Know Your Role(s)
When Everquest released in 1999, it ushered in a new era of video game play. Previous online games (most notably Neverwinter Nights) built on foundations of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, which itself built on a rich tradition of heroic fantasy literature: powerful warriors, loveable rogues, enigmatic wizards, and wise sages able to heal wounds and answer the mysteries of the universe.
As a fan of all of the above, I've spent a lot of years playing games, reading books, and really looking at what makes them all work. Once we stop playing "pretend" as children, most of us leave behind unstructured, free-form play in favor of games with strict rules. Whether it's roll twice on doubles or bishops only move diagonally, games with rules give us two very important evolutions in fun: First they define themselves as "the game that does X." Second, they allow the players to distinguish themselves by their achievements and, more importantly, to win.
Which brings us back to Everquest (no, really, it does!). There is really no way to win a roleplaying game, but there are many small victories one can enjoy like hitting max level, having the best items, or even being the first person to complete a difficult quest or encounter. But a side benefit is "having the best character." And this is where Everquest really took the ball and ran with it.
Tabletop roleplaying gamers are obsessed with their characters. I certainly am, and I've transferred that passion to all the video games I've ever played. Squeezing out one more percentage point of advantage regardless of the cost is a victory non-gamers can never understand (unless they are professional athletes). Everquest shipped with fourteen different ways to obsess, and also re-introduced the concept of "the Trinity."
Groups that had a strong front-line fighter, a dedicated healer, and efficient damage dealers were more successful than those that did not. In EQ, players had several classes to choose from in each role, all with different abilities and ways to "win."
Fast forward a decade to the introduction of World of Warcraft's dungeon finder. The "unofficial" roles gamers had known throughout five years of playing WOW were now "real," and in fact required to use the system. Not every class can queue up as a tank, but those that can have near unlimited access to group content. Healers are in even more demand, and just like that, builds that were impossible to level up became viable playstyles.
It's neither 1999 nor 2009, and TERA isn't going to re-invent the wheel as far as class roles are concerned. Instead, we're redefining them as we move into the next generation of online games. TERA's eight classes fall easily into four in-demand roles, but how they do it is another story entirely.
Call them Tanks if you want to, but the lancer and warrior are so much more than just front-line fighters. Stop thinking about lines, and instead consider spheres: lancers define the battlefield by their presence and TERA's combat is truly three-dimensional. Attacks and abilities hit or miss depending on what direction a character is facing, and "up" is a direction you’ll need to defend against.
The warrior also defines the battlefield, but with light armor and quick attacks it's not where he stands, but where he doesn't that's important. Attacking and dodging in a wide radius of swinging swords, the warrior harries and confuses the opponent in a truly unique way that keeps enemy attention securely on the warrior.
Or rather, where they just were.
Healing in TERA isn't point-and-click UI management. Mystics and priests need to keep an eye on every aspect of a battle, and are just as often in the thick of combat as the outskirts. With a dizzying variety of heals, buffs, debuffs, and conditional abilities, these versatile classes are a must for any group, but equally competent when adventuring on their own.
I mentioned four roles above, because in my mind it’s time for the "trinity" to become a "foundation" of four. TERA has both melee (berserkers and slayers) and ranged (sorcerers and archers) damage classes, and a truly successful party will want at least one of each kind.
The axe and sword-wielders deliver big hits and bigger crits, relying on strength and agility respectively to crush enemies. Berserkers excel at large groups and powerful sweeping attacks; slayers focus on denial attacks and setups for massive critical hits.
Archers work best at range, but have an incredible attack rate, dwarfing that of any other class. More hits means more crits, and they're no slouch in that department. Sorcerers will be familiar to any player of spellcasters, but like the priests and mystics above, they rely on strategic placement of spell effects and quick movement to maximize damage.
All of this might seem like standard MMO fare, but remember that at no point in the above combat scenarios are you using anything but your own reflexes. No fireballs, heals, or axe-blows will ever land properly if you the player don't first position yourself for success.
True Action Combat isn’t just a marketing buzzword, it's a redefinition of gaming. If you think you know how to play an online RPG, you haven't played TERA yet.
The rules have changed.