After years of waiting, TERA is finally opening its doors to North American players. This game has been quite newsworthy lately: Not only it has promised a combat system of the next generation of MMO, its history of controversies both in its country of origin and here in the States attracted a lot of media attention within the MMO sphere. Yet no amount of good hype, bad press, and other kinds of controversies will deter the Tera’s impending launching on May 1st, whose success will then depend on the game’s real quality rather than any passing of words. As the final beta period wraps up past weekend, it is time to passing down some verdicts in before the game goes live.
Before we begin the beta gameplay stuff, for record keeping purposes, I’ll briefly cover the three most significant controversies around this Tera prior to its North American release.
1. NCSoft lawsuit drama
Disclaimer: I’m no legal expert, nor am I able to confirm the original Korean sources that are involved. There has been a lot of news report on these lawsuits as of late, and it is difficult to tell which of them are factual and which of them are generated by the NCSoft and Bluehole’s PR machines.
Long story short: former Lineage 3 developers from NCSoft stole that game’s source code and left the company. Later they were criminally convicted for that. Sometime along the two events, these developers found Bluehole Studios and incorporated much of the original Lineage 3 concept to what we now know as Tera. Not surprisingly, NCSoft sued Bluehole Studio. Although the Korean Supreme Court declared the individuals responsible for stealing the software guilty, charges against Bluehole by NCSoft are largely overturned, so TERA can and will continue to exist (at least in Korea) for the time being. A brief timeline of the litigation from mmoculture.com has some basic information, although it has several key events only vaguely described.
On the other hand, a report from thisisgame.com appears more credible. It clearly and simply stated the results of the Korean lawsuits.
Years have gone by, and as En Masse Entertainment (Tera NA publisher) brought the game to closed beta, NCWest filed a complaint against EME in a New York court, on ground of the game has been allegedly developed based on stolen source code from NCSoft’s, whose profit will be unfairly breached by Tera’s inception in the West. NCSoft’s wording in the complaint, which has been called a thinly disguised press release that anyone can download and read, made it clear that Tera contains inexcusable amount of similarity in its concept design to that of Lineage 3’s.
Offstage from the legal drama, an ugly fight between En Masse/Bluehole fanboys and haters, predictably. But despite all these drama, the game’s NA launch date will remain firm and unaffected. At last, even though Bluehole and En Masse may escape the burning breath of NCSoft, Tera will be forever branded a “stolen game that was Lineage III”.
2. Elin and Censorship
It is commonly known that many “cartoony” Asian MMO feature entire populations of player characters and NPC looking like preteens, the
loli childlike race of Elin in Tera has brought an excessive amount of scrutiny to the game. Many people were upset, and the term “pedophile” was flying around instigating all sorts of flames.
Here’s a good quote that sums up my feeling on the topic:
Primal Zed said
I think what a lot of people either ignore or just haven’t seen in regards to TERA’s hypersexualization is that it goes beyond what you can get from just screenshots of the game. Combat animations also accentuate the focus on sexualization: characters stick their ass out while running and jumping, belly dance while casting, engage in full pelvic thrusts while shooting a bow. The extra-controversial Elin race has a very noticeable hip sway as their standard combat-ready animation. It’s that kind of thing that makes me wonder whether the people who are saying it’s no worse than other games are actually doing an objective comparison.
To me, a fundamental mismatch in perspectives is what’s causing all these shenanigans. Here’s a selection of Tera’s ESRB rating:
Several environments depict large pools of blood on the ground or covering torture devices. Some female characters wear revealing outfits that expose large amounts of cleavage and buttocks; their breasts occasionally bounce while running and jumping, and players have the ability to manipulate camera angles for zoomed-in views.
Although I agree there is an excessive amount of sexualization of character design in Tera, I am neither bothered by it, nor am I able to draw a sensible parallel between Tera and real pornographic that everybody (and certain minority) would enjoy. I wish both sides can accept the simple reality that yes, this game sexualized many character models, including Elin, and no, not everyone who buys and plays the game are perverts and pedophiles.
