Tera Online

Preface

As the post excerpt notes, the easiest way for me to sum up Tera Online is to say that it is the version Aion I wish I was playing back in 2010.  That was the feeling I got the moment I logged on for the first time and created a Gladia…er.. Berserker.  The more I played, and the more skills I picked up, the more I felt like I was back playing my old Aion gladiator (his name was Ronin, I swear, but when they consolidated servers some Chanter got my name cause I wasn’t active during the merge and he was level 60)

Now, I could probably make a large laundry list explaining the multitude of other similarities I instinctively found to back my claim, but I’ll let the fact that I later discovered NCSoft filed a lawsuit against Bluehole speak on my behalf.  Oh and don’t let the verdict fool you – corporations are very good at avoiding liability while throwing individuals under the bus – so while Bluehole itself was not found guilty, three of its employees were, requiring them to pay an equivalent of $1.7 million US in restitution.

I’m also fully aware that the proceedings involved a comparison to Lineage 3 and not Aion, but other than the dynamic combat system, I don’t find a whole lot of similarities.  When I look at footage of L3 (Lineage Eternal) all I really see is the version of Diablo 3 I wish I was playing now.

Is it conjecture to link Tera as a design rob of Aion rather than calling it a general similarity in Korean MMO styling? Maybe – but what I can say is that when some 48+ former NC Soft employees now live under the Bluehole umbrella – designers, programmers and graphic artists – it’s pretty difficult to assume that mass transit had no hand in borrowing a few… we’ll call them “best practices”.

Game-play and the Dynamic Combat System

The first thing I found enjoyment in was breaking through the learning curve of the dynamic combat system. Not that it was difficult per se, but it felt like the Conan days, having to rethink my Nostromo layout and having to break my ingrained MMO assumptions that if the animation fires, I must obviously have a valid target selected and in-range.

One small gripe that messed with my control learning was the intro story mode.  The idea is pretty cool – when you make a new toon you have the choice of playing through an introduction where your toon is boosted to level 20 and given some gear and abilities of the level.  This makes it great for getting a feel for the class if you are shopping around.  The downside was… the toolbar they give you and the skills on it are all locked down and can’t be rearranged.  For someone like me, who was also using it as an opportunity to mentally and Nostromo-ly map a keyboard layout, I was tricked into making a lot of configuration decisions that I later had to rework after the intro when the toolbars are editable.

Still, once I got into the actual game and set my bars up properly, I found a lot of the features to be extremely cool in the combat system.  For instance, the ability to define your own combo system is amazing.  The easiest example is that the Berserker has a move (Flatten) which has a high chance of knocking down enemies, and another ability (Leaping Strike) that does bonus damage to downed enemies. So, I can literally set Flatten to trigger a combo opportunity for Leaping Strike, which lets me quickly fire it off if I see the knockdown was successful. The combo association doesn’t force me to use Leaping Strike after Flatten either – I can hit it whenever I want, or not at all if the Flatten fails to KD successfully.   This open-ended system allowed me to set some very fluid, and sometimes recursive, combo chain loops that weaved me through my abilities in clean succession when things go right.  Very cool.

The next thing I enjoyed was the dynamic fighting and targeting itself – playing the game more like an action fighter and less like an MMO means I can leverage skill and tactical timing into a class that, like the Aion Gladiator, is characterized by slow, obvious swings.  Added to the fact that swinging a massive two handed weapon means many of your strikes will naturally hit multiple enemies, I quickly found myself having a LOT of fun running around groups of mobs and lining up multi-hit strikes – enjoyment that is a far cry from a target-based system where the animation is irrelevant and you are left relying on the small pool of actual “AoE” abilities you are given.

Finally, I found a lot of enjoyment in the enemy combat system.  Being able to naturally AoE was paired nicely (and early on) with pack pulls consisting of 1-2 “normal” mobs and 3-5 “peon” mobs.  Carving some big number damage into a pack and watching the peons explode, then finishing up the normals is fun as hell, but the game is also wise and doesn’t inundate you with constant pack pulls, so I found myself looking forward to them.

