TERA Beta Review: So Good, So Bad

All the gamers have been talking about TERA, friends, and for good reason. Boasting point-and-shoot mechanics and the dreamy aesthetic so common to Asian MMOs, TERA has been built from the ground up to appeal to the world gaming market. Unfortunately, the game has yet to address some pretty serious endgame problems and, what’s more, does a somewhat poor job of designing an environment in which everyone can feel at home (more on that later).

Slated for release on 1 May 2012, TERA began its closed beta weekends for folks who signed up or pre-ordered the game on February 10th; it will have a total of 5 beta weekends until April 22nd. Those who pre-ordered the game will receive head start access to the full release on April 28th. Buzz for the game erupted in a big way a couple of years ago when attendees at industry conventions finally got a chance to give the first few character levels in TERA a spin. Soon after, TERA released in a few select Asian markets, but with far less fanfare than En Masse had hoped. Those low numbers quieted some of the excitement around the game. No one is quite sure why the Asian markets did not take so readily to the game, especially given the general response from beta testers here in the States, but one thing is certain: En Masse has spent a great deal of time and money making sure this game makes waves for its North American release.

The most striking difference between this MMO and MMOs like World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic is the gameplay, which leaves players on the edges of their seats and fully engaged in each combat encounter, trash or not. In this sense, leveling can become tiring -– not because it is dull, but because killing things takes so much damned attention. Melee classes manually block, dodge, or both, and they have no auto-swing. All casters must kite, aim their spells, and in many cases, get nice and close to do the most damage. Likewise, healers do not have the benefit of raid frames in the conventional sense; mouseover heals do not and will not exist. Heals are cast in AoE circles on the ground or, for single heals, by facing the player, locking on, and casting. Players can avoid all or nearly all boss attacks by reading boss tells and moving out of the way, which means that “Don’t stand in the fire” will not be adequate for raid encounters, especially since the bosses are typically very mobile or require kiting. You can imagine, then, how much more complicated tanking and healing roles become.

Here’s a nice little video showing what combat looks like from the perspective of a Sorcerer (DPS caster):

 

And here’s a video from the perspective of a Berserker (DPS/tank melee):

The crafting system is almost identical to the one in Aion in many ways. There are designated crafting areas with training missions available. Like Aion, players can gather any materials in the world without having to specialize in the gathering profession. This means that any plant or mining node is fair game provided a player has the skill level to utilize it. So far, the best possible crafted items are on par with those available from endgame boss encounters, which is great news! Enchanting is available to everyone, regardless of which professions they choose, and allows players to unlock special item abilities and increase base attack or defense values.

All of this sounds wonderful, to be sure, but will TERA succeed?

screenshot of Tera character standing in front of trees and mountains
Asian-MMO aesthetics soften the hard lines that Western MMOs tend to favor

Possibly. Many of the elements for success are present: slick UI, unique combat mechanics, interesting lore, and lots of time sinks for hardcore gamers. And make no mistake, the visuals for this game are breathtaking. But just as TERA has some tremendous strengths, it has some very serious drawbacks. I don’t feel that these drawbacks are adequately discussed at the moment, so I’m going to examine them here.

Unlike most other MMOs, boss encounters (the closest things to “raids” so far) are open world rather than instanced. While each server generates additional channels based on player population, that still does not address the reality that guilds are going to have to share encounters and, at least on PvE servers, wait their damn turns to raid. On PvP servers, it means ganking and much tom-foolery.

 

Pic of Tera character flying on a unicorn
Image Courtesy of Mooshuu

What’s more, boss encounters with five players are already a little frantic because of the point-and-shoot mechanic. Rather than toss heals by clicking on raid frames, healers must use AoE heals or turn their characters to the player they wish to heal, lock on, and cast. Imagine two or three healers managing that with a 10-player raid. Now imagine a 20-player raid. Yeah, that could become a real mess.

Finally, and it always seems to come down to this, there is the issue of rendering. The visuals, especially the spell graphics, are extremely rich. In a game that relies entirely upon movement and timing, however, a player cannot afford his or her video card to skip a beat. The frames *must* be compatible with high-end raiding, and with spell graphics for 10 or more players, that may not be possible.

