E3 2011 – TERA Hands-On Preview

Let’s get one thing out in the open: I don’t play MMO’s. Besides the monthly fees, I have nothing against them. That style of buffing-stats, charging (and cooling) attacks, and endless slaughtering of rats just never really appealed to me. Not to mention massive dedication to real-world players that’s required to succeed on any moderate scale.

But oh man would I play TERA.

Well, technically I already did, but I mean on a regular basis. Originally a Korean title this action-heavy MMORPG has been getting tweaked, rewritten, upgraded, and all around improved for upcoming Western audiences.

The story is there for those interested. Two ancient gods have fallen asleep and the world of their dreams has built up around (and on) them. A mysterious enemy threatens all four continents and it’s up to all seven of the world’s races to band together and fight for survival.

TERA offers eight classes that can be used by any of its seven races. While I didn’t get to see it in action, I was told that even the little furball Popori could wield the giant spear and shield of the Lancer class. This is noteworthy because weapons in TERA are huge, as are much of the armor, accessories, and hair. TERA doesn’t have quite the flamboyance of a JRPG but the graphic style is certainly not what you find in most Western RPG’s.

Combat in TERA is fast and rewarding. Spells charge up and cool down quickly, though there are obvious exceptions for higher level skills. A chain system is in use that allows for quick access to successive attacks without having to get your fingers in a bind. Just press the space bar when indicated and next most fitting skill or spell will be executed. With my time as a Mystic (ranged spellcaster) the chain only combined two attacks, but the Slayer (damage-dealing melee), when all skills were charged, was able to chain five successive attacks, the last of which flipped me backward to a safe distance. Which leads me to the coolest part of TERA, the control.

New to the Western release of TERA will be the ability to use an Xbox 360 controller while playing this PC only title. That should already give you an indication of how far this game departs from standard MMORPG fare, but I’ll elaborate. Note that the developer’s did not feel comfortable implementing control pad support for the current build at E3 so my time with the game was with a keyboard and mouse. But I have seen a controller in action and was assured that it has been completely implemented in-house.

Characters are freely controlled with either the Left Analog Stick or WADS, aiming a reticle with the Right Stick or mouse. Players must line up their shots to score a hit and in my playtest we even had a Priest (healing class) that missed my character with his beneficial spell because he was so far away and I was jumping all over the place. This emphasis on manual targeting puts a ton of weight on player skill in a way that has only been seen in action console titles. There is also the small but crucial distinction of regular collision. Unlike some MMORPG’s, characters and enemies cannot move through one another. This means that enemies can hit one another as well as be physically prevented from reaching other characters.

During my guided playtest we were taken to fight a series of minor characters before facing off against what the team calls a BAM, or Big Ass Monster. Combat against the smaller creatures got a little frenetic with effects from spells and skills somewhat clouding the smaller characters. Though the pattern for each enemy is unique, generally strategies apply and help mitigate the chaos of this kind of encounter. Rangers need to stay back and melee characters need to periodically use their block or dodge skills. Where tactics were really displayed was against the demo’s BAM. We had to move in and out of engagement with other assisting enemies while facing off against the dragon-like creature. Flying into the air and digging in the ground kept us on our toes while we tried to predict the bosses movement. Most attacks can actually be avoided if you watch carefully enough and react quickly. Again, it got a little difficult at times to see well in the up close combat of the battle, but this often actually indicated that I need to roll out for a moment and reassess the situation.

Behind closed doors I was able to learn about TERA’s massive, and never before discussed, political system. “Money, power, and fame” are the name of the game and there are two distinct paths to achieving this role.

Called Vanarchs, these level 50+ (level cap not announced) players rule one of the 5-8 territories located in each of the continents where they can decide on item and specialty shops, choose to imprison players, offer teleporters for fast access, and adjust the tax rate on virtually everything.

But getting into office isn’t easy. Besides  meeting the level requirement, candidates need to have a powerful and highly supportive guild to back them. It’s up to the guild to run the campaign and get the word out to the people. This includes talking in-game, hitting the forums, even creating websites and YouTube channels. But how you convince the voters isn’t just limited to your honest appeal. Make promises to lower taxes and fast travel then decide once you’re in office whether or not to follow through. Or simply buy your votes, it’s completely up to the player and the guild to decide how they’re going to convince people that they’re the best candidate.

But what if you’re a mean dude that doesn’t want to win over the hearts of his constituents. No problem, just use your sword (or lance, or axe, or staff) and show everyone who’s boss in the local arena. Become the reigning champion of PvP for your territory and you become eligible for Vanarchsnip. How to resolve a conflict between someone running through campaign and someone running through the arena was not clear at this time. Once you’ve defeated all challengers you can rule your region with a similarly aggressive style, imprisoning all those that oppose you and cranking up the taxes to build your wealth.

So that’s money and power, but what about fame? The team behind TERA really wants everyone to know your accomplishment so they’ve set up two main attention-gathering aspects. The first is your exclusive mount. You and your guild receive horses ordained in ornate red and silver dressings. I only saw one other mount (a standard horse) during my test, but believe me when I say that the Vanarch mount is badass. It’s clear that you’re in charge.

But just in case you’re worried about visitors not understanding your achievement, fear not. Everytime anyone enters your region they are hit with a display of the territory’s name, as well as yours just below it. Your clan’s emblem is also plastered on the screen. Now that’s fame.

Being in power isn’t free though so you’ll need to earn Policy Points to afford shops, prisons, or events. These can be earned by undertaking incredibly difficult Vanarch Quests. Fortunately your guild is able to support you, and though none were on display, I was told they will require the best of every player’s skills.

Expect for new features to be added to the political system in the future. One such addition was actually mentioned by accident and was addressed with concern when I asked another Producer about it. The name mentioned was an Exarch and as the cautious informant told me, “Every state has a Governor… but every Governor needs a President”. And with a smile he silenced any more questions on the subject.

I was thoroughly impressed by my time with TERA and the team seems genuinely enthusiastic to be a part of the project. Communication and collaboration between the Korean and American developers has been significantly positive and constructive. If you’ve never bought into the MMORPG craze but are curious in its appeal, look out for TERA when it releases in the West, hopefully sometime soon.

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