Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Review: TERA

I picked up TERA about two weeks ago now.  Truth be told, I'm torn - on one hand, I love this game.  On the other hand, I feel like I've done this all before.

The combat is a refreshing change of pace, even if at it's heart the game is still an ability and cooldown based system.  I love the need to be skillful at actually targeting people beyond clicking on the UI somewhere or pressing tab - you've got to get your mouse over your intended targets to cast spells or use abilities on them, without practice or care this can prove to be a very difficult endeavor - especially in crowded scenario's.

The concept of manually targeting abilities is new (to me at least), I don't think I've seen that before in the MMORPG genre - it gives skilled players who practice and understand timing and positioning in fights a chance to really stand out and shine.  It also isn't too abrasive to the novice players either, everyone can learn how to do it with enough practice. What really stands out is how much it makes PVP and Healing a real challenge - especially if your group clusters up and it becomes hard to single out certain players.

Aesthetically, game is beautiful, the world is huge - and for the first time in years I'm finding myself actually just riding around exploring instead of rushing from one area to another because that's where the quests have taken me.  They put a lot of time into making TERA not only look, but run well, and it shows.

I am a pirate.  You are not.
As of this writing I'm well over 20 hours into the game and have yet to encounter a graphical anomaly, error, random crash, or anything of that sort.  The display isn't choppy or laggy, and there's a rather seamless transition between areas. Dungeon cutscenes (which are frequent during boss encounters) also transition well and without any kind of tearing or stuttering.

When I started this review, I mentioned above that I also felt like I had done all this before.  That's because ultimately, I have.  For all of TERA's beauty and combatic ingenuity, it's very much almost a direct game play clone of World of Warcraft.  You run around between different quest hubs, kill x, retrieve y, eliminate boss z, and move on to the next area.  The familiar !'s, and ?'s are back, and while they're used a little differently (along with a * to indicate quests are completed and ready to be turned in), they still remain part of the mechanics we've been inundated with for years.  Perhaps they use them because they work and draw us in - I'm not too sure about that - but for the amount of complaining everyone does about the same tired old formulas, nobody seems to have a solution, and at the very least familiarity is better then boredom.

While the game play of constant questing is nothing new, what is fairly unique to TERA is that any race can be any class, and that there's no faction vs. faction centered PVP.  Thank god - I can't tell you how sick I am of faction based and race/class restricted games.

En Masse also did a great job filling the world with quests, adding an engaging lore mechanic; 'story' quests, which can take you through a wonderfully written and thought out plot.  I enjoy the story, even though I've had no previous exposure to it.  That's refreshing.  I couldn't tell you the last time I actually read a quest in a game prior to trying out TERA.  Did I mention the environments you travel through are stunning?  Right.  Moving on.

PVP relies on not only the standard quick-reflexes and decision making, but also the players ability to position themselves well and target their foes before they can react.  It's the act of targeting that gives player vs. player (PVP), and to an extent even some player versus environment (PVE) their hectic, adrenaline-packed, nerve wrecking sense.  You get a rush when you're in the thick of it, I like that about TERA.  I never felt that way auto-targeting an enemy and pushing buttons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, over and over like some other games while walked in circles.  As with PVE, good PVP players can really stand out in TERA.  It's easy for any class to dominate an opponent if played by an experienced player with half-decent timing and reactions.

PVP servers carry a pseudo-hybrid rule set.  Players can use a skill to effectively 'outlaw' themselves, and allow them to attack other players, and allow players in turn to attack them.  This is the first time I've seen an elective PVP system that isn't really elective.  That might not make sense when you read it, but allow me to explain:

Declaring yourself as an outlaw accomplishes one major aspect - it allows you to attack other players.  Aesthetically your name turns red, and everyone can see that you've either recently killed someone, or are planning to.  It's a 100% self-triggered skill, so everyone who flags up as an outlaw does so voluntarily.  The key thing to realize here is that even if you aren't flagged as an outlaw, you can still be attacked and killed by someone who is.  So all you're really doing via this skill is broadcasting that you're looking to PVP.

I'm not too fond of that idea, especially on a PVP server, with an ability that takes about a second to activate.  It allows players that aren't flagged outlaw to sit around and flag up when choosing - which is good, it keeps people on their toes when they realize that while a player not too far away (who otherwise might be innocently questing) could potentially become a threat at any moment.  On the other hand, it seems ultimately stupid.  PVP servers should be PVP-enabled 100% of the time, no excuses except for safe areas, and places where people load into (instances, etc), and even then should only be temporary.  Someone going AFK in a town to avoid PVP shouldn't be immune to it - give them a 15 minute timer, then make them vulnerable.

One other intolerable thing is the 'death' penalty in TERA.  Every character has Stamina, which can provide bonuses if you rest and charge it up (takes about 2 minutes by a campfire, which are mobile and in generous supply).  The stamina system is great - but the crystal system, which allows you to augment weapons and armor with different abilities - is a bit broken.  Not because the crystals can actually break upon death, but because they can break if a maximum level character decides to go outlaw in a starter zone and kill all the low-level characters over and over.  They lose those crystals, and they shouldn't.

En Masse really needs to make PVPing through drastic level differences harsh.  Not impossible harsh, but there's no reason a level 15 should lose 5 minutes of playtime and some of their hard earned money because some level 60 douche bag cruised by and decided to one-shot them.  Perhaps make the higher levels lose a lot of stamina for killing lower levels, inconveniencing them as well.

One penalty with death is thankfully NOT the equipment degradation system.  You don't need to repair things, ever.  Thank god.  This is a fantastic feature and more games need to get away from repairing equipment.

The overall feel of the game's control scheme works well.  You can use a controller (PS3 or XBOX) and map buttons as you see fit.  It helps to do so, especially if you're having problems targeting with a mouse.  Aside from that, there's nothing really new in terms of usability or interface/controls.

And hey - the auction house UI works.  I'm not constantly plagued with bugs and search problems like I was when SWTOR released.  Thank god.  It's actually almost another direct copy of World of Warcraft, with quick-fill UI (Control+Clicking an item to auto-fill a search bar, etc).  Brokers, unlike WoW, are in just about every major hub or town.  No more haunting the auction house endlessly, no more checking my mailbox, it can all be done at the broker - unless an item expires and isn't sold, then it gets mailed back to you.

Skills get augmented with glyphs, which are available for a reasonable price for a vendor that's conveniently located near your class trader.  Some higher-level ones drop from killing monsters, but from what I can tell there's no reason every character won't have every glyph with a minimum amount of time invested.  Some glyphs reduce cooldown time, some increase the damage, or decrease the casting time - there's all kinds, and you can pick and choose what you want.  It's ingenious in a way.  Much like a talent system, you're limited in just how many glyphs you can have on at once - this number goes up as you gain levels - and each glyph can be worth a different amount, so you can pick and choose - it's a good way to rehash a very outdated system and provides each character with a bit of customization and utility should they decide they aren't as effective as they'd like.

So I've talked about a lot here - and while there's a few other nuances and features I'd love to discuss, I'll perhaps save that for another time when I've delved a bit deeper into the game.  I'm very much looking forward to max level and experiencing the end game of TERA.  More on that when it becomes available.

Overall, I'd Highly recommend TERA to anyone who enjoyed WoW or any of it's clones/versions throughout the years.  TERA offers a new spin on combat that might just be what the doctor ordered in terms of making the tired old formula's of last decade come back to life in a new and exciting way.  But don't be surprised, with the exception of combat, the game is very uninspired and even at times dated.  You truly have done most of this before.


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