Elin character from Tera faces the camera and performs a spell
Image courtesy of MMOSITE.COM

But arguably the most troubling component of TERA is its flagrant and often giddy objectification of women – I mean, sexy is one thing, but when you have to scrub nipples off of female characters and *most* the in-game statues (NSFW)  for Western release, all whilst the community debates the ideal angle for ass-tilt to the camera, we’re in some sketchy territory. I’m all for creating idealized universes in which men and women are equally objectified without sacrificing plausibility or character development, but Tera takes objectification to a whole ‘nother level. From the creepy sexualized race of little girls, the Elin, to the thong-wearing, asses-tilted-perpetually-up-at-the-screen Castanic, it just don’t feel right.

And plausibility just has no place here. I get that the universe is fantastical; I understand that many parts of the world are more comfortable with the human body; what I do not understand is why the boobs must jiggle so much and how a thong bears any relationship to plausible armoring. Look, I anticipate the dudebros saying, “Hey, we’re just as objectified here. Look at those muscles on the male characters!” But the reality is, the muscles aren’t there to titillate the female players – they’re there to make the male players feel more badass and manly. Two guesses why the large, jiggling breasts are there, however.

Now, I’ve written about female video gamers in the past and how we account for 40% of all gamers, according to a 2010 study by the Entertainment Software Association. And without flogging a dead horse, I just want to ask politely one more time: Why is it necessary or economically prudent to alienate such a large portion of the demographic by objectifying them?

A Tera character sits sidesaddle on a horse
Sidesaddle or astride is a political gender statement, dudebros.

 

And while we’re at it, whose brilliant idea was it to have females ride sidesaddle in TERA? I have to wonder if any of the developers are even aware of the reasons that led to sidesaddle riding for women, but let me give them a little clue should they stumble upon this article here: it was to protect the hymen and thus the verifiable virginity of women. Suffragettes went to vote for the first time riding sidesaddle and, having voted, left riding astride. Sidesaddle is a statement about gender. And it is absolutely silly to have nekkid women riding sidesaddle as their boobs jiggle for male pleasure, unless you’re really in to that whole Madonna/whore thing. Maybe if I saw a few parts of male anatomy likewise flopping around on a horse for obvious female pleasure I’d feel less upset about the matter.

Finally, I’m going to mention this in brief because I feel that it does need mentioning: there are alarmingly few options for dark skin in TERA. There, I said it. Now, I am fond of designing fantastical characters with white hair and dark skin for these sorts of games, so I’m inconvenienced by the lack of dark skin options in only the most immaterial of ways. I cannot speak about what effect a lack of skin color options might have for persons of color; I’m white as a snowflake and have no right or authority to do so. What I can do is call attention to the problem.

My final thoughts are these: TERA is a great game that suffers from extreme flaws. Lack of endgame content will kill a game faster than a poor UI or trite combat mechanics. TERA will need to fix its endgame issues and fast. As for the gender/race issues, I’m torn. I know that I will be incapable of rolling an Elin or Castanic because I am personally too uncomfortable with the objectification. Likewise, I find myself complaining a lot about the sidesaddle and boob jiggling issues that are endemic to all female characters. But great MMOs come along rarely, let alone ones with such engaging combat. In the end, I will still give this game a try because I believe in changing the industry from the inside. That may mean making noises to the developers about my complaints, but I’m up for the challenge.

 

Published by

Michelle Miller

Michelle Miller is a twenty-something blogger, cook, freelance writer and editor living in Seattle, Washington. She’s a feminist trying ever-so-hard to embrace her spaces, conventional or not. She looks forward to numerous bad hair days, burnt cremes, a soapbox or two, and maybe (just maybe) a yellow polka-dot bikini in the years ahead.

19 thoughts on “TERA Beta Review: So Good, So Bad”

  1. I wandered along to this article because I heard TERA females ride sidesaddle and…. hm. I am a sidesaddle rider! And I was actually interested in the game for that sole reason (and the fact that WoW is getting a bit boring)

    Though riding aside was a political statement about 100+ years ago, it no longer represents that. In actuality, at least women were allowed to ride at all, even if they were forced to ride aside. There was a saddle dumping/burning, and I can’t believe that they would do that, because I treasure my sidesaddles as antiques and investments.

    Do I mind that females ride aside? Nope.  Probably because I’m a female who rides sidesaddle in real life as well as astride. Should players be a little upset about the idea that females *must* ride aside?  Maybe, but you’re forgetting that women are objectified in almost every game, so why would TERA be any different?

