TERA: Rising Review – Skill-Based RNG
By Michael Sagoe (Mikedot), OnRPG Journalist
It’s always been in the minds of gamers for years regarding whether it would be possible to create an MMORPG with satisfying combat similar to hack n’ slash action games. Titles such as Phantasy Star Online, Vindictus, Monster Hunter and many others have dabbled with this concept, but have always had a single glaring flaw: Combat that was locked away in room-based instances and had restricted player limits.
Now the dream of a hack & slash MMORPG was realized with the release of TERA (The Exiled Realm of Aborea.) Recently, the game has gone through some hefty changes, with the most notable change being the transition from a P2P to a F2P business model. Bluehole Studios, En Masse Entertainment and Gameforge have made some bold claims with TERA’s gameplay, such as “True skilled based combat” and “Victory is determined by skill, not levels or gear.”, as if the game was made for action gamers in mind, rather than typical MMORPG players.
Just how true are these claims? Is TERA a true hack & slash MMO? After eight months of playtime, I can answer this question by saying: “Yes and no.”
The customization in TERA holds up with some above average features, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. With seven different races and eight classes, there are plenty of options to choose from. The best part is that none of the classes are locked by race or gender, so you’re free to mix and match with some outrageous outcomes. Initial character creation starts to fall short after that, however. You have several options including hair style, skin/fur color, face type and some face sliders for finer detailing, but there’s no options for body sliders and several customization options are inseparable, such as not being able to separate different animal ears with hair styles for the Elin race. Don’t be surprised if you end up running into a clone of your character every now and then.
Tweaking out your character for battle comes in the form of crystals, equipment mods and glyphs. Crystals are stat modifiers that activate once certain conditions have been met. Equipment mods are passive skills that include increasing attack speed or defense against monsters. Glyphs are active skill mods that range from increased skill damage, skill resets and more. Crystals are fairly easy to obtain, as well as easy to lose since they can break upon dying in combat, so you may have to stock up on them. There are quite a few crystals, mods and glyphs to choose from, but only a handful of these combinations are actually viable for both PvE and PvP, not to mention that getting the equipment mods you want revolve around having to use identification scrolls to re-roll the stats you don’t want, as well as spending hundreds and thousands of gold to keep the ones you do. It’s all based on random luck whether you’ll get these stats, which turns into a tiresome chore. In fact, the amount of content and features in TERA that is based on random luck is one of the biggest issues that players will suffers from on a regular basis (more on this later.)
The control scheme for TERA does not play out like your typical point & click style MMO. Instead, it uses a control scheme similar to third person action and shooter titles. Default controls are laid out with WASD for movement, mouse movement for aiming, left mouse button for auto-attacking, right mouse button for blocking/dodging and 1-12/F1-12 keys for skills. Since TERA’s combat is so much more engaging, this can take a lot of getting used to. Setting up your hotkeys for skills is fairly crucial when performing a sequence of them for combo attacks. The game tries to remedy this for new and casual types by including a skill chain system that allows players to activate a set of skills in sequence with the use of only one single set key/button. It certainly works well enough, but activating skills manually is always more effective.
TERA also attempts to give players a more console hack & slash experience by allowing the use of gamepads. It works well up to level 20, but due to the amount of active skills players will get in the later levels, as well as the amount of scrolling speed players will need against tougher monsters and dungeons, it becomes very ineffective, so players are better off sticking to the keyboard & mouse as soon as they start playing.
Gameplay and Features
TERA: Rising is an MMORPG that claims to feature “True action combat” in an open world environment, and this claim is true, but only to a certain extent. Unlike traditional MMORPGs, TERA’s combat system utilizes hitboxes and attack space, much like with hack & slash games. As a small example: When you aim and swing your sword around against a crowd of monsters in front of you, it will actually hit all those monsters. Players will also have to block and dodge enemy attacks manually, position themselves to attack enemy weak spots from behind for extra damage, as well as jump and traverse obstacles just like in hack & slash games. Combat is far more engaging that in any other MMORPG before it due to its open world, allowing for many different possibilities. Fighting against big ass monsters (BAMs) feel like impromptu boss battles that really test you and your teammate’s abilities.
