With an emphasis on gorgeous flourishes and frantic dodging, combat has always been Tera's greatest strength, and on May 17th, the free-to-play MMO will be letting loose its deadliest class yet: the ninja. I went hands on with Tera's new Secrets and Shadows update this weekend, taking the ninja for a spin through a new dungeon after taking to the skies on the flying mounts that will change how players get around. And while downloading massive MMO clients is always a chore, the ninja was enough fun that I will gladly spare the extra hard drive space if it means spending some more time with it when the update goes live next week.
Ninjas have always been a staple class in MMOs, but few interpretations have managed to capture the graceful-yet-deadly style that the concept inspires. Fortunately, Tera's highly action-based combat is a perfect fit, and I really enjoyed dancing around my opponents while unleashing hell with my oversized shuriken weapon. The only turnoff is that ninjas can only be played by Tera's Elin race, which is a disappointment for those who don't fancy their characters looking like slightly underdressed children with bunny ears.
If being forced to play as an Elin doesn't bother you, Tera's take on the ninja is a great deal of fun. There's no emphasis on stealth, so fans of rogues or other sneaky classes might be left disappointed. Instead, ninjas focus on dishing out painful critical hits and bursts of high damage, making them an excellent choice if you like seeing really big numbers jump up on screen. While big numbers are great and all, I do wonder if ninjas aren't as distinguished from other damage dealing classes in Tera as they could be—especially without unique mechanics like stealth. Just about every DPS class in Tera focuses on hitting stuff in the face, and ninjas are no different. That said, ninjas do have some unique qualities that I enjoy, and really, hitting stuff in Tera is always a good time.
In Tera, combat focuses heavily on movement. Enemies telegraph the range of their special attacks using cones and circles displayed on the ground. While hits from many monsters can be easily soaked up, fighting more powerful ones (like special "Big-Ass Monsters" or "BAMs") requires gracefully sidestepping many of their attacks. The ninjas main dodge ability, Shadow Jump, allows them to dodge twice over a three second period, affording a good deal of extra mobility to get out of—or into—sticky situations. In order to stay in action longer, their main attack also lowers the cooldowns for several of their more powerful abilities, encouraging you to always be on the offensive—something that becomes a real challenge during boss fights especially considering that ninjas can only wear cloth armor. They hit hard, but they have the defense of a wet napkin.
While I didn't get much of a chance to play around with it, one of my favorite abilities was Clone Jutsu, which let me to disguise myself as any other player close by. There's no real combat advantage since attacking causes the disguise to disappear, but I love the potential it could have in PVP for clever players to disguise themselves as an entirely different class to mess with their enemies. I just wish more MMOs included skills that didn't revolve solely around the act of killing something.
But at the end of the day, killing is still what the ninja does best, and I got a chance to see that in action while running through one of Tera's two new dungeons. Acting as a the next chapter in an ongoing story, the Shadow Sanguinary is the not-so-secret base of Dakuryon, who has been serving as the main villain for some time. The Shadow Sanguinary is designed for groups of 5 players at level 65, making it one of the toughest dungeons in Tera—there's even a hard mode for those with the gear and will to tackle it. The dungeon was pretty conventional, with the same standard assortment of monster groups punctuated by boss battles, but it did show me what Tera's combat is like at the highest tier. And I like what I saw.
The two battles against Dakuryon were easily the best part of the dungeon. His skill rotation involves somewhat rhythmic area-of-effect attacks that we had to dodge while still keeping pressure on him. It's not the most original concept ever to be used in a dungeon, but it never fails to be challenging and fun. One of his abilities, which the developers jokingly called the "Wheel of Fortune," rapidly highlights a series of pie-shaped partitions in the circular arena that you have to carefully watch. When one of the partitions flashes blue, you need to stand on it or instantly be killed. Later, when we fought Dakuryon for a second time, that same concept was applied in a much more frantic pattern that had the party dancing in and out of rapidly changing safe spots.
During these attacks is where the mobility of the ninja's Shadow Jump really shined. When I wasn't screwing up the pattern and pissing off our party's priest, I was desperately dodging attacks before darting back to unleash a furious combo against Dakuryon. While I'm sure that, like most MMO dungeons, the whole process will eventually become routine as players run it again and again to grind loot drops, the Shadow Sanguinary is really well built—even if the mechanics of each fight were all things I'd seen before.
Players will also have a new method of travelling to these new dungeons with the addition of flying mounts introduced in the update. My time with them was too brief to say for certain, but I do have some concerns about what impact they might have on Tera's world. In World of Warcraft, flying mounts trivialized travel by diminishing the scale of the world. But Tera's developers, En Masse, seem to be making some smart restrictions to make sure they don't usher in the same fate. For one, mounts can only remain airborne for so long before needing to touch down to recharge. I really like the idea of treating flight like a limited resource because it forced me to be a bit more intentional about travelling rather than just toggling autorun and leaving to make a snack.
It's promising to see that the transition to free-to-play isn't the deathknell for MMOs that it's often treated as. With the new ninja class, two new dungeons, and the addition of flying mounts, Tera is alive and well—that's great news if you're already playing. But the core of Tera hasn't changed much either, which means if you're already tired of that same old MMO grind, I'm not sure Secrets and Shadows is going to offer much to renew your interest as over half of its content is aimed directly at max level players. That said, the ninja is still an excellent reason to create a new character and explore Tera's awesome combat if you haven't yet done so. Of all the additions introduced in Secrets and Shadows, it's really the one secret worth talking about.