The Early-Game TERA Review (Level 1-30)

One of the biggest challenges I face as an MMORPG journalist is choosing the right time to stop playing, and start writing. With many games – especially in the free to play realm – this is usually somewhere between level 10 and 20; it’s enough to experience most of what’s on offer in the early-game, and 9 times out of 10, that doesn’t change in the mid and late game anyway.


While this method does justice to the majority, it never quite manages to represent the big releases, which is why I’ve decided to tackle the release of TERA, arguably one of the larger MMORPG releases of 2012, with a more… comprehensive approach. I’m going to review TERA in 3 parts – early-game, mid-game, and end-game – with specific focus on each of the 
elements most prevalent during those times.

In this review, we’re going to look at the early-game elements on TERA – specifically, levels 1-30 – which will cover some fundamental gameplay, like classes, combat, questing and crafting, and also, provide a general overview of the game from the perspective of progression, early dungeons and low-level PvP.


THE ISLAND OF INDISTINGUISHABILITY
TERA, unlike many of its pay-to-play brethren, begins in a less-than-traditional style. First, there’s the extensive character creation, which offers choice between 7 races and 8 classes – a significant increase over the majority standard – with competent customisation options for each.

Second, there’s a prologue section that offers a taste of your chosen class, bumping you immediately to level 20 and placing you in various combat-oriented scenarios with a recommended skill set, allowing you to get a comfortable feel for your class before committing to hours of entry-level gameplay.

Third, all 7 races and 8 classes begin in the same area: The Island of Dawn. Every class and race shares the same story, quests, monsters and environments, resulting in a noticeable lack of identity.


This irritates me to no end. It’s clear that a lot of effort went into the character designs of TERA (though, recent developments suggest that the credit for these designs be awarded to NCSoft), and it baffles me that they’ve opted to ignore the history, lore and impact of these races on the world. As it stands, each race is identical outside the way the look and a few specific racial traits, and each have access to all 8 classes. Though the visual elements are not to be forgotten, the difference between races in TERA is mostly non-existent. Fortunately, the classes don’t follow the same trend.

A NEW WAY OF KICKING ARSE
The 8 playable classes, and their impact on combat, are the heart of TERA. They are:
  • Lancer – Spear/Shield, Tank Focus
  • Slayer – 2H Sword, DPS Focus
  • Warrior – 2x 1H Sword, DPS Focus
  • Beserker – 2H Axe, Tank Focus
  • Priest – 2H Staff, Heal Focus
  • Sorcerer – Floating Disk, DPS Focus
  • Mystic – Wand, Support Focus
  • Archer – Bow, DPS Focus
The active combat mechanics, which in essence require that you aim, block and dodge attacks, make for a genuinely new gameplay experience in an MMORPG.
 
Aiming attacks and spells is a derivative element of having your mouse cursor replaced with a crosshair, and the ability to assign skills to the [Left Click] and [Right Click] on the mouse alongside the traditional skill-bound hotkeys – which include skills that allow you to dodge and block enemy attacks.

At face value, this system is pure awesome. It rewards talent, and punishes idiocy, making for some epic possibilities in PvP and Dungeon gameplay. But, upon further inspection, the truth begins to show. While there’s no denying that the traditional MMORPG combat mechanics pale in comparison to those in TERA, the system doesn’t hold a candle to those featured in offline action RPGs of the past decade.

This is mostly due to a lack of precision. Sure, you can aim at your enemy, and the lack of auto attack means that you’ll actually need to click-to-attack, but there’s no hit-box differentiation, so hitting your opponent square in the face, and hitting them in their big toe, yield the same effect.


What this means, essentially, is that after a few hours of practice, combat becomes the same, grindy, repetitive process that it’s always been – only this time, you’ll need to click your mouse more often. Dodging is no different. In WoW, you need to run out of the way to avoid dangerous attacks. In TERA, you need to roll. It’s better in TERA – don’t get me wrong – it’s just not as ‘new’ as it could have been.

