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TERA [Preview] – An MMO with an action twist

8 Mar 2012  by   Paul Younger


I admit it – I’m impressed. That’s not something that happens to me particularly often when it comes to MMOs (although you might find that hard to believe if you’ve been paying attention to my many scribblings on Star Wars: The Old Republic) but in this case, it’s true: TERA has got a little spark that makes me think it might be something special.
It’s not the world or the story, both of which appear so hopelessly generic that I stopped paying attention within the first two minutes. It’s not the quests, which generally appear to be either courier jobs or killing 20 of Monster Type C. It’s not the graphics which, while spectacular, aren’t exactly possessing of a strikingly unique art style. It’s not the character customisation as, although the creation system is startlingly in-depth and although there appear to be clothing dyes and other appearance changers, it took 11 levels before I got a piece of armour that looked different from my standard gear.
It’s not the races, which vary from basic humanoids through to anthropomorphic badgers and what looks like a species of 8-year-old bunny girls (which make me slightly afraid of whomever designed them). Oh, and there are high elves, the males of which are more beautiful than the females of most races in other games, but it’s not them either.

No, it’s none of the above – it’s the combat. While much of the game’s design appears fairly generic, the combat… well, it means TERA’s an action game, for one thing.
TERA doesn’t have targeting, or locking on, or standing still while you tap keys 1-5 in order to immolate monsters in bursts of arcane flame. (Alright, it has the tapping of 1-5, but you’re generally not standing still.) This is a game in which you aim with the mouse and click to attack, like… oh, all sorts of other genres. It’s an MMO which autodetects if a gamepad is plugged into your PC, and will let you play using that. It’s a bit of an oddity.
The game’s eight classes can be roughly divided into melee and ranged, and then again into tanks, DPS, healers, buffers, and the like. For the purpose of the last beta session I decided to play as a Slayer, reasoning that if I was going to be playing a game that appears to borrow some conventions from eastern animation then I might as well go all the way and choose a character with a sword so big you can land planes on it.

The Slayer works on a dodge-and-attack principle that should be familiar to anyone who’s played a third-person action-adventure in the last, ooh, 10 years or so. The left mouse button triggers a slash of the sword which can combo up to four times, with each successive hit dealing more damage, and that sword is so absurdly large that most of these attacks will hit in an arc that approaches 360 degrees. The right mouse button has the Slayer roll in whatever direction you happen to be moving.
Mixing things up a bit are the abilities gained while levelling, with the first three massively expanding the Slayer’s utility. Right now my 1 key is bound to Whirlwind, a double-slash with an equally massive radius. 2 is Knockdown Blow, which has a rather narrow arc but a high chance of bowling over any enemy it hits, rendering them helpless. Both of these are fairly slow, but 3 triggers a charging move that has my Slayer dash forward at high speed – and it increases the speed of the next attack I make.
You should be seeing the possibilities already. The Slayer’s mana – used to “cast” all of these attacks – rises when she hits people, much like a World of Warcraft Warrior’s Rage, so I need to get a few hits in first. After that I can dash in with my charge and then immediately chain it into a Knockdown Blow; if they fall, I can follow up with Whirlwind. But perhaps I miss. Perhaps they knock me over, instead. Well, if they don’t move away swiftly then they’re going to eat a Retaliate, which lets me immediately rise from the ground while attacking around me. I’ve got tricks.

The implications of this should be fairly obvious. It doesn’t impact levelling much, I have to say, as dodging is rarely essential (although standard mobs do have their own powerful attacks, indicated by flashing red eyes, which must be dodged) but the potential this has for both PvP combat and PvE instances is astronomical.
Barring a brief, solo-able quest at the end of the beginner’s island, featuring a battle against a huge boss that wouldn’t look out of place in Dark Souls, I can’t really comment on the instances – but I can vouch for the PvP.
There are no factions in TERA, so if you’re on a PvP server and want to ruin someone’s day, you need to flag yourself as an outlaw. Doing this has two effects: firstly, you can attack any other player that’s not in a safe area, like a town. Secondly, all other players can attack you. If you’re not flagged as an outlaw, then you can only attack those that are. In the interests of this preview (and not at all because I’m a gigantic bastard) I flagged myself as an outlaw and began hunting players.

In this engine, fighting against other people is an entirely different beast to fighting random AI enemies. For starters, players have a habit of doing exactly what you don’t want them to do – one early battle against a caster of some description led to a running battle that spanned the length of the forest in which we duelled. She’d sit at range pelting me with energy orbs. I’d dash in, get in a few attacks to build up my mana, and then she’d teleport away and go back to firing at me while running. I’d wait for my charge to become available again, and then we’d repeat; her running, me chasing, as both our health bars dwindled.
There’s the usual problem of players on a PvP server being incensed that anyone would actually want to partake in PvP (according to other players, I’m a… well, we’ll be polite and say “faecal small child with underdeveloped genitalia”, in addition to claims I was 13 levels higher than I actually was) but the response to ganking was usually fairly swift: non-outlaws would group up and hunt down the offending parties, resulting in surprisingly titanic battles for what were, at best, level 15 characters. Sometimes the outlaws would win, and sometimes they’d lose.
But my favourite battle occurred when I’d gone back to levelling. Three players – an archer-type, a melee-type, and a caster, all flagged as outlaws – spotted me hacking centaurs to death and attacked. If this were any other MMO my death would’ve been swift and ignominious, but TERA’s mechanics meant that I had an opportunity to fight back.

However long the resulting battle actually was, it felt like it lasted at least five minutes. I dodged out of the way of attacks. I knocked down the warrior before dashing towards the caster. I used Whirlwind to separate them whenever they bunched up. Basically, I fought for my life – and while I lost, it didn’t feel like a curbstomp. I felt like I had a chance.
And all of this is tied to the traditional MMO accoutrements. There’s crafting (which I’m currently finding rather confusing) as well as levelling, mounts, instances, guilds, and what look like high-level battlegrounds and arena systems. TERA isn’t small.
I know nothing about the end-game, or if banal quests will make levelling irritating, or whether the current promise of the action combat will hold up at high level. I don’t know if the Slayer is the only fun class. Right now, though, what I do know is this: I currently like the combat a lot more than I did that of DC Universe Online (the only other MMO I can think of that tried something like this), and I’m genuinely eager to get back into the game as soon as the next beta session kicks off. Not a bad sign.
So yeah, there’s a lot I don’t know, but there’s one more thing I do know: TERA’s worth some of your attention. It might just be something special.

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