First Impressions: TERA and The Secret World

I recently had a chance to try a couple of the new MMOs on the market! Always fun.

TERA

I bought TERA on sale, so I played through the initial month.

It’s even better up close.

The most striking thing about TERA is the graphics. TERA is a beautiful game. It’s similar to the Lineage games for good reason, considering a lawsuit was actually filed against TERA‘s publishers for theft of trade secrets. I enjoyed the Lineage games for their graphics, but not much else. The music in TERA is absolutely lovely. In many MMOs, I listen to the music a few times, then replace it with my own, but I found myself looking forward to listening to the music while doing quests and hearing new music as I explored.

TERA takes a while to get going and the first 20 levels are standard fantasy MMO quest-grinding fare. TERA has that feeling of being a Korean MMO localized for North America, as though they have thrown in extra quests to appease us because on this side of the Pacific we don’t have quite the same penchant for killing the same thing repeatedly for experience points. If an NPC asks us to kill 400 things, though? We’re happy to do that. If you think about it, the two situations are not vastly different.

Tame for an Elin.

But once I hit level 20 and was able to hop into TERA‘s group finder, I found myself enthralled with the gameplay. I played a healer class and was thoroughly entertained by the combat system’s revolutionary reliance on movement and positioning. Most of my healing spells would either be cast in a small area in front of me or around me, meaning I had to be standing in just the right place to get the effect I wanted. I had to balance healing with power regenerating abilities, one of which I could do on the move, and one of which I had to remain stationary to activate. Most of the boss fights required a significant amount of dodging or moving, so I had to learn quickly to be as efficient as I could while in motion. The control system that had originally seemed awkward compared to what I’m used to became smooth and intuitive once I was in the fight. TERA‘s gameplay in group situations is a joy to experience. When they say what they’re doing is new and different, they really mean it.

Pasty vampire-looking emo elf boys are all the rage, right?

Crafting was something I didn’t do too much. I made a couple of suits of armor for a new character, but the equipment from instances was far better than anything I could make myself.  Resource gathering while questing was actually fun. Each time I picked something up, it gave me a little buff that helped me with my questing.

The story in TERA is hard to follow. TERA itself stands for “The Exiled Realm of Arborea,” but that did not come into play any time I was exploring. I did find myself intrigued by the initial hero I was hunting down by the name of Elleon. He kept popping in and out of the plot as it went along, and he was the only tie that gave the story any coherence. On the one hand, the general lack of information regarding the game’s story canon leaves lots of freedom for writing one’s own stories in the gorgeous TERA world. On the other hand, it’s difficult to discern a given character’s incentive for doing anything, really, beyond particularly enjoying electrocuting small creatures. Demons are bad, right?

I played on the designated roleplay server, Celestial Hills, and the community there seemed solid. The usual troublemakers were there as always, but generally everyone seemed quite supportive of each other. It would be nice if TERA would implement a global chat channel, rather than having everyone hang out in LFG, but such is the mysterious way of MMOs.

Even elephant-footed dragon girls show a lot of skin.

I think the greatest downside to TERA is the way it’s oversexed, and I’m not always sure that’s a downside. When it comes to the Elin, though, who take the form of kindergarten girls with animal ears and tails, who run around dressed in bikinis, the issue definitely slips into scary mode. The quests make it clear early on that Elin are ancient forest spirits, and they tend to talk like cranky old ladies. I don’t mind their existence, but I can’t help but question what kind of person chooses to play them, especially before knowing they’re supposed to be cranky old ladies in creepy fairy form — the cutesy crowd and the… disturbing.

The Secret World

I only tried The Secret World for the 24-hour friend trial, so I didn’t get much more than the basic picture. The graphics leave something to be desired. They seem a bit clunky for this generation, most obviously in terms of character animations, especially just coming off a Lineage-engine high. But once the game and its story get going, it’s hardly noticeable. The environments look and sound beautifully and appropriately dark (within the first few hours).

Creepy carnivals are awesome.

When I heard that The Secret World’s leveling system was one of those free-for-alls where you can put the points you earn into any skill you want, that was a turn-off. I always feel lost in those kinds of systems, but TSW remedies this by offering what they call “Decks,” which guide you to select certain abilities and reward you if you complete a set. For me, that’s a brilliant approach. I didn’t feel as lost in a vast ocean of possibilities. It was more like choosing a certain style, without being forced to stick with that style forever.

One classy lady.

I chose Chaos Magic and Two-Handed Hammers because I liked the “Illusionist” outfit in the deck description. It was only once I got into playing that I realized I had a bunch of threat and defensive abilities. I had no idea I was going to be a tank. The abilities required for the Illusionist deck seemed to be all damage related, but learning what I was actually capable of doing through slow revelation of abilities was a new and different kind of awesome.

The story was unexpectedly compelling. I loved the quest descriptions, the cutscenes, the little notes I’d get back from my secret society handler. Modern horror is not usually my genre, but magic helps. Having three factions is a definite plus, and having them all with notable, interesting differences? Even better. I played Illuminati to start. They seem like the secret society of smart ass hedonists, which sounded like fun. I found the Dragon beginning a turn-off, even if I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all of the first chattable NPC’s stories and explanations. But the dragons are manipulators, and they manipulated my character without his consent, for shame.

Obviously, in only 24 hours, I didn’t get to see much of a community in TSW. However, TSW seems like a game that doesn’t necessarily need one, as opposed to TERA which would feel empty without it.

The Lowdown

I didn’t get to try PvP in either game, although they both offer it, nor did I get any solid experience of what the endgame looks like, which is vital to the longevity of play. New games tend to have less to offer and lose players once they hit maximum level. TERA feels like a game I could definitely play through as several different classes. I didn’t quite get a handle on whether or not the faction based abilities were different enough to play a character of each faction in TSW, but I suspect it might be for me.

Would I pay a subscription to play these games? Yes. Yes, I would. Despite the strangely empty feeling in TERA‘s massive, beautiful world, the group play system is so much fun that I think I could spend a very long time enjoying it. The appeal of The Secret World for me would be the story, so I could definitely see paying for the subscription as long as there was story content to see. Whether or not I would play beyond that would be dependent on whether I fell in love with high end combat or the endgame community. But I try not to stretch myself too thin, especially with subscription games, so for now they remain on the “someday” shelf.

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