When I last left En Masse Entertainment's upcoming MMO Tera I wasn't exactly gushing with praise. The action-packed combat was there, as promised, but the rest of the game felt like the same old questing grind.
Then open beta came around this past weekend, and I was so enthralled I nearly lost my children. What changed my mind? Aside from my character being mind-numbingly pretty, I mean.
Between my first play through and this one En Masse added an innovative prequel sequence, in which players run through an introductory adventure as a level 20 version of whatever class they choose, giving them a glimpse at what they could become. It's a brilliant feature, shedding light where other games would have players spend days figuring out they'd rather play something else.
Even with that and the stunning androgyny of Back the Sorceror, the Tera starting island experience proper remains rather unimpressive. You're led from camp to camp, collecting quests, fulfilling their orders, gaining experience and moving on. The majority of the quests are the old standard fetch and kill types laced loosely together by lore, with a series of more important story missions leading players to the inevitable group instance, where the rewards are as big as the bosses.
The starting island establishes this pattern; it's a series of quests leading up to a massive boss fight. Note that this video features my initial character, Caliban the Archer, who valiantly died so that Back might live through the open beta's one character per server restriction.
So if the game is so formulaic and linear, why can't I stop playing it? Why am I trying to hand-off Guild Wars 2 beta weekend duties so I can focus on Tera's early start?
For one, the combat really is that good.
Sure you've got to kill another dozen vampires, but when you look and feel like such an incredible bad-ass in doing so it's simply intoxicating. I am freezing opponents at a distance, setting off nuclear explosions under their feet, putting them to sleep, explosively leaping out of their path, teleporting behind them; there are so many opportunities to make yourself look and feel impressive.
Fighting the gargantuan elite creatures sprinkled about Tera's darkest recesses is less an issue of, "How many people do I need to take this down?" and more, "Hmmm, how can I take this down by myself without getting hit?" With some of the elite enemies I encountered later in the weekend the answer to that second question was, "You probably can't." Tera's massive monsters don't simply sit still and take your punishment. They jump. They teleport. They transform into steamrollers of death and roll you down. They feel less like MMO monsters and more like bosses from some God of War clone, only once they finally fall you turn around and there's an entire field filled with them.
Luckily the server I was on is filled with incredibly helpful people more than willing to join forces to take these big baddies down. The open beta is a magical time for any game, especially one like Tera where the players get to carry their characters over into the live game. No one has any preconceived notions about what's right and wrong. Few are ready to jump on a newer player and tell them they are doing it the wrong way. We're all learning.
All learning to kick arse, that is. Tera's group-oriented instances are filled with wonderful opportunities for teamwork to shine. Rooms filled with a hundred weaker minion characters, just waiting for a sexy Sorcerer to come and blast them all to hell while the heavily armoured Lancer keeps their attention.
So damn pretty.
The people I played with this weekend were a big part of my sudden passion for Tera. Now that the merely curious are starting to filter out, the truly dedicated rise up, ready to have a good time without constantly complaining on area chat about how so-and-so MMO is better and how Tera is no World of Warcraft killer.
Not only do these people want to explore this fantastic new world, they want to rule it. Tera features an extensive social-driven political end game, in which the top guilds struggle to put their leaders into positions of power through voting. Once in power those leaders will rule over areas, determining which non-player characters show up there, managing item prices, setting public policies and more, all powered by points earned through partaking in special quests that require an entire guild working together.
I had a chance to sit in on a meeting between some of the top guilds on my server on Sunday, where one guild leader attempted to establish an alliance with the others, creating a united consortium of rotating leaders. This all took place in a voice chat channel nowhere near the game proper.
Tera is a game that breaks out of the point-and-click MMO combat mould, yes, but it's also breaking out of itself, spilling over into the real world through these political deals. Once voting begins, expect it to be everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Google+... nowhere will be safe. Nowhere.
So while the game's mission structure falls neatly within the fantasy MMO frame, the rest of Tera is trying to tear itself loose. I feel the shudders and creaks every time I login. If we're not careful it could explode.