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?
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.
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.
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?
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.