The latest big-name Korean import to hit the North American massively-multiplayer online role-playing scene, Tera does little to differentiate itself from countless other fantasy MMO titles we've been slowly growing bored with over the past decade.
Sometimes a little is all you need.
In a world formed via the dreams of two slumbering titans, the seven mortal races struggle for survival as great and powerful enemies rise up from the underworld to destroy The Exiled Realm of Arborea.
The forces arrayed against this coalition of elves, humans, towering stone beings and furry critters in armor are vast and varied. One moment they're set upon by hordes of tiny twisted fairies; the next they're facing off against massive mythical beasts easily five times their size, the sort of elaborate creations normally relegated to dungeon boss duty in other interactive fantasy realms.
How can these puny mortals hope to triumph over the assembled forces of evil?
By gaining experience, unlocking new skills and collecting powerful arms and armor until they're of the correct level to kick the ass of anything that comes their way. As I said, it's not all that different from your average MMO.
In fact there are aspects of Tera that rely a bit too heavily on the games that came before it. Progressing through the game's various storylines isn't a particularly dynamic experience. You find the quest givers. They give you quests. Those quests lead to the next set of quest givers, and so on until you're level 60 and stuck with the same handful of quest givers until new content arrives. Players experience the same settings and stories no matter which of the game's eight character professions they choose; the only difference is how they go about surmounting the obstacles in their way.
By all rights I should be completely bored after progressing five characters to at least mid-level. I should be dreading coming across familiar territory, revisiting areas I've come to know by heart. That would certainly be the case in any other MMO.
Yet in Tera I find myself eagerly anticipating these familiar lands. I know which enemies I'll face. I know what quests are in store. I know which dungeons lie at the end of each area. The only real variable is the profession I am playing. It's more than enough.
While other games in the genre happily differentiate player character classes by different hot-keyed powers, each of Tera's classes is completely different, demanding the player master new strategies and skills in order to survive. Heavily armored Lancers stand toe-to-toe with the enemy, shields raised in defiance. Archers dance about their targets, stunning and slowing with special attacks and traps, luring them close, kicking them in the face, and then leaping away with explosive force. Warriors dodge and weave around the enemy, trading armor for an uncanny ability to avoid blows.
This wonderful diversity is the hallmark of Tera's 'True Action Combat'. Instead of a mouse cursor, the player gets a targeting reticule. Instead of enemy skills automatically landing, they need to be specifically targeted in the correct direction. Even magic-using classes have to pay attention to the direction their spells are being cast.
The enemies players face utilize the same dynamic system, meaning an observant player that takes note of a creature's attack patterns can battle them all day long without taking a hit. An average player might stand and take damage. The skilled player in Tera utilizing all of the skills at his or her disposal is an impressive sight to see.
In fact, watching other players battle in Tera is almost as entertaining as battling on your own, making it a joy to repeat the sprawling dungeons and difficult quests that require a full party to complete. During one particular run through of one of the game's mid-level dungeons our entire party perished save for one particularly skilled warrior who managed to take an incredibly difficult boss from 50 percent health to near-death as we watched on in awe. Tera is ripe with moments like these.
So when I start a new character in the game, I am not dreaming of returning to the dark forests of Popilion or the sun-baked deserts of Tulufan; I'm too busy developing strategies for tearing through them with my latest living weapon.
If only the developers were as daring with the rest of Tera as they were with the combat system. It's all incredibly basic. The crafting system is your standard gather-and-combine system. The quests are overwhelmingly "kill X number if Y" in nature. The climbing system is novel, adding verticality to the game's exotic locations, but the lack of a descending option (climbing down equals falling) is more of a hassle than a blessing.
Developer Bluehole does mix things up a bit with Tera's political system, allowing guild leaders to run for Vanarch, a leadership position over the game's various areas. Once voted in, the Vanarch can use points earned through guild quests to raise and lower taxes and unlock convenient non-player character shops and trainers accessible to all that travel their land.
This political system promotes a strong community, but it has its downsides as well. There's an area on the Dragonfall server I play on, for instance, in which the appointed Vanarch stopped playing after being voted in. There are no trainers in this area, nor are there vendors selling specialty goods; it's a huge inconvenience for players. The Vanarch of that area will be voted out in the next election, but until then players have to deal with frustration that would not occur if not for this political process. Come to think of it, it's a bit like our process here in the United States.
It also bears noting that the political system can be easily manipulated by members of the press—the leader of my guild earned the most votes of any other candidate on any North American server.
If the rest of Tera were as unique and compelling as its combat system, then this would be a revolutionary massively multiplayer online role-playing game instead of just an incredibly solid and sexy one with an amazingly addictive feature.
Tera only does one thing that's decidedly different from other games in the MMO genre, but it's enough to keep me playing long after other games would have lost my interest. That's something to think about. If tweaking just one aspect of the stale MMO formula creates an experience this delightfully divergent, imagine what could be possible if we just threw the whole tired recipe out the window and started over?