TERA: Straight to the Top
by Tyler Edwards, October 2, 2013
Recently, the Korean MMO known as The Exiled Realm of Arborea, or TERA as it is mercifully abbreviated, held a promotion where one character per account could be instantly boosted to just below level cap.
This struck me as an intriguing idea, so I decided to make an account with the free to play MMO and spend a few days seeing how the game played at top levels. I saw it less as a shortcut to endgame and more a free trial of what the high levels play like, as some MMOs offer radically different experiences at high levels versus low levels. If I liked the game, I could start over from the beginning and enjoy the leveling process as God and developers intended.
But did I like TERA? Read on to find out.
I decided to make two characters to get a fuller picture of the game. One would be boosted to high level, and one would take a tour of the new player experience.
TERA's character customization is decent, if not stellar. There is a glaring lack of body customization options, which feels odd in this day and age, but this is compensated for by a large stable of diverse races. Options range from basics like humans and Elves to more exotic races like the Castanics, who are somewhere between Dark Elves and half-demons, and the Baraka, a race of stone giants.
The creativity of the races isn't entirely a positive, though. There are also some fairly bizarre races, such as the raccoon like Popori and the childlike Elin.
Similarly, the class choices are a little eccentric. They have some standard archetypes - lancers fill the plate tank role, priests are the typical healers, archers are... archers, sorcerers are your basic mage - but there are also some more creative classes. Slayers combine massive melee weapons with light armor, and mystics bring both healing skills and combat pets.
I liked the diversity and creativity of the choices, but there were also some glaring gaps in the class options. There is nothing like a rogue or assassin archetype, which disappointed me a fair bit. Nor is there any sort of warlock, necromancer, or other "evil" class.
Ultimately, I settled on an Elven archer for my high level character and a Castanic slayer for the lower levels.
Needless to say, getting boosted to nearly max level in a game I'd never played before was a bit overwhelming. I must have spent a good hour or two just sitting in TERA's capitol city, reading tooltips and getting my gear in order.
The learning curve was compounded by the fact that TERA classes have a lot of skills. My action bar wasn't as bloated as what you'd find in World of Warcraft, but there are definitely a lot of abilities to juggle. You can chain them together to minimize button bloat, but it's still a lot to learn while also dodging and aiming. I now understand why other MMOs with action combat tend to limit skill bars to a handful of abilities.
Thankfully, I have a lot of experience with MMOs, and a good mastery of Google, so I was eventually able to get my bearings, but if you believe MMOs have gotten too simple, try saying the same when you get all the complexity of a game thrown at you at once.
Shooting and chopping and gleefully murdering:
The main selling feature of TERA is its "true action combat," and with good cause. I'm pleased to say that the combat is every bit as visceral and satisfying as the advertising hype would lead you to believe. The animations are spectacular and carry a sense of brutal force. This is a game where you'll actually look forward to killing ten rats.
My main experience with action combat in MMOs prior to this was Neverwinter, so I couldn't help comparing the two systems. Neverminter played like a Diablo clone: a lot of rapid spam clicking. TERA is a bit more methodical. Enemies and players alike move slower, allowing for more tactical decision making. It's easier to dodge enemies, but it's also easier to miss them.
I wouldn't say that one system is better than the other. They're just different. Neverwinter made me feel more powerful, but TERA made me use my brain more.
I will say that I generally feel that faster and spammier combat is always better, so the fact that TERA engaged me despite being relatively sluggish is a big mark in its favor.
With that being said, the combat system doesn't make for a radically different game experience. You're still killing rats and picking flowers.
I also found the combat tends to make less of a difference in group settings. Maybe tanks or healers feel very different in TERA, but as a DPS, doing a dungeon felt about the same as it would in any other game. Pew pew, don't stand in the fire.
So many colors, so little clothing:
Honestly, I don't know how to feel about TERA's visuals. Technically, the graphics are excellent, but the style can be odd.
On the whole, it has that alien feel you often see in Asian games, and players of games like Aion will find the general look and feel familiar. I enjoyed Aion's art style, so mostly, I appreciate the similar feel of TERA, but at times, it can be a bit over the top, even by MMO standards. I'm all for vibrant colors, but there's a difference between being vibrant and looking like what happens when a rainbow has a few too many and becomes violently ill.
The art style is oddly inconsistent, too. Some areas are almost absurdly idyllic, looking like fairy tales come to life, but others are dark, grimy, and downright intimidating, and the transitions between the two can be jarring.
The enemy models are similarly scattered. One moment, you'll be fighting tiny Tinkerbell lookalikes and cutesy teddy bear monsters. The next, you're pitted against eight foot cyborg Hellbeasts seemingly dredged up from the blackest pits of nightmare.
And then there's the gear. Oh, boy, the gear.
MMOs are famous - or perhaps infamous - for including a lot of female armor that is designed more to titillate than protect, but TERA takes it to a whole new level. I'd say at least three quarters of the female costumes would be more at home in a gentlemen's club than on the battlefield, and even the less revealing outfits are far from what you would call realistic armor.
It's especially unnerving that the armor is just as revealing on the girlish Elin, and I saw enough comments in the chat to make me wonder if Chris Hansen should be informed about this game.
Even if you do manage to put together a respectable outfit, you've still got to put up with things like the way your character suggestively gyrates on the character selection screen. Female characters even have to ride their mounts sidesaddle, which is just illogical on so many levels. For one thing, the main reason sidesaddle riding was invented was to preserve female modesty in more puritanical times, and "modesty" is not a word in TERA's vocabulary.
To be fair, though, the male costumes are almost as ridiculous as their female counterparts. Pink leopard print, anyone?
A one trick pony:
The problem is that TERA has great combat, and that's it. Everything else about the game is mediocre at best and tedious at worst. The world has an interesting backstory, but you'll never notice while you're collecting bear meat. The quest design is generic in the extreme. Dungeons and PvP are adequate but not spectacular.
The thing I find truly baffling about TERA is that the developers obviously poured a massive amount of effort into making the combat as fun as possible, and they succeeded, but yet I seem to spend at least half my time ferrying messages between NPCs, gathering wood, curing meat, taming pigs, and essentially doing everything but fighting.
TERA tries to bring some variety to its gameplay, but its efforts are so halfhearted that they serve only as annoying roadblocks keeping you from the part of the game that's actually fun. In the end, it might have been better if it had accepted itself as a one trick pony and focused on getting people into fights as early and often as possible.
As a brawling dungeon crawler akin to Neverwinter or Vindictus, TERA would work beautifully. As a full-featured MMO, it falls flat.
Is it worth it?
For all my complaints, I don't believe TERA is a bad game. Mediocre, perhaps, but I've certainly played worse. And it certainly has its strong points. Addictive combat, beautiful graphics, interesting classes, a player-friendly free to play model.
TERA suffers from the same problem as so many other MMOs: There are better games out there. TERA's one claim to fame is its combat, and while it does that well, TERA is far from the only MMO with good combat. With nothing else to offer, it's hard to find a reason to play TERA over its competition.
For my part, the main result of my experiment with TERA is that I now have a strong urge to reinstall Neverwinter.