You can get a pretty good idea of just what I think of TERA, En Masse Entertainment’s first foray into the world of MMO Publishing and Western rebranding over the course of four previous Review in Progress articles. See exhibits A, B, C, and D. I’ve played the game for over fifty hours since launch, and while I’m still only in my 30s on my main character (an Amani Lancer), I think I’ve come to know enough about the world of Arborea to give it a fair and honest review. Will you agree with my final tally? Well, that’s a silly question. There’s always dissention when it comes to these things. But I hope you’ll at least agree that I’ve given TERA a thorough examination. In the end, En Masse’s game is one of my top recent MMORPG releases. It definitely has its drawbacks (which we’ll cover), but by and large it’s an enjoyable themepark MMO with fantastic combat and gorgeous visuals. Let’s dive in and see how it all breaks down, shall we?
The chief shining point of TERA’s gameplay is undoubtedly its layered and varied combat system. When MMO gamers complain about classes, one argument is that all too often they feel the same as other classes. That’s not going to be the case in TERA. Due to the game’s True Action combat, where the controls are more FPS than tab-target, every single class plays differently from the others. The Lancer uses his shield to block incoming damage and tank for the others in his party. The Priest uses targeted heals and aimed (think TF2’s Medic) as well as AOE heals to keep his party alive. The Archer stands back and aims his bow like an assault rifle as opponents, while the Warrior dual-wields blades in a fury, dodging in and out of harm’s way while dealing huge amounts of damage to single targets. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. This all truly shines when you group with other players too.
While TERA can and will be enjoyed as a solo adventure, the best parts of its gameplay come when you team up with even just one other player to tackle BAM’s (Big Ass Monsters) or use the instance finder to get a group going for one of the game’s many instanced dungeon romps. What’s really shocking, but maybe it should have been expected, is just how easily so many of the game’s players are taking to the notion of grouping up in TERA. You’re XP is not punished for doing so, and since it’s also much more entertaining, you see players throughout the general and LFG chat constantly forming parties for hunting or dungeons. Put a shout out that you need one more for something, and you’ll likely get a half-dozen replies within the minute. TERA’s a social MMO, and generally most people within it are fun-loving easy-going players in my experience. It’s a bit of a novelty which reminds me of the good old days where MMOs were about playing together and enjoying the game’s content. Yes, you can be a solo adventurer. That option’s still here. It’s just nice to see a game where the community is actually happy being a community again.
But it’s not all sunshine and roses in TERA. While the combat is exemplary, the dungeons sublime... the questing is seriously some of the most derivative and boring we’ve seen in a while. Seven years ago, I’m sure I’d not have an issue with it. But as someone’s who has tasted the cinematic presentation of SWTOR, the dynamic events of GW2, and the investigative missions of TSW, TERA’s idea of adventure in the form of !’s and ?’s is definitely lagging behind the curve. I suppose the same could be said a lot about many recent releases. But it’s somehow more apparent here where every quest hub seems to have the same sequence of kill this many and collect this many quests. It’s the same drill over and over from level one to the endgame. Thank God for the dungeons, BAMs, political system, and PVP on PVP Servers. Without them, TERA would be a simple Asian grinder with great combat. Here’s to hoping future content follows the path of some of TERA’s better quests (and Nexus events at the endgame).
Crafting is also a mixed bag here, as most anyone will find it incredibly expensive early on to do much useful with the professions. We were told by the community manager not long ago that the goal is for endgame crafted items to have the edge in terms of gear over dropped items. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t report. But I can say that the ability to pull mats out of pretty much anything is a welcome addition, that trade brokers in all major towns is fantastic (until a nasty Vanarch pulls it out), and that enchanting items is a tricky but very useful process once mastered. My main gripe with gear in TERA is that you won’t upgrade very often, especially from questing, because even at the appropriate level, most of the rewards will pale in comparison to what you find from drops or for sale on the AH for reasonable prices. There’s not much variety in general in terms of gear, and while you can purchase item skins via microtransaction (just recently added), or in-game for a period of 24 hours of /played time, the general diversity of items and equipment is lacking. Everyone will wind up looking the same eventually, and that’s always a downer.
Additionally, the lack of any real PVP component right now (unless your guild actively partakes in sanctioned “Kill on Sight” guild versus guild battles, or you play on a PVP server), is a real downer. You can get your competitive rocks off if you’re on a PVP server or an active guild in search of blood, but chances are most people are eagerly awaiting the return of the game’s instanced battlegrounds or further plans for the Server vs. Server PVP that was announced back at PAX Prime 2011. Overall though, despite the boredom of questing, TERA’s easily one of the more fun experiences I’ve had in a modern MMO of late. Its combat, atmosphere, and community put it a step above many others. Traditional themepark it may be, but that’s not a bad thing for me, and I look forward to seeing the game grow. The problems I’ve had with TERA are not dealbreakers, and are certainly the sorts of things that can be addressed in patches.