    I would actually thank the devs and designers for making females ride astride, because that way it would spread the word that it is still a riding style that people continue to use around the world. It is now what I and many other ladies (and men, to be honest) would call traditional riding attire and most correct. My only gripe is that their equitation is horrid and there is no possible way they could ride astride the way they’re sitting. Also, it takes a really strong and athletic woman to ride aside, so I would actually think it’s empowering, not a gender statement.  But then again, video games can never get horses’ legs or necks designer the right way according to their skeletons, so I wouldn’t put too much hope in them fixing that.

    Just for reference:

    • http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/393592_546217699100_90900895_31101527_1469352537_n.jpg

    • http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/385568_546104001950_90900895_31101073_437740687_n.jpg

    • http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/399464_550122868110_90900895_31120404_217591612_n.jpg

     

    1. While in some part I agree with you, and I can most certainly respect the fact that it takes very strong women to be able to ride like that, I think that there are definitely some problematic things in making all the female characters ride sidesaddle.

      Michelle already talked about the gendered history and its roots in further oppressing women, so I won’t go into that again. And you’ve also got the fact that riding sidesaddle is more dangerous, and it requires more assistance.

      I think that there’s a divide between what the original article is saying and what you mention. To me, you’re hitting on a different thread in feminism: taking the gendered thing and using it as a source of empowerment rather than a negative force. I think that is a powerful thing, and it is absolutely needed. But, we can also talk about how these things have been categorically used to oppress women.

      One of the big differences I find between your decision and the history of the sidesaddle is, you made a concerted choice to ride sidesaddle. You wouldn’t be regarded as indecent if you decided differently. The women in the past Michelle talks about probably didn’t have that sort of choice. And especially when you take into account the reasons behind it, it becomes pretty sinister in my mind. And as for TERA, when all the female characters are suddenly forced to ride sidesaddle (and none of the male characters are!), it seems sort of…weird.

      I think it is possible that someone can take something they are “forced” to do by society and turn it around into something empowering. In fact, I think that happens all the time. But we should be talking about that forced decision, the reasons behind it, and the problems with it.

      And as for your mention that women are objectified in any game, I’m a little confused why you’re using this as a defense of the game’s practice. If women are objectified in almost all the games, that makes a culture. And isn’t part of the whole feminist project critiquing the oppressive parts of a culture?

      I don’t think the original article is trying to single out this game as opposed to others; rather, it is taking the approach of, here is what is shaping up to be a possibly excellent game, but it’s got these serious, serious problems. And by pointing out the problems, maybe we can start to influence that culture.

    2. Silverwane essentially responded perfectly in every way so I see no sense in repeating her. I take your points, though, Elisa (and the respectful manner in which you deliver them, too, which is a treat!).

      The origins and history of sidesaddle are fascinating. I really feel like sidesaddle has a lot in common with the kitchen, of which I am rather fond. I actively reclaim my kitchen from its roots in oppression every time I make a waffle. I like to think that you actively reclaim sidesaddle riding every time you take out a horse and go for a trot!

      Anyhow, Silverwane says it all so well, so I’ll leave it there. Thanks for stopping by!

       

  2. I’ve spoken to friends who were in the GW2 beta and they complained about some of the female caster outfits, so I’m not expecting too much from that. But TERA is more like a lingerie catalogue, when I first saw the video of the girl running with the pantie shot, I decided to pass on that one. I don’t care if it’s the greatest game in the universe, that aesthetic is lame and I haven’t finished Skyrim yet :) ie. I have other games, even other MMOs, and I can pass on the one with the lamearse female clothing.

  3. Firstly; YAY GAMING.

    Secondly; this may be a gigantic derail, but have you taken a look at Guild Wars 2? (General question to all P’neers). The ArenaNet team are fucking amazing so far and have at the very least promised to put choice at the centre of their armour debate (and have a great history of female characters). Ree Soesbee, the lore director for GW2, is really making it clear that she’s coded-ly aware of those criticisms and that she works to make the stories not follow traditional MMO douchiness.

    For instance, the Sylvari, a race of young plant people newly born by the time the game begins, don’t reproduce (they grow from a mother tree). As a result, gender roles in Sylvari society are *still being defined by the Sylvari themselves*, and so far seem not to have applied at all. Ree even went as far to in-interview say  (paraphrased) “yeah, why the fuck would they have a societal problem with homosexuality. Other races might but they don’t”.

    The armour’s also so far really tasteful and great, with lots of slutty male options and covered up (but still badass) female options. None of it feels exploitative or stupid, though.

