With Final Fantasy XI and Phantasy Star Universe being the last two MMORPGs I played, I am thoroughly burnt out. I liked the vast world and styling of FF11, as well as the character customization and action-based battle of PSU. While I enjoyed various elements from both games, no MMORPG released since then has found the happy medium I'm looking for - along with the option to play with a controller.
Then came TERA. It was the first game in years that appealed to both my fashion sense and gameplay style, a dangerous combination. I was a little frightened of the download, though. The first closed beta test uses "low-resolution textures" and yet the space required was over 50GB. For myself, this translated into needing a friend's help in order to build a beastly new computer that would handle games like TERA on maximum settings and beyond. While I know many older rigs can handle the game, I really didn't want to turn down the settings to simply get by.
Logging InThe download was done in a peer-to-peer style, which meant that it could take days for some people. With the connection constantly dropping and no way to automatically resume, it was frustrating to babysit the downloader and resume it manually. I wasn't around during the first few hours of the closed beta, which is a good thing, because it was nearly impossible to get in. Although server errors are a typical beta expectation, a smooth launch and flawless first impression is very important to players who have strong doubts about a new game.
The launcher doesn't seem to save login credentials, so typing in your email and password is a necessary chore. Once that's done, it patches itself and then you can launch the game. There are some necessary logo screens and if you have a controller plugged in, an invisible pop-up window appearing off screen (for me at least) notifies you of it. Then, an animated introduction video about the world's backstory plays. It's fairly run of the mill and easily skipped, taking you to either the server selection or your last character selection. I wish the logging in and loading process was a little faster and required fewer steps, but it's still faster than most MMORPGs.
Getting my PS3 controller working between MotionInJoy and TERA was a bit of a mission. I finally found a happy medium between the two, but no matter what I'll have to edit TERA's default settings each time I make a new character. There didn't seem to be a way to import controller settings between them or save profiles - something very important. I ended up being able to get things to move and feel almost like I was playing FF11 and PSU. I still haven't found an easy way to access and navigate the menus without a mouse though.
Character CustomizationThis is the key draw of the game and also where TERA shines. There is enough customization to guarantee that no two characters will ever look the same. Although there are sliders and hues to make subtle details like facial structure and hair color completely unique, thankfully there isn't an excess of too-similar options. Unfortunately, during the closed beta I had to make characters quickly, as I'd lose my progress with a network disconnect. Hopefully that gets fixed in the future, as it's highly frustrating.
The armor is something out of this world. Where most MMOs have you looking and feeling like a loser for a long time, TERA has you looking amazing from the get go. You're constantly changing gear every few levels and you can dye the colour of each piece (this includes the option of varying degrees of saturation & brightness) to get things looking even more unique. To add to that, each race and sex has a completely different design and fit for each piece of armor.
RacesThe races vary in size and style, each appealing to players of previous MMOs as well as including type race-types not really seen in any MMORPG, ever. The interesting thing about TERA is that each race has their own inherent abilities that make them suitable for certain roles. The inherent abilities include active ones, passive ones, and crafting ones. With 8 character slots per account on retail, players can experiment freely.
Similar to the Orcs of Lineage II, these fierce looking dragon people are the largest race in size. This makes them a natural choice for tanks, as they also have inherent talents that make them tougher than all the other races. The build for the females are very beautiful and Medusa-like, while the men are more reptilian.
This race is very reminiscent of FF11's Galka. There are no females as they have no gender, they lost their homeland, and they have a spiritual wisdom despite their imposing size. I'm not sure which class suits them best, but I see many Baraka players choose to be Priests.
Unlike the stocky FF11 Humes, TERA's Humans are fit - though the men are hulking Gears of War types. Skin colours and face shapes make all kinds of diversity possible, some defaults have definite Asian and Hispanic looking features. Velika is comparable to Bastok and there is a feel of averageness in their builds and talents.
This demonic race appeals to players who want edgier looks and seductive fashions. The characters are slimly muscular and agile, making them suitable for ninja-like classes. Their inherent racial traits, such as attacking from behind and increased combat speed complement traditional "Assassin" gameplay styles.
I thought it was impossible to have a design more beautiful than Lineage's elves. Seems I was wrong. The women are voluptuous while the men are lithe-yet-muscular, suggesting the perfection described in Lord of the Rings. Their inherent traits favor magic and just as in FF11, they're considered an arrogant race.
This is probably the most unique race TERA has to offer. It's awesome to be able to create a character that looks like your favourite mammal, then customize the fur and then add gangster-like features. There's simply nothing like it anywhere else. Their inherent traits involve avoiding monsters and being close to nature.
These cute girls with tails and ears are actually much older than they look and act. Many of my short friends want to play this race, naturally. Despite most of the controversy surrounding the Elin design, they were one of the most popular races in the beta. Their inherent traits are the same as the Popori.
ClassesLike with most MMOs there are jobs with distinct purposes, but TERA is the first game I've seen where necessary player skill is mentioned when selecting class. Your class dictates your equipment options out of three major types: light/robe, medium/leather and heavy/armor. Keep in mind I only played the closed beta test so I can't delve into details. From what I gather you only need to know this much:
Archer – ranged attackers who can use traps, like in Ragnarok Online
Berserker – two-hand axe users, powerful slow attackers with fairly good defense
Slayer – two-hand sword users, attackers with weak defense, like FF11's Dark Knight
Warrior – dual sword wielders, very fast attackers with slightly better defense than Slayer
Lancer – the tank job, apparently more fun than other MMO tank jobs
Mystic – equivalent of the busy FF11 Red Mage but with pets
Priest – the healer job, seems to be in high demand as not many players choose it
Sorcerer – the nuker job, using offensive magic with a disc weapon
CombatBattle is completely different between classes, it's instantly noticed within the first battle. Certain jobs are easier to aim with than others, and certain jobs are easier to land combos with than others. In case it hasn't been mentioned enough, this isn't a sit back and relax MMO. Each attack has to be executed manually and within range, while enemy attacks also have to be avoided at the same time. The early enemy attack animations are very obvious, which gets players used to the notion of dodging and avoidance soon enough. The enemy animations will become more subtle and they begin to dodge or sidestep your attacks much later on.
