While the folks at En Masse didn’t attend PAX like they normally would, they were still a part of the show for press and fansites alike in that they invited us all out in small groups for special hour-long presentations on the game, with some hands-on group play to boot. It was pretty spiffy walking into their offices to see the big windows overlooking the Seattle bay area, and we didn’t have to look too hard to spot our E3 award to the team for Best Combat displayed proudly on the front desk along with other awards won this year. After introductions we headed into the “Swarm” room (their term for meeting or conference room) where five PCs awaited Carolyn and I (two for us and three for the devs).
Producer Chris Hager and Associate Producer Stefan Ramirez took seats at the front of the room to run us through a brief presentation. Their game, they told us, is about two things mainly: action and depth. The action part comes from their True Action Combat, and the pieces that make up this system. First and foremost as we all now know, the combat is not auto-target centric. Without your mouse reticule over the monsters, you won’t hit them. The same goes for the healing mechanics in many cases. You watch your enemies, and you track them with your mouse while you attack. And there’s no queuing of spells either: you press the button, and they happen. Some may charge up, but they’re all reactive.
Additionally they told us about the combo chain system. Essentially, you can create your own combos in the UI, which seem to be in groups of two skills right now. So if you start off with a knockdown attack, a suitable combo might be a big punishing axe-slice from your Berserker. After you activate the first part of the two-skill combo, a UI pop-up will tell you to press space-bar (or the Y button on your Xbox 360 controller) to do the follow up attack. This is a simple and effective way of creating some pretty specific move combinations for each class.
Then there are also crystals and glyphs. Crystals are drops you’ll find around the world and in shops which can be slotted into your items a la Diablo II. They give buffs to different stats for the weapon and your character, and can be un-slotted at will so you can use them in your next weapon or armor. Throw in dodging, rolling, reactive AI, and all that good stuff and you have a recipe for some pretty action-oriented combat with a lot of depth.
But Chris and Stefan also wanted to make sure that we knew the game’s not just about the fighting. There are several things that give the world of TERA some real weight. The game has a lengthy overarching story being penned by some of the world’s most renowned fantasy authors (RK MacPherson to name one). The story covers the entire expansive world of over 80 zones with 25 cities and villages, and over 1,000 quests to take you from beginning to end of the tale (and beyond as content updates land).
Politics: Ruling the Land
And while there aren’t warring factions to drive conflict, there is plenty of strife between people and Guilds as the game’s Political System is making sure of this. Guilds and individual players alike can vie and run for political office to rule one of eighteen provinces in the game (each province is split into several zones). The Vanarch (ruler of the province) then can raise and set taxes on everything piece by piece from travel to potion sales. They can even turn off the trade brokers (AH) in their province if they deem is necessary. A Vanarch can rule with an iron fist and stay ruler by dominating in the game’s PVP matches, or he or she can win by earning the respect and votes of their fellow players. The real interesting thing will be to see how everyone handles this system, and what sorts of rulers we find in the game.
Server versus Server PVP
Lastly, Stefan and Chris were happy but cryptic to let us know that Server vs. Server PVP will be making it in for the Endgame. While they anticipate having a nice group of PVE dungeons for the raiding crowd, they want to make sure the PVP folks have something to look forward to besides PVP deathmatches. Their answer is the SvS PVP system. They couldn’t reveal too many specifics, but they did say that an entire server will be able to unlock the ability to invade another server and reap the rewards and its riches, while wrecking havoc on its people. The team plans to give real lore-driven reasons for this, but right now they hope we’re content to know that you’ll be able to invade, defend, drive-back and even chase an entire server into their own homeland.
Then it was time for the demo. I sat down as the Slayer, a dual-wielding machine of melee death, while Carolyn did some finger-waggling as a Sorcerer. Stefan played the role of Priest and Chris was our Warrior tank, while another developer hopped on an Archer to lend a hand from afar. This time we were in a late-game dungeon: we had tracked the Argons down to one of their lairs where they create undead metallic soldiers from the people of TERA. Our goal? Stop them. Pretty simple.
