April 28 2012
TERA Online launches in a couple days, and the servers are now busy with early access players. Last weekend I jumped into the open beta to check out this new MMORPG from En Masse Entertainment and Bluehole Studios. As I mentioned in my primer on TERA, the main thing that sets it apart is the combat system, and that's what I'll focus on here.
First, it should be said that many massively multiplayer games have dabbled in action-based combat systems. Planetside, D&D Online, Tabula Rasa, and Age of Conan are just a few examples of titles that have implemented action-based mechanics into their combat. It's a growing trend and there will be quite a few games coming out this year that are experimenting with these systems.
TERA dispenses with auto-targeting completely, so all of your blows are delivered via crosshairs in the middle of the screen. By default the "Alt" key toggles between crosshair mode (where mouse look is always on), and cursor mode which allows you to select other interface elements such as your inventory. Pressing any movement key also conveniently snaps you back into crosshair mode.
TERA can be played with a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard. If you opt for the latter, by default you move with WASD and your most often used abilities are bound to your left and right mouse buttons. The rest of your abilities are activated with hotkeys; clicking is, of course, not an option because the mouse is dedicated to crosshair aim.
One cool aspect of this is that they make the spacebar context-sensitive. Under regular circumstances it makes you jump, but if a chained skill or some other more important ability becomes available, it will temporarily switch to that. I haven't seen anything quite like it since Hellgate London, and it's an excellent way to give players additional functionality without forcing them to use more buttons.
All of this shifts your focus to what's happening in front of you, rather than what's happening in the HUD, and that comes with an undeniable appeal. When you swing you potentially hit everything within range, not just a single target, as it should be. Despite this, TERA falls well short of being a shooter. Aim determines your target but it isn't all important and doesn't demand high levels of precision.
Ranged combat also seems thoughtfully implemented. Playing as an Archer I had several abilities at my disposal with unconventional mechanics. For example, I expected Multi Shot to be a pretty typical area-of-effect skill, but instead you select up to 5 targets by mousing over them with your crosshairs, then hit the skill button again to release the arrows, and it all has to be done quite quickly. The game has a number of "power charged" abilities as well, where the power of the attack increases while you hold down the skill button, and the shot takes place when you release the button. These sort of things are common in other genres, and it's good to see them making their way into MMORPGs.
Outside of combat, TERA strikes me a typical quest-driven themepark with graphics that are on par with any MMORPG out there, including Age of Conan. If you play for the story and read all the quest text, you probably won't be very impressed, but if you've been waiting for a MMORPG with more action-oriented combat, TERA certainly qualifies.