To rest for stamina, your character has to be near a "campfire". You can purchase a campfire to set it up on the field or stand near a permanent one that's part of a town. You can also throw charms into the fires for various boosts. Interestingly, by default mana for Sorcerer was recharged by not casting anything, while mana for Slayer was recharged by attacking. I liked this twist on things, as it gives incentive for melee characters to successfully land attacks instead of constantly taking breaks. I should mention that I hardly, if ever, needed to rest. This is the first MMO I've played with virtually no downtime.
There is an in-game system to easily form parties with strangers who are doing the same quest, which is a godsend. However, most of the time I ended up being able to solo whatever the game threw at me. I haven't come across players who were problems yet, though the game does need a way to turn off voice or horse sound spamming from other players. Even the NPC voices can get tiresome at times.
There was no PVP server during this test and I didn't take part in the player skirmishes, where players can fight each other in groups or 1-on-1 duels. PVP has never been interesting to me, mainly because it tends to attract bad players. Nevertheless, I'm sure many players will find value in having the option there.
Since I only had two days, during the beta test I only made two characters to try things out. One was High Elf, a definite favourite race of mine, as I like being tall. The other was Castanic, as it was closer to my real life bodyshape.
Testing - Day 1Server: Arachnea
Race: High Elf
I made a character on this server because Serpentis Isle was constantly down at the time. I did everything for the first time with this character and was immediately wowed by how organized the questing was. I never needed to ALT+TAB out of the game to get information, as it was all laid out for me. Which reminds me, the game is ALT+TAB friendly, something also unheard of in many MMORPGs. However, for all the organization there is, the stories behind the quests and the actions necessary (hunting and gathering or escort) were very basic. Hopefully, mission-type quests will be more interesting and epic later on. As it stands, I do not feel like my character is making a true impact on the world - an experience only FF11 has ever been capable of.
I noticed that despite so many people just starting out in the game, the "newbie island" wasn't flooded with millions of people doing the same. Turns out the game utilizes "Channels" within servers to keep areas from being overpopulated - usually with people jumping around and spamming (though jumping is fun). I wasn't sure if I like this feature, as it takes away the feel of TERA really being a big world, though I hear that lesser populated areas do not have channels. There is also the option to switch between channels.
Like with most games, I had to buy scrolls to learn new spells as I leveled up, but I couldn't buy them ahead of time and consume them while on the field. I very much liked that my character wore sophisticated evening gowns with opera gloves or bracelets. This was complemented by various high-end looking designer heels, including wedges and stilettos. Everything was dignified about the High Elf females, even their lady-like stances.
Each time I rode the pegasus into a new area, the camera angles and ride path took me on a scenic route that would leave even the most skeptic player spellbound. I have to say though, that there is a definite bug when multiple pegasus are on the same flight path beside each other. I was also hoping that I could see people on the ground - which I can't.
Testing - Day 2Server: Serpentis Isle
I might have enjoyed this more than the Sorcerer, because the game was no longer too much of a mystery and I could focus on optimizing. At low levels, the Slayer was much more powerful than the Sorcerer, thanks to all those AOE swings that could one-hit minor enemies. The Castanic seemed to fit very naturally in this job, as running behind an enemy to hit them from behind scored quite a lot of damage that helped in taking them down sooner. Sadly, I had to buy new skills like the Sorcerer job. I was hoping that Slayers could learn them inherently.
Since this class relies on having an upgraded weapon, changing up weapons in the menu soon became annoying. Even with the auto-sort feature, the miniscule icons and micetype meant that I had to hover over every single weapon during equipping or selling. The user interface there could definitely be improved. Soon enough, within a few levels my equipment was increasingly more interesting and more skin-bearing. The Castanic's shoes were more provocative than the Elf's; there would be longer laceups and platforms, while thigh highs or fishnets would grace the legs.
Because of this difference in character attitude, I was surprised that the Castanic rode the horse sidesaddle like a High Elf. Speaking of which, mounting in this game is instant and the quest is ridiculously easy to clear as soon as you're off the island. You can summon or dismiss your mount with a button press. The only time it comes off automatically is in certain areas where they wouldn't "fit", such as anywhere near the pegasus platforms or underwater.
I had a bit of fun doing non-game things with this character, such as dancing with the GAF Guild. This is also the first game where I've seen players working hard to sync their dance animations to make a neat effect. The dances match the race personalities: cutesy for Elin, clubbing for Castanic, and (the most awesome) robot for Baraka. Like many players, I had a lot of fun simply jumping, climbing and swimming around. I noticed if I jumped from too high a cliff, it would take hit points off while my character looked and sounded like it hurt. Thankfully this doesn't happen while riding on a mount.
The WorldThere is a definite organic feel to the placement and landscapes. My only problem was that there weren't that many enclosed places to enter. In a world this big and spectacular, you'd expect to find yourself exploring the buildings and structures within it. It was strange to see most NPCs standing outside of places, rather than being in them. There was also a lack of natural places for players to meet, like the restaurants in Granado Espada or pubs in FF11.
Although I didn't have time to travel that far, I saw enough of the world to know it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous and vast. All this while we were all playing the game with the low-resolution textures. I can only imagine how impossibly detailed and shiny it will look on the next closed beta.
TERA at En Masse Entertainment
Steparu's TERA videos