Every couple of years, a story will pop into my news feed about abandoned Chinese cities. Because I am a hound for weird news, I always click on the links and spend at least ten minutes browsing through the images of beautiful, barren cityscapes. It seems that, over the last fifteen years or so, China has heavily invested in building up a series of amazing modern cities. This was done with great attention to detail and at enormous expense. We aren’t talking about a couple of buildings here, we are talking about full cities, complete with living accommodations for millions of people, airports, opera houses, and libraries. Beautiful parks dot the landscape, giant sculptures and monuments tower over ornate squares, and modern skyscrapers tower over the skyline.
All of this was done with the anticipation that people would want to come and live in these majestic modern cities. And then…crickets. No one came. Giant swaths of territory in these bejeweled creations sit empty, populated only by maintenance workers and caretakers.
Looking at photos of these deserted structures fills me with the same wistful longing that I get when I see images of those bumper cars in Chernobyl, or the Six Flags in New Orleans that was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina. There is so much potential there for life, endless echoes of activities long since ceased, a restless and lonely silence where there should be the hustle and bustle of human existence.
Imagine my surprise when I got the same melancholy feelings that I get when considering these uninhabited constructs - while playing an MMORPG. But I did get those feelings while playing Tera, the 2012 MMO that has been reworked and released on consoles.
And that’s because Tera on consoles, right out of the gate, is a world abandoned. I don’t mean that people are not playing the game, because plenty of folks are logged in every time I play. I mean that the game contains a giant and beautiful virtual world, but Tera has evolved since its initial release on PC to give players a million reasons not to explore its glorious vistas. Entire amazing zones are utterly abandoned - with no one running quests, no one leveling up, no one seeking fresh gear – because Tera is constructed so you simply don’t have to. As a result, huge parts of Tera feel like those abandoned Chinese cities, with amazing spiraling hub areas and gloriously scenic country sides waiting patiently for visitors that will never arrive.
Plopping this MMORPG onto console - with years of change and streamlining performed to refine the experience of PC players already in place out of the box - creates an amazing sensation of discord. All of the content is there, it’s just that the reason to play through it has been removed. As a result, I found myself wandering the realm by myself, just to see the sights and pay respect to the development team that constructed them.
Let me explain a little bit with my own experiences:
Playing Tera the way you might play a new MMORPG for the first time is a mistake. I know, because that’s what I did. I created a character and launched into my first series of quests. I proceeded forward in the standard way I usually do, running quests and trying to get my head around the UI, Googling things that I didn’t understand for clarity. It was all going fine for a while, and I was having a good time.
Levels in Tera come at a furious rate, and before I knew it, I had progressed far enough that I was ready for my first instance. The five-man dungeon that I ran was fast and fun, not offering much of a challenge, but allowing me to get a feel how the game structures instances. After running it, the game prompted me to try it again, so I did. And that’s where things all started to fall apart for me.
When I came out of my second run, I was over-levelled for the next quest chain. I still ran through the quests, but it felt very much like I was spinning my wheels. I was able to one-hit all of the enemies, even the tougher ones that lurked deep in enemy territory. With the difficulty so low, I was quickly ready for the next instance. Once again, I cruised through the dungeon with little difficulty, and once again, when I came out, I was too powerful for the next quest line. Nonetheless, I set forward on my next missions.
It was somewhere about this time that I noticed that Tera had been prompting me to move directly to the next instance. Every day upon log-in, Tera presents players with five or so daily quests, specially tailored to whatever your current level is. Until this point, I had been completing the quests on autopilot. Just by playing the game, I had been completing the dailies without even paying attention to them. When I finally went in to actually check what my dailies were, I saw that I could just queue up for the next level of instances without earning access by questing. And from then on, questing felt like a waste of time. Players can just progress from instance to instance, leveling up and gaining new gear just by grinding dungeons. This process is so fast and easy that there is no reason to ever really go questing out in the wild.