This is probably TERA’s main weak link. For all of its fantastic combat, Blue Hole does little else to push the genre forward. Some may claim that Vanarch (the idea of voting in “rulers” of zones on a monthly basis) is a new twist, but it’s something that’s been done before with games like Archlord as well. The rest of this is stuff we’ve seen before. Even the BAMs, fun as they are, are ripped straight from titles like Monster Hunter. The combat is fantastic, and it really does make tab-target combat feel archaic. But that’s about all TERA really does to push the genre in any new direction worth tracing in future titles.
We could bemoan the fact that there’s a bit of sexism here in TERA (male and female alike), but the truth is that there’s nary a game in the MMO industry that looks and performs incredibly well on the Unreal 3 engine. The characters and animations are expertly depicted and the transition from vista to vista is breathtaking in scope and artistry. You’ll go from typical lush forest to creepy Transylvanian gothic mountains and then once more into deserts with an oasis here or there. The environments in TERA are nothing short of beautiful, just as the characters of the world are also impossibly pretty (even the races which are intended to be monstrous). The UI is expertly crafted, and while it may not offer much in the way of mod-ability or even much in the way of tweaking, it’s serviceable, pretty, and fits the aesthetic of the entire game well. My only real qualm is that the Guild Functionality part of the UI is simply lacking. For a game that’s about guilds striving for supremacy in the Vanarch portion of its scope, the Guild UI is certainly limited in functionality.
The few points I’ve pulled from TERA here amount to the above-mentioned UI quibbles and the problems some folks will run into with clipping, walls that can be pathed through, and little things of that nature. We expect a lot of our MMOs, and TERA delivers it all in a very neatly tended package for the most part. Given the size and scope of the game, it’s remarkably stable and clean. It rarely experiences unintended downtime, and the client itself is incredibly efficient. This all can likely be attributed to the fact that it had been out in Asia for some time before its American launch, but the translation team also did a phenomenal job with the writing and tweaking for the NA and EU audiences. In fact, despite my moaning about the questing mechanics, the quests themselves are superbly written, and should definitely be given their fair due.
This is definitely another strength of TERA’s. Its community is a lively, helpful, and partying one. You never need to wait long for a group, players will gladly assist one another, and the nature of the Vanarch elections is proving to be a lot of fun for the players who call TERA home. Its dungeon finder tool, LFG tool, and chat channels help keep players in touch, and the only real issues facing the game’s social aspect is its kind of middling Guild functions. If En Masse can patch in some more guild functionality, and maybe get the guild MOTD working properly, they’ll have easily one of the more active and functional in-game and otherwise interactively driven communities in the industry. It’s the people that make these games work, and in TERA’s case they give enough incentive and make it easy enough to bring people together that it all gels quite well.
I still want to play. Bottom line, about a month into the game, the fact that I am compelled to keep playing is more than I can say for most MMOs released these days. That said, I still know too little of what will keep me going at level 60 once I hit it in a month or two. Will the Nexus events, dungeons, and partaking in Vanarch campaigns be worth sticking around? A player who only has a few hours here or there to play will likely get a good solid few months out of TERA. Perhaps that will be enough to give En Masse time to add more content in, and all will be well. But right now, I’m not 100% sure the Vanarch competition is for Joe Blow (it’s inherently geared towards more hardcore elite players), and one wonders how long dungeon running and Nexus events will keep our attention.
The box price as of this writing is $50, with a subscription fee of $15 a month. Pretty on par with many other games of its ilk. Still, maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I can’t help thinking TERA would do so much better as a freemium sort of experience. Optional subscription, cash shop with cosmetic and experience boosts, and call it a day. Is it worth $15 a month? Yes, absolutely. But if in a few months I take a leave of absence, it would be easier for me to come back and see what’s shaking if that barrier of entry was down. Maybe I’m sticking my foot in my mouth, but I feel that the direction most MMORPGs will go in the coming years is some sort of F2P model, and while TERA is a fantastic game, it might do better as a hybrid like LOTRO or DDO. Oh, and the price of cosmetic weapon skins, at $10 a pop, is not exactly what I’d call a bargain. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending a buy for TERA, even with its current box price and subscription fee. If the game eventually goes F2P, you’ll still likely have enjoyed your money’s worth.
Like I said at the outset: It definitely has its drawbacks (which we covered), but by and large TERA is an enjoyable themepark MMO with fantastic combat and gorgeous visuals. It’s got plenty to do from level 1 to 60, the promise of great content to come, and some of the best action you’ll experience from any game on the market. There is a tough road ahead of En Masse with some heavy hitting AAA experiences coming down the pipe, but the team from Seattle should be proud. TERA stands mightily on its own as a unique, inherently fun, MMO experience. Even if you don’t wind up loving it as I have, you should definitely give it a try. Just get past the Isle of Dawn before you judge it, fight a BAM and try a dungeon. Chances are, you’ll see why I’ve been so charmed.