Hot Elves, Skimpy Armor, and MMO Action – The TERA Review

TERA Online’s a MMORPG that’s been getting a fair amount of discussion lately, for a number of reasons – first and foremost the downright beautiful girls gracing just about every screenshot, an example of which you see right at the top of this review. But there’s been buzz about this game going beyond the eye-candy. Talk of how it’s an action-oriented MMO, injecting some well-crafted gameplay into a genre that’s more often known for mere rote button clicking. Well, I dived into The Exiled Realm of Arborea to see what all that talk cashes out to, and whether spending YOUR hard earned cash on this game is a good idea.

First, some bare facts. TERA Online is a MMORPG, and not of the free-to-play variety. As of this writing, EBgames is showing the boxed version going for 49.99 which yields a month of gameplay, to be followed up with the standard 14.99/mo offering. It used to be that this went without saying, but since free-to-play MMOs are all the rage nowadays – particularly with MMOs coming out of Asia – it’s worth highlighting when this trend is bucked. So if you’re even thinking of giving TERA a try, keep in mind that it’s going to require a monetary commitment right out of the gates. For some of you reading this, that may well be a deal-breaker immediately, so consider this fair warning. For those of you who are still on the fence, read on and decide if what I describe could rightly earn your money.

Let’s start with the story. I’m going to be frank – there’s a story, but not very much of one. It involves omnipotent godlike beings falling asleep, creating a dream world of lesser gods and still lesser mortals, they fight for a while, calamities occur, and now just as things have been settled a new threat has emerged. Robots, or something. They’re definitely made of metal. And they’re intent on destroying the dream-world of TERA. Which means that all the denizens of the world, at least those who aren’t intent on wiping themselves out of existence, are on the march to stop the invaders from destroying everything they’ve ever known.[singlepic id=6651 w=320 h=240 float=right]

I’m giving the story the short-shrift here, but with good reason – it’s just not what will grab you about this game. It’s there for you to read, but don’t be surprised if you play this game and find yourself bouncing from quest to quest, clicking the ‘accept’ button before even bothering to read the story behind your actions. In TERA’s defense, the mediocre – not bad, but merely mediocre – execution of the story end of things is more than made up for with the sheer excellence delivered on the immersion front. The game is set in the dreams of omnipotent titans, and those titans have amazing imaginations: it’s a world of beauty, diverse characters, and a pretty fascinating-in-theory setting for a MMORPG.

Part of the reason the game can get away with a less emphasized story would be the graphics. In a word, TERA is beautiful – and I’m not speaking simply in terms of white-haired, scant-armored goddesses walking around in armor so light I’m pretty sure double-sided tape is required to wear it. Everything, from the most meager little trash-encounter monsters to the architecture to the forest, is breathtakingly beautiful, especially if you’ve got a computer capable of maxing out all the graphical settings. Naturally, the player characters are just as stunning – consult the pictures in this review if you don’t believe me. If anything, the glamour in this game is too over the top – I’m pretty sure the magical forces in TERA force anyone who’s ugly or overweight to immediately shapeshift into some manner of jolly animal character.[singlepic id=6652 w=320 h=240 float=left]

Which brings us, of course, to the character creation in TERA. You’ve got seven different races to choose from, running the gamut from gorgeous elves and humans to cutesy-looking animal or little-girl creatures, along with some more hulking, intimidating options. It’s an extremely diverse lot to choose from, complete with some gender-restricted races, but aside from some relatively minor special abilities they all offer the same basic gameplay experience. In addition to the seven races, you’ve also got eight classes to choose from – and as any MMO player knows, this is where a game tends to stand or fall. Are these classes fun to play? More importantly, are they at all different from each other? Or are you going to find yourself doing basically the same thing with slightly different gear?

Well, just as the game is downright amazing graphically, gameplay is another area where TERA really shines. Instead of mere button clicking, the game has a heavy emphasis on action – combo moves, tight aim and positioning all are major factors in how any given battle plays out. The typical MMO combat experienced can reasonably be summed up as “Stand still, press buttons, wait for those buttons to refresh.” This is not an option in TERA. Instead you’ll find yourself running around, repositioning yourself, dodging out of the way of enemy attacks, trying to line up a great shot or attack, thinking which combo moves you’ll want to use on a given creature… and the result is combat which feels fun and engaging. In a group it’s even better, leading to adrenaline-rushed moments when you see you and your party members all collaborating to put blade, arrows and spells into some big, terrifying target.[singlepic id=6653 w=320 h=240 float=right]