HATERS GONNA HATE
That said, these combat mechanics are far more entertaining during PvP. While the art of avoiding attacks is still a simple matter of no standing still, and attacking your enemy requires a little more precision that a simple [Left-Click] and hotkey-spam, the impact this yields on PvP is enjoyable as hell. 

As a die-hard Lineage 2 player, PvP has always been the highlight of my MMORPG experience. TERA has brought back a lot of what made the PvP in Lineage 2 so great; inclusions such as teleport and revival scrolls, potions and elixers, open world GvG conflict, and most of all, the Outlaw System.


At level 10, around the same time you receive your first mount from memory, you’ll be given the Outlaw Skill. When activated, this skill will turn your character name red, and allow you to attack and kill any player outside a ‘rest zone’ at will. 

Killing players within 5 levels of you won’t effect you in any way; however, killing players lower than that will earn you Infamy, which will effectively lock you in Outlaw status, attackable by any player without penalty, until your Infamy wears off. This happens at a rate of around 1 point per minute, and as killing low-level players can yield upwards of 60 points each, it doesn’t take long to find yourself in a near-permanent Outlaw state. I’ve heard that with high enough Infamy, you can be locked out from towns and cities – more on that in the mid-game review.


Outside Outlaw PvP, there’s Deathmatch PvP and GvG – both of which I’ve yet to properly experience. As such, I’ll save these for the mid-game review, too – though I will say that thus far, no competent form of rankings or kill records have been offered, which, essentially, creates an overall lack of enthusiasm for PvP gameplay outside those looking to gank lowbies. This is shattering for a PvP enthusiast such as myself. Here’s hoping things pick up pace as the levels increase.

On the ‘less review, more guide’ side of the fence, I’d like briefly touch upon the Stamina and Buff systems in TERA. Stamina, represented by a large heart and %, determines the max values of your health and mana. When you die in battle, you’ll be reduced to 20 or so stamina. The base level is 100 stamina, and  will give you your current levels’ worth of both – standing near a campfire can increase this to 120, giving you a sizeable bonus (and gathering can further increase this to 135).

 

Also used at a campfire, Charms are small, random buffs that are best applied at full stamina. Combined then with gathering buffs, you can ‘prepare’ yourself for battle and PvP in a variety of different ways. Players willing to put in a little extra effort can effectively give themself a huge advantage in a PvP battle, making for some very interesting results when combined with scrolls and pots.

Currently, this is my favourite system in TERA. It’s new, it rewards patience and planning, and often times, it can be the difference between pwning noobs and spending most of your play time restoring stamina at campfires.

A LACK OF VARIETY
Outside combat and PvP, one of my chief concerns regarding TERA is the overwhelming lack of variety, which is a serious problem for a AAA release. TERA has 3 types of quests: Kill This, Collect Those and Gather That. This means – and I speak only for level 1-30 – that every single quest offered to you will be an order to travel and collect and kill. 


Pouring salt into the wound, monster variety in TERA is reminiscent of an early 90s Final Fantasy title, with the same monsters appearing at a difficult-to-swallow rate. In some areas, only one type of monster will exist, renamed and recoloured over and over, and just when you thought killing a thousand of them was enough, they’ll throw them at you again, 10 levels later, and again after that.

The environments help ease the repetition somewhat; though, gorgeous as they are, there’s little in the way of anything new. The island is green and magical, as are the zones that follow, with the exception of a barren plain, small swamp and jungle, and haunted forest/cemetery. There’s definitely variety here, but it’s lacking in original content.

I guess it’s important to note that the elite enemies in TERA are some of the most awesome I’ve ever seen, some as big as fire trucks with a decent selection of ground-shattering attacks, but even those are reused again and again, and after a while, it begins to get stale.


