Do you wish you could play Bluehole Studio's exciting and unusual hybrid of traditional massively multiplayer game and third-person hack-and-slash action game in a dark room? Sure, we've all been there. But in another, more accurate way, GameSpot has been there, at E3 2010, to play this fast-paced action role-playing game as part of a monster-hunting adventuring party.
If you're unfamiliar with TERA, the game is being developed by Asia-based Bluehole Studio with the intention of appealing to both Eastern and Western players who love playing in high-fantasy settings, mashing buttons to hack monsters to pieces, and gaining experience levels. The session we played took place on the colorful, grassy foothills of a large in-game landmass known as Mistmoar Island (yes, that's the correct spelling). Apparently, this particular excursion was a bounty mission to get rid of the evil Captain Marduk, a no-good monster boss who has brought his gang of misshapen critters to the island to capture the local peasantry and sell them into slavery. The island itself was brightly lit by sun and covered in lush grasslands, but TERA will apparently have more than 80 different hunting environments, including deserts, jungles, and polar regions.
To participate in this mission, we were given our choice of playing as one of four different characters in a five-character party: the berserker, the game's heavy-duty tank class that can soak up frontline damage; the warrior, a speed-based class that focuses on hit-and-run melee damage; the slayer, a damage-per-second class that wears light armor and must also dodge to avoid incoming attacks; and the sorcerer, a spellcasting class with little to no armor and no dodging ability that relies on dealing massive damage from a distance. (The five-character party also came with a healer character played by one of the studio's staff.) Instinctively, we chose the finger-wiggling sorcerer class simply because we're used to melee classes not being all that interesting in online games, but we later realized after watching the game in motion that the game's real-time, action-based combat and dodging will probably make even the plain old fighter class (or berserker, in this case) a lot more exciting to play.
In any case, before even joining our party, we noticed that our level-33 female sorcerer, of the elflike castanic race, was equipped with a mystical floating disc that orbited her wrist, as well as a lovely green evening gown and immaculately paired, high-heeled boots. You can tell just by looking at TERA that the game was developed in South Korea because of the art style and the insane amount of detail on each character model--particularly the attention made to each character's stylish apparel. Unfortunately, we weren't given much time to do a full fashion audit because the rest of our group had already started running into the hunting area to begin our mission.
On landing on the island from a boat, our group started inland, encountering our first foe, a gigantic crab monster with enormous front pincers. While the melee characters immediately engaged in combat, we hung back as far as possible and fired off as many damaging spells as we could. But this wasn't as simple as targeting our enemy and jamming on the hotkey because TERA is an action-based game that requires you to not only be within casting range, but also to aim properly and line up your shot to strike home with an offensive magic spell. Having played finger-wiggler characters before (and having a healthy respect for "aggro"--the attention of rampaging monsters that can be captured by a wizard who zapped too hard, too fast), we played it safe, generally staying just barely within spell range while pumping out as many spells as possible. We're told that part of TERA's aggro management will involve character facing. If you're a ranged damage character attacking a monster, it's in your best interest to not attack from the front because you'll be more likely to draw the beast's ire than if you had attacked from a flank or from the rear. Though we eventually got the hang of it, doing battle with a sorcerer still wasn't as easy as we thought it would be because spells require you to stand perfectly still to cast them.
While our character had five or six spells handy, including a few point-blank damage spells, we stuck with the three longest range abilities--a slow-brewing explosion that damages all enemies within a clearly defined black circle on the ground; a slow, floating, pulsating globe of electricity that can be charged up to three levels of power before launched; and an extremely fast, low-damage spell that launches bolts of fire. All spells cost a certain amount of spell power, and with the exception of the fire spell (which could be cast more or less endlessly), they all had cooldown timers to prevent us from abusing them. Even so, we found ourselves drained of spellpower frequently, but our character also had a recovery ability, which, when triggered after a brief casting time (which again, required us to stand still), greatly accelerates the rate at which we recovered our spent spell power.
The crab monster was surprisingly tough and had at least one "tell" for a special attack--briefly raising both of its claws high in the air before slamming them downward, inflicting extra damage and potentially knocking down any characters in the vicinity. Fortunately, the rest of our party consisted of TERA staff members who skillfully pummeled the beast, occasionally using a knockdown attack to briefly stun it while we alternated between recovering our spell power and blasting the brute back to the Stone Age.
After dispatching the giant crab, we wandered further inland and began finding some of Marduk's thug buddies belonging to his gang of "Red Lash" slavers--misshapen humanoids and scaly-skinned centaurs dual-wielding wicked-looking scimitars. These weren't as tough, considering they weren't considered to be "party mobs"--monsters that are intended to be fought by groups of players. But both the giant crab and the good captain are considered party mobs, and when we located Marduk (an even bigger, uglier scaly-skinned centaur with even bigger scimitars), we found out why.
This grueling battle required our party members to lay into the beast with as much damage as possible while watching for visual cues of its numerous special attacks, including a crushing blow that would stun its targets. There were several cases where we aroused the wrath of the beast (and heroically ran around in terrified circles until our tanks managed to peel it off of us). In one case, everyone other than ourselves and the healer died, such that we had to draw him away while the healer hastily cast in-combat resurrection spells to revive our fallen comrades. After casting many damaging spells, doing a lot of cowardly running away, and shouting on the part of our team members (who, to their credit, were trying very hard to make sure we didn't die), we finally brought the critter down, bringing our action-packed hands-on session to an end.
You might not think that a massively multiplayer online role-playing game that requires actual reflexes and good aim would work quite this well, but TERA seems like it might just make this innovative concept work. The game is scheduled to launch next year for the PC and will have a beta test sometime before then.