And this game gives you ample excuses – aka, quests and content – to pull out the sword or the spell and start some trouble. The game’s quests revolve around the tried and true hub formula. You’ll visit a little encampment or site, round up a handful of quests (including some optional ones) which all happen to have objectives in the same general area. You’ll finish them up, turn them in for some experiences or loot, and then be guided to the next hub. It’s a little on the linear side, but it also keeps you moving to newer environments – which in turn allows you to be exposed to more and more fresh content and graphics. I get the feeling that the developers behind TERA know that the combat and the visuals are the primary hooks their game offers, so they go out of their way to make sure you’re exposed to plenty of both. You can also expect to ‘cap off’ a given major hub area with a final dungeon experience, tuned for a group – and TERA launched with a LFG system already in play, making this sort of thing much more smooth to get into.

Let’s take stock of where we’re at in this review. TERA’s setting is imaginative, though the story itself is a bit on the average side. Fantastic gameplay, especially for an MMO – combo moves, tactics, and keeping on the run make this a win. Gorgeous graphics and effects, as any smattering of in-game screenshots shall testify to. A very reasonable amount of content, complete with diverse locales and a wide variety of monsters to encounter. So in terms of the bare fundamentals, TERA is a great game – iffy on story, but that’s a small mark. So in these terms alone, we’ve got a more than solid MMO here. Now we come to the grittier details and features seen in this game.[singlepic id=6654 w=320 h=240 float=left]

First, tradeskills and crafting. There’s 3 gathering professions in the game (energy, mining, and plants) along with six crafting professions (alchemy, armor crafting, focus crafting, leatherworking, tailoring, weaponsmithing) and various kinds of extraction (pulling cloth, or metal, or otherwise out of equipment). Unlike other MMOs, you don’t choose which of these professions you’ll join and find yourself locked out of the rest – if you want to max out each and every one of these skills on the same character, that option is open. The tradeskill system is easy to get into, yet fairly deep – I’m told you’re able to craft some considerable gear, including (with difficulty and luck) some dungeon-level equipment, normally the near-best you’ll find in a game like this. The actual crafting and gathering process is a bit more typical, where gaining skill in a gathering profession comes from simply going out and gathering from the game’s resource nodes. Crafting gear requires a combination of appropriate skill level and recipes – get together the ingredients for a given recipe, go to a crafting station or a campfire and press a button, and voila. Your item is created, and can be either used, modified, or recycled via extraction.

The talk of modifications also brings me to a focus on TERA’s equipment. First of all, TERA allows your appearance to differ somewhat from the gear you’re wearing thanks to the costuming system. In essence, there’s a separate tab on your equipment page for the costume you’ll be wearing – allowing for one weapon costume, one hair adornment, one face mask, and one armor costume. It’s a nice way to make your character stand out more no matter what gear you happen to have on. Actual gameplay-modifying gear can be further enhanced by crystals – 1 each for earrings and rings, and up to 4 for weapons and armor. These crystals allow for some considerable modification in combat, such as letting you poison or do extra damage to knocked-down targets, or making enemies pay more attention to you if you attack them. For those gamers who like to customize their equipment to maximize damage done, this sort of addition is welcome – I’ve only just begun to really delve into it.[singlepic id=6655 w=320 h=240 float=right]

There’s a lot more to TERA – tons of achievements are already in-game for those of you who enjoy aiming for specific goals in an MMO. There’s some PVP options, including a deathmatch system complete with the ability to wager in-game on who will win. There’s a political system that players can take part in, with guilds striving to get their members elected so they can pass laws in particular regions, influencing what merchants may be available, taxes, and more – something I have yet to see much of in the game, but which has some great potential. There are mounts, there are daily quests, there’s guild leveling and guild rewards, and more. And best of all, there’s all this with a silky-smooth launch – in the hours I’ve spent playing, I have yet to see a crash or a game-shattering bug, or experience any kind of connection difficulties that could be blamed on TERA’s end.

The fact is that TERA has an incredible amount going for it as an MMO. It forges ahead of most other offerings in terms of graphics, it presents a style of combat that not only sets itself apart from most options but manages to be a major selling point for the game, it comes with a diverse array of fun classes to play as, and it does it all with style and grace. If you’re looking for a great MMO to dive into with your friends, TERA is both one to strongly consider and watch in general – because if this is how they launch the game, I can only imagine what they’ll do with it as they add on content over time.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.
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