No matter which class you’re playing as, everyone gets to participate in combat. Even support classes like priests and mystics can occasionally move in and do some damage. TERA also has collision detection which can make PvP bouts more strategic, such as getting a group of lancers to form a blockade line as they shield their archers from dropping a rain of arrows behind them… Or at least, that is to say, these kinds of strategies are TECHNICALLY possible, but I rarely see them in action.
However, there are elements in TERA’s core gameplay that go against the true action claim, such as dodges having invincibility frames, lock-on and homing attacks for skills that aren’t healing abilities, hitstuns, knockdowns and critical attacks that are based on random number generation (RNG) multipliers, skill cool-downs and more. The quests that players will participate in are your typical “Kill this, bring me that” kind and they’ll have to be done excessively from level 1 to level 60. You’ll occasionally participate in several more BAM hunts, but these quests start to become ineffective ways of earning EXP up around level 50.
Speaking of RNG, many other elements of TERA are completely driven by it. While things like RNG for loot drops and damage output are a given, you also have to deal with RNG for passive skill activation and RNG for skill cooldown resets. Hell, if you love numbers and probability, then you’ll love TERA’s brand of “skill-based” combat.
The endgame content for TERA is very lacking. What players will get once they’ve reached level 60 is only a handful of dungeons (only two of which have actual mechanics to them, while the other dungeons are focused on DPS racing + basic tanking & spanking), two types of battlegrounds (15 vs. 15 or 3 vs. 3 arena), daily quests that are simplistic and unexciting and a daily world event called Nexus (which is basically a giant rip off of the ‘rift gate’ event system from the MMORPG called ‘RIFT’). Most of the endgame content can be experienced within a couple of days, and there’s no side content to distract players from the endless gear treadmill that goes with it.
Well… except for playing dress-up, which I tend to do a lot.
Even the endgame is driven by RNG. Players will have to engage in many repeated dungeon runs, battleground matches and nexus gate shut downs in order to obtain new gear, and once they have that gear, they will have to collect enchantment items including fodder gear and alkahests to increase their equipment’s power. The enchantment system is the biggest turn off that any player could have with TERA. While different types of enchant fodder can determine the success rate, it all still comes down to dumb luck, and even though they’ve recently changed the system so that a player’s enchant success rate increases with each failed attempt, it’s still just a bandage fix compared to the old enchant system, where one player can get their equipment enchanted in one try, while another player can fail over 50 times before getting theirs. All this new system does now is lets other players see how unlucky they can be while showing it to the rest of the world.
TERA’s endgame summed up in one picture
And there’s also the issue of ‘Masterworking’, which is the only way to unlock equipment’s full power, and is also determined by even more RNG with a 3% chance of success. For PvE, this isn’t much of an issue, but for anyone that wants to be competitive in PvP, this is a requirement.
Regardless of RNG, player skill IS an important factor in TERA’s combat for Player vs. Environment content. Good aim, quick wits and twitch skills will help players overcome many different obstacles and monsters in the game. Having good gear to compliment your skills will simply make players more efficient. Even if players don’t meet the game’s silly gear-score checks for dungeons, they can still get through them with pure skill and good teammates. For Player vs. Player content, however, gear matters a bit more than skill. Perhaps not so much to the point that it would be impossible for someone to defeat a player that’s decked out in +12 PvP gear while using +9 PvE gear, but to the point where they have a noticeable and hefty advantage. Tera’s PvP is also very unbalanced due to race and class combinations having animation and hitbox issues, as well as class type matchups for duels, 3v3s and mass groups PvP. Also: having specific classes in particular group compositions is a must, such as Lancers for Battlegrounds.
TERA was first designed with PvE content in mind over PvP and it really shows. The most disappointing fact is that there’s almost no way the developers can balance PvE and PvP content without one affecting the other.
Don’t get me wrong, though. TERA’s combat system is very fun and engaging, more so than any open-world MMORPG I’ve ever played. If I were to judge TERA solely on its combat, I would give it a recommendation, but I cannot ignore how much it sticks way too closely to the mechanics of traditional MMORPGs while trying to blend action combat. People who are solely into action games will be turned off by TERA’s combat because it takes way too long to get into and doesn’t quite offer the same ‘in-your-face’ kind of feel with hack & slash titles like Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, and people who are into modern MMORPGs like World of Warcraft will feel like the combat is too hard to keep up with during the later levels.
