When it comes to MMORPGs, TERA makes the competition look TERA-ble. Originally released for PC in 2012, TERA excels in innovation and makes the entire genre feel like new.
At first, TERA appears to be a World of Warcraft clone. After all, it has a fantasy setting, tanks, healers, DPS, quest givers with punctuation above their heads, etc. But once the game begins proper, the differences become crystal clear.
TERA is an action MMORPG, the action being key to the game’s fun. The combat takes center stage, ditching the slow targeting and spell system of WoW for a dynamic third-person camera with an aiming reticle. To attack just point and click in the direction of the nearest red health bar.
However, to maximize damage, mastering skill chaining is a must. Some abilities have specific chains into other abilities you unlock as you level up that can lead to devastating combos.
The Ranger, for example, can back away from enemies as soon as level one, but once you unlock Penetrating Arrow, any dodge can be followed with a shot that penetrates multiple targets. Penetrating Arrow’s downside comes from the long ending lag of the move as the Ranger recovers from the powerful shot. But another skill, Sequential Fire, can be chained immediately after Penetrating Arrow and can cancel the slow end lag.
With skill chaining, a Ranger can dodge circles around enemies and line up big damage shots that can be cancelled out of for even more damage. Every class uses different chains, so experiment with the enemies to learn the optimal route to chain skills.
It doesn’t matter how fun the combat is if the other side doesn’t fight back, but thankfully TERA takes a different approach to mobs and bosses than other MMOs. Oftentimes RPG combat feels like a slap fight as both parties sit around and auto attack, slowly chipping away at each other until one dies. But in TERA, enemies react.
There is no guaranteed unblockable damage when enemies attack. Instead, when a monster attacks, they wind up and swing. If the player’s character touches the attack, they get hit. When you take damage, it never seems unfair because there’s always a window to dodge. Some of the bigger enemies (referred to as Big A** Monsters or BAMs) play more like Monster Hunter than an RPG, requiring dodging and perfectly-timed counterattacks to take down the massive beasts.
The way TERA implements mob pulling makes open world traversal convenient, as only monsters the player needs to kill for a quest will focus on the player and attack. As soon as you kill 10 Sporewalkers or Devan Warriors or what have you, that enemy type won’t automatically get aggressive when you approach within a 10-mile radius like other open world MMOs. They’ll still focus the player if touched or attacked, but they won’t seek and destroy from a football field away.
This helps in questing because zones are usually dense with monsters, and enemies respawn frequently. Having to fight them all would be a nightmare. But if one or two other players share your current quest, there’s no downtime waiting for a mob to respawn.
Quests in TERA don’t stray far from the established formula of MMORPGs. The story of TERA plods along from basic quest to basic quest, requiring the Chosen One and strongest warrior in all the land to pick seven flowers or find a teddy bear.
The story does at least try to make the player care, specifically through Anya, a “gifted child” who acts as the damsel in distress for our hero to rescue. Before her kidnapping, the player gets the opportunity to become friends with the little girl, even attending her tea party with stuffed animals. But TERA fails to make anything interesting out of that in terms of gameplay and decides to just fade to black instead. A little more care or attention to these story beats would have made their impact much greater when the mustache-twirling villain eventually steals the child.
Occasionally a line of text will appear in red across the top of the screen to give context to a story quest. For example, when looking for Anya it might say “But she was nowhere to be found” when entering a town.
At first this felt jarring, but I came to appreciate the text as sort of a dungeon master in a DnD campaign adding bits of flavor or explaining a situation. It doesn’t do enough to save the overall story of course, which doesn’t pretend to be much more than an excuse to keep killing things. But boy, do I love killing things in TERA, so I can excuse the lack of effort in other areas.
If classic MMORPG combat has lost its luster but the craving for a medieval fantasy epic still burns hot, TERA provides a breath of fresh air. Don’t go in expecting anything interesting story-wise, but as a free-to-play MMO, countless worse options exist.
Thriving isn’t a word I’d use to describe TERA’s community, but enough people still log on to enjoy the MMO experience. The inventive combat and PvE content make for a fun monster slaying time, either with a group of friends or leveling solo. So download the game and TERA those baddies a new one.