Review: TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea (PC)

TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea
Publisher: EnMasse Entertainment
Developer: Bluehole Studio
Release Date: 05/01/2012

Touted as a game changer for combat in the MMO genre, TERA, or TERA: The Exiled Realm of Arborea, has set about to include some of the more interesting mechanics from the action game genre like God of War and combine them with the MMO like World of Warcraft. Like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, a game that strove to combine the action genre with the RPG more fluidly than had done before, there are things TERA does well, like it’s combat and visuals, which are stunning and work extremely well, but it has some issues that carry over from the MMO genre that drag the game down a little bit. While it does step outside that MMO box a bit with the combat, all the other tropes are there, and in the end it feels like you’re playing any other MMO out there with a new flavor added. But is that new flavor change enough, or is this the New Coke?

Story wise, things are pretty basic. There are no factions at war between each other here. There is no bad versus good, faction versus faction, there is you and the other people playing versus everything in the game out to kill you. That’s not to say there’s no PVP, there is. There’s guild versus guild, and you can challenge people to open combat as well, but that’s certainly not the thrust of the game as you go. Endgame that’s a bit of a different story, but even then the emphasis is more on tackling harder areas and BAMs, Big-Ass Monsters. While it sounds more like the emphasis on the game is more on mechanics and combat than story, you’d be partially right. There is quite a bit of Lore in the game itself at least in the dialogues you get from NPCs. The overall story has you fighting the Argon’s who invaded TERA. They’re the main reason all of the races are united. Overall though, it’s not doing anything that hasn’t been covered before. It’s familiar and it’s safe, which is ok, but you find yourself glancing over the quest dialogue because nearly everything is run out and kill 10 of these or kill enough of them to collect 10 trinkets and come back to me.

The visuals in this game make up for the lackluster story-telling and really help set the stage for the combat which is more this game’s star than anything else. Character models look and move amazingly well. The short and brief cutscenes you get from story quests are energetic and keep things moving at a brisk pace. As a high fantasy world there’s lots of magic in nearly everything you see, crystals everywhere, magical effects, all look very pretty. Even in the armor department you have some very striking visuals going on. There are a few issues I have, mainly with dressing your character. Nearly every armor for my Priest looked like she was getting ready to take someone to bed instead of going out to wipe the floor with a BAM, which is ok if you really like the panty shot every time you run, but I’ve gotten used to a more armored look from Western RPGs and MMOs and this is a very eastern look and feel there. You can do high fantasy and still look ready to actually enter combat and not the bedroom. Also, breasts don’t move like that. Granted not every character looks like they’re just finishing up with a hot date and there are properly armored characters about, but if you’re running with a bunch of casters or playing one, expect nighties.

The game was designed with Unreal Engine 3 which is where I think the bulk of the visual appeal comes from, but like most games with Unreal, there are some loading issues. Teleport into a town and you’re going to be seeing halos of people until they finally materialize into solids and then a few seconds later get their texture applied. The same goes for moving too fast into an area. This is something I think is inherent in the Unreal engine, but I’ve seen it lessened quite a bit in other games before, and you’ll always have it to some degree but it’s really prevalent here.

My ears were treated to an interesting mix of sound here. The music is pretty decent, nothing extremely memorable to me there, and when they do use voice actors they do a decent enough job. I was surprised to hear so many voices I recognized from other games recently, which is not a bad thing. Combat sounds are pretty unique for the most part, nothing too terribly annoying, but there are some alarming sounds. For example, riding my lion around, when it’s standing still the sounds he makes are believable and you feel like you’re sitting on a lion. When you’re running full tilt with the same lion it sounds like you’ve got something jammed into a sink and you’re using a plunger rapid fire to try and remove it. I don’t know if that’s how lions sound when they run but it is distracting. One of the other big ones, is when I was out gathering materials, when you fail, and you will from time to time, my Priest sounded like she was getting, well, some kind of bedroom pleasure from the experience instead of, what I’m guessing, is supposed to be a pained sound or one of displeasure. Tie that with the outfit she’s wearing, and you’d think that mining ore and failing is that girl’s way to have some, er, fun.

Controlling the game is a little tricky if you’re doing it with a keyboard and mouse. The game is set to default with mouselook on. I’m used to being able to move the mouse over and fire off my skills and then turn on mouselook as needed with my right mouse button in an MMO. Here it’s the opposite, requiring you to hit another key on your keyboard to put it into regular mouse mode, but when you do that you can’t do anything combat wise, just the menu. Everything in your hot bars is tied to a hot key. Personally I can’t use this kind of set-up. I can with a controller, but I have issues doing this with a keyboard and mouse. My wife loves games set up this way. It’s how she plays DDO. So really it’s personal choice here. Me, I went with the 360 controller.

The 360 controller layout maps the top two shoulder buttons to going into the different menus that are tied to different key bindings so you can set up your skills that fire off through the four colored face buttons. I’d actually set up my controller so that the left button was my higher powered attack skills and self heal, my right button was group healing, and both were skills I didn’t use much. My default face buttons were standard skills. The lower triggers are also tied to skill selections and you can see what is bound to what with a controller diagram on the lower part of the UI. The right analog controls your view, the left controls movement. And I have to say this is the first MMO I’ve ever used a 360 controller to play and it was a joy with not only how easy it was this way, but to just sit back and lay waste to everything with a bunch of other people not hunched over my keyboard like I normally am.

