Combat has often been the blot on the otherwise seamless fantasy presentation that MMOs inimitably have the ability to conjure. No matter how refined the mystical realm, how compelling a quest or how intrinsically allied the guild, a couple of clicks followed by a flutter of arbitrary numbers has always felt disjointed by comparison.
TERA’s combat system dispenses with such aloof mechanisms, instead replacing point-and-click manoeuvres with tactical, intuitive and diverse gameplay.
Players direct action using a reticule – a concept seemingly far more preposterous in the genre than warlocks and ogres – enabling players to not only conduct action more accurately but gain an intense gratification from the system – which works both ways of course; death is rarely a result of anything other than the player’s error.
Straight away the game’s prologue gives players a taste of the underlying potential of combat, dropping you in at level 20 with a variety of abilities depending on the class.
It’s a gracious way to sidestep the usual indecision that comes with picking classes – how do you know an Archer will suit your playstyle after ten-or-so hours invested into the game? You can’t possibly, so it’s a gentle introduction to a hefty time investment.
It’s also a great opportunity to have a toy with each of the classes. The more physical of which are well balanced, each mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of each other.
While BAMs come in many forms, this one’s a giant enemy crab.
For instance, Slayer is a predominantly offensive class (dealing hefty damage with a two-handed greatsword) but makes up for a lack of defensive capabilities with quick movements and a dodge ability.
It also comes equipped with a useful attack that knocks down enemies, enabling other players to attack en masse.
Other classes follow suit. Archers are proficient in long-range attacks, while Warrior is an even balance of offensive and defensive strength.
Shame then that magical classes (Sorcerer, Mage and Priest) feel underpowered, seemingly designed to support at the concession of strong attacks.
But a balanced team is crucial to a significant portion of TERA’s design. Dungeons – especially those reached at higher levels – require an even balance of abilities and encourage healthy strategy discussions within your party.
There’s plenty of design flair in these cavernous pits, housing bad-ass monsters (the in-game term for bosses – BAM for short) from basilisks, frost giants and dragons.
They are exquisitely designed, awe-inspiring creations, fuelling a huge amount of anticipation and trepidation as you embark on the next raid.
In fact, you’ll rarely find an MMO that features such a diverse and vibrant range of landscapes as TERA, with charming inhabitants ranging from the brutish Humans and Barakas, to cutesy bear-like Poppori and bunny-eared Elin that populate each district.
Magical classes feel underpowered compared to the more physical characters.
It’s certainly a cut above the standard design whims of MMOs, so it’s a shame that it drops the ball when it comes to the story. While it significantly picks up the pace as you near the level cap (and it’s certainly one of the quickest MMOs in terms of progression), the lore is often too dense and the quests too mundane to fully engage players.
Professions appear to be an oversight as well, with blacksmithing, alchemy and the like requiring far too high a price of gold and demanding excessive resources to be worthy of the investment – especially when you can acquire gear on the cheap with less effort elsewhere.
It’s easy to overlook such quibbles, especially as Bluehole Studios has crafted a hugely impressive and staggeringly ambitious MMO for its debut.
Even small touches – such as servers having multiple channels so players can switch easily, supporting players who prefer some PvE time – is indicative of a confident studio with a firm handle on what players want.
However, as impressive a feat as this is, the inevitable grind still chokes long stretches of game time. Fetch quests, kill x number of that monster and collect so many environmental items are some of the outdated missions that otherwise jar with the refreshing sensibilities of the rest of the game.
At the time of review a few of the features were missing, such as the Political System (enabling players to vote other players as a ruler) and PvP battlegrounds, so perhaps these elements will help relieve some of the monotony.
Ultimately, TERA falls short of greatness within the genre. While the deeply involving combat system is a huge leap forward, it stumbles over too many of the small fundamentals.
Nevertheless, it excels in so many other forms that there’s little question it’s worthy of your time. It’s fair to say that there’s no other MMO quite like it.