What’s Brewing: Why I’m enjoying “TERA” and “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning”

Coming off my completion of normal mode on Diablo III, and it being summer and all, I’ve found a little bit of free time to play some other titles–none other than the latest mmorpg, TERA, and the mmo-trapped-in-a-single-player’s-body KoA:Reckoning.

You got to fight a huge ass dragon in PSO. Screenshot from Gamespot.com

Me being the youngster that I am, my fond memories of video game playing don’t go nearly as far back as some other veteran gamers out there.  Games I enjoyed playing most, hours on end, more than likely came from the late 90’s or the first decade of the 2000’s.  Two of these games were Phantasy Star Online for the GameCube and Monster Hunter: Freedom for the PSP.  These two titles each shared a few characteristics in common that I’ve come to cherish in video games, and more importantly, haven’t really seen in recent titles as much as I’d like to.  One being the opportunity to fight incredibly huge monsters with unique attack patterns that needed to be observed and conquered–I haven’t felt a greater feeling of reward in a video game since taking these suckers out. Granted, this feature was a larger component in Monster Hunter than PSO, and thusly more difficult and complicated, but for some reason I always equated the two and adored them each for this feature.  The second feature was much more accessible in PSO than Monster Hunter, but still doable in the latter, and that was cooperative multiplayer.  Co-op was nothing new to video games, but it really seemed to thrive in these titles, making slaying large monsters all the more rewarding because you did it as a team–a team more than likely made up of close friends.

Fighting huge ass dragons in Monster Hunter was pretty much the norm

Since these titles, there have been games with similar qualities, but they were either not accessible to me or didn’t truly hearken me back to that nostalgia I so welcomed in the PSO and Monster Hunter glory days.  I know the God of War franchise had the big epic boss fights, but the only Sony device I ever owned was my PSP so I couldn’t play these games which required a PS2 or PS3–it also lacked multiplayer (something I heard is being added to the latest God of War game, which, again, I’d probably play if I had the proper console).  I tried the Lost Planet games upon the recommendation of message boards equating it to the Monster Hunter series–I did wind up liking these titles, but the single player lacked replayability and the online multiplayer community always died out too fast to keep the co-op play alive and enjoyable.  Recently, I tried Dark Souls, which was again the result of a forum comparing it to Monster Hunter. Similarities were there, but for whatever reason, that still didn’t do it for me–it wasn’t its reputation for extreme difficulty that turned me off either.  I found that part an enjoyable novelty interestingly enough.  It was still missing something for me however.

When I heard about KoA: Reckoning about a year ago, I got pretty amped up for it.  Not because it reminded me of PSO or Monster Hunter–I wouldn’t make that connection until playing Reckoning–but because there was something interesting and new in the concept of an action RPG actually placing emphasis on the action part.  I pre-ordered myself a copy and waited in anticipation.  

When it finally did come out, it couldn’t have been at a worse time for me–college started getting really busy again–but I did manage to log about 11 hours of play into Reckoning before taking a break for an indefinite amount of time.  I was surprised to find how much Reckoning reminded me of PSO and Monster Hunter–the similarities may not be so obvious, and many others may flat-out disagree with me, but that’s okay, there’s that “feeling” there for me when I play it that I can’t explain, and it’s that precise feeling I miss from the other games.  Being only 11 hours in, I never got to see tremendously huge monsters, though I heard they are there, but the fights I did encounter required a fair amount of strategy.  I had to learn the movements of the monsters and I thought that was cool.  While making a mistake isn’t nearly as much of a punishment, and I could always pop a healing potion without a cooldown, there was a nice amount of reward in learning the attack patterns.  There was a slight drawback to Reckoning, however–something felt like it should’ve been in there so naturally and wasn’t.  It was multiplayer. I’ve known about 38 Studios’ Amalur mmo in the works, and that sounds great, but I was still bummed it wasn’t in Reckoning.