I don’t know if this is a problem or not for other players, but it did make me feel a little weird and empty. There is a giant, beautiful world in Tera, and very little reason to visit any of it once you have progressed past the first dungeon. Even daily quests that require players to kill a certain number of level appropriate monsters offer UI to transport the player directly to the zone where the monster resides, side-stepping any story or context. For players that have been involved with Tera since release, this is probably a welcome change, allowing them to skip over “boring” parts of the game, and focus on the meaty goodness of instances. But for new players, the effect is jarring. In Tera, it’s not about the journey, it’s about nitro boosting through the journey to reach the end game destination.
The good news is that the instances that are now the primary focus of Tera are really fun. The difficulty does indeed ramp up, and after the first five or six dungeons players can expect to work for their wins. Combat follows the standard tank/DPS/Healer template, but is far more responsive and dynamic than that found in most MMORPGs. No matter what role you are playing, you will be running around, chasing the bad guys and dodging their attacks, which is deeply engaging. I played as a healer, and between keeping everybody on their feet health-wise and maintaining their mana at a respectable level, I had my hands full (in a good way).
The controls have been mapped successfully to game pads, and Tera’s built-in method of stringing power combos by repeatedly pressing a single button works very well. That is a boon, because when you advance in levels as quickly as you do in Tera, you end up with so many abilities that you can’t possibly keep track of all of them. So, the combat that Tera is famous for is intact on consoles and has been translated well from PC.
What has not come over successfully is the ability to communicate with other players – a vital part of the MMORPG experience. Let’s face it, no one is using a controller to type out messages in the middle of a dungeon, and no one has a keyboard hooked up to their PlayStation 4. This leaves voice chat, and if voice chat is a part of the console Tera experience, I sure didn’t see it being used anywhere. So unless you are playing with buddies and are in a PlayStation party, you had better hope that your 5-man instance group knows what to do, because you sure can’t tell them. Nor, if you are the new kid, can you ask any questions. This leads to a lot of situations where you are standing in the wrong spot during a boss fight and suddenly spikes shoot out of the floor. Being able to say “Hey, watch out for the spikes” might be a nice enhancement.
One place that might have benefited from better communication is the in-game battleground, which is so horrific and strange that I have to address it. One of the daily quests that is always present prompts players to win in the battleground instance. The prize for doing so is a ridiculous amount of experience points, enough to advance an entire level, even in the late game. Teams of six are randomly matched against each other with one player taking a boss role and the others playing as soldier/defender types. The idea is to beat up the opposing boss while protecting your own. The problem is, this battleground is no fun at all. Players do not get to take their in-game characters into battle, instead being forced to embody some poofy snowman/bear/baby hybrid creatures that move in slow motion. The entire battle takes place in a toy-land castle, and as far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with the rest of the game. I absolutely hate it, but I found myself logging into matches, just to save on grinding instances, as the battleground offers up to five times as much experience as a completed instance does. So yeah, the battleground bummed me out.
I should also mention that there is a fair amount of technical jank still at play in the console version of Tera. Texture pop-up is rampant (which is not a deal-breaker), and lag in heavily populated areas slows the game to a crawl (which kind of is a deal breaker. I had to crash the game more than once to free my lag-frozen character from their low framerate hell.)
So, what do you get with Tera? You get a high budget MMORPG basically handed to you for free, with no microtransactions standing between you and all of the playable content. You get a lot of fun dungeons, a beautiful but empty world that might be fun to explore with friends, and a god-awful battleground that sucks to play but can help you advance in level very quickly. This all sounds negative, but the fact is, I did have a lot of fun with Tera. The battles are fast and intense, and the dungeons are interesting and well laid out. If you have a group of friends to play with, you will likely have a great time. Just keep in mind that Tera is now six years old, and the concessions that have been made over that timespan to assist long-term players in ramping up new characters might be jarring to folks just starting out. While I’m sure that some will enjoy the fast and loose progression, some will end up like me, standing in the middle of a beautiful city and wondering where everyone went.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile