The chances are, you and I probably share something in common; a want for a newer, more polished and interesting, fun MMO. Tired of the all too familiar questing dynamics and wooden combat mechanics, we’re ready for something new and exciting to sweep us off our feet and channel our time into something rewarding and entertaining.  Tera, like all the others, promises us just this. But have they delivered?

Although the game has been released in Korea for over a year, I shan’t spend too much time talking about this initial release as Bluehole studios have stated that Tera has been reworked from the ground up for Western audiences. This may sound alarm bells with some of you; who are these ‘Western audiences’ they so speak of? Do American gamers have the same needs as European gamers? Do French gamers have the same needs as German gamers? Who knows. I can only assume, prior to playing the game, that this means a lesser leveling time between start and end-game, and various lore changes to match our Nordic wants and needs; after-all, if it doesn’t scream Tolkien, we ain’t interested.

Still, I have since played the game thus justifying a preview on all things closed-beta. I mean this as a sort of myth-busting episode dispelling any worries or common queries regarding how the game plays, and generally what it is. Let me start with this one: yes, Tera does look ‘Asian’. No, it doesn’t play like it; much to our surprise. 

What is Tera?

Developed by Bluehole studios, and published by Frogster (in the EU) Tera takes us, once again, on a journey through diverse and expansive fields of quests and monsters reminiscent of a decent Final Fantasy game. The lovingly titled BAM’s (big ass monsters… yes, that’s an official name) promise epic and exciting boss fights, as well as visually stunning and compelling autonomous storytelling.

The combat–unlike WoW or it’s space-buddy ToR–is fluid and varied, and relies on user inputs instead of algorithmic ‘hit ratings’ and ‘dodge ratings’ in order to immerse the user into a slash-and-hack style combat experience. This is something, although not specifically, a lot of people have been asking for – and I’ll talk a little bit about whether they pulled it off in a moment; hint: they did. 

Tera features 7 races which seem to reference various tastes and styles, and races from other games. You’ll note some Final Fantasy (Popori), Rift (Aman) AoC (Humans) and WoW (High Elves) in the mix, as well as some… interesting additions of their own. 

The classes are gorgeously modeled and varied enough for you to pick one you want. I admit freely that perhaps they cater too specifically to individual taste and perhaps don’t merit an alt on all of them for diversity, but we’ll see how that goes. I know that some of us loved Popori, whereas others prefer the Castanic and Humans. I played primarily with a human character, perhaps I’m a closet Popori at heart… who knows.

Races take us back to the roots of original team roles. With Guild Wars 2 abolishing the need for specific classes to do specific jobs, and ToR working in a similar manner, Tera audaciously provides us with healers, tanks, dps and casters to be used in the various dungeons much like the dynamic of WoW. Your opinions of this will vary widely, but I personally prefer it. It isn’t enough to simply make an MMO easier to party with – in fact, I’d argue that independence on that level, such as Guild Wars 2, will drive people away from social play. Cooperation is half of the fun, and whilst it can lead to disappointment and a damned annoying wipe at times, that’s the price we pay for a potentially rewarding dungeon experience. You may wonder why I don’t stress the importance of this mechanic in raids; well, Tera doesn’t have raids, yet. More on that later.

The classes of Tera

The classes are as follows: Archer, Berserker, Lancer, Mystic, Priest, Slayer, Sorcerer and warrior.

I rolled a Human Slayer (image below) – wielding a sizable sword (perhaps making up for something else…) with the hair of one of Conan’s closest buddies and muscles to match. This was familiar territory. Fantasy MMO, level 1. Where to go from here.

A little about lore

The game starts with a brief, barely animated cut-scene explaining a pseudo-Sanskrit Indian legend about two Titans who fell in love, forsaking their duty to defend the kingdom and subsequently ruining the chances for the people of the Realm of Arborea of having a monster free time.  True enough, the intro movie isn’t very good – and the story short, but it has a romantic artistry about it that opens up the world nicely. A love story for the basis of an MMO – who’s complaining? It makes a change from: ‘Dragons are bad! Dragon come ruin our stuff! Kill dragon with friend! (or, in the case of Aion) Here are some wings for which to help!’ seen in recent years.

Following this, we have an in game cut-scene featuring your character and a group of adventurers swooping down on pegasus’… pegasis… pegasi? to our fabled starting area. Now, although this is a ‘starting island’ – it does have some relevance to the lore. Apparently it came up out of the ground, and you’re basically a team charged with cleansing or searching for prior explorers who were first sent to explore it. For all intents and purposes, regardless of the story, it’s basically a 1-11 questing hub as you’d expect – but this is an MMO, after-all, let’s not go mad here.

Entering the Exiled Realm of Arborea

Those first few moments in the game are breathtaking. I don’t mean that they’re breathtaking for an mmo, I mean they’re literally breathtaking. The individual feathers on your steed flap and break away leaves as you swoop ever closer to the trees; the sound crackling in your ears as you near the ground. Tones of bright green, purple and blue surround you with a beautiful scene of a waterfall and airships in the background. This world, I thought to myself, is beautiful. And it is.

Still, every ride must come to an end, and when I landed I was greeted with my first quest. At this point, you might be thinking: “oh, one start area for all races?” and whilst that sucks to some extent, it is justified in the lore. Do I think it’s a big deal? I’m not sure yet, but there are a wealth of amazing features that sort of take away from that – so bear with me.

The starting area introduces to you a plain-text quest, as you’ll be familiar with in WoW, which you turn in down the road as a sort of ‘baby’s first quest’ to get you into the idea. The area truly is beautiful, and whilst you’re channeled right into the hands of the next quest giver, you’ll invariably want to swing your sword around like an idiot for a good 10 minutes to really get an idea of what the combat is about.

Once we were away on our original turn in quests, we were charged with going out into the world, just as you’d expect, to hone our combat skills against various beasts and monsters. Now, this is a little difficult to explain without sounding like I’m contradicting myself, but although the questing is invariably similar to WoW, ToR and indeed Guild Wars 2, it feels new and interesting. I put this down to the combat. Blood splatter, rolling and dodging and blocking really takes your mind off what you’re doing. Each battle requires a little bit of thought, and the immersion from the visuals and user input really turn generic questing into an action slasher much like Darksiders or something from the same genre. This is the key difference here, people, and it works. 

Combat

The first thing you’ll notice is that the larger your weapon, the more of an AoE effect it has. This makes mobs less of a hassle. And whilst the casting classes, at least at the start, cannot swipe and slash large numbers of enemies, the melee classes are open to do whatever the hell they want. Be in dodging, slashing, stomping or ramming.

There is cause for concern and confusion over the combat – something I hope to iron out. Many people assumed that because this is an action game, the number of skills in combat will be greatly reduced. Let me be clear, both melee and ranged combat isn’t simply a matter of using your weapon without skills. You’ve still need for the numerical keys, because, just as in other MMO’s, you have skills to supplement your main attacks. For example, my slayer could attack until such a point as his meter fills, at which point I could unleash a powerful and well animated AoE with added critical damage. If I didn’t want to use that, I could use a powerful charge attack or a knock back. This worked really well, and mirrored exactly the style and skill of other successful mmo’s. In short, whilst they have taken from other combat styles, they have given a lot more. Combat is fluid, fast and skillful. It works.

Ranged and casting is another matter. Whilst I didn’t level a caster per se, I did roll a couple up to a point where I got more spells. The Mystic, more of a DoT class, didn’t have as much kick as, say, the Sorcerer (comparable to a pyro in WoW, I suppose). This was mainly because both classes relied on a projectile spell, which, along with the Ranger, requires you to aim with the recticle. There wasn’t as much ‘oomph’ as the melee classes, but as soon as I started getting more skills this quickly began to change. But really, ranged casters in all MMO’s tend to suck until they get a few more skills under their belts, so it’s unfair to judge it at this moment. I will revisit this in my proper review when the game is released. For now, be cautiously optimistic about ranged game-play.

So now we’ve established combat roles in Tera, what’s the world like? This is something I want to talk about in some detail – mostly because it is ruddy amazing. 

The cities and world

Arguably, the best thing about coming into an MMO that’s already been out for over a year is the fact that you’re basically playing a fully patched and full years worth of post release content. Coming into Tera felt like entering an MMO that had been refined for years. From the subtleties of NPC character design, to the plants, trees and buildings dotted around, Tera felt like a real world from day 1. Remember your first day on WoW? If you started like me–which is to say alone–you rolled out of the starting area in Teldrasil into Darnassus with glee all over your face practically overwhelmed at the world you had before you. What to do? So much to see?

Whilst Tera doesn’t quite reach the point of overwhelming because, ostensibly, we all know exactly what we’re doing now, it captures the same charm and allure of a huge world.

Press M. Right click… oh, this is a big area! Right click again… mother of god.

