Tera is a strange game. Despite being released in North American and European territories earlier this month, the game is actually a year old localization of a Korean MMO called The Exiled Realm of Arborea (T.E.R.A., get it??). The game almost didn’t see a release as NCSoft sought to convict its former employees, who make up Bluehole, for theft of trade secrets. Fortunately for Tera, Bluehole escaped prosecution and launched the online roleplaying game without further reproach. A good thing too, because Tera offers something genuinely new to the genre: action combat. World of Warcraft made hotbar-oriented, cooldown-based “just stand there and take it” combat the norm for MMOs and while other games have tried to mask that through various hooks (such as The Old Republic’s strong narrative), there just isn’t getting around the tried, true and tired combat mechanics. Tera offers the player a true action experience, putting combat efficiency and success where it belongs: on the player. The problem with the game, however, is that despite this innovation Tera gets dull rather quickly and it’s not long before you find yourself settling into a long, repetitive grind.
The initial premise of Tera involves the sudden appearance of a mystical island from the bottom of the sea. Filled with a sense of adventure, the peoples of Tera head out to explore and seek adventure from the Island of Dawn, only to find that a malevolent force of mechanical creatures called the Argons want the island’s secrets for itself and are more than willing to destroy anyone in their way. The game’s introduction is unique: initially, you play as a level 20 version of your character who finds themselves part of an advance scouting party only to be defeated by powerful Argon forces. The game proper begins some time after that battle and sees you returning to the island to seek out a missing hero before setting off into the larger world.
Let’s get the familiar stuff out of the way: game progression involves seeking out NPCs (marked by a yellow exclamation points) who present you with quests that either progress the game’s primary storyline, explain certain gameplay elements or have you perform non-critical odds and ends. Completing quests – all of which are presented in text boxes ripped from World of Warcraft – and fighting monsters yields experience, cash and loot that can be used to make your characters strong enough to take on BAMs – “big ass monsters.” When not questing or farming for experience, different types of materials can be harvested in order to craft new and powerful objects for yourself or other players (for a price!). Like minded individuals can form parties or join guilds in order to tackle BAMs, dungeons and quests, There are hints of a player-led political system within Tera, but I have yet to see anything of the sort just yet.
There are a host of different races to play as, from the elegant High Elves to the slightly uncomfortable Elin. You can customize the appearance of your chosen hero by selecting from a number of different faces, hairstyles and clothing options. Tera gains points for beating World of Warcraft to the punch by introducing the Popori, a diminutive, animal race that can take on the appearance of pandas depending on how you customize them. The character classes are divided by familiar archetypes: the Mystic heals, Archers provide ranged attacks, Lancers tank, so on and so forth. Honestly, if you’ve played at least one MMO then you’ll find Tera to be an awfully familiar experience.
However, what sets Tera apart from other massively multiplayer games is the combat. Instead of running up to a creature and trading blows while forced to endure their attacks, Tera plays more like a third person action game, putting the effectiveness of your powers and abilities firmly in your control. Present at all times is a crosshair that must be lined up with a monster in order to land a hit – if you miss, it’s your fault. Likewise, if you fail to dodge an incoming attack (every creature has a visual “tell”), well, that’s probably your fault too. You still have access to a hotbar containing all of your learned abilities, but you won’t spend a whole lot of time hovering over icons while waiting for them to cool down. Should you choose to play the game with a controller, you’ll find combat to be a much more comfortable experience and you can assign skills to the gamepad’s face buttons. To make combat even more engaging, different attacks can be chained together to unleash deadly, critical hits. Initially, your chains will only be made up of two actions, but as your character grows these combos will grow.
Tera is one of the most beautiful MMOs you can find. Typically, the genre utilizes graphics that would look good on old and new systems (in order to maximize subscriptions), but Tera thumbs its nose at that trend and delivers a breathtaking feast for the eyes. Textures are detailed and complex and whether you’re battling monsters in a lush, green valley or exploring the nooks and crannies of cities, the game looks great. This deep level of detail extends to the avatars, as the characters show a meticulous level of detail in their faces and outfits (you’d be forgiven if you felt the art style was reminiscent of a Final Fantasy-type game). Many of the outfits are really designed well and tend to show off an alarmingly amount of skin. This isn’t so much of an issue unless you choose to play as the Elins and then things get really awkward. See the Elin are a child-like race…and, well, that race is gender locked, meaning you can only play as a young girl and, uh…I think you know where I’m going with this.
Despite creating a unique open ended combat scheme, Tera is a slog to play through. This is largely attributed to a boring, grind-centric quest system that ripped off an earlier version of World of Warcraft before Blizzard had a chance to implement new mission types outside of the standard kill and fetch variant. No matter how the game tries to dress up the presentation of each quest (you’ll often sit through pre-rendered cutscenes that explain what needs to be done), the reality is that if you’re not on a kill X of Y quest, you’ll be on a fetch X of Y quests. There’s a story to be told through primary quests and while they do a good job of moving you from one area to the next, you’ll eventually learn to stop caring about the world around you as there is no real sense of adventure or urgency. Say what you want about The Old Republic, but you can’t deny it did a fantastic job with giving weight to quests through well written and directed cutscenes. With Tera, every time I initiate a conversation with NPCs, I immediately click the Accept Quest button.
Even the thrill of open ended combat wears a bit thin after awhile. I appreciate not having to spend all my game time staring at the hotbar waiting for abilities to cool down, but since I’ve found the perfect set of abilities to use against enemies, I’ve fallen back into muscle memory by using the same attack pattern repeatedly. I never really felt like the game was encouraging me to try something new or mix things up. Perhaps this is a problem inherent with the Archer class, but combat eventually gets mundane. Adding new skills to your repertoire and confronting BAMs makes things interesting, but you’ll have to go a little bit out of your way to find the challenging monsters and world bosses.
Tera will be remembered for two things: art and its implementation of a combat experience unique to the genre. But the use of familiar MMO tropes feels somewhat uninspired. From the beginning, taking down monsters and levelling up is easy and only after the player leaves the Island of Dawn do monsters pose more of a challenge, but the biggest enemy you’ll have to contend with is boredom. While Tera has a strong focus on community and PvP and the combat certainly is an innovation that I’d like to see implemented in more MMOs, I’ve had a difficult time breaking through the monotony of the non-community experience.