People that are playing TERA for the first time will have to start off at a horribly slow pace from the prologue, The Island of Dawn (AKA: The Island of YAWN), Lumbertown and up to Crescentia (2nd visit) where the game truly begins, since around this time, players are around level 20 and can unlock glyphs and fight their first true BAM as well as enter their first dungeon. By the time any action gamer gets up to this point, however, they’ll be bored to tears.
I would have no problems over TERA being promoted as an MMORPG WITH engaging combat, but they’re trying to play it off as an action game with MMORPG features, and so it falls short for my expectations for what an action game should be. People who are into action games don’t like to wait. They want instant gratification. They want to feel like a strong, speedy or badass hero as soon as they start playing. Action gamers simply… well… want to get into the action as soon as they start playing.
Oh, and one more thing I probably should mention is how well the transition from P2P to F2P went. While F2P users will be getting the same exact experience and content as the previous P2P and veteran players, F2P users will have a tough time getting gold and equipment at the endgame unless they obtain and use different kinds of reward boosts on a regular basis (such as double reputation and gold reward boosts) or by signing up for TERA’s elite status. They also removed a major gold sink from the game (Masterwork Alkahests from specialty shops) without replacing it with a new one, causing the gold markets to inflate rapidly. If you have neither reward boosts nor elite status, you’re going to have a hard time.
Graphics and Presentation
TERA is one of the best looking MMORPGs out there in terms of art style, with very charming and colorful environments, distinct looking characters, interesting monster designs and many other details that all have been made possible using Unreal 3 Engine technology.
The world of TERA is absolutely beautiful. So beautiful that it will make players want to explore it. Sadly, many areas are connected with dull and lifeless paths, so there’s very little reason not to teleport or take a Pegasus flight to your next destination. The world is also very static, which is a shame because it would have been amazing to see how certain areas like Velika would be with a day & night cycle or how Lumbertown would look with some rainfall. Also to note: The game has some hefty sexualization going on for both male and female characters, which will make a few heads turn, raise a few eyebrows and possibly make everyone question their preferences.
The music in TERA has some very charming sets in its original soundtrack that will give players a sense of wonder, such as the Island of Dawn and the Eldritch Academy, but many other songs in the soundtrack are average and forgettable. The localization and voice work done for TERA is average, with many NPCs having memorable dialog, but voiceovers during cut-scenes for Samael and Fraya are surprisingly poor, especially considering the talent they got to play them (such as Michael Hogan as Samael, for instance.)
TERA features several different community functions that we would expect from MMORPGs including guilds, friend lists, group finders and instance matching services for cross-server play. The game features a politics system that allows guilds to control different towns all over the world, and these guilds can either get selected by popular vote or by Guild vs. Guild combat. Once guilds obtain their selected towns, they’ll have to maintain shops and services for the players while pulling in extra gold. While it sounds like an intriguing system, it’s not very deep, and overall can feel like a thankless job.
The overall playerbase has tons of friendly players, as well as a rowdy crowd mostly over on the PvP servers. There are also a few creepers here and there (and no, I’m not talking about the green and hissing kind…), but with the game’s characters looking the way they do, I suppose it’s to be expected.
As an MMORPG with engaging combat, it’s one of the best there is. As a hack & slash game with MMORPG features, however, it fails miserably by going against its own claims. For anyone that’s looking for a new MMORPG that changes the pace by making players do more than just point & click, then you may have a good time playing TERA, but I for one cannot recommend this game towards anyone that’s solely into action games. Even more so, there’s A LOT that players will have to look past while playing, such as the lack of endgame and the enchant system. TERA is an MMORPG first and an action game second, and since they seem to be promoting it as the exact opposite, it’s going to catch a lot of unwary gamers off guard. It certainly did for me.
And some of you may ask: Despite all its flaws, why did I stick with this game for eight months?
Yeah …let’s just say I’ve been playing it for all the wrong reasons since then.
Gameplay and Features: 4
Graphics and Presentation: 5