E3 2011: Tera hands-on preview – real-time combat meets real world government

With its Unreal-engine powered graphics and focus on true action combat over the stilted dice rolls, Tera isn’t necessarily a typical MMO. At E3, the folks at developer En Masse unveiled another new feature that may further separate it from its competition: politics. On top of its relatively streamlined approach to monster bashing (we very quickly found that Tera will probably play much better with using its controller support than a mouse and keyboard setup), Tera will also be introducing a political system to its proceedings based not only on chats, guilds and forum presence, but also on real influence from other players in the game world.

Essentially, Tera’s various realms are ruled by vanarchs, who are basically the lords of their respective maps. When a player becomes powerful enough (En Masse mentioned you need to be at max level) Tera’s political system becomes yours for the taking, provided you’re willing to do the campaign legwork to get yourself into office. There are two ways to do this: you can either win as in a traditional election by gaining the popular vote from other players in regularly scheduled elections … or you can beat the living snot out of your opponents in PvP matches until you have a high enough attack level to take office by force.

The idea is certainly intriguing, and En Masse even admits it doesn’t know exactly how players will use the social elements around Tera to have players campaign for election. Once in office, though, the rewards you can reap are great. Not only is your realm renamed in your honor, but you can raise or lower taxes, run your own events, choose to allow or ban specialty shops for value goods (to help your province’s economy, assumedly) and even throw troublemakers in jail (a personal entourage and cool mounts don’t hurt either). And in the same way that you decide what strategy to use during your rise to power you can choose to be a benevolent ruler or govern your realm with an iron fist—it basically comes down to a choice of charisma or combat.

Of course, getting elected is only part of the political system. In order to stay in office you have to maintain a certain level of policy points, which seem to be currency that will likely be spent on affecting change in your territory, though En Masse didn’t say much about that. Depending on how you choose to rule, you can collect policy points through the support of other players in the form of player recognitions. However, if you’re an unpopular dictator, you can also get policy points by undertaking high level vanarch quests against massive monsters.

During the demo we saw, two vanarchs were shown: the popular elite healer Landon and the suitably evil-looking warrior Xavier, from the respective realms of Arcadia and Ostgarath. During hands-on time, Xavier decides to ask Landon to team up for a vanarch quest, so that Xavier (who obviously isn’t the most popular guy in the land) can maintain office in Ostgarath. While the demo didn’t explain what earthly reason Landon could have for working together with a tyrant like Xavier, this is the progression the battle takes.

When we actually start playing the vanarch quest, we were up against a giant dragon with quite a powerful set of moves. We played as a slayer class, basically a melee-based warrior with an emphasis on brutal hand-to-hand combat. While other job classes involved relied heavily on skills, spells or abilities mapped to the keyboard, it was our job to get up close and personal with the enemy, unleashing heavy attacks with our character’s massive broadsword. Slayers also have a evasive rolls, which came in handy when the dragon decided to do charge attacks.

En Masse is emphasizing the “action” in action-MMO, and it shows. Your attacks aren’t automatic, and you actually have to aim where you want to hit. The combat is fluid and satisfying—the game does an excellent job of feeling like an action RPG rather than an MMO—we could easily see gamers who aren’t necessarily into MMOs enjoying themselves with Tera. We actually wished for a console controller, which isn’t common during most MMOs.

Eventually the beast was felled, after which we assume Xavier got the policy points needed to continue terrorizing his people. No word on whether or not your political influence extends as far as going to war with other nations, though the title of exarch, ruler of the entire world of Tera, has been hinted at. With the addition of the political system to its game world, Tera seems to be well on its way to delivering a solid, unique experience. Look for its release later this year.

Jun 16, 2011