Dungeons are no different, with most offering 5 or so different enemy types, and hundreds of each. Even the bosses – at least, the two on offer between levels 1 and 30, Secret Base [Bastion] at level 20, and Sinister Mansion at 26 – were little more than the typical tank and spank. Sure, it’s important to block and dodge and vary up your skills to sustain mana, but the overall experience isn’t especially exciting – though, it seems with ‘Hard Mode’ available for later level dungeons that things have the potential to get more interesting.

On the plus side, the dungeon matchmaker is a godsend. There’s a strangely long wait time attached to finding a dungeon group – generally in the vicinity of 20 minutes – but not having to manually find a group is a sure sign that TERA is thinking about the future. 

ECONOMY MAKES A COMEBACK
Crafting, the backbone of any MMORPG economy, is a difficult beast to master. TERA has opted to use an interesting system, whereby everyone can create and gather everything, and too, everything requires gold to craft. This is again reminiscent of Lineage 2, whereby crafting was limited only by your income, not by your ability to source materials. 


Gathering is composed of 4 core areas: plants, ore, essence and leather. Plants, ore and essence are gathered by clicking on the notes scattered throughout various questing environments, and upon collecting them, give you a 15 minute buff that can increase your HP/MP regen, movement speed or maximum stamina. This is interesting, because it asks players not interested to gather materials anyway, as the buffs are often the difference between life and death – on the other hand, these gathered materials are so common, and so unused in standard crafting recipes, that they’re generally a waste of inventory space.

As to crafting itself, there are 6 options available: Armour and Weaponsmithing, Tailoring, Alchemy, Leatherworking and Focuscrafting. There’s also Extraction, which allows you to turn trash items into crafting materials, and requires levelling of its own.

I’ll go into more depth in later levels, as in the early game, it’s incredibly difficult to craft at all due to the restriction of economy (though I will say, it’s already becoming a lot easier post 30).


BUG CATCHING
Given that TERA launched earlier this week, the bug count is considerably lower than expected, and those that exist vary in frustration. The most obvious is the drop-rate on Dawnhide, the gathering material required for Leatherworking. Currently, players are reporting that they’ve found around 10 Dawnhide in the first 20 levels of gameplay; however, you’ll need 50 to progress to the next tier of crafting. Clearly, this causes an issue for those with leather-bound classes.

There’s also another game-altering bug that prevents you from searching for items on the Trade Broker using the ‘search’ panel. Yeah… this one’s a doozy.

Elsewise, there’s an annoying little glitch that causes your health bar to appear above your head after losing a PvP encounter, the engagement timer on mobs is apparently set at random, with many mobs refusing to give up the chase, scrolls and charms are wasted if you’re interrupted while casting – more annoyingly, if you choose to cancel them when asked if you’re ‘sure you want to use this’, you’ll lose the scroll anyway – poisons cause you to dismount when riding repeatedly as you take periodic damage, the subtitles in the cutscenes don’t match the voice overs, and finally, there are a ridiculous amount of invisible walls scattered throughout the world, that are often nonsensical and immersion breaking.


TL;DR
In the end, the grind through the early-game totaled at around 20 hours of gameplay – most of which was spent following quest chains, with 2 dungeons and a comfortable chunk of world PvP.

It’s not enough to know whether TERA will be a sustainable pastime; though, at this point the pros certainly seem to outweigh the cons. The inclusion of a fully featured achievement system is a nice touch, though unlike Guild Wars 2, these achievements are only used for gaining titles, not character progression. The guild mechanics appear, at first glance, to offer more than the norm – though I’ve yet to see any impact gained from increasing your guild level – and the inclusion of guild quests and hunts seem like they’ll offer a decent slice of longevity (not to mention some pretty nice rewards).

On the flip-side, the lack of variety in questing, enemies and skills makes for some fairly repetitive gameplay, though truth be told, the PvP and active combat help keep things more interesting than expected. Whether or not the same can be said for levels 30-50 remains to be seen, though at this pace, I imagine we’ll know before the week is out.

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