Monday, April 23, 2012

Dear Tera - it's not you, it's me.

So I spent the weekend, as many of my peers did, roaming the picturesque hills and forests of Tera.  And for the most part, I had quite an enjoyable time.  In this open beta, the game was very solid.  No crashes, and no graphical glitches at all.  Had I already purchased or pre-ordered Tera, I don't think I'd be disappointed at all.  But not having done so, I didn't find that much to really compel me to return to the world either, especially when compared against the numerous other offerings that are either available now, or will be available soon.  But there is quite a bit to like about the game, so why am I not ordering?

On the face of it, you'd think Tera was a perfect game for me.  Scantily clad females, gorgeous visuals in a lush world, and solid MMO mechanics.  And everything appears to be there.  In fact, one of the things that impressed me the most about Tera wasn't even in game, but the comprehensive (and genuinely useful) game guide they have at their site.  Solid descriptions of the classes, including good information on the the classes strengths, their roles in a party, and their solo playstyle.  I spent just an hour or so combing through their guide, and came away with a good feeling for the race characteristics, and a solid notion of each of the classes roles.  And based on that, I chose a warrior to play, which is the type of class I play in just about every MMO, at least once.  It's the nimble, quick melee class, with dual swords.

During the beta weekend I played my warrior through to level 17.  Didn't get quite as far as some, but enough that I felt like I had a pretty solid grasp on the bulk of the gameplay through the leveling process.   And of course, most of that time is spent in combat - as you would expect.  And it is here that Tera is staking its claim. It promises a far more action oriented, in your face combat experience.  And on the surface of it, when you first start playing, it feels like that might be the case.  But by the time I'd reached level 17, for me, I found that the combat really didn't feel all that much different than any other MMO.  And in fact, in some cases it felt more constrained.

By the time I'd reached level 16, (you only get new abilities every other level, starting at level 2), I had my primary attack (mapped to left mouse), a leap (mapped to right mouse), 2 stances (an offensive and defensive one), one shout, and four abilities.  And a handful of racial and class specific passives.  The stance you pick and pretty much leave alone.  You use the defensive one if you wanted to tank, and the offensive one for everything else.  Two of the abilities are highly situational - one you use when you are low on hp's, and the other can only be fired after you leap.  So you'd begin a combat by getting the mobs attention, wait for it's first attack - indicated by a preparatory animation, and r-click-leap behind the mob.  Fire an ability.  Tag a few times with your left-click attack to build MP up, and then fire your other 2 or 3 abilities, depending on what's off cooldown.  Once the mob is facing you, and about to attack again, repeat above.  Now, you can move around a mob while you attack, and in some cases this does help, but it can often actually be a detriment as well - because both animations and mobs block movement.  So you're still typically better off using your mobility ability (leap, charge, whatever) to move you, than you are trying to run around.

The thing is, just about every other MMO I've played offers these same mechanics.  Yeah there's no auto-attack in Tera - you have to do all your attacking yourself - but there's no auto-attack in SWTOR either.  You have to actively manage every ability.  And with a sentinel, having to manage focus and cooldowns at the same time, I'd argue you're even more active.  Yes I'm leaping about the battle with my right-click-tumble, but I force leaped into every battle with SWTOR, and shadowstepped into every combat in WoW. In WoW, I can gouge to provide a temporary stun, and move through or around the mobs and launch positional attacks just like I do in Tera.

And at one point, I watched an archer using a combination of snares and AOE attacks to slow, kite, and widdle down a group of 6 mobs at her level, in exactly the same way that frost mages do in WoW, when leveling.

And that really, is what it boiled down to for me.  In the end, you're pretty much doing exactly what you do in every MMO. You manage aggro, you fire abilities off your taskbar, and you manage a combat resource (call it mana points, or energy, or rage, or focus or whatever).  There is no closely linked, cinematic combat like you might find in a console game.  There is no free-shooting carnage like you might expect in a shooter.  They did remove targeting, sort of, but it doesn't feel like it really matters (except I have less control over which mobs I do damage to, which isn't necessarily a good thing).

Now, you shouldn't take this to say that combat isn't fun.  On the contrary, it's quite fun.  I had a good time playing Tera.  It feels fun to me in the same way that pretty much all MMO combat is fun.  But it didn't feel distinctive or different enough for me to justify it's price tag.  For instance, I know Guild Wars 2 is coming out soon, and I will buy that box, but not pay a subscription, and though I haven't played yet, all indications are its game play will be just as compelling.  And though I think Tera's gameplay has a slight edge over Aion's, Aion is free to play right now.   So if both games were free to play, or both games had the same subscription model, and I had to choose between them, I'd take Tera.  But currently, I can have a game with gorgeous visuals, generic PvE quests, and a solid combat mechanic in Aion.  And do it for free. And of course, Diablo III is in a few weeks, and as an annual pass holder, I already own that.  So you can be assured I'll be playing that for the foreseeable future.

So in the end, sorry Tera.  We had a great weekend together, and I'll always remember your scantily clad demon women and luscious landscapes.  But there are too many other compelling choices on the very short term horizon to justify your cover charge.