February 21 2013
It has been almost a year since TERA (The Exiled Realm of Arborea) landed on North American shores, and the subscription plan was recently scrapped in favor of the free-to-play approach. This MMORPG follows in the footsteps of other Korean titles that sought to expand into foreign markets, such as Lineage 2 and Aion. Given the vast cultural differences between these audiences, it's rarely an easy sell, and simply translating the game into another language is often not enough.
TERA's most prominent feature is its action-oriented combat system, which I discussed at length after spending some time with the game while it was still in beta. In a nutshell, TERA's combat is all about aiming with crosshairs, mashing buttons, and dodging, although it stays well away from becoming a pure shooter. It's not alone in trying to offer an alternative to traditional MMORPG combat, but in this case the execution is outstanding.
There are some peculiarities to adjust to. For example, once started, your abilities run their course and you can't move to interrupt them. It feels a little odd at first, but once you have a full skill set it all fits together very fluidly, and it also allows for some impressive combat animation.
If MMORPGs were nothing more than combat and graphics, TERA would get stellar ratings. Of course, the unmistakably Asian art direction will turn some people off, saturated as it is with hyper-sexual anime and Final Fantasy influences. Even World of Warcraft's cuddly Pandaren can't touch TERA's Popori race on the cuteness scale. Regardless how you feel about the artwork, there is no denying that it's beautifully rendered.
Questing in TERA is probably best described as uninspired, but at least it's there. Korean MMORPGs are known for some of the most epic level grinds in gaming history, so a quest system of any kind is welcome. Unfortunately, kill and collect quests, the mainstay of current MMORPGs, have become routine, and TERA heavily relies on them. At it's worst, the quest system sends you from one NPC to another to have a chat, then to another, then to another, then back to the first to get the actual assignment. There is a central storyline, but it's quite forgettable and if there were no quest text at all I'm not sure anyone would notice.
From about level 20 on, the game's dungeons and boss monsters make up for the weak questing to some extent. There are open dungeons with respawning mobs which numerous groups can explore at the same time, as well as private instances for a single group. Some of these have a hard difficulty mode for those ready to crank it up a notch.
TERA has several options for those that want player vs. player combat. There are PvP servers that allow players to attack each other in the open world, although this is not without consequences. To initiate such an attack you must first flag yourself as an "outlaw," during which time other players can kill you without becoming outlaws themselves. Outlaw status wears off after a few minutes out of combat. This system sort of works, but it could use more refinement, as players have found some exploits relating to safe zones and the ability to switch instances (called channels in TERA) at almost any time.
Battlegrounds don't become available in TERA until you've reached the current level cap of 60. It's possible to conduct a deathmatch at lower levels and even wager on it, but these are by invitation only. Another route to PvP is through your guild, which can declare war on other guilds.
One of TERA's more unique features is its political system, whereby players can become elected vanarchs of the world's provinces. During their term in office vanarchs can collect taxes from vendors in their province, as well as activate special shops, skill trainers, teleport routes, and so on. The server I'm on is new so the politics are just getting underway, but it's a commendable addition that I'd like to see in more games of this kind.
The limitations on free-to-play games are sometimes so severe that the game can't really be enjoyed without spending money, but that doesn't appear to be the case with TERA. There are no race, class, or level restrictions on free play, and most of items on sale are either cosmetic or convenience. XP boosts and lockbox keys are among the more useful items available in the store, which is fairly typical of F2P MMORPGs these days.
The Bottom Line
TERA definitely comes through on the promise of action-RPG combat, and does it as well as any game in the genre. Given that most of your time spent in a MMORPG is in combat, that's important. The game also has great visuals and a few features you don't often see in games of this kind, such as a political system. Parts of the game could use more polish, and if you want a moving storyline or deep lore, the questing in TERA probably won't do much for you. Similarly, if you're disenchanted with Korean MMORPGs in general, it's not likely to change your mind. However, fans of the genre that aren't fans of traditional RPG combat should give it a closer look, especially now that it won't cost them anything.