For our demo we just had a few trash mobs to kill, which gave us all a nice feel for the combat and our classes. Though we almost bit it once, due to the sheer number of mobs we pulled, we made it out alive and on to the first boss. The Slayer controlled extremely well, and I never felt like I was just mashing the left-click to attack, as you can hold-down the button to string your main weapon strikes. Then it’s just a matter of pressing the corresponding hotkey to pull off one of your many skills or abilities. I had nice leaping stab that launched me to my enemy, several multi-hit attacks, and a few stuns at my disposal. With two swords, the Slayer seemed to be mainly about single-target DPS, but with several mobs around me I could hit about three at a time. Methinks that TERA will be a game which does multi-enemy combat quite well.
The boss was absolutely massive. The argon had four legs, a gigantic tail that could pack a wallop and some razor sharp blades on his arms. Our tank did a great job holding agro, and my Slayer had some crystals that added a critical chance from behind so I spent most of my time looking at the monster’s big butt. The fight got really interesting when the Argon decided randomly to jump like a lunatic around the room, sometimes knocking us to near death were it not for the Priest (thank you Stefan!). He also sequentially summoned these ghostly black adds which would damage anyone near to him, and though our Archer killed them off, each time he summoned them they’d get closer and our ability to move and dodge attacks was cut off more and more. Mind you, there were only five of us, but it took a lot of coordination to make sure we each had the heals we needed, stayed out of harm’s way, and took down the guy.
In the end, though our Priest DC’d about 75% of the way through (he logged back in quickly), we managed to down the beast and win some extremely beefy rewards… that we’ll never get to use or see. In all, my first foray into TERA was a pleasant one. I get the combat, and I can see why this game got our E3 award for just that (as well as our PAX Prime award). It’s exceptionally immersive combat, and really does the game great justice in a coordinated group setting. It’s perfect for dungeons and the like. What remains to be seen is how it works all together in the open world, and whether going solo is as fun as sitting in a room with friends and slaying bosses. If En Masse and Blue Hole can do as good of a job with the entire game as they have with this dungeon fight, we’re all in for a treat.
At PAX this year, I tagged along with Bill to En Masse entertainment’s HQ here in Seattle to get some hands-on play with their latest build. Now I’ve played melee characters before, the Slayer a couple of times and the Lancer once, but this time, I wanted to play a finger-waggler, one of my favorite classes in MMOs, a caster. Bill was assigned the Slayer role and we had a Lancer as well, so as a glass cannon, I knew who to hide behind.
The character turned out to be a blonde high-elf babe in four-inch heels, a strapless evening gown that looked like it was painted on (there really, really needs to be a spelled “Mesmerise” with the accompanying animation being a shoulder shimmy used only in PvP), and long elbow length gloves.
Now, TERA is an action based MMO and with this new build, we had compass-point aiming reticules to aid us, and when in range, a circle formed around the points. This helps. A lot. Compared to previous builds where you sometimes could not tell what you were hitting in a large scuffle of group mates and big-ass monsters (BAM). Being an action based MMO, all the big-ass monsters also had hints or tells and when low on health, became enraged, hitting harder. With desperation also comes new patterns and the fight pattern can change, so players always have to be on their toes.
Like many single-player action games, there are combos and players can chain skills to unlock them. They can be very powerful combos and the Sorcerer I quickly discovered had quite a few AE as well as very short range spell combs. All to be judiciously used for one of them landed me right on top of the aforementioned BAM and I got whacked a good one. This brought up another Combo, appropriately named “Revenge” which I fired off and ran on my tippy-toes out of the way.
This particular fight had a BAM which was very mobile, running and jumping in different directions, charging at the healer and ranger, with Bill frantically trying to keep its attention. The game, which is not yet in alpha at this time, played very smoothly, and the addition of the targeting reticule made a vast difference. What glass cannon wants to unleash a big can of whoop-ass on the wrong mob? Mob hints were telegraphed, as are character windups so attention is important in TERA. This isn’t a game of hitting auto-attack and going for a sandwich.
TERA is looking better and better each time I have a chance for hands-on play and I’m looking forward to the day this game launches. One amusing note is the idle animation of the High Elf chick. After the combat, she dusted herself off fastidiously and swept down her skirt. Yeah, I’m totally playing a High Elf while I know Bill wants to play a cute little Popori warrior with a mucking huge sword or halberd.