World of Warcraft wasn’t the first MMO, nor is it the longest running, but it’s certainly the most popular, boasting an impressive 11 million subscribers. Thus it should come as no surprise that when a new MMO comes on to the market it has to compete with Blizzard’s behemoth. Developers of these MMOs know this, and so their best strategy is to try and get a cut of the action. Their plan involves taking the basics of World of Warcraft and dressing it up with some new gimmick. This is a fallacy. Nobody wants more WoW. If I want to play WoW then I’m going to log into WoW and play WoW. I’m not going to buy a whole new game and learn its quirks and try to integrate myself with its community only to find out that I’m playing a re-skin of WoW. On the other hand, The Exiled Realm of Arborea, or TERA for short, claims to break the mold that Blizzard made popular. Is it successful?
My first encounter with TERA was at En Masse’s booth at PAX East. It was magnificently crafted and made entirely of wood. It looked like a giant hollowed out tree adorned with stained glass windows. I wish I had taken a picture just so I could use it for this article. It looked really nice. Along the outside there were stations set up to play the game solo through some sort of starting area. I didn’t check these out because the lines to play were nebulous at best and unintelligible at worst. On the inside of the booth were five stations set up, each preset with a tank, healer, and three damage-dealing characters. It was a high-level dungeon demonstration. The line for this was short, well-defined, and on a nice carpeted floor. (When you’re on your feet all day for an entire weekend, carpets quickly become your best friends.) The man leading the demonstration, our guide, had told me healing in TERA is different from other games and the class which I was going to be sitting down to play was a Priest. I told him I play a Priest in WoW as if I were responding to a challenge—pride is a terrible thing.
The dungeon, the Temple of Temerity, was fairly structured. The man guiding us walked my companions and I through getting into the rhythm of combat and how the game played. The trash pulls seemed fairly effective at breaking in the tanks and damage dealers, and I had a fairly good idea of how to heal as well. We approached the Big Ass Monster, or BAM, and entered combat. BAMs are TERA’s boss creatures. If the BAM we fought was any indication, then they’re aptly named as they are quite big. The BAM kicked my group’s collective ass. I died first while the rest of my companions died a minute later. Since I was playing as the healer (a Priest), it is very safe to say it was my fault that we died.
Combat in TERA is very much a game of skill. It’s possible to avoid most if not all damage by playing skillfully. As a healer, that makes it very easy to get bored. Blizzard recognized this when they redesigned the healing classes in World of Warcraft for the Cataclysm expansion; when healers have nothing to heal, they’re going to want something to do to keep themselves occupied. In Wrath of the Lich King, bored healers would find themselves just running around and jumping in between heals… assuming that this constant change in position didn’t affect the rest of the group in some negative way. After the demonstration was over, our guide asked me what I thought of healing. I told him, quite unfairly, that it was very boring. I said that while I wasn’t healing I was looking for something else to do but there wasn’t anything. He then said that Priests rock the best damage at the end game and are highly prized by skilled players. I would have liked to continue the conversation, but he had another group to lead in and I had a panel to queue up for. Healing in TERA isn’t boring per se, but the station I was sitting in was not set up in a way I would consider intuitive. There were damaging spells on the action bar, but due to how the game plays I wasn’t able to mouse over them and read which spells do what. Not only that, but these spells were placed on the 7 and 8 keys which I am not used to reaching for; in WoW, all of my healing and damage spells are bound to 1-4, and the Q,E, and R keys, with extra modifiers for Shift, Ctrl, and Alt granting me immediate access to 28 of my spells. Additionally, I have spells bound to my mouse buttons which can also be modified, giving me access to an additional 12 spells. Thus it is unfair for me to say healing in TERA was boring when the reality of it is that I was approaching the game with a different mindset and non-normal keybinds. I failed to adapt and so I failed my group. If I could have continued the conversation, I would have said: “Healing in WoW is a game of whack-a-gnoll. Keep the green bars filled and don’t pay attention to the world around you except when DBM tells you to. Healing in TERA isn’t like that at all and it actually has an interesting combat model. I liked what is there but not how the game was presented.” As previously mentioned, there wasn’t enough time to say this. And for the record, I do not raid with the Deadly Boss Mods addon installed. I don’t need it.
I thought about what I had played while I waited in the queue for the next panel. My initial impression is that it’s a game for the 13-25 year old crowd. The character design is overly sexualized—females especially, but there are two races where males look “bishi”—which suggests that the game is aimed at horny teens. Being more concerned with looking at the game world and interacting with it, I didn’t notice the character design in detail until I was looking at the promotional material in the line. (By the way, queues at PAX East were basically getting in line and then sitting down until it was time to move into the theater. It’s a great way of getting people off of their feet, but it also allowed me the chance to open up my laptop and check out TERA in more detail while I was waiting.) The combat system, considering how much effort is required to play, did not strike me as being friendly to older players. As we get older our reflexes dull and staying on task in a stressful environment can be too much for the average person. Part of what makes World of Warcraft so popular is the low barrier to entry. You don’t need to pres a key every second of a fight—something that would result in 360 keystrokes per minute—you just need to hit the button and wait for the cast and then press another button. Granted, older people who picked up gaming years ago would be better accustomed to a system that requires more rigorous activity, but given how niche of a culture gaming was even a decade ago, I wouldn’t imagine there to be a great number of older people flocking to play TERA.