Every now and then a game comes along that changes everything you thought you knew and liked about MMOs. For me, that game is The Secret World.
Funcom’s The Secret World is set in the modern-day real world, where players wake up one day with unusual powers allowing them to manipulate magic. Consequently, they join one of the three secret world-controlling societies – Templar, Dragon or Illuminati – and fight against dangers inspired by horror fiction and folklore. The choice of faction has little impact on your progression aside from the location of your headquarters and the color of faction-specific rewards, so you can choose whichever appeals most to you in terms of lore and atmosphere.
So let’s have a look at the single most important thing you will be doing when you start the game! No, that is not the character creation, although that is pretty detailed and enjoyable in itself. I’m talking about your character’s skills and abilities.
The first and foremost thing you must remember is this: there is no way to reset your ability or skill points once you spend them! You heard right, there is no reset button and you can’t pay anyone to wipe your memory clean. You have to stick with what you buy, at least until you earn enough points again to swap to a different build. So, be careful with your choices and use resources like the ones that will be mentioned below in order to roughly plan your character’s evolution.
The Secret World does not have classes, although it comes with some pre-made “decks” for those who might not wish to complicate themselves with spending their points. But between you and me, why would anyone do that? You see, the beauty and at the same time trap of this system is that you can spend your points whatever way you want and you have complete freedom to throw points into anything at any time, if you think it’s worth the effort. Ultimately, unlocking abilities in more than just the weapons you start out with can have a serious benefit for your build, as long as they fit with your build.
This is The Secret World’s “talent tree”. Your skills essentially represent your progression into your primary and secondary weapons, as you can carry two different ones at the same time. You have to unlock the inner ring in your selected weapons (or others) before being able to access the outer ring, which represents the advanced abilities. The two parts of the basic rings usually are split into offensive and defensive abilities, so the first will be focused on dealing damage and, in some cases, generating hate (for tank-oriented skills), while the second will give you various types of heals, buffs or shields.That is pretty much all you need for the early progression.
You will choose only two weapons shortly after zoning in-game for the first time. During that process, you have the opportunity to try out all the weapons and magics available, to get a feel of the combat system and whether you feel comfortable with your character in that role. Roughly speaking, melee skills will usually be focused on tanking and healing, ranged skills on DPS and healing, and magic skills on DPS and healing. I recommend reading about builds on The Secret World Database, and using this Deck Builder to figure out the synergy between certain skills. Builds featured in the database or on forums usually also have an export link, which you can input in that Deck Builder in order to work with them.
The active and passive skills activate certain debuffs called “states” (hindered, afflicted, impaired or weakened) that react with, or trigger other buffs for, other abilities, often times in different skills. This is just a complicated way of saying that abilities interact across skills via these “states” or debuffs if you prefer, and this is the reason you will ultimately pick some passive skills belonging to other skills than those you started with. That is possible because passive skills are not limited to the weapons you are currently equipping, unlike your active skills (there will be an explicit mention of X having to be equipped for its use), and some passives can buff your stats and performance quite significantly, regardless of skill.
As general advice, it’s best to complete the inner rings for your chosen skills, and then consult more guides or play around in the calculator to figure out what advanced skills you might make the best use of, or if you should move on to unlocking abilities in a different skill to get certain benefits faster. Another general piece of advice is to make sure you always have equipped a resource builder, a resource consumer, an elite ability, a stun or impair (if attainable) and a healing ability.
But how about skill points, then? Skill points are more difficult to increase and if you are not sure about sticking with your current choices, you might want to wait with investing a lot of points. This is entirely possible (and mentioned by a lot of players) because for the end-game, you might realize you don’t actually want to be performing a certain role in dungeons, or you might want to pick a different skill for the same role. Skill points are more difficult to earn and as stated before, there is no reset option, so if you think there is even the slightest chance you will change, try to hold on to them instead of investing everything in a single weapon. That being said, it will be difficult to progress in dungeons and end-game content without being able to perform your role, so it’s probably not a good idea to postpone this decision after finishing the first few areas.
On a different note, your skill points can also be invested into Talismans, which are the only items you can equip aside from weapons. The talismans are broken down into three categories in the skills panel, and as far as the items you can equip go, they include: head, neck, waist, wrist, two rings and two extra charms that I’m always tempted to call trinkets due to my Warcraft-centric background. The talismans equipped will have no visual effect on your character though, as clothing is purely cosmetic and there is no actual armor in the way that other games got us used to. All your stats, including armor and resistances, will be increased via the equipped weapons and talismans, and can sometimes be further buffed by certain abilities.
While I believe this should cover the basics of what any newcomer to The Secret World should know, I would like to refer to a critique i read quite often about the game – “combat is boring/repetitive”. It’s true that within your chosen build and rotation, fights will pretty much look the same for the most part. I won’t go into details about combat itself this week, but we all know what rotations are and that you’re supposed to be dodging nasty stuff while hitting… other nasty stuff. Roughly.
So what bothered me about that comment (and the reason I didn’t really take it into account when deciding if I should play or not) is that rotations are somewhat repetitive and boring by default, in most games. I would even argue that you need that repetition in order to get used to exactly what you should do, so that you can focus on executing other raid or dungeon mechanics. As for the unexpected stuff, well, that’s where you get your adrenaline up trying to salvage things, and do exit that repetitive mode. But that sort of situation is not really something to actively wish for, as it probably means everyone will die unless people are very good at keeping themselves and others up.
The Secret World makes it so that you can (and should) change things in your build pretty often, depending on situation. For example, you might be only doing damage, or you might want to squeeze in a varied degree of healing support even though you’re not the main healer, if your group is struggling. In that sense I have trouble describing combat as repetitive, since certain situations will require adjusting your abilities, and there are quite a few possibilities since you can unlock anything in the end.
So while it is true that for end-game strategies you don’t really have a choice and must use certain buffs or debuffs in certain situations or on certain bosses, and so there are some builds that simply cannot be missed in a group composition, I don’t see that as being any different from having to execute certain mechanics in a raid. If anything, The Secret World just feels more hybrid and fluid for not being limited. In my opinion, costs aside – since proper builds cost a lot of time and money to gear appropriately for – the Secret World offers quite some variation if you’re willing to put the time and effort into it.
The Secret World is quite complex and difficult to grasp under certain aspects, since not a lot of things are readily explained and subtleties do not become clear until later on. Don’t hesitate to read the game manual or this guide on The Secret World Database, or use the forums or the in-game Sanctuary chat channel to ask for help. Some information and help on builds is also available at The Secret World Database under Builds.
You might also have a look at the guides published on the community hub. My favourite so far is Wolf’s guide, even though it is, in his own words, “not meant for newcomers”. However, it’s not that difficult to read while you are just starting if you have already understood the basics, and as you progress you will find the information pretty damn useful.Related: Funcom, Guide, Skills, The Secret World