All this time, I hadn’t heard any news about TERA and wasn’t really following it, but a recent review on the Weekend Confirmed podcast caught my attention.  From what I could tell, it seemed like an mmo version of Reckoning and I was down for that.  I remained skeptical though, hearing mixed reviews from other sources and finding myself reluctant to  cough up $15/month in subscription fees to play.  But when the TERA collector’s edition went on sale on Amazon for $30 and that included a free month of play time, I took the bait.

My first few hours in TERA were full of mixed reactions, emotions, and experiences.  The world and atmosphere is absolutely breathtaking as far as graphics are concerned–perhaps the best I’ve ever seen.  The character design, while often exploitative in nature, does have its own unique charm and compares quite nicely to the style of PSO and Reckoning.  The UI, however, was a bit frustrating (and ugly) and the in-game tooltips were not entirely useful (I later found that reading the online guide was much more explanatory and quite a bit more helpful). The beginner’s area and quests are also redundant and boring, which is something that will probably never change and unfortunately has to be endured to get to the part where the game does become compelling.  The important part, though, is that it does become compelling.  I can’t explain it, but after trying out a few classes and successfully comprehending the combat mechanics in-game I felt the tug of TERA’s hook in my mouth. I kept wanting to play more. Again, unfortunately, you have to wade your way through a lot of monotony to get to where the game really gets interesting, but it does get interesting.

My high elf warrior, Lyga, leaving newb island. While boring content-wise, it is at least aesthetically beautiful.

The excitement doesn’t come from a compelling story–there is a story of sorts, but I’m not remotely interested in it and I find myself skipping through quest text. I thought this would be a turn-off to me since in recent years I’ve found myself loving a good story in a game, but it surprisingly wasn’t (and I shouldn’t have been surprised since PSO and Monster Hunter each have their own lackluster stories).  This is because, I believe, the real experience of TERA transcends truly needing a compelling story.  The online community has created an interesting atmosphere full of a political climate of sorts that’s been missing from online video games since the Lineage era. A lot of these community dynamics really hearken back to old school mmo’s with a PVP outlaw system that can often require newbs seeking the help of a higher level veteran player to take out that outlaw bully player who keeps ganking you.  It seems like it would get frustrating, and it could, and for me it did, at first.  The surprising thing though is that TERA has a pretty all around positive online community that seems supportive enough to help out the lowbies.  When I was ganked, I put out a plea for help and heroes came to dispatch the outlaw.  Whether this is because the inherent gameplay mechanics require good teamwork, I can’t say, but it’s still pretty neat.

So the co-op play really is there, and there’s also the epicly huge monsters known as BAMs (Big Ass Monsters), which is really feeding my hunger for the good ol’ days of gameplay I’ve already mentioned. I’ve only fought one BAM for an early on quest, but I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait to see more of what TERA has to offer–it’s really missing a good story, or any real lore that often gets me well-emerged in an mmo, but I’m trying to look beyond that. It’s really pretty narrow-minded of myself to expect that in the first place, especially since PSO and Monster Hunter too lacked a good story.

An interesting thing happened while I was playing TERA–it got me wanting to play Reckoning again.  So what am I doing? I’m playing both. I rolled a new character in Reckoning, mainly because I felt like I lost all the context of the previous 11 hours of play and felt awkward when trying to jump back in. I’m trying out some side-quests I didn’t get around to before and that’s really making it all worth it.

So there you have it.  It’s a bit long winded, but I’m really in an action rpg happy land right now, and I’m trying to make the most of it because Guild Wars 2 is right around the corner (hopefully) and that will end up consuming most, if not all, of my free time.  Bottom line, if you’re a fan of either Monster Hunter or PSO, I really suggest you check out TERA or Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.  I think after a few hours in these action-packed worlds, you’ll be hooked.

(P.S. I tried to get some Reckoning screenshots of my own in here but I couldn’t get them to upload)

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