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.
It was an awesome fight. Very challenging. Warrior, Slayer, and Priest. We had to stay on our toes, and we all had a difficult time, but we made it through! We kept going and eventually cleared the whole dungeon. (note: never ever got any replacements!)
At the end we had sorta bonded. We had been through a major trial and came out alive and with some shiny new loot. We were all "that was incredible, I hope we can do it again sometime!"
Why? All three of us were on different servers. Sure, Tera offers free server transfers, but we were all tied to guilds on our respective servers. We had to part ways knowing we would likely never see each other again. Ever. What a bummer.
It's a challenge faced by modern MMO makers: how to deal with server fragmentation when the game doesn't allow a single server solution. Ideally, you would actually do a single server and rely on heavy instancing. But until that's a possibility, cross-server grouping just highlights the challenge in getting players playing together.
I had a far worse experience shortly after. I joined a group of players on my server through the LFG global chat channel, to do the same dungeon again. I offered to tank it, they accepted, and I joined the group. We all zoned in to the dungeon... and they said "wait, lets go out and reset it since we already tried a bit." No problem, right?
The three people who had tried a bit reset the dungeon and went back in; the two new people who had just joined got error messages saying the zone was locked out for an hour. AN HOUR. Why? Because we had zoned in to a partially completed dungeon and turned right around and zoned back out again. Apparently someone thought it would be good to lock people out of dungeons just for stepping in.
I think it's very telling that I'm enjoying Tera despite what the devs have done with the game. I still hate the quest grind. I hate how quest become uncompletable if you out-level them. I hate how quests can't be completed in dungeons because the auto-dungeon-finder puts in someone the quest thinks is too high level. I hate how you get locked to a dungeon for tripping over a teleporter.
But what I hate the most is that all these bad design decisions have been slathered over an otherwise fun core game. A game with really good core technology that both critics and software engineers find impressive. I can only hope that ongoing development and patching can resolve some or all of these issues, to the point where I can truly recommend Tera as a great MMORPG.