3. The State of the Game
Ever wondered what made En Masse to take so long to “westernize” Tera? The primary reason is that the game was released with (allegedly) not enough stuff to do at high levels, thus the Korean and Japanese players soon found the game to expressed their boredom with canceling their subscription. Although lacking of end-game content is one of the more serious problems an MMO can have, it probably is a less concern for me as I rarely reach the end-game level in most MMORPG I’ve played. Obviously, having open beta level capped at Lv32 does is not informative on whether En Masse “westernized” a good amount of high level content for us NA players that will prevent this game flop again in here. Only time will tell.
A related note: Tera will launch without Battleground, aka pvp arena, until late summer. I found the news quite unnerving, since team arena format in any MMORPG is supposed to provide a more organized, ranked, and a level playing field for the participants. Lastly, due to the uncanny scaling of character’s level to their comparative strength, I can only hope some kind of normalization makes its way to those more controlled pvp formats.
Don’t ask me why… I made the exact same character twice: first in CBT4 and then in OBT. I guess I just really like Popori, and the Mystic class. Got to lv30 in CBT4, and lv32 (cap) at OBT (and with 40/4 crab suppression orders completed for those who know what I’m talking about
Although this game is a gorgeous eye-candy to many people, I am of the unfortunate minority who cannot see the awesomeness due to a texture resolution bug. For some unknown reason the game’s texture will quickly deteriorate from good quality resolution to an extremely crappy version. Efforts gone to tweaking both in-game and outside of the game settings did not help. Neither did the current knowledge base nor the responses from my support tickets provide any solution, yet. I suspect the game engine’s automatic quality reduction mechanism is broken, as my rig has no problem running Battlefield 3 in high settings. (Though with 100% CPU and GPU usage, yet Tera only utilizes about 80% of the resources most of them time, yet the deterioration still happens.)
But for the brief glimpses of high quality texture that was visible to me, the beauty are in the details–the equipment on characters have very detailed models and textures. Everything else, such as the color scheme, background, aerial and water reflection, coupled with fancy post-processing, look vibrant and immersing. Those who played Aion before could immediately pick up the similarity in the art style. However, compare to Aion, Tera does seem to lack in equipment model variety somewhat. Many armors and weapons look exactly the same except the color.
Tera’s game client offers a good range of graphics settings to cater players using different rigs. It looks like current generation of graphics card, ranging from medium to highest, all have their own optimal set of graphic options in the game. There are several options to limit amount of rendered objects on screen, such as maximum amount of displayed players, reduced special effects, and background object visible range, to allow even more fine tuned experience. Sadly for me, though, I’ll have to resolve the daunting texture bug to further dive into these.
BGM tracks in Tera are generally pleasant. Most of them are top quality orchestral pieces that enhances the mood of the scenery, or bumping up the blood during a boss fight. Though Tera doesn’t loop BGM indiscriminately (<- a source of annoyance), it does not have a jukebox feature to give players more freedom on what music they’d like to hear.
About the voice acting… Horrendous in the closed beta, and only a slightly better in the late open beta. The biggest problem is the diminutive bank of voice clips on any NPC, and the general bad voice actors whose quality makes me suspect that En Masses just invited their employees’ and their relatives and friends to do the voice acting. Not sure if there is an option to turn off NPC voices, but I don’t want to mute the voice overs in cut scenes as well.
Taunting a “true action combat”, Tera’s combat system is no doubt more dynamic and action-y than most MMORPG. Doing away with tab targeting and put emphasize on players ability to aim is definitely a welcoming change from the norm. The system is extremely engaging, and it has the potential to make a lot of typical mundane and grindy activities in traditional MMORPG more exciting. Although there are not many playable classes to choose from, all of them provide a largely unique play style than the others. Starting in early levels, players are given numerous skills to play around with. Although skills are relatively easy to acquire and to use them in combat, the spatial and temporal awareness of players will say a lot about their combat efficiency.
Main focus involving combat seems to be instances, BAM (big ass boss monsters on open fields), and some forms of PvP (which I did not touch during the beta). Quest chains lead players into exploring new zones and to decimate new monster populations; they are providing an extremely streamlined leveling experience. The instances are fun, as even the low level ones can be approached in non-linearly fashions to encourage different strategy and tactics. A delicate balance among soloable content to those that require a full group of 5. Players on both sides of the casual solo vs hardcore raiders can find their own fun in this game.
