Here were these gorgeous characters flying atop magical beasts — easily some of the prettiest models I've encountered in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game — sharply contrasted against this shoddy sky. The experience set the tone for my beta experience in En Masse Entertainment's Tera: brilliant and new versus old and ugly.
Take the much-touted action combat system. You may have seen the bombastic MMO-FO video series we've been running during the PC Gaming Lives block over the past few weeks. It truly lives up to the hype, delivering battles that rely more on the skill of the player than the pressing of buttons.
Combat comes early on in the Tera starting experience, each new player tasked with taking down lumbering tree creatures that roam the newbie island. These woodland enemies obviously telegraph their every attack, giving players ample opportunity to get out of the way. Melee characters can scoot to the side and continue hacking away, while casters and other ranged combatants have methods of moving out of range; my Priest was able to causing a fiery explosion, shooting himself backwards while damaging approaching enemies.
Some enemies move in massive groups, one larger creature controlling a horde of smaller ones. In other MMO games taking on a dozen enemies at a time is often suicide. In Tera it's an opportunities to show off your area-of-effect spells. I dabbled briefly with an Archer, who had an attack that locked onto numerous enemies, a mechanic often found in side-scrolling shooters, unleashing a flurry of arrows at the marked targets when the mouse button is released. This was fresh. This was new. I was impressed.
Unfortunately that action-packed combat is driven by the most standard quest system imaginable. The opening area leads you from mission to mission, tasking you to kill X number of enemies, gather Y number of special items, or simply running back and forth between non-player characters, delivering items or messages.
The game attempts to mix things up. One quest will have you entering a special instance to fight off hordes of creatures attacking an important NPC. At the end of the starter area (around level 12) you'll face off against one of the massive monsters you may have seen in Tera's more impressive screenshots.
But as soon as that is done you're delivered to a main city, guided to a quest hub, and the cycle begins again.
The feeling of innovation versus imitation followed me throughout my brief dalliance with Tera. Perhaps time will wash the feeling away. I wasn't able to experience what's in store for high level character. The game's intriguing political system in particular promises to add a compelling social aspect to Tera's end game. Perhaps one day I'll play enough to rise to power, bringing the land to heel under my banner.
Perhaps not. Epic adventures rarely begin with the hero dropping out of the poorly-textured sky.