It seems now that every new MMORPG claims to be more action-oriented. Apparently, sometime between the MMO heyday and now, audiences have decided they want more Ninja Gaiden in their loot-gathering, and each new entry in the genre promises to be the one to deliver. TERA is the latest to take on the challenge, billing itself as a "true action" MMO. In a hands-on demo at PAX East 2012, I was surprised to find that boast mostly accurate.
I was grouped into a five-man team with a Bluehole developer acting as the healer, to help ward off against embarrassing death. I was assigned to the Slayer DPS role, a nimble melee fighter with a focus on closing distance, quick strikes, and then getting out of danger just as swiftly. The dungeon itself was fairly straight-forward, with some easy enemies to get a handle of the controls, followed by a longer boss encounter.
While the combat wasn't quite on-par with a purely third-person action title, it was certainly approaching it. Rolling towards an enemy, letting loose with quick strikes, and then dodge-rolling away before it had a chance to respond felt quick and responsive. It avoided the common MMORPG stigma of issuing a command and watching a character perform it. Instead, the commands correlated quickly and directly, for a more active experience.
While the hits felt like they had weight and impact, the boss itself seemed hollow. The Slayer class is best when striking at the enemy's back, so I would have to dodge-roll to get on the correct side if he turned to face me. It never seemed necessary to aim my roll to avoid hitting against the boss' legs -- it would simply always work. It's a minor complaint, but it was also the one element that felt most notably different from traditional action games. Plus, the Slayer is built around speed and quick strikes, so I have to imagine some other classes like ranged attackers or healers might not get the same sense of frenetic action that I did.
The dungeon was beautifully rendered, but fairly empty. At one point we smashed a fence to proceed. A developer noted that it was a simple example of environmental interaction, and more complex elements would be present in the final game. It would have been nice to see some of these on display as well, because smashing a fence wasn't terribly exciting.
As a show of confidence in the action, Bluehole allowed players to use a gamepad instead of the standard mouse and keyboard controls. Figuring this would be a good bellwether of the game's action chops, I gave it a try and walked away impressed. Aside from the oddity of transposing the usual attack/jump button configuration, this went a long way to convincing me that the game can hold its own as an action game.
Of course, being an MMO and still in development, everything could change when the game is live. I can only hope that the solid foundation I detected in my time remains once servers are crowded and more enemy types are available.
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