The Secret World BETA Preview

The Secret World is a game I’ve honestly been looking forward to for a very long time. Ever since Funcom hinted at a modern MMORPG a year ago it had my attention. And it kept escalating in its depth and its atmosphere to be everything I would want it to be. This game is  directed to a very niche audience, but luckily I’m right in the middle of that target.  In a world where MMOs have become so common place that only a pinch of them can afford to keep subscriptions and paying customers as a regular thing without sinking into the free-to-play system, it’s daring to try plugging a game into a market this dried up. Luckily for us, and possibly Funcom, this game is extremely refreshing in comparison to the usual high-fantasy realm we’re used to from the genre.

Funcom has had a history of being different or, in some way, edgy and innovative with their releases. Anarchy Online launched a decade ago and featured a cyberpunk world with intensive stat mechanics. Age of Conan launched a few years ago to introduce a more basic fantasy world to combat the success of World of Warcraft which had already garnered the fame and fanbase that it has today. Sadly both of them did not launch as successfully as they would have liked. But their games tend to resonate within some that carry a loyal cult following. Though there hasn’t been an expansion in years, Anarchy Online continues to have a devout number of players, carried over more than likely due to its free-to-play status and one of the first MMOs to kick-start that trend to save the franchise. The Secret World seems to be heading in this direction, but through no fault of its own, as this game is well-deserving of a fanbase rivaling WoW’s ravenous crowd.

The Secret World is a game set in modern day streets that have taken a turn for the creepy and alternative. The rival factions in this game are power hungry organizations hell-bent on conquering the world with their own ideologies. The Illuminati want to rule for power and control’s sake, the Templars want to raise up an empire for the righteous, and the Dragon want the world to soak in chaos and discord. So the best you can hope for is an anti-hero role, even the most moral character is power hungry at heart, and I love that aspect. The system is unique in that there are no governing classes like most role-playing games and, instead, a weapon can be picked up and learned at any time. Certain weapons carry with them a certain role in their abilities (pistols, blood magic, and fists heal, chaos and hammers can tank) but there’s nothing governing what you can do with leveling, it’s the most free-flowing level system I’ve ever known. You do not increase in level, nor get “stronger” at all, but you get anima (think ability) points and skill points along the way. Anima points can be used to purchase weapon based abilities and passive abilities- seven of which can be equipped at any one time regardless of how many weapons you can use or how many you have currently equipped, and skill points are used for personal character benefits and allows you to equip better quality gear.

Currently the character creation is incredibly weak, but it’s in beta so we’ll cut them some slack, but the introduction to the game is fairly fun. You immediately start off with a cinematic of your character getting into some trouble with their new-found magic powers and then getting recruited by the faction you chose at the beginning. Get used to these cinematics as every mission is told to you through them (a new facet that I absolutely adore as it greatly increases the immersion and the voice acting is fantastic). You are swept away to learn about your group and their goal and then tossed into the world. It’s a bit anti-climactic, it’s just sorta, “Hey, you’re with the Illuminati now, go check out this town in New England and tell us about it.” and you’re off.

The system of traveling from New York to London from Kingsmouth to Egypt is through, of course, the hollow Earth of Agartha. The Tree of Life stretches its limbs all across it and you can be warped all across the globe, how cool.

The game’s missions aren’t necessarily very different from your average MMO fetch and kill quests, but the way they’re introduced and played out just feel different. There’s a lot more detective work in The Secret World- so much so that they included an in-game browser that they expect you to use to look up everything from old artists that could have had ties to the Illuminati to composers in order to progress through missions. This adds a glorious air of mystery to the whole world and is incredibly fun.

The world just looks dark and dingy, as if it’s always just reviving from the worst thunderstorm it’s ever seen. And I love it. It’s a bit reminiscent of Troika’s Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and I don’t use that comparison easily, but this game is easily deserving of it. Everything is dark and spooky, everything is uncertain and this atmosphere is hard to replicate in an MMORPG setting, but they’ve done a wonderful job of rendering it. The zombie apocalypse harbor town of Kingsmouth just looks fantastic. The central hubs of London, Seoul and New York are mostly incomplete as of now, but I can definitely see them looking really cool in the future.

The music is great and also reflects the air of fear. It’s soft and somber for the most part and then it bursts into a manic frenzy when a group of zombies spot you and chase you down the street. Not to mention the voice acting is superb. Meeting the sheriff of Kingsmouth made me smile just because of that great accent alone, it just really worked well and immersed me right into New England.

Because of the lack of a leveling system it can be hard to really determine what a challenge can be, usually determined in other games by their level or some colour variation or what have you. In The Secret World there isn’t any such thing implemented just yet so you simply have to try your hardest or run. I recommend keeping an eye on their health, that’s a good indicator. Or if they’re just really too scary that’s a good reason to keep running too.

I’ve only taken part in one “dungeon” type mission, and that turned out to be one of the most challenging things I’ve done in this game easily. After being dropped off on a remote shoreline by helicopter we fought off one group, me acting as their tank, of simple zombie minions. And immediately afterward we were faced with a boss in an electrocuted lake with us hugging the shoreline  and wall while pummeling a Resident Evil-like Tyrant creature.  Just after that we went to another and another boss fight each getting harder and tougher till we just couldn’t beat one. These aren’t necessarily your usual tank-n-spank tactics here, as it’s hard to get these things to even focus on you anyway, so chasing them about is a must and each seems to have their own strategy to figure out, which is fun though frustrating when the group wipes instantly because of the trial-and-error nature.  Maybe I just wasn’t prepared, but it would have been nice to know, “Hey, you shouldn’t try this yet.”

As much as I want this game to take off and do well, there are definitely things lacking in it that almost worry me unless they immediately get to work to make sure it’s all done and ready for launch in the next month. The animations for some actions simply don’t flow well and I’ve had several problems with climbing ladders where it just simply won’t let me because it puts me on there at an odd angle. The mechanics of tanking is just insanely hard too. It’s hard to get enemies to focus their attention on you while the rest of your team is scattering about trying to chase you and the boss at the same time and the like. Some puzzle quests are just honestly too hard and expect too much before you just end up having to ask in the general chat, which may or may not understand that it’s actually becoming a negative experience to your personal gaming experience despite what you say. It looks great but I hope that they just didn’t release as much as they honestly have done for the beta and that there is a myriad of clothes , character creation options and a fully-fleshed out plan for the faction central hubs all tucked away for launch day. I love the game, but I do worry that they may be releasing the game too early without having these things ready. And nothing bothers me more than a game that thinks it’s ok to launch the game to weak success and then try and fix it up afterward (first impressions are important, guys!).

[May 31, about two weeks later]

Funcom released a patch recently rectifying a few problems, namely the ladder animations and released a more polished product that seems to work better.  No longer can you jump 8 feet in the air (dammit), but sprinting is finally faster than the steady jog that it used to be. They’ve also further implemented a color coded difficulty against certain enemies that I haven’t QUITE figured out just yet, but all missions now mention whether or not the mission will be simple, normal, hard, or challenging for your character. How that’s determined I’m not exactly sure, but it’s really useful.

I’ve finished a couple investigation missions,  The Kingsmouth Code and The Vision being the most interesting. Code gets a lot of praise for being insanely hard for a quest so early in the game, and for good reason, it’s definitely hard, but for all the wrong reasons  I feel.  I love a good challenge, trust me I’ve logged far too many hours in The Binding of Isaac than is normal, but this was just frustrating. It was easy to over-think clues or just have them lead you all around to small little places (the plaque at the beginning? Really?) and it just wasn’t clever. It wasn’t hard, it was just stupid. It didn’t even make me feel dumb, it just made the game seem tedious. I’m not dumb, or so I like to think, I knew what to look up and I had no problem with choosing the correct painting, but that I found the keypad afterward was just luck and I had caught the code early on from the chat room and it just hadn’t washed away so that was ruined for me. But it just wasn’t fun. And of course everyone wants to pretend it’s insanely simple or some-such, a claim I just can’t believe but to each their own.

The Vision was much more fun and was just following vague clues to destinations throughout Kingsmouth. That was it, fun exploration and it still took me about 15-20 minutes to complete. Much better executed.

I visited the next area for a bit, but it turns out that I’m still not entirely ready for The Savage Coast just yet (despite my feeling as if I can handle swarms of zombies). From what I can tell there isn’t nearly as much a problem there with zombies as demons. Checking the achievements for the game it looks like there’s eventually going to be vampires and werewolves and the like and, as much as I would love to go hunt some down, I know I’m not ready and I doubt I’ll get much further in the game. It’s fun, but it carries with it one huge problem: it’s a multiplayer videogame.

I don’t want to sound too bitter, but I hate playing videogames online with others most of the time. The state of gamers these days leads to the most whiny, bratty, self-entitled bunch ever, if you haven’t noticed. The same reason I stopped playing World of Warcraft wasn’t necessarily because of the gameplay (though I definitely had problems with that eventually, too) but just the people who played it. The chatroom is constantly flooded with every complaint possible and demanding perfection all the time, it’s absurd. I used to really enjoy playing League of Legends, but that was more of the same. Other players getting angry and frustrated with how you’re playing and constantly feeling holier-than-thou or vice-versa when you are struggling with someone who is doing miserably and when you offer some form of help they get very defensive. Playing games online is just a constant warzone, and it’s not different with The Secret World. There has been constant bickering in every chat channel, there were arugments when my team was grouped, it’s constant. But it’s not like you can just ignore them or anything, it’s a MULTIPLAYER game for a reason. You depend on them. But this is getting off-topic from the game itself and a rant that will have to wait for another time.

The Secret World is a great, intriguing look at a genre that we don’t see too much in videogames in general, let alone in an MMO RPG environment. It offers a lot of potential and variance that I adore and I only  hope for the best for it down the road. Sadly it suffers from the usual stings and setbacks that adorn most MMO games, but looks to overcome them in an effort to bring a more interesting dish to the stale and rotten dinner table of the genre.

Me hangin out near the Hallowe’en Tree in the Wispwood of Kingsmouth

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~ by Ghostess on May 31, 2012.

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