Navigating the MMORPG Blender

June 6th, 2012

I was looking back at some of my more critical comments on Tera and I started thinking to myself: do I suffer from MMORPG design bias? The more I play Tera, the more I think "Oh, I wish such-and-such a feature from that other MMORPG was here." I wonder how much of a bad thing that actually is.

For example, in Tera, only one class, the Lancer, is officially considered to fill the "Tank" role, and that class can ONLY fill that role. Thus, Lancer and Tank are synonymous in Tera. This means that every party must have one Lancer. Then, every party must also have a healer, either a Priest or a Mystic. This leaves three spaces, which, according to the auto dungeon tool, must be DPS classes, of which there are five. Of course, Tera suffers the same class distribution in almost every game: no one wants to play Tank. The result is "insta-queue" for anyone who does play Lancer and excessively long queue times for everyone else. Contrast this with Rift, where three of the four classes can fill the Tank role, or WoW, where 4/10 classes can tank.

My bias says to me: "there should be more tanks." Or, specifically, it says that more classes should be able to tank. As many classes as possible. My bias is that I've found tank limitations to prevent having fun in MMORPGs, and that making more players be able to tank has tended to make other games more fun, therefore Tera should do the same.

Perhaps this bias emerges because of a different contrast with Tera and other MMORPGs: Tera offers far less character customization. WoW had three talent trees for each class which could, in certain cases (especially Druid and Paladin) radically alter the role the class would fill in a party. Rift took things a step further with eight souls per class, giving players tremendous freedom in customizing what they would be doing on a moment-to-moment basis. Tera harkens back to much stricter concepts of class, such that every player of a certain class is basically the same as every other player of that class. Within this framework, a much stricter party role for each class makes sense.

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Posted by: Soulrift

Another TERA-fyingly Bad Design Flaw

May 28th, 2012

Last post I talked about good and bad dungeon experiences in Tera. Today I want to amend that with another bad experience. Here it is in brief: groups formed through the instance matchmaking auto dungeon finder tool thingie CANNOT re-queue for another dungeon if they had fun in the dungeon they just did and want to play together again.

It's bad enough that cross-server matchmaking means you're not going to see the people again after you disband and go your separate ways, but when you get a really good group and everyone likes each other and they had a lot of fun in the dungeon, preventing them from run another dungeon together is just another layer of game system preventing social interaction.

Posted by: Soulrift

Good and Bad Dungeon Experiences

May 27th, 2012

I'm coming to enjoy Tera more as I level up more, especially as I get into groups and dungeons, but a number of issues with the game continue to highlight problems in bad design that act to hinder, rather than help, player interaction. It's a big issue I discussed in a Gamasutra feature article back in February, and while Tera's monetization strategy isn't at fault here, their grouping mechanics are.

I had two interesting experiences playing my Warrior in Tera tonight, both in Sinestral Manor, a dungeon for players levels 26-30something. The first time I joined the random queue as usual and entered the dungeon when it became available, but right away the Lancer tank left the group. We requeued to get a replacement. Nothing.

Warriors are supposed to be able to tank, and they have a number of abilities that enable them to generate aggro, but they can't actually enter the dungeon finder queue as a tank. Still, the group was willing to give it a try and I started tanking to clear trash while we waited for a new Lancer. It worked. Maybe a bit slow-going, but it was working.

Then real life interrupted and we also lost our sorcerer. Re-queued AGAIN to get two replacements. We kept clearing. Cleared everything up to the first boss. Still no replacement members. We faced the difficult choice of going on with what we had, and after much delay and hoping for more people (still no replacements!) we gave the boss a go.

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Posted by: Soulrift

Second Impressions

May 22nd, 2012

Back in March I tried out the TERA beta and had mixed feelings. I still have mixed feelings. It's the kind of game I really want to enjoy, but it's just not quite tuned right.

I tried a few more classes since beta: lancer felt very sluggish. Sorcerer and Priest felt very plain: just shoot. Archer felt a wee bit more dynamic - you can move a little bit between shots - but all the skills seem identical. I ended up back on Warrior because, at the very least, you can move around a bit and try to hit enemies from behind.

Of course, that's only if you want to. You by no means have to actually use any of your skills or make an effort to employ tactics unless you feel like doing so. Even up at level 24 I can just mindlessly hack enemies to death with auto attacks and not see my health bar flinch. I know game developers are afraid that their MMO will be too hard and people will quit, but really, there's a limit here, and it's been crossed.

There is one big difference between my first and second impression of TERA though: this time I got high enough to do a dungeon. Dungeons are pretty cool. Dungeon boss fights are pretty fun. The fact that only lancers can tank is pretty discouraging. But, I'll definitely say this: dungeons are way more fun than grinding quests.

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Posted by: Soulrift

TERA: First Impressions

March 23rd, 2012

I managed to wriggle my way in to the TERA beta this weekend to check it out. So far, I've played a Warrior character through to level 12, completing the tutorial island. I don't know if I'll get much further. Here are my thoughts.

Quests: The game is loaded with utter crap quests. Walk over and talk to that other NPC. Then kill 5-10 monsters that pose no threat to you whatsoever - just walk over to them and hold the attack button down until they're dead - and they're all spread around. The hardest part of the quest is tracking them all down. On the bright side, TERA lets you click on a target's name in the quest journal and the target lights up on the minimap, on the dark side once you turn in the quest you can't click the target's name again to unselect them off your map.

Combat: Combat is fun. It's much more action-oriented than most MMOs. I started playing TERA off the heels of Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning - which I found more fun than I was expecting - but there's a key element missing. First of all, the combat is a lot more sluggish: I often press the button for a skill and wait, wondering if the command went through to the server. This game DESPERATELY needs a skill queue so if you push a skill slightly too soon you don't end up doing nothing. I also really loathe the cooldown timer on what would seem like basic abilities, like dodging. Dodge once every 5 seconds? Brilliant. There's also a lot of delay between when you make an attack and when you can move again afterwards, adding to the sluggishness of the game.

Character Development: This is the other thing that kills combat: there's no character customization or development as you progress through the game. No talent trees, no alternative weapon choices, nothing whatsoever to give your character a bit of a unique feel. One of the things I found exciting about Kingdoms of Amalur was that I had access to more abilities than I could meaningfully use in a fight, which gave me choices to make during fights. Should I use my long-range chakrams and ice mines? Or maybe my lightning bolt and then charge in with my daggers? TERA is utterly choiceless. Every fight you'll have in the game is basically the same. No matter what level I reach, I'll still be swinging the same two swords in the same way, with the same dodge, same follow-up attacks, same style. I'll never have enough abilities to have a meaningful choice between styles: I'll never charge into a fight thinking "will I use this tactic or that tactic?"

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Posted by: Soulrift

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