One of the things that sets TERA apart from the other MMOs, and I’m talking the big thing, is its combat system. It’s based around the action RPG mentality where you attack and dodge your enemy and combat moves very very quickly. The big difference here is not only how robust the set-up is for combat, but how deep it can go as well. This is far more than a standard action RPG.
I think being able to change from the controller to the keyboard and mouse is a big bonus, but the fact that so much care was taken to make a controller work so well with an MMO speaks volumes. Most people would argue that a PS3 or 360 controller wouldn’t be a good fit for an MMO set-up, and normally I’d agree, however, the way they’ve mapped buttons out, you can load up your most used skills in different brackets to give you quick access to them through the controller. I think all but six of my skills are mapped to a button or set of buttons on the controller, and most of those were group spells I haven’t been using because I’ve been taking on the game solo.
In most MMOs, combat is pretty static. You get aggro and park yourselves in position, and the enemy generally cooperates so long as your tank or DPS is keeping the aggro from your squishier mage or healer in the back end. It’s a solid tactic that usually works, even in the more dynamic combat games like Guild Wars or Dungeons and Dragons Online, where things will charge or have random aggro and force the party to do different things. In TERA, everything is looking to maim you up close and personally, so you have that option of, after lobbing off a chain of attacks, getting the hell out of the way and forming up again. My Priest has two methods for this, a simple jump that usually works, or an attack that hits an area around her, then propels her back away from the combat zone, putting her in a temporary safe area to heal or launch another string of ranged combo attacks.
Kiting (running a mob around when you have aggro to give the party a breather) can still apply here, but simply running around probably won’t get you very far, as things will still charge you, knocking you to the ground. Luckily, there’s a skill for getting back up quickly, as well as knocking things back a bit and dealing some damage in the process… well, as long as it’s not on recharge, which can be an agonizingly long ten seconds if you’d just used it and manage to get knocked down again. Like I said earlier, combat is very fast paced and is a big change from what you would expect after playing Star Wars The Old Republic or The Lord of the Rings Online. Those two are practically sleeping when it comes to comparing combat systems. It doesn’t help those two that most of the skills there are all dependent on the player not moving to use them. That’s tantamount to suicide in TERA. If there was one rule to combat here, it’s keep it moving and keep those skill chains coming.
In a lot of games, following one skill or spell with another is standard practice, especially if the effects stack. TERA takes it a little further by not only dropping hints, but assisting you with a popup on which skill to fire off next for that added oomph. Some skills you can chain with themselves, so even though they have their own cool down timers, they let you fire them off multiple times back to back with devastating effects. Area of Effect chains are pretty common, linking one knock back and high damage skill to another. The same goes with getting back up. The Priest Retaliation skill you can fire off is linked to another that helps get any of your other party members that have been knocked down get back up and ready to go as well.
One of the things that helps make this a more controller friendly game is that, much like Star Wars The Old Republic, instead of gaining access to brand new skills you have to squeeze in your bar all the time, your old skills can, and will, get leveled up as you go as well. So that Implosion skill I love so much at the early levels? Yep, that’s still viable at level 25 and beyond. That’s my biggest complaint with my other favorite MMO, DDO, actually, but that’s not entirely DDO‘s fault, as it ties so closely to the tabletop, which ends up discarding lower level spells as you go because they just aren’t as useful as those new shiny ones you just picked up when you hit that next spell level on your caster. Very few spells level up quite as they should by the time you hit level cap. You can still use them there, but they’re a last resort, last ditch effort to deal out a little damage when you’re running out of spell points to use. TERA‘s and Star Wars The Old Republic‘s system of leveling up skills as you do, I think, not only works better, but helps keep the player moving along instead of having to learn to use a whole new set of spells to go with the ones that’ll eventually become next to useless.
While I love the system and its adaptability, I think some gamers used to the more relaxed combat in other MMOs might struggle a bit with it, while people who play more action RPG’s, or even just action titles, will not only excel, but will find doing anything at level a bit boring. I accidentally skipped ahead a number of times, ending up fighting mobs several levels over me, and this happened again last night, for example. While it is a bit of a challenge, I still find it more on par with what I’ve come to expect from an action RPG like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, or even Skyrim, where things do tend to move quickly, and aiming and quick timing can save your hide. I think that’s the key here though, really. This game is much more accessible to a larger group of players, as while the RPG elements are here, they take a back seat to the combat system and skills, making it feel much more like an action game than anything else.
It does make things far more interesting, at least as far as hunting mobs down in the different areas, boss fights or just fights against critters you should probably kill with a group go, and they’re a lot more challenging and fun than I think they’d be if they’d stuck with the party setting up in tiers and taking them down that way. You can run in with your healer, do some area effect damage, and leap back out in this game, making things a lot more fun to play, instead of just standing around watching people’s health bars. TERA is a bit of a breath of fresh air in that regard, and with Guild Wars 2 coming up soon, I’m curious to see if this trend carries beyond these two titles.