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TERA

Beta Preview
"...TERA is a highly polished MMO experience, but it still has a fair way to go before it can live up to its potential..."

Now that round three of beta has finished, TERA is quickly approaching its retail release in May. I had a chance to play around with the latest build over the weekend, and managed to make a fair bit of progress through the early sections of the game. This was my first experience with the game, and, as much as previews tend to be positive experiences, I must say I had rather mixed feelings on a number of issues. With that rather foreboding statement out of the way, read on to join me through my first adventure with TERA.

After loading up the title screen and admiring the beautiful blue skies, it was time to knuckle down and create a character. There is an admirable selection of races to choose from: Humans, the savage Armani, the giant Baraka, the demonic Castanics, the elegant High Elves, the cat-eared little girl Elin, and the dog/panda/racoon-like Popori. Each has a distinct style and physical features, and I found it rather difficult to settle on just one I wanted to play. Physical appearance of your character is highly customizable, and everything from facial structure to hair style can be changed. The racial abilities for each were an expected, but still welcome, addition too.

With race chosen, you can move onto class selection. The options are fairly standard and mostly self-explanatory. There are the melee attackers: warriors, slayers, berserkers, and lancers; the ranged attackers: archers and sorcerers; and the support: mystics and priests. The ability to take each class in a specific direction, however, means that DPS, healing, and tanking options are available to many different characters. TERA offers nothing particularly new or unusual here, just a refinement of what we've come to expect from the genre over the years. That statement can really apply to TERA as a whole at this stage of its development.

With your character created and a server selected, your adventure can finally begin! A brief cut-scene that semi-describes your purpose for arriving on the starting island plays, and once that's done your character is in your control. On that note, TERA attempts to place a greater emphasis on an ongoing story... if you can call a "greater emphasis on story" the occasional pointless (though admittedly stunning) cut-scene along with the usual quest text.

Anyone familiar with World of Warcraft will feel immediately at home with the controls and UI of TERA. You'll find the mini-map in the top right, a list of your quest objectives to the middle right, chat log in the bottom left, and vital stats in the top left. In fact, all the hotkeys work in a nearly identical layout as in WoW. Movement is simple enough with WASD, and space allows you to jump around an environment. After a few minutes examining the HUD, I took some time to modify it via the options menu. The initial layout doesn't make the best use of the space on the screen, as well as making it difficult to read. Luckily, the game allows you to modify the layout in a number of different ways to suit your needs, so this was an easy fix.

Like most other MMORPGs, TERA is quest driven. In other words, your time in the game is spent going from one NPC to the next and fulfilling their every need and desire. As my time with the closed beta was only limited, I can't speak for late-game quests, but those in the earlier stages are incredibly dull. Ninety-five percent of them amount to "go here, kill ten of those" or "go there, collect five of those." I really thought we'd progressed past this monotony except in free-to-play titles, but apparently not. There are a few cut-scenes thrown in for certain story quests, but they feel like filler and are rarely interesting. A good variety of different weapons, armour, and accessories are available to collect, but one of my biggest disappointments is the lack of paperdolling. Most armour you equip is visually indifferent from what you're already wearing. There are exceptions to this rule, but it took many levels and new sets of equipment before my character changed visually. Aside from questing, a few professions allow you to craft new items or gather objects from the environment. They're certainly useful, but not really all that fun.

The excessive need to kill everything in sight is remedied to a degree by the fresh combat system. Combat plays out in true real-time, and each attack is executed either by a click of the mouse or with a numerical key for specific skills and spells. I found this to be an excellent system that really immerses you in each battle. For a comparison, think of Monster Hunter fighting, especially for the melee classes. Enemy attacks can be manually dodged to a degree and there's no automatic lock on. In other words, it's important to make sure you're actually facing your enemy when you attack! There's a vast array of skills for each class that are acquired as you level up. And as you level, the intensity and excitement of combat only improves. As always with the genre, the most exciting combat moments are when you're in a group taking down the toughest of tough foes. Groups can be formed easily enough and there are a handful of team quests amongst the individual ones. Dungeons are available too, but I was unable to sample any of them during my play.