As with the dynamic combat, so to it comes the “tell” feature in which the mob will do something to indicate that they are about to fire off a big attack.  This can be in the form of a full on animation (the creature rears back) or a more subtle tell where the mob’s eyes flash red briefly and a small “chime” sound plays in an anime-style ability activation. This makes the fights much more fluid and reactive – it feels good to pull off a flawless fight where you took zero damage by being vigilant and avoiding the mob mechanics.  This extends up into the BAM (Big-Ass Monster) fights where avoiding mechanics not only feels good, but becomes necessary to avoid death.

Having said all that, there are still plenty of mobs and situations that cheat a bit to force less-than-dynamic play.  Certain bosses will fire off lock-on skills, or throw AOE attacks with sub-second tells no melee character can really react to other than to “stay out” until it goes off then “joust in” a few seconds of damage before running out again.  Also, it seems like the bigger the encounters get in the end-game… the less micro is really possible at an individual toon level and the more the fights become a bit more tank-and-spank, eat-the-minor-damage-but-don’t-stand-in-the-fire type fights typically found in other MMOs.  Take a look at this end game content video of a large raid fighting against the Nexus invasion – a wildly impressive visual event, but towards the end (after the 7ish min mark) the final boss lands, and the raid quickly turns into a giant “just stand there” beat down orgy of spell effects.  Occasionally the player takes a sudden damage spike from some subtle source, but it is quickly healed back and he rarely makes an effort to move otherwise.

Skills and Leveling

This is where I found some very refreshing contrasts to the Aion experience.  Korean games are often known for being…well… a massive grind fest where it’s typical to only have 2-3 “story driven” quests at a particular hub, with a large portion of time instead being dedicated to repeatable quests where you go out and kill X-number of mobs, turn in, and get the quest again (sometimes capped on the number of times it is repeatable).  While Tera online does have repeatable quests, they made a nice concerted effort during the westernization to implement more story driven quests and a less-steep experience curve.  It obviously slows down a bit as you approach max level, but my experience thus-far has been quite smooth – I typically take all the quests at a hub, do the repeatables just once, and then move on – haven’t yet found an issue where the next area was simply too high for my level or anything. A cursory search of their forums also reveals many people asking if the game was “grindy” with a general response that it is not.

The skill system is also fairly accessible – especially in the Glyph system.  Aion a similar system in Stigma Stones, and the concept behind both is that, rather than utilizing “talent trees” to change or add features to your character’s build, glyphs or stigmas are instead applied which alter the behavior or cooldown of existing abilities.  Players then decide what abilities they would want to alter for a particular build, and choose the stigmas/glyphs to make it happen.  The problem in Aion was that many of the stigmas were drops – and some of the key class stigmas were rare drops – which meant that many of them were widely inaccessible or considerably overpriced on the auction house.  Aion later tried to normalize this by implementing stigma vendors that sold even the drop stigmas, but even still the prices were tuned to very high price points which made it difficult.  So far in Tera, it seems like all the glyphs are simply trainer-purchased, and at reasonable prices, which was very nice.

Even the dreaded luck-based +1-12 enchanting system that they borrowed from Aion (who borrowed it from Lineage) is a bit more forgiving here.  Other than having to farm or buy sacrificial weapons and armor to disenchant for raw materials, you don’t see stones being sold on the AH for 8 million just because they have a high level rating and a therefore better chance of taking.  It also seems like the ability to get to +6-10 is much more common than I was used to. I must have spent 5-10 million kinah in Aion on my Heaven-Shattering Blade, only to have it ultimately rest at a +1 because I couldn’t seem to catch a break above +3.  Meanwhile, I took a level 30ish gold axe that dropped in an instance and was able to get it to +5 in half-assed fashion, utilizing the scraps for gear I had on me to sacrifice and buying the vendor sold (cheap) reagents.

The Community (and other features)

Seeing as how I’m still relatively new to the game, having only gotten a handful of toons up to about level 12 and one primary (the ‘zerker) to level 35, I haven’t experienced many of the remaining features first hand.  The PVP seems fun and dynamic, but the buzzings I’ve seen and read seem to show a typical level and gear dependent system where just a few degrees of separation can leave you getting two-shotted – even if your juke, dodge and block skills are up to snuff.  This makes world pvp game features like the PK outlaw system less appealing in my experience, especially since they tend to draw the Aion-esque rifter types which utilize behavior patterns like exploiting, temploiting and twinking (which they call “skill”) to achieve god-like pvp status.  I’ve already seen reports of  “pvpers” utilizing channel hopping and safe-zone humping to avoid losses.  So you take things like that, add to  it level and gear level scaling and you have the same hunter/prey food chain found in just about every other game. No real surprise there.