    OH AND THE COMBAT SYSTEM DEAR GOD THE COMBAT SYSTEM. I played GW2 at a demo and it is a lot like you describe TERA but more intuitive (I think, certainly less complex to think about); the class design is made so that self-support is always possible and that all professions can fill all roles, but they all have different ‘flavours’ (necros support through minions whereas Elementalists do it through water magic, and their profession gimmicks support that).
    Really, one of the biggest put-offs from TERA for me was the generic Asian MMO “WIMMENS R SEXY” vibe. I’m just getting too weary of it.

      1. The original story from the first game was full of great female characters. There’s a group of four who you adventure with in the first game; of them, the two women are clearly the leaders (one of them is the declared leader, a hammer wielding warrioress BAMF, and the other one is a hot-headed, rash Elementalist burn everything QUEEN OF ALL) while the men adopt, respectively, roles of contrition and aged experience.

        In the first expansion (Asia-themed) there are two factions; one is led by the “Three Queens”, who are Clan leaders and are bamf and get the best dialogue of the game; on the other side it’s a young woman challenging her culture’s insular values who finally gets them to see sense.

        In the second expansion (North Africa/Middle East-themed) the leader of your side is a bamf spear-throwing military general who eventually ascends as the Goddess of Truth.

        In the final expansion a girl called Gwen is the “renegade cop” of the piece, and Gwen stands in many fans’ eyes as the embodiment of the series and all that is bamf about it.

        GW2 promises so far; a feminist revolution among its cat people (Charr, giant grry monsters who you can now play) by Kalla Scorchrazor, who overthrew a sexist hegemony to restore equality and atheism to the Charr (who reject all Gods as just being powerful beings, not worthy necessarily of worship; naytheists, not atheists, I guess), a BAMF Queen of the humans whose name escapes me but is basically awesome, the Norn hero Eir (who is a red-headed giantess with a black wolf who is also a renowned sculptress and an exemplar of her people) and many, many of the small, gnome-but-more-evil Asura, who are essentially technocrat BAMFs who can control giant golems.

        DO YOU SEE WHY I LOVE THIS GAME ALREADY

          1. Guild Wars is a bit of a sleeper hit! You wouldn’t know from how visible it is that it’s actually something like one of the top 5 successful US MMOs ever, but the community’s great for an MMO, there’s very little flaming or stupidity, and ArenaNet (the devs) are actually pretty sensible.

                  1. Oh, okay, great example of the awesomeness; the Mesmer is a profession which uses mental magic and such to trick foes and cause damage. It has two skills on the same weapon (half of your skills are determined by your classes’ idiosyncratic use of a weapon – so Rangers use swords for evasion, Warriors use them for one-person damage);

                    Leap makes you jump at the opponent, while an illusory copy of you casts a damaging spell.

                    Illusionary Leap makes the illusory copy jump at an opponent, while you cast a damaging spell.

                    They are visually indistinguishable.

    1. I have been keeping a close eye on Guild Wars for quite some time now. It has a lot of promise; the fact that it will differ so greatly from GW at present does a great deal to recommend it. I can think of few games so in need of revitalization! 2011-2012 is such a big year for gaming that I’m beginning to despair of keeping up with and trying everything, to be honest. Lord knows I’ll try!

      1. Quite! I’m a die-hard GW1-er and even I admit that it needed evolving. What has come out to me in the GW2 development process, though, is a company producing something really awesome. I’m determined to be there on launch day (fuck school. Who needs school?)

        I’m also a total fanboy. I apologise. It’s mostly non-judgemental fan-ness, I try to only speak for myself. But I’m getting that giddy feeling, and I haven’t had that for a really long time.

        1. I totally approve of GW fanboying. It’s definitely a game that deserves fanboys and fangirls because it’s one of the most playable games of ALL TIME.

          I’m really stoked for the GW visuals I’ve seen so far (and of course the lore). If I see enough interest (and it looks like I’ll do), then I’ll really press to get in and do a review.

          MMOS ARE FUN.

    2. I was going to comment about how my radar has been so massively fixed on GW2 since 2007 when it was announced that I hadn’t even heard of TERA (It does look interesting, but I will definitely give it a pass. I don’t think I could get past the wee furry animals and the anime style to the human-type characters; just not a fan).

      Loved GW1 though and now I’m 3ish hours away from the first beta weekend for GW2!!!!

      Oh, and I second each and every one of your comments!

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