Gathering and crafting is worth mentioning. Gathering in Tera is much like in Aion, where resource nodes pop up on fields that players can interact with. It is only better–group members can share the same node, and a successful gathering applies a random buff on the player that result in synergies between killing monsters and taking occasion breaks while gathering. Tera’s crafting is also a lot like that of Aion. Unfortunately, given the short length of beta, it is still too early to tell how crafting affects the overall economy.
Staying true to the MMO formula, PvP in Tera is just as important as its PvE. As I stated earlier, however, I did not find the chance go into depth on the game’s PvP aspect during beta. The political system–a more distinct feature that has been heavily advertised, was not in beta at all. It’ll be interesting to see how it will turn out once the game launches.
Quests and Storytelling
As much as I’d like to praise the game’s combat for refreshing breeze, the questing and storytelling of Tera do not share the same praise by any extension. New players get to experience their class at lv20 right after character creation as a prologue and to kick off the main plot. Unfortunately, that prologue is the most interesting part of the plot as my lv32 self can tell. Coupled with bad voice acting, the cut scenes are way too cheesy and sometimes are downright confusing. The main story is mediocre at best, and the corresponding storyline quests show a minimal amount of effort from the developers to the point that I can barely call it plot progression.
Side quests are a bigger disappointment. 80% of them are “go kill 10 x/retrieve 10 x by killing y” type of quest that provide a lackluster background setting for why I have to kill what I need to kill. Yes, I’ve read all the NPC dialog and that’s why I’m saying this. Making the matter worse, all races and classes get the same set of quests with virtually no deviation–one less to create alts in a class-restricted MMO is… bad.
Anyway, this may or may not an issue to everyone, as most MMORPG (especially the F2P ones) have equally dull story and quests. I’m just throwing it out here so people can properly lower their expectation in Tera at this department.
Community and Customer Support
Except for the outlier MMO games, such as Eve Online or WoW, reviews, be it casual or professional in nature, rarely discuss the quality of the game’s community. When the community is mentioned, most of them are praises (unless, of course, it is Eve Online). I find it strange. I would not hesitate to criticize or praise a game, and I certainly would not hesitate to do the same to evaluate its community, since the community is an integral part of all MMO games and should be part of reasons that anybody would play an MMO in the first place.
A less-than-pretty common belief is that we, the MMO gamers, are not an exemplary helpful bunch on the Internet. (Is there anyone?) So far according to my observation, Tera is no different in this aspect than any other MMO, which features a full spectrum of flaming trolls on the forum to those who quietly helping strangers in game. It is inevitable for a heavily anticipated game like Tera to attract a lot of undesired elements to its forums. Apart from a few good guides and informative posts, most threads are filled with replies involving trolling, flaming other users, and flaming other games. Unlike Eve Online, Tera’s forum posters are more likely to defend and support EME and Bluehole (sometimes in rabid fanboy manners).
Nothing special here, of course, as I’m foreseeing once the game goes live and the freeloaders are off the wagon, worthless posts will reduce in ratio to the ones that are actually worth reading.
Again, it is not surprising to find the in-game community is much friendlier compare to the forums. Once out of the beginner island, I found myself doing much less /faceplam at the Area Chat. When people are asking questions, they are generally answered. The few pug dungeon and BAM groups I’ve been to are cool and offered polite feedback on how to improve people’s gameplay. However, I would imagine PvP server would be a whole different story.
On terms of customer support, I am glad to see that EME spent some effort building up a knowledge base of official answers to frequently asked questions. I earlier mentioned the texture bug; I have been communicating with a GM via the tickets. Although I got a first response quickly, it was a semi-automated message and only after a few back and forth, the GM finally understood my problem if he was to thoroughly read my initial ticket, and the link to the similar problem from another user’s report.
I actually by pre-ordering Tera’s Digital Collector Edition after open beta regardless of its flaws, and I am fully intended to spend time playing its first month, despite the oncoming final exams and Guild Wars 2 beta weekends. Tera is a colorful game with clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. Being an Asian game in art style will definitely alienate some but attract others. It is a game that has been polished over and over again via the (rather cheesy, imo) “westernization” slogan that may or may not change some people’s prejudice against Tera. I suppose it’s not entirely a bad thing to make a swift decision on whether to pay for a game only for its few properties. Hopefully anyone who was not sure had a taste in one of the beta weekends, or gathered enough information from other ways to make an informed decision.
Lastly, for anyone who is curious, my character name is Doggystyle, and I’m in the Dragonfall server.