For a couple of weeks this summer, an open beta event was held prior to the launch of the Japanese version of Tera Online. I got in and played quite heavily during that time to get a feel for the current state of the game as well as where the American release intends to be in spring of next year, and I came away feeling a mixture of elation and hesitation.
Going into it, I was really excited. I've been looking forward to this game for a long time, thanks to a combination of its promise to deliver a more action-game approach to MMORPG combat and its gorgeous visual design. I reigned myself in a bit before actually playing so as not to be crushed when it didn't live up to what I wanted. I also didn't want to be unable to see any flaws if the core concepts managed to hold up. Turns out what's there is, perhaps unsurprisingly, somewhere in between.
In Tera Online, the animation is just as important as the numbers listed in the attack description.
Tera Online does hold up to having an action combat system, though this comes through primarily in the specifics as opposed to the overall feel. Many of the different classes have a fairly slow method of attacking at first, and combined with the standard practice of gradual ability accumulation along with the cool-down time, it feels more like standard MMORPG combat than I first thought it would. It's not until around the 20th level that characters begin to have enough abilities to chain together in a faster-paced way and that the normal attacks can be sidelined to the mana-regeneration status they're supposed to be.
Hit boxes are really the primary differentiation here, as swinging a wide attack will hit any enemies in its path but an overhead cleave won't strike anything off to the side. It's almost subtle and sounds like it should be a natural thing, but it's actually fairly refreshing compared to other games in the genre. After playing so many games with attacks that are designed to hit only one enemy and thus will do so regardless of what animation the character has, here the animation is just as important as the numbers listed in the attack description.
This also certainly goes both ways, placing the lion's share of a player's ability to survive on his own shoulders instead of relying primarily on a dice-rolling system. If a creature's attack comes at a player, he must specifically block or dodge the attack to not get struck. This highlights perhaps the best aspect of the combat system: tanking is really fun and survival is as much the burden of the damage dealers as it is the healer.
Random chance blocking and stacking percentage avoidance is out. Instead, a tank must read the movements of creatures and know when to raise his shield, run away, or slip between the legs of the frequently enormous creatures. At the other end of the party, the healer must also keep track of the target's movements so as to not get himself hurt while making sure he's in range for targeted spells to affect as many party members as possible.
But even with its freshness, many of the usual issues plague this relative newcomer. The quests are primarily the same format as any in other game in the genre - and while it's functional, it's also very much a been-there-done-that. Financial issues have also caused a slight restructuring of the developer's employees, which has in turn caused some of the endgame content to be more staggered than it should be. One of the primary reasons believed to be behind the pushing back of the American release from 2011 to 2012 is to make sure that players will have more things to actually do when reaching the level cap. Many MMORPGs tend to launch with almost nothing to do after leveling, and it often causes a large chunk of the player base to wander off, so this is certainly a wise if disappointing move.
Another issue which may or may not affect players is that Tera Online is in many ways reminiscent of Aion, which did not do very well after its release in the West. The combo-linked moves, the shared starting areas, the layout of the locked-off intro area story that leads to the first city, some of the visual design work, and other touches often bring to mind NCSoft's title. While Tera Online is most certainly not Aion once the player gets going, there are a few similarities that may deter some.
I was among those very saddened when En Masse Entertainment announced yet another delay pushing the title back to Spring, but after getting some good play time in I can see why the company would want to do that. Tera Online is certainly ready to ship (and already has in two countries), but if it's going to stand a real chance in the Western world then it needs to be as polished as it can be, and there are still a few rough spots in there. Nevertheless, I definitely await the chance to play more as soon as I can.