Tera Open Beta – Impressions

The open beta for Tera snuck up on me. I had heard murmurs of it for weeks, but nothing really rose above the babbling brook of game PR until somebody actually asked me if I was going to give it a try. My head cocked to the right and a quizzical look overtook my face as I realized I hadn’t even considered it. Sure, I had really enjoyed Age of Conan and DC Universe Online, two other high end action MMORPGs, but Tera? Wasn’t that the super-Korean game with the panty shots of little girls?

Then I saw this.

Holllllllyyyyyyyy shit. I could play a snub-nosed pug faced dog man. Look at that tail wag man, oh yeah. The open beta was this weekend you say? I can use my 360 controller as well?

It was time. Let’s do this Tera.

Alongside the generic fantasy tropes of elves and elves that listen to This Mortal Coil were a few stand out races, namely the Popori and Elin, one for girlfriends and the other for perverts. Knowing there were no options, I created a Popori and Troilus was born, an ancient master of the martial arts and purveyor of many forms of doom. The character classes were laid out according to a wide range of capabilities such as armor type, weapon type, role, and difficulty. Wait, what? Difficulty? Does Tera finally acknowledge that some classes are just straight up harder than others? Indeed it does, assigning each class a different number of stars based on how hard it is to play. I wish other developers would do this. I imagine Warlocks would be 4 stars, Mages 2 stars, and Hunters? -5 stars.

I chose a mid-range difficulty tanking class, knowing that years of teasing about the pipe welded to his face had given him quite a formidable constitution that should be taken advantage of. The Lancer was given a 4 out of 5 star difficulty rating, placing is slightly below the Warrior, which was a evasion heavy damage or tanking class. At the bottom of the difficulty chart? Archers (take that Hunters) and Mages.

The game begins by throwing you directly into the fray on the Island of Dawn as part of the initial expeditionary force to the mysterious new landmass. You begin at level 20, with a wide range of abilities available to you. I imagine as the game systems become more comfortable, this will be a great way to try your hand at various class mechanics with an eye for how they click with you, but for now it’s slightly overwhelming. With pages of abilities, combos, and various buffs at your disposal, I could easily see a casual player getting totally overwhelmed by the game in the first few moments and giving up, especially if this new player is a significant other who just wants to run around shooting fireballs as a cat person.

You spend your first few moments running around and testing out your ‘Interact’ button as you speak to a bunch of characters. A quick side note – it’s not until I’m forced to actually READ quest text again that I truly appreciate what BioWare did with SWTOR and its full voice-acting. The story itself is…underwhelming, but that’s usually the case with these kinds of games. You know the kind. YOU KNOW. Don’t make me say it. Geez.

It takes a while, but eventually you get to poke things with the business end of your lance and boy, does it feel good. Every class has a different set of basic abilities, but for the Lancer it’s a thrust and a block. From there you can chain it into a range of different sweeps, shouts, thrusts, or slams based on what you want to accomplish. At first it’s hard to do much other than just button mash, the pages of same-y seeming abilities doing little to stand out from each other. For a tutorial, the game does very little when it comes to actually telling you what to do. You get told how to attack and that’s about it. It may have also told me to block at one point, right before the boss that could decimate me in a few hits.

The combat itself feels solid but sticky. It’s hard to switch movements while fighting and the lack of a “lock-on” system makes it even harder to stay focused on a mobile target. As the Lancer it felt even harder to actually hit things, as most of my attacks saw my tiny dog man furiously stabbing in one direction for extended periods of time. Whether or not there was an enemy in that direction was immaterial, the stabbing commenced. Most of the early enemies were happy to stand still while I poked at them, but the few that danced around proved to be rather difficult to stay in front of. Getting them back in my sights involved lots of sluggish camera spinning and wasted time on target, which may have been part of the challenge. I was playing a 4 star character after all. The short time I played a 2-3 star ranged class proved to be significantly easier, as it was never hard to keep a target in my sights from afar. Same could probably be said for the easier melee classes, both of which use giant swords or axes, most likely swung in wide arcs designed to catch targets regardless of where they’re at.

Despite this, the combat was significantly more engaging than any other MMO on the market. Rolling around as a Warrior (5 stars!) to dodge attacks felt great, especially when I would juke a devastating charge only to unleash a massive attack as my foe ran by. My limited time with the game didn’t allow me to plump the depths of the combo system, but what I saw during the Prologue seemed interesting. Chaining short cooldown abilities could create a dynamic system as long as the fights are difficult enough to require it. Nothing I saw needed anything more than ample use of dodge or block and the basic attack though.

To be honest, I didn’t play the beta all that long. Sure things may get better and the combat was fun enough, but nothing in the game compelled me to stay. It lacked the freshness of WoW, the mechanical complexity of Rift, or the soul and passion of SWTOR. It was just, well, a Korean MMO. While it may have cute dog people and one of the more interesting combat systems out there, there was no primal draw to the game. Similar to many games coming out of Korea, nothing had weight. Sure the game tossed lots of loot at you and various numbers went up, but none of it actually seemed to matter.

It’s a matter of tactile response. In a FPS, when you pull the trigger, you want to FEEL it. The kick of the rifle, the crack of the shot, the thud of bullet smashing through flesh and bone. Shooters live and die on that gut feeling of actually doing some damage. The same is true of MMOs. When you hit a button, something direct and concrete needs to happen. I hit Sinister Strike and my character does a little spin and yellow numbers come out. I hit Thermal Grenade and boom goes the dynamite.

But for the melee classes in Tera, I hit my main attack and a flurry of blows is unleashed. I segue into another attack and even more numbers pop up. In the flurry of button presses, I can’t tell exactly what is doing what damage, or whether or not certain attacks are more effective than others. It’s just a numerical cloud of devastation. It doesn’t feel especially…visceral.

Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps, in merging brawlers with MMOs, Tera hopes to ratchet back the focus on strategic use of global cooldowns that comes with most other MMOs, instead focusing on the fluid use of combos. If that’s the case, then it succeeds, as the combat does feel smooth. Chaining abilities is relatively easy, especially when using the 360 controller, and when you’re on target, it feels great.

For me though, MMOs aren’t supposed to feel like a river. They should feel like the massive rock you drop in the river. Splash, bang, crash, boom. Solid and weighty, every button press should have a consequence. Probably why I never got into Marvel vs. Capcom 2, preferring to continue playing my worn copy of Street Fighter 2.

Should you play Tera? It’s worth a try, especially if you like games like Guild Wars or Modern Warfare 3 over World of Warcraft or Battlefield 3. It’s a twitchy brawler wearing the coat of a MMORPG, not the ponderous beast that most AAA MMORPGs are these days. With a release date of May 1st, 2012, you’ll have a chance soon enough.

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