The Game Developers Conference in San Francisco just wouldn't be the same if it weren't cold and rainy, or if there weren't exciting new games on all platforms on display. Fortunately, there has been plenty of rain, and plenty of new games, like TERA from publisher En Masse and developer Bluehole. As you may recall, the game is a massively multiplayer game originally developed in Asia but brought over to Western shores, and unlike in most other games of this sort, combat is resolved using third-person action game mechanics that have more in common with Dynasty Warriors and God of War than with World of Warcraft. In our GDC 2011 hands-on session, we played as a level-23 berserker character armed with a gigantic two-handed axe. Like many other online games, TERA has different character classes that are intended to fill out specific roles, and the berserker's role is to dish out as much damage as possible.
Our play session took place at the end of an "instanced" adventure zone (one generated specifically for our party), in this case, the cove of a dastardly pirate army that was conducting raids on the nearby area. Our quest was simple--hack our way to the bottom of the caves and do away with the pirate captain, the faction's suspiciously frail-looking female leader. We hacked our way through some of the hulking pirates in a small group of four that included a defensive warrior with heavy armor, a healer, and a sorcerer character armed with damaging magic spells. As we quickly figured out, the berserker's job is to get close enough to start dealing melee damage while not being so damaging as to attract the enemy's attention. Our party was balanced to have our armored warrior in front to attract our foes' attention while we and the sorcerer dealt as much damage as possible (without drawing the monsters' ire) and the healer kept everyone alive with healing spells (again, without drawing the monsters' ire).
The berserker character we played was equipped with a standard melee attack that could be performed by repeatedly left-clicking the mouse (most TERA characters will have a standard three-hit melee chain attack). This character class starts battle with an empty skill meter and fills up the bar with normal attacks--this meter can then be used to power the profession's special combat abilities. Our character had four of these; one was a self-"buff" (a skill that empowers its target) that immediately increased our skill meter, and the other three were powerful melee attacks that could be "charged" to multiple levels by pressing and holding the appropriate hotkey and waiting for another onscreen meter to fill up completely, and in some cases, twice over.
Fully charged versions of our skills dealt much more damage than uncharged versions, but charging a skill caused our character to move much more slowly than normal. In addition, our character had the ability to block against incoming attacks by pressing the "C" key to hide behind his own massive axe. Some characters will have skills that trigger "combo" attacks--using one special attack skill will, for a few seconds, give you the chance to immediately launch into a follow-up skill (which you can easily trigger by tapping the space bar). Though our character didn't seem to have any set combos with his abilities, he did have a "retaliation" attack that let him immediately regain his footing with a deadly swing of his axe whenever he was knocked off his feet.
Given that the berserker wields huge, two-handed weapons that are already slow to swing (and may miss completely if your opponent dodges out of the way of your slow, powerful weapon attacks), faster enemies can give the berserker trouble if you're sloppy about attacking willy-nilly. And as we've seen previously, TERA's enemies do dodge incoming attacks, not to mention cast spells, block incoming attacks, and summon enemies. However, this shortcoming doesn't seem to affect the character much in a balanced group, especially if another character is standing up front and doing the "tanking" (standing on the frontlines and attracting your enemies' attention). We found the minor delays we encountered having to charge up a skill and then again slowly walk an additional few steps to enter melee range, and the overall slow swinging speed of our axe, to actually be helpful, over all. This is because although we did a ton of damage and fired off our charged-up attack skills as often as possible, the delays in our attack speed helped make sure we weren't doing so much damage that our enemies turned their attention to us.
We made our way down to the pirate captain and engaged her immediately, cutting her down in just minutes. However, presumably as a part of the quest's underlying story, her death caused another, much more powerful enemy to appear behind us. In this case, our final foe was a gigantic lumbering creature made of bedrock and lava, and the creature had spectacular abilities, such as swinging its colossal, anvil-like arms in an arc to knock us flat on our backs and spitting molten boulders, whose trajectories were clearly marked on the ground as glowing circles to be avoided at all costs. After much hacking and much slashing, we finally brought the beast down and claimed victory. TERA is an intriguing take on massively multiplayer games, and we can't wait to see more. The game is scheduled to launch later this year.