Combat has a few other unique aspects too. Along with your HP and MP bars, you have a stamina meter. As you participate in battle, your stamina meter goes down at a very slow rate, and if it drops low enough, your maximum HP and MP are reduced. You can use campfires or return to a town to restore it. I didn't take much notice of it during my questing, but I'm sure it will be a much bigger deal during late-game content, including dungeons. MP typically doesn't regenerate over time either, instead recovering when you attack an enemy. So between spells and abilities, you need to make sure to throw in a regular attack or two. This is less important for the magic classes who have much higher MP capacities.

There is excellent variation between classes, and each feels like a unique challenge to play. I only had a chance to play a few during my time with TERA, but I was encouraged by their differences. The fairly straightforward, mouse-button-holding melee assault with a Slayer was a little simplistic for my taste. I had far more fun with the manoeuvrability and mouse-aimed attacks of the archer and the interesting spells of the sorcerer. Of course, this is only a matter of personal opinion and different players are sure to enjoy different classes.

Just one glance at the screenshots to the right should be plenty of proof that Tera is a beautiful game. Even on my fairly modest laptop, I had no trouble running the game near its highest settings. On the lower end of the spectrum, the graphics still look great; even if you have to reduce the draw distance a bit. Character models are perhaps the biggest highlight, sure to stun you with their aesthetic beauty. The downside of this, unfortunately, is the incessant discussion on the chat channels about which female race is the hottest. This is something else I had hoped we'd gotten past in online games, but apparently I had too much faith in the human race. The chat channels are constantly filled with absolute garbage, and I see no reason to believe that the level of intelligence will improve with game's official retail release. Get ready to turn off those channels.

There's no doubt that TERA is a highly polished MMO experience, but it still has a fair way to go before it can live up to its potential, particularly when it comes to questing. Luckily, there's still a couple of months until release and plenty of patches to come after that. I have little to comment about the late/post-game or political (see Derek's previous preview) content at this stage as, due to the time constraints of the closed beta, I was unable to go far enough. Stay tuned for future previews and, eventually, the full review in May for more info.

Hands-On Preview: E3 2011
"The game looks to transcend the boundaries of traditional MMORPGs..."

Last year at E3, editor Liz Maas wrote about her experience with TERA (seen below), the upcoming MMORPG from En Masse. During her time with the game, she got a brief overview of the game's story and a taste of combat. This year, editor Dennis Rubinshteyn and I sat down with a few members of TERA's development team for another presentation, this time with a greater focus on combat and a newly-revealed political system.

The producers we spoke with wanted to emphasize that TERA is the first true MMORPG with action-based combat. Rather than letting invisible dice rolls decide the outcome of every skirmish, players have to possess skill and sharp reflexes to excel in the world of TERA. Worry not, though - equipment and customization still play a large part in character development.

Most of our presentation was about the never-before-seen political system, which will play a huge role in defining the game experience for everyone, regardless of their level of ambition. This system will allow players to gain influence in one of two ways: by popular vote or by dominating opponents in the PVP arena. The ultimate goal of the political system is to become a Vanarch, a supremely powerful player whose reign extends over an entire province. The two distinct halves of this process are the rise to power and the reign of power. A player's rise to power is the time they spend campaigning for votes or subjugating dissidents. The game's producers will provide the tools to make this process as open-ended as possible. Some suggestions for amassing followers included posting on forums, creating YouTube videos, or using guildmates as an election committee. In the end, the entire process is determined by the player, but the producers noted that only max-level characters are eligible to campaign for the coveted title of Vanarch. (The developers also hinted at the existence of an even higher title, called "Exarch," but no details were revealed.)

The reign of power is the period in which Vanarchs enjoy many privileges, such as the ability to raise or lower taxes, activate specialty vendors, run custom events, and more. A Vanarch's name is also displayed whenever a player enters their region, so server-wide fame is an assurance. Vanarch terms last for 21 Earth days, though election campaigns begin at the 14-day mark, so the opportunity to seize power arises on a regular basis. To make use of their unique powers, Vanarchs must spend Policy Points, which act as a special type of currency. Policy points are earned by receiving the recommendations of other players. Unpopular Vanarchs who rule with an iron fist will obviously have a difficult time getting recommendations, so their only alternative is to undertake extremely difficult Vanarch Quests. We had the opportunity to play one of these quests at our presentation, in which our high-level party of five players ventured into the Blazing Vale to take down a fearsome dragon named Sabranak.