Gameplay is what you’d expect from an action title or action RPG. The game runs at a quick pace, relying on the player to target enemies for skills and effects, pop out of harm’s way to heal up and avoid charging attacks, and to generally move around and have an exciting bit of combat. The combat system is well refined, allowing for chain attacks with certain skills back to back and even some skills in succession when they’d otherwise be cooling down. Skills level up as you do, much like in Star Wars The Old Republic, so you’re not casting aside skills that have worn out their welcome and are instead growing them all to your level by paying for them at your trainer. Gear and weapons also have levels attached to them. Some of the items I got in game I actually had to wait a few levels before I could equip them. Most of the areas move pretty quickly with little to no grind. There are plenty of critters to kill and the respawn rate is such that you won’t be waiting around long for them to pop back up if there are a number of people killing the same thing.

And here’s where my interest started to wane. The game has combat going for it, it has pretty visuals, but it is the same repetitive thing going on over and over again. Go out, kill ten critters, bring me their spoils. Ok, great, now go kill their boss. Rinse, repeat. There have been a few areas only I could get in but even then it was the same deal, go into this story area, kill your way to the main guy, take his head as a trophy and move on to the next area. There’s all sorts of style here, visually and with the combat, but there’s not much keeping me coming back. There’s achievements and end game, but even then it’s all the same, go in, kill a bunch of mobs and leave. There are a lot of MMOs out there that stray very little form this forumla but there are usually options to change things up a bit and there just isn’t with this one. At least with Star Wars The Old Republic, they were telling a compelling story along with it or having you hack into things once in awhile without wasting every living thing in an area. It made things a bit more personal, kept the interest up. Even they had a bit of variety to the MMO fare and grind. TERA just has this disconnect from what’s going on in game to the overall story. I can’t put my finger on it, but for me personally, after I realized I was logging in to do the same exact thing over and over again in a different area with slightly different colors, it got hard to pick it up again.

They’ve tweaked TERA for release. It’s easier. Well less of a grind, but it’s easier. Leveling up to endgame is ridiculously fast. I was up to 20 in just a few days which is a third of the way there and the exp rewards just kept getting bigger and the areas a little easier because I was leveling so quickly. To make it more of a challenge I actually wandered ahead from the story areas just so it took me a bit longer to kill things and heal up. As it was, fighting in areas at my level was far too easy. There is a lot of content here, I’ll give them that. Lots of things to do, just not a lot of variety to it. If you like action with a dose of MMO, that’s great as far as that goes, but action vets will find this game to be a bit easy, especially with the varying depths in the skills. Yes, the chains are a great resource, but in most of the game they make things way too easy.

While the story is pretty generic, the look and feel of the world itself is fairly unique, and you can instantly set it apart from others like it. Sure it has an anime or manga feel but you see an ad for it and you instantly recognize it which is good. While they do borrow quest names from popular media as send offs, most of what you fight is all new. The combat, while something you may have experienced in an action title or action RPG, is a bit more in depth with the way things work and the options you have available. This game does do things in a different way in many things, but when it all comes down to it, the questing, grinding, PVP and endgame are all very similar to other MMOs out there, which makes them easy to change over to, but lacking in that something new. TERA had it to start, but right now if you’ve played through 20 levels you know what to expect the whole game through as it all feels the same. The new system of leadership is interesting at end game, where people have to use politics to become leader but even then it’s limited to successful guild leaders, and not everyone can be one of those, so it’s a bit limited except to the most ambitious.

I did find it very easy to get lost in the game very early on. It was very pretty, incredibly smooth, combat was fast and energetic and I didn’t feel bogged down in trying to grind out kills from quests. It was a dream to play, but after I started to realize there wasn’t much that was going to be different as I moved through the game I ended up losing interest sooner and sooner. It is a very nice change of pace from the more traditional combat of other MMOs, but the community here is pretty new and fairly unhelpful. The LFG panel isn’t used very often, I found it hard to really get into a group because the LFG channel was filled with global spam chatter because it is one of the few global chat channels available. Really, without making some friends and having a good group to run with, MMOs lose their luster pretty quickly. This was my case here.

I do have to give the game credit. What it does well, really shines. I only had one bug, and it was documented so hopefully there will be a fix for it, but it ended up making me repeat one of my quests 3 times before I could complete it which was beyond frustrating. I do think MMO players are looking for a game to shake things up a bit. While I’m enjoying Star Wars the Old Republic, there are a lot of people who aren’t. World of Warcraft had been bleeding a bit, and the free to play games like Dungeons and Dragons Online are sucking in people who hate monthly fees and like the pay as you want model. TERA is subscription based like the bigger titles out there which is a roadblock for some, but it runs and plays great and is getting good word of mouth. I think they’ll have a good player base for a long while.

While I do have to say TERA isn’t the MMO for me, it has a lot going for it and I did enjoy my time with it for the most part. Combat was a joy, and something I wish other MMOs I’ve played could nail down a bit better. Older MMOs like to tinker too much to change things up and can really ruin a mechanic. Most ranged characters in just about any older MMO out there will agree with that. TERA is a nice breeze bringing something a bit newer to the table. As action oriented as Dungeons and Dragons Online‘s combat is, it’s not nearly as frenetic and driving as this. For a gamer, especially an MMO nut looking for something new, you might find a nice mix-up here with TERA, but I don’t think there’s enough to go with the revamped combat to really make it something most MMO players can stick with. This is one of the first MMOs I’d recommend to someone who really enjoys the action RPG however.

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Incredible

Short Attention Span Summary
TERA set out to combine the best of the action, RPG and MOO genre and create something new. The action and combat are fantastic and really deliver on that end adding a depth to an action RPG skill set I haven’t seen before. The MMO end of things is lacking a bit of variety and while visually stunning in almost every way, the lack of really anything new beyond the combat might kill more long term interest in the title. It does offer up a solid end game for those who enjoy the game at lower levels and is the first MMO I could actually play with a 360 controller and truly enjoy it.


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