Because it sucks.
No, seriously, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought, even since we’ve been hearing details about it, which for me has been about two years now. In those two years, I’ve been waiting for something about the game to emerge, something that makes me want to play it. And it’s occurred to me that that’s pretty much what every MMO needs: that “hook” to make you want to play it more than its competitors. The problem is, that’s all most games have to distinguish themselves from the crowd — one or two slight differences — while the rest of the game is pretty much the same thing we’ve already seen dozens of times already.
It isn’t news to anyone that most MMOs are pretty much the same at their core. TERA is no different in that regards, but it’s hardly the only game that’s taken the WoW formula and ran with it. Rift has rifts and a cool soul system. SWTOR has fully voiced cut scenes and, well, Star Friggin’ Wars. LOTRO has great lore to draw from. TERA has “action combat.” But at their core, all these games pretty much ask you to do the same thing: Find the guy with the thing over his head who tells you to kill X things or click on Y whatevers, rinse, repeat until you hit max levels, then go and spend most of your time in dungeons. Some games follow the formula a little more closely than others, and they all have their variations, but they work pretty much the same way.
Counterpoint #1: “Nuh-uh! My game’s different! It’s better!”
Pardon me for saying so, but… bullshit. I’ve been hearing that argument for nearly 20 years. Yes, before there were MMOs, there were trading-card games, and many of them greatly resembled the industry leader, Magic: The Gathering. I got demos at conventions for about a hundred of them, and whenever I said, “Oh, so this part is like Magic” — even if the rest of the game was totally different — I’d inevitably hear, “No, it isn’t” from the demo-er, who might have also been the game’s designer. Games often resemble the games that come before them, and people who are very closely attached to the “new” game are frequently loathe to admit their game is a copycat.
Also “my game” for five years has been LOTRO. See how I included it up there? I accept it for what it is.
When all your game has is that very limited number of schticks to differentiate it from the others, it needs to be a schtick that I really want to enjoy. I like the lore of LOTRO. I liked the idea of dynamic events or cutscenes. I’m not as big a fan of action combat.
Counterpoint #2: “Awwww, action combat’s too hard for you, go back to your tab targeting, loser!”
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not very good at shooters. But I’ve played a lot of Skyrim — and plenty of Oblivion before it — so it’s not like I’ve only ever played games where you can lock on to a target. Action combat is the major thing TERA‘s got going for it that makes it really different from other MMOs, and that’s not enough to get me to shell out my money.
Counterpoint #3: “It’s not just action combat! There’s also BAMs! And the political system!”
BAMs are semi-boss fights. They look interesting, but they’re still just combat. And I’m not interested in putting in the effort to “run for office” or whatever you have to do. So sure, it’s got a little more than action combat, but that’s been the primary talking point, and the other 90% of the game still looks more or less the same.
Now, toss in where TERA appears to be regressing, with a poor storyline, no battlegrounds at launch, and an apparently long grind to get to the “fun,” and the question is: Why should I play it?
Counterpoint #4: “Because you’re press and you have to play to get a reasonable idea of what it is so you can talk about it.”
I am press… sorta. Six months ago, as the editor of a magazine, I could have called En Masse Entertainment’s PR director and gotten a free copy of the game and probably a multi-month subscription. Now? I’m just a freelance writer for a site with about a dozen freelance writers, so I don’t really enjoy those kind of privileges. For the foreseeable future, I’ll probably be paying for my games, same as the rest of you. And I only want to spend my money on things I figure I’ll enjoy. You can hardly fault me for that.
Counterpoint #5: “But you can get into the beta now! For free!”
I also only want to spend my time on things I figure I’ll enjoy. Do I have a professional obligation to play it? Only if I also have a professional obligation to play EVE Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and any number of other games that I’ve barely or never played that I’ve covered in news hits or on TWIMMO. Fortunately, I have 218 hours every day to — oh, hang on. I try to avoid “claiming” hits for games I don’t know, at least where significant knowledge of the game is required; TWIMMO’s a little less forgiving, as the topics are picked out usually independent of the hosts’ knowledge, but we all make do as best we can.
I’ve also watched several people’s livestreams and videos of TERA and before you come up with Counterpoint 5.5 along the lines of “play it yourself, don’t listen to others,” I don’t see how my experience would be a whole lot different. I don’t need to personally wait for a boss to respawn while 20 people are waiting for it or read bad quest text on my own monitor or wait five minutes for my health to refill after a fight — all things I’ve seen on others’ streams. Think of how many games you’ve probably watched on livestreams and thought “Wow, that looks cool, I might check that out!” Then there are games you’ve probably watched streaming and thought the opposite. And I highly doubt that you’ve never based a purchase decision for a game solely by seeing it being played, seeing a trailer, reading about it, etc. If you’re not going to play everything extensively, in demos or a beta, before making a purchase, then don’t ask me to do the same.
For what it’s worth, I have played TERA, getting through basically half an encounter at GDC. Visually and viscerally, I thought it was pretty nice, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to check it out further.
Counterpoint #6: “Media people just hate TERA. Especially you Gamebreaker folks, who never do their research and always get their facts wrong.”
This is somewhat related to my overall point, but us media folks do play a lot of MMOs. Just like an increasing number of fans, we’re getting tired of seeing pretty much the same stuff in games — and we’ve probably seen it in more games than you have.
As for the fact-checking part of things… you might be right on that, at least some of the time. I’d refer back to my “generalist” post to explain why we don’t know about every detail in every press release or every set of patch notes, but that’s only a partial excuse. But it’s not like we treat TERA any different from any other game; we’re just as likely to make mistakes covering it as we are for anything else. There’s no hidden agenda, no TERA hit job that we’ve all secretly planned, not among the GBTV crew or any other media sites that I’m aware of. Sometimes, when a large number of people — particularly professionals in the field that they’re covering — say something bad (or good) about something, that’s because it actually is bad (or good).
That said, I think game developers could do a better job overall to make people aware of when they’re changing things in their games that people previously didn’t like — but that would be too much like admitting a mistake, which some people Simply Cannot Do. Some companies, like CCP Games, are better at that than others, but the TERA PR seems to be in pretty much full-bore “Everything about our game is incredibly awesome” mode, which screams “BS” to people who’ve heard that kind of thing countless times before from countless other MMORPG developers.
And if I actually told you some of the things TERA‘s PR team told me in our meeting at GDC about the incredibly basic, “MMO Design 101”-style changes they were making because of player feedback…
Hey, if TERA looks good to you, that’s great. I hope you enjoy it. I’m just a gamer, like you are, and we’re going to have different likes and dislikes. Deal.