Combat is fast, fluid, and strategic. Weaker enemies can be taken down without much strategy, but tougher encounters will require players to intelligently utilize dodges and skills in addition to their standard attacks. Players have to be aware of their positioning too, because misdirected enemy attacks can cripple a supporting character and turn the tide of battle for the worse. Keeping track of an enemy's status is easy thanks to a clean user interface that displays their distance, level, and health.

My impressions of TERA are extremely positive. The game looks to transcend the boundaries of traditional MMORPGs, and promises an immersive world with a robust player-driven political climate. If the final game ends up being anywhere near as good as my limited time with the game leads me to believe it will be, RPGFans have a lot to look forward to when TERA releases later this year.

Hands-On Preview: E3 2010
"...the hands-on demo was very impressive and left me wanting to see even more of this world..."

I'll say it upfront: MMORPGs are rather foreign territory for me. And often, they seem to move a bit slowly and be really involved. If I were to ever delve into an MMO, I wouldn't know which to start with, or what to do or expect.

En Masse, which formed just this past February, had a small booth tucked behind Nexon and dedicated entirely to TERA, the company's first title. A couple of us RPGFan folk sat down with a full party's worth of people to test drive the game. Here's what I took away from the experience.

While our session was focused on gameplay mechanics, we got a (very) quick basic story overview. The world of TERA was formed around the bodies of two sleeping titans, Arun and Shara, while twelve gods and several races of mortals were then formed out of their dreams. The gods fought amongst each other, and now are either dead, imprisoned or banished. Meanwhile, the remaining mortal races are fighting to protect TERA and the titans' dreams from the Argons, a metallic race from the Underworld.

Instead of a long, verbal overview of this action MMORPG, a handful of us were thrown into the fire immediately with a co-op mission which ended in a tough boss battle from which - spoiler! - none of us survived. Though we skipped past character customization, each of us had a firsthand experience with a different character class: Warrior, Berserker, Sorcerer, Commander and Slayer (each of which had fun-yet-obvious-to-noobs names for demo purposes, such as "Sorcey"). I took on the role of a Warrior, which worked well for me, since he was more my type of class: dealing lots of physical damage while being fairly agile. Must be all the Devil May Cry-type of games that I play.

Our mission took the group from a small pier and on a trail through the detailed (read: get a pretty decent gaming PC before trying this at home) and colorful wilderness with huge enemies. The environments are all beautifully rendered and our characters nicely designed and decked out. Much of what we learned was combat skills, rather than the game's intricacies such as skill growth. Quickly, each of us found out that each character has a regular attack which restores his/her Mana (magic), a unique skill (mine was a nice rolling dodge which came in very handy when dealing with the uglies up close), and a special attack that would use up Mana. While my Warrior's regular attack was very effective (despite looking like some sort of tribal dance), his special attack was a stun which seemed to annoy the mission boss a great deal since he gave me a few stuns in return. Our sorcerer was a long range class, with all her attacks being mana-based, as you'd imagine. Along with an assortment of single-foe spells, she was equipped with some very powerful AoE spells, and perhaps most interestingly, a rolling energy ball that does more damage based on how long you hold down the spell's hotkey to charge it.

What impressed me the most was the speed of everything in battle. Because TERA is an action MMORPG, attacks are all real-time, although special attacks may have a bit of a delay before execution. One key element of combat was targeting as well - it's not automatic like most MMOs, and we were reminded often that our angle and proximity to our targets were of the utmost importance. This looks like it should add a great deal of strategy to battle. At the very least, it should keep some people more interested in playing than an auto-targeting/attacking combat setup might.

Although we did not scratch the surface of TERA or touch upon anything other than the basics of classes, battle and the importance of teamwork, the hands-on demo was very impressive and left me wanting to see even more of this world - yes, including more fighting. For someone who tends to stay away from MMORPGs, that's got to count for something.

TERA will be released in North America and Europe sometime in 2011.


© 2011 Bluehole Studio, En Masse Entertainment, Atari. All rights reserved.




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