Which segues nicely into my thoughts on the community of players I found in Tera – within about 10 minutes of observing regional chat on opening day, well… let’s just say the mechanics weren’t the only thing making me feel like I was back in 2010.  I don’t know if it’s a trait of the “Westernized Asian MMO” genre, or just that I’m getting older and these games attract a younger crowd, but it seems like the vocal community of Tera is the same derivative of players who played Aion, characterized by language that consists almost entirely of lol-speak and meme-speak, excessive anime references (sigh, gaijin), constant trolling, and an almost pedantic obsession with the current goings-on of the Korean version of the game.

And while I’ll agree that every mmo and really any online community has the same types of douchy people in it, people who have experienced this first hand are nodding their heads right now because games like this really do stand out, even when compared to World of Warcraft, and certainly when compared to other “current” MMOs being released, like The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, etc.

To put it into perspective – I just finished another beta weekend for Guild Wars 2, and at the end before the finale event, you know what people were talking about in area chat? Their favorite classes, and what they enjoyed about certain weapon combinations they were utilizing.  In Secret World, people are asking questions about quests, or how certain mechanics work, and getting helpful answers with, on the rare occasion, a joke or a “no spoilers, please” response.

You know what my chat screen was filled with after just two days of Tera? Mostly shit like this:

Yumi: Man, KSing is bad in this game ppl keep hasing my cheezburgers D:
ChibiRyuKawaii:  LOL U MAD?
Sanoske: lol she mad
LastAirbndr:  lol qq umad ubad l2p
Yumi: lol meh not mad, jelly that <insert class X> can kills stuffs faster than <my class Y> ._.
SexiCat: <class X> OP
FalcnPwnch:  JUS W8 THEY LREADY NERF <class X> IN KR VERSION, SO GAY IMMA REROLL SORC
Sansoske: lol he mad ^^^^^

Still, other than getting sucked in by the occasional troll, chat is easy enough to ignore and with a little effort, I still managed to find helpful people and decent players  along the way that made the experience bearable.

The final feature which seems interesting but I have no first-hand knowledge of is the Political system introduced in Tera Online.  Seems kind of neat, and since servers of every MMO tend to develop a list of “top known” guilds regardless of game features or content, I see the political system fitting right in as a logical concept and maybe even spurring a bit of community feedback – if a particular uber guild wants to earn and retain Vanarch status across several elections, they will likely have to maintain a positive reputation on the server they occupy.  In most games, servers can be dominated by douche guilds or stealth-uber guilds that rarely interact with the community at large and simply “stick to their own”.  I see social innovations like this as an interesting way to stimulate the player ecosystem, even if some instances of it will likely dilute to popularity contests among your attention-whoring types.

Final Thoughts

I really do actually Tera Online. I lament that this is the game I wish I would have vested deeply into rather than Aion because, although significantly more fun, the similarities are making it difficult to care and hold my interest.  Part of this is also due to a lot of recent gaming activity.  I’m still actively playing Skyrim, grinding out Diablo III progression, keeping up with my weekly World of Warcraft Dragonsoul farming group, messing around with the Monk in the Mists of Pandara beta, and also participating in both the Secret World and Guild Wars 2 betas.

For anyone in a situation similar to mine, it puts the unfortunate burden on Tera having to compete for my attention and hold it – a gravity it really hasn’t been able to produce in light of these other games.  So far, the ones that have obsessively commanded my attention are Diablo III (and even that is wearing off now having to grind through Nightmare/Hell/Inferno) and Guild Wars 2.

But, overall, if you’re looking for an MMO with fun, innovative game-play with a dynamic combat system and beautiful Asian-stylized character models, Tera hits the spot. I would go as far as to highly recommend it as a decent west-to-east bridge into this specific genre of MMO, since it exposes players to a lot of the core concepts found in eastern MMOs, but without the daunting grind and money sink aspects that tend to turn off western-minded gamers.