En Masse Entertainment is announcing today that its blockbuster-wannabe online game Tera will be launched by Atari this year in the North American market.

In one sense, that’s not a big deal as there were scores of massively multiplayer online fantasy games such as Tera commissioned in recent years by game companies that wanted to unseat the market leader, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. But the unique thing about Tera is that it looks like it’s actually going to hit the market. That means that the multibillion-dollar MMO market could get a lot more competitive this year.

The game has been in the works since 2009, when Seattle-based En Masse was formed as a division of Bluehole Studio, a South Korean online game company. The company has game veterans from big game companies such as Blizzard Entertainment, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, ArenaNet and NCsoft. Its founder is Jae-Heon Yang, former chief technology officer at South Korea’s NCsoft. Bluehole is developing the game, and En Masse is co-producing it.

Atari, through its acquired Cryptic Studios division in Los Gatos, Calif., has had a history of launching and operating MMO games such as Star Trek Online and Champions Online. The games get relatively small audiences, but they generate tidy profits on an ongoing basis.

Tera is not unlike Trion Worlds’ Rift as a fantasy role-playing game whose mission is to take down World of Warcraft. Tera hopes to do so with modern 3D graphics that look better on a state-of the-art machine, and more visceral combat and action, where player skill — not just experience or stats — makes a difference in success or failure.

Rift launched in early March and is doing reasonably well, as far as we can tell. The game has gotten an average review score of 83 out of 100 on Metacritic (an aggregator of review scores), based on just a dozen reviews. But the fact that World of Warcraft has some major challengers (not to mention Electronic Arts’ upcoming Star Wars The Old Republic) means that innovation will be more important than ever in 2011.