Tera is a full and open, varied world. It encompasses everything we used to love about the Warcraft world with all it’s variation and depth and expansiveness. I freely admit that it has the most impressive game world of any MMO since World of Warcraft, and although I do not wish to digress into WoW too much, this means a lot to me; someone who values the PVE experience – and doesn’t so much RP, but enjoys RP around me. Yes, Tera is a role-players dream. The zones are huge when compared to games that feel more manufactured, such as Rift – and the cities, which I will come to in a moment, well…

The only city I visited was this one – situated in a very expansive albeit featureless zone after the journey via Pegasus. It was huge, beautifully detailed and scaled to an enormous and grand proportion. The brick work, little shops and areas were meticulously mapped out, full of charm and grandeur. If, like me, you’re sick of MMO’s leaving out towns – and look back at Aquilonia in AoC as probably the best town of any other recent AAA mmo, you will feel as though Bluehole have given you a gift with Tera.

Now, this isn’t some “click me and take a portal to the city” job seen in WoW and Rift, no – we found this town. We earned it. It wasn’t given to us on a plate. And that’s what makes it great. Imagine that, running around an exciting new world only to find a huge and explorable city. That, for me, is what MMO gaming is about – and it’s why Tera is worth a look.

The world outside the city is equally beautiful, with a sort of whimsical Final Fantasy IX feel.

This zone was compromised of rolling hills, an aqueduct and bridges and roads connecting various areas around it. It was massive – almost too big. But it was a refreshing contrast to the cheaper, smaller MMO’s that have tried to sell questing hubs as a ‘world’ as of late.

Right, that’s enough – I think I had you at hello.

Utility

What use is such a big world if it isn’t implemented? In Tera, that have tackled this problem with a rather ingenious political system where guilds, and their leaders, win votes in a proper democratic election process allowing them to take over certain areas of the game world. If they win–which Tera assures you is no trivial matter–they have certain rights such as special gear, mounts, and the ability to tax and even put certain NPC’s in jail. Ostensibly, this political system will be expanded on to allow for guild PVP action, but that is just conjecture at this point. Needless to say, the potential is huge – perhaps reason enough for the Tera team to decide raids just aren’t for their game. Perhaps–again, conjecture–Guild work will consist of taking over other Guilds areas? Full scale PVP and PVE Guild content.

On the subject of PVE and PVP, Tera features ‘extended encounters’ which are mini-dungeons that expand upon normal questing. Such an event may feature things such as this:

This ‘BAM’ is so big that I can only make out my character by looking at his sword. The boss featured an extensive array of dungeon-boss like skills, meant for five players – although myself and a friend managed it alone. It was though, though.

Aside from this, there are various other dungeons; 11 in total, including hard mode variations. They feature a full party set up and proper CC, role orientation and standard boss tactics just as in other MMO. Healing, although I haven’t used it myself, seems comparable to Shaman healing in WoW relying on short, AoE and chain heals. Healers, don’t worry – Tera has not forsaken you, you have your work cut out for you.

Is Tera worth my time and money?

There is enough content here to merit your free 30 days easily, and enough world and potential to merit a full time subscription. Although media hype focuses more on Guild Wars 2, leaving Tera as some baby-brother Asian MMO out of the blue, Tera will be 2012’s greatest MMO release for players who want a more PVE oriented experience. And whilst that’s true, there is still a wealth of PVP in the game – and the combat mechanics make it a hell of a lot of fun. Of course, there’s PVP gear to attain and other benefits just as you’d expect, and the level of skill required to block, dodge and stun etc manually adds another level to PVP we’ve just not seen in any other AAA fantasy mmo to date.

It the fact that this is a subscription MMO a bad thing? That’s a tough one. Bluehole have already been publishing new dungeons, skills and content even before the game is released. The dev team works – hard – this much is certain, and the world has huge potential. The combat mechanics are solid – and whilst questing reminds us of WoW, it reminds us of a time when questing in WoW was fresh and fun and, dare I say it, adventurous!

You’ll have to make your own mind up on this one – I’m only here to tell you that there is a real game here. Real depth. Real lore (you can even buy four e-books written by the development team based around the story for only a couple of euro each). Combat is solid, graphics are beautiful and gear and classes are dynamic and varied.

I believe that Tera has the potential to be a huge success – and they’ve earned it, it just requires a little faith and a little myth busting. Whilst it is no way a near perfect game, at this juncture I’ve enough material and faith to say that Tera already surpasses the content and gameplay of a game such as Rift, and has a wealth of content planned even before release.

If there’s one thing Bluehole studio are making sure of, it’s that you’ve enough to do – not just for those of us at end game, but for those of us who haven’t even yet planned to play.

If you want a deep, expansive and vibrant world to adventure in, with extensive PVP, PVE and social guild events and team-play, then look into Tera. They’re not asking you to buy XP boosts or to play by their rules – they’re just equipping you with the necessary tools for adventure.

Is that worth the cost of the retail box and 30 days? I’d say so. A little faith goes a long way.