Welcome, reader, to the inaugural edition of The Tourist! This is the column where we dive into a new game every two weeks to seek what adventures we may and report back to you what goodness (or poorness!) we've found. This week, we look at TERA: Rising, the freshly free-to-play version of the Korean brawler launched in May 2012. If you're anything like me, you were probably looking forward to Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World around that time and maybe took a pass. Now that it's free, there's no better time to give it a try. Read on for what we were missing.
Let's get the big question out of the way first: TERA has an excellent free-to-play model. Rather than take anything away from non-subscribers, En Masse is taking the opposite tack. If you want to run dungeons, do PvP, play more than one character (limit of two), and access every quest, you can. It's the same exact product players subscribed for at no cost. Buying a subscription earns you more goodies, such as a shortened dungeon cooldown and higher daily limit, a handful of consumables, reduced auction fees, and a mount. Instead of gating players behind pay walls, TERA has adopted the popular lockbox system, ala Guild Wars 2. You'll find these fairly often in your travels but the keys are rare, unless you buy them. It's a reasonable system and totally optional.
The first thing that blew me away about TERA was the character creator. New players can choose from seven different races with a wealth of customization options not unlike Aion with its array of sliders. They're not all a cut-and-paste Dungeons and Dragons fare either, including the delightfully awesome and dragon-like Amani or statuesque Baraka. Then there's the Popori. I have an unspoken rule about MMOs: if I'm able to make a furry, I must. Don't ask me why, but since Vanguard, if a game gives me the option to play a dog, everyone else had better avoid looking like a bone. The Popori race is a free-form furry maker, featuring a number of presets to look like different kinds of dog, cat, otter, or beaver. The only unifying factor is that they're gigantically fat.
Thus was born Husky Dog.
Confident and unashamed, Poporis rarely feel guild, embarassment, or sadness." Read: They lick themselves in public.
The game also offers eight playable classes in a traditional trinity model including the archer, sorcerer, and warrior, and mystic. For the short time I would be in the game, I chose the slayer class, partly because I two hand-wielding DPS seemed fun in an action game, and partly because I was roleplaying an escapee from a sled team.
The best thing TERA: Rising has going for it is its combat. Put simply, it trumps every other MMO I've played, including Guild Wars 2. Both games are fun, but in TERA you can feel the impact as enemies stagger and bleed. As a slayer, I could rush into battle, open with an AOE, and send a group of bad guys sprawling. Land a good blow on a single target and it’s likely to fall square on its back. The game also has a way of making you feel like a badass right away – not a small feat when you're playing an overweight dog – by throwing big monsters and groups at you almost immediately. Remember Treebeard from the Lord of the Rings? You kill his whole family before you hit level three.
Dodging also feels much better integrated into gameplay. In Guild Wars, dodging an attack always felt like reacting to an ill-fated play in chess. In TERA, dodging is active and acrobatic, always including some kind of flourish to really rub it in how good you really are. It's also on a much shorter timer, which it needs to be, because enemies aren't afraid to crush you if you play like this was WoW.
The game also features controller support, but I chose to play with my Razer Naga.
Most of the actual tasks, on the other hand, have more in common with early 2004 than 2013. One of the very first things you will do is Kill Ten Treebeards, followed by Kill Six Angry Deer. It's uninspired but needs to be taken a little differently than other games. Here, combat is the draw, not a means to an end. Every enemy you fight is an opportunity for the developers to throw something unique at you. Because of this, kill and collect tasks tend to stay much more fresh and fun than virtually anywhere else.
The art sensibilities are also fantastic. Encountering new monsters is fun for the pure spectacle. Look at this thing. It's better suited to Hellraiser than an MMO:
Story quests also lead you through the unfolding events of an Arborea in turmoil. Quest types are easily identifiable by color so you know what's worth reading. I like to immerse myself in game stories and found myself genuinely interested in the yarn the game was weaving.
TERA is, simply put, a visual splendor. I won't go so far as to say that it's the best out there, but it's certainly close. My experience with Eastern games really doesn't extend beyond Aion, and, while beautiful, it's painted-on skyscapes often made things feel like you were playing in a bowl. Not so with TERA. Everything you see is actually live in the game world and is rendered with deep, vibrant colors and a sense of magic that was captivating. Somehow, playing a fat, bi-pedal dog didn't seem quite so out of place in Arborea. Go figure.
You might notice that I haven’t mentioned much about the “other” past times of TERA, and that’s because they’re pretty traditional MMO fare. You can run dungeons complete with hard modes and rewards, PvP in instanced battlegrounds, and take part in large-scale Guild vs. Guild battles. Then there’s BAMS – Big Ass Monsters – to test your combat prowess. These giant raid-boss-like monsters can be found throughout the world and offer epic battles that offer added challenge and strategy to defeat. The game also features Nexus events, which are large scale, boss-based PvE arenas that spawn over sections of the game world.
One of the more unique aspects of TERA’s endgame is the Vanarch system. How would you like to play an over-sexualized fairy girl that makes the world bend before you? Well, now you can. Just level to 50, lead a guild of 20 people, and pay for your candidacy in one of the game's several regions. Once (if) you're elected, you get to set vendors, taxes, teleport paths, and more.
My brief jaunt into this world is over though. And with that, ladies and gentleman, we leave the Arborea and search for foggier shores in far off lands. If you've never tried TERA, I highly recommend you check it out. For our next go 'round, we'll be looking at Champions Online. But for future columns, leave your suggestion in the comments!
Christopher Coke / Christopher Coke is a columnist at MMORPG.com, and a regular reviewer/staff writer at Hooked Gamers and Vagary.TV and a blogger at Game By Night. He began his MMO career with MUDs back in 1999 and has never looked back after taking the red pill. You can find him on Twitter at @gamebynight.