still has a focus on reactive and positional play not often found in MMOs.
Due to the lack of any sort of auto targeting, the game allows a player to dash out of the way of incoming attacks, with a trade off that works well for some characters, but not not so much with others. When moving you simply cannot attack. This feels great when playing a melee character, as you really have to choose your openings to attack wisely or you’ll be stuck in mid-swing and unable to dodge when a giant tree body slams you. Melee characters also have access to either a dodge or blocking mechanic dependent on their class, so you have plenty of strategic decisions in terms of how you wish to avoid taking hits while dishing out damage. The sheer number of ways you can go about taking on the same monster makes the kill x of y quests seem like much less of a grind.
As a ranged character though this restrained movement feels very clunky. There are benefits to this limitation, despite its ‘stop and start’ playstyle. This movement mechanic balances out the game from a PvP perspective, preventing ranged characters from being able to endlessly kite their foes around the battlefield. This limitation also lingers as a question hanging in the back of your mind, “Do I take one last shot, or make a run for it before that guy gets in range?”, which is a satisfying gamble to make. The problem though is that while these things provide tactical decision making, the moment to moment play of the game’s ranged combat flows about as well as a Resident Evil title. When your game draws comparisons to a dated survival horror series, ‘action’ is not quite the first word that springs to mind.
To be more specific with my own experiences, I played in the tests as both a Warrior and a Mystic, with some slight dabbling in other classes. The former was very fun, but quite challenging, a class that was part acrobat and part humanoid blender. The latter was much, much easier to play, but unfortunately was less entertaining as a result. The mystic is a pet class with a bunch of high damage, low range abilities that allows you to rapidly shotgun everything to the face, which sounds great until you realize you are so powerful against NPC mobs that the game simply loses any semblance of challenge.
Difficulty overall is something the game seems to struggle with, unfortunately. Tera is at its best when it is slamming down on you with full force, as attacks that could scythe off over half your health whirl past you with little time to react. It allows for some breathless moments of unadulterated satisfaction at overcoming some truly brutal foes. Unfortunately though, the game’s early levels are almost insultingly easy, allowing very long periods of time to react to enemy attacks, and even if you don’t react in time, you suffer very little damage for your errors. On my warrior I didn’t suffer any damage at all for a number of levels, and on my mystic I never dropped to below 90% of my health for the entire period of time I played him. There’s even a five man dungeon at the end of the tutorial area, The Isle of Dawn, that most players simply solo because it offers so little challenge if you actually go in with backup.
When the game chooses to ramp things up though, like when taking on the five man boss on your lonesome, it can be a highly entertaining experience. Its satisfying to learn the abilities and ‘tells’ of enemies as you fight them, learning to preempt the attacks of your foes, giving a sense of mastery that’s rarely experienced in other MMOs. While there are a number of more generic foes to club to death, they are interspersed with a variety of enemies with some more interesting attack patterns. If anything, I think the combat feels more like a MOBA than any sort of action title, where timing, spacing and planning are more important than combos and fast reactions. Coming from an unrepentant League of Legends addict, I hope that comparison can only be shown as the highest of praise.
While some of my issues with the combat are nitpicks at best, small problems in what I found to be an enjoyable experience, the game does have, as of the current version of this beta, some major issues that I’m hoping will get addressed before launch.
The most noticeable of these, and also unfortunately the least likely to be fixed, is that the game seems to have no spawn adjustment system in place. In most modern MMOs, how fast foes appear is dependent on the number of players in a given area, but this isn’t so in Tera. This can make quests to kill a specific named enemy a complete slog as over twenty people all crowd around the creature’s spawn point and try to be the first one to get a hit in. One quest in particular had me cry out in frustration after spending over half an hour desperately trying to get a hit in before the crowd around me could nuke the enemy down. This was even with support from a five man group to try and increase our chances of tagging the enemy, and it still resulted in a lengthy struggle against the masses.
The other issue is that the main city of Velika currently suffers from ‘lagforge’ syndrome, where large numbers of players in the area will really hurt the game’s performance. Large lag spikes, texture popping and a chugging frame rate are all common problems in the city, making it a thoroughly unpleasant place to visit. This is hopefully more of a server side issue though, and will be sorted at the game’s launch. Hopefully. In the meantime a variety of options exist that can automatically reduce the graphical rendering of your surroundings to help you get by.
The one thing I’ve been struggling to find though are bugs. For a title that is so far away from launch, I’ve never experienced a game so free of the minor glitches that usually plague games in this genre. The western version of the game is certainly benefiting from the delay between its eastern and western release, and hopefully will result in a very smooth launch.
Despite having a few flaws, and a weaker ranged combat system, I’ve enjoyed my time with Tera immensely. When you’re struggling to write about a game because you simply cannot stop playing said game, you know you’re on to something good. I’m eager to get to grips with some of the game’s higher level content, either in future previews, or in the game’s upcoming launch, as the greater challenges presented there will likely show off the game at its absolute best.