The Secret World – First Impressions Roundtable Discussion

Funcom’s latest addition to an already competent MMO lineup, The Secret World, officially launched on July 3rd, 2012. Having heard a lot in the months (and years) leading up to its release, but seeing surprisingly little, we were more than a little excited to join the fray to learn – above all else – what The Secret World does differently than the common MMO.

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Cody (The Dragon): Not having played in the Closed Beta events, I didn’t know a lot about The Secret World going in. Sure, I’d seen a few trailers over the years – I remember thinking it looked a lot like Resident Evil, if Capcom had turned it into an MMORPG – but I had a general sense of what I could expect. Conspiracy, real-world environments, zombies and monsters – not the usual riff-raff. That had me fairly excited; I was expecting to enter a world where nothing made sense anymore. New controls. New monsters. New weapons. New interface. Sadly, that’s not what I saw.

Beginning a new character was a lot of fun – the story elements and cutscenes in particular were fantastic, offering ‘SWTOR’ style progression in the beginning levels – and the tutorial was active, intense and mostly unforgettable. Though, after about 15 minutes, it was over, marked by my characters’ ‘joining the real world’ – a zombie-infested town scenario filled with hundreds of other players. That’s really where the intrigue ended, and the traditional MMORPG began.

Daniel (The Templar): Having had the chance to play a Dragon character in the final beta, I was looking forward to seeing the differences between the factions. Choosing Templar I was expecting a completely different experience, however as quickly as your personal story begins, it phases into generic quests and story that all factions share. Disappointments aside, the environments have been well crafted and take the traditional MMORPG experience to a slightly higher level than most are used to. 

Quests are more engaging, players are actually required to think, explore, and read. Whether it be searching for a clue in the surrounding area, or researching real world history through the in-game browser. The quests, while engaging, are only complimented by the UI which is extremely sleek. Simple, shiny, effective, the three words I would use to describe the UI of The Secret World. Everything happens in-game, whether interacting with an object or accepting a quest, pop-up windows are kept to a minimum and the quest windows have a real AR feel.

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Tob (The Illuminati): My initial experience was similar to Cody and Dan’s, so rather than rephrasing what they said I’m just going to cut to the core of TSW: It’s a clusterf*ck of concepts.

TSW seems to contain a little bit of everything that has ever existed in any way and crammed it into the game. It’s an interesting approach, if a little over-ambitious, that works surprisingly well. To me, the biggest flaw is that you’re limited to standard MMO interactions. 

The norse mythos inspired creatures early in the game are a great example of this. One quest goes to great lengths to explain the details of how these creatures are reproducing (by drowning sailors and transforming them into sea-things) and you’re limited to finding the monsters with the red names and mashing your hotkeys at them. It turns the interesting concept into a typical mob-grind and completely kills the Silent Hill style atmosphere that had been built up beforehand.

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Cody (The Dragon): That’s the thing – the traditional MMO elements, such as mob grinding and typical hotkey combat, completely kill the atmosphere that Funcom have clearly tried so hard to create, and it’s more than a little disappointing. 

That said, The Secret World has it’s own take on a lot of those elements – crafting, in particular – and that helps keep things interesting enough. Crafting, unlike most MMOs, isn’t a simple matter of mining ore and picking herbs; instead, players are asked to dismantle all of the crap they find in their travels, which provides a variety of different materials.

With these materials in hand, players are given a grid-based UI that asks them to arrange the required materials in a specific pattern – each pattern creates a new type of weapon or modification, and experimenting has the potential to make new discoveries. Or so I hope. Thus far, it’s been pretty basic – but we’re only just getting started. In Funcom have managed to continue innovating in these areas throughout the game progression – and not just in the beginner zone – then I imagine we’ll have quite a few more awesome and innovative surprises in store.

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Daniel (The Templar): While Cody and Tob were screwing around with sea monsters and crafting, I focused my time on an aspect that interests me the most and stands to be one of the main pillars of The Secret World, PvP. Currently, I haven’t noticed any open world PvP, although I have only been to the first zone, so that could obviously (and hopefully) change at later levels. The current action takes place in three different locations across the globe. One is the persistent battleground in which players must capture and control points for faction buffs, while the other two are battlefields for quick fights between the three factions.

I was very lucky with the server we chose, The Templars seem to be dominating the persistent map, although only by circle zerging. The three way PvP is definitely fun, but for how long is a question that sticks to the front of my mind. The map is just endless capping, with no limit or finish, and after a while it can get very dull. The other two matches however keep things nice and fresh, one battlefield is Stone Henge, and acts as a traditional King of the Hill battle, while the third takes place in an asian jungle themed battlefield. 

I am sounding a bit negative again, but honestly, unless there are more places to fight and control, I don’t see any long term retention for the PvP system, which is meant to be a major focus. That’s all I have had the chance to see so far, and the few days I have spent with the game have been both exciting, and disappointing, but I will leave my final judgement for when I have had more time to play and experience what the world has to offer.

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Tob (The Illuminati): (still ranting) And another thing: amidst all of this breaking-the-mould business is the removal of character levels. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent for moving away from number-based gameplay structures, but all they’ve done is replace regular levels with gear levels in the form of QL, which represents how good your items are.

I realise that this subject can be fairly divisive, but giving players nothing but gear score to judge each other by is essentially a hate-crime in my book. It caters specifically to elitists and ends up with the more casual players excluded in a typically nasty fashion. Also tokens.

And THEN there’s the character creation, which seems nice at first glance, but you’ll shortly realise that you only have the option to dress as a hipster, a hobo or a skank… (continues ranting)

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Cody (The Dragon): Ahhh, Tob. Where would you be without your ranting? Working at McDonalds, no doubt. It’s good to have you here. You’ve touched upon some very important issues with The Secret World, both in terms of skill progression and customisation, and you’re dead on – they need a lot of work. 

At first glance they appear a lot more complex and rewarding than they feel a few hours later, and personally, I feel that speaks for The Secret World as a whole: at first glance, it seems new and exciting, but the shine soon wears off the apple, and thus far, it hasn’t returned.

We’ll be back next week with another roundtable, after we’ve had a chance to play some more and answer some of these questions. See you next week.

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