The Secret World

  • Type: MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online game)
  • Developer: Funcom
  • Platform: PC
  • Release Date: 3rd June 2012
  • Requires: Internet connection. Subscription required

It’s true! It’s all true! Everything you have read, everything you have heard. Every shadow you thought something was lurking in, every bump in the night, every feeling of being watched. It wasn’t your imagination.

People tell you that these things don’t exist. But they do. And here you will meet them face to gristly face.

There are two sides to the world we live in. The world we all know. The safe and comforting world where undead creatures don’t leap from the shadows and try to eat your face, where the outer gods don’t show up and seriously ruin your day. And there is The Secret World. A world where governments cover up all of the things that would make us hide behind our sofa’s. Where shady organisations battle against the unknown (and each other) for power. And it is in this Secret World the game takes place. You are a pawn of one of these secret organisations. You dance to their tune. But it’s up to you to find out what that tune is.

Aside from the machinations of these globally dominating powers, you will have to deal with undead creatures from the depths of the oceans, luckless citizens that have been infected with the ‘filth’, demons and creatures that defy description. And none of them seem to like you much.

Fortunately, you don’t have to face them unarmed. Because you have been stung by a bee. I kid you not. Obviously this was not your run of the mill bee, but we are straying into the realm of spoilers. Suffice it to say, if you have been stung by the right kind of bee you can kick some serious arse.

The Secret World is a refreshing step in the evolution of MMO’s. But is it worth your time, effort and the reasonably hefty subscription fee? Especially as there are so many others out there to choose from. I’m not sure yet. I’m not an easy sell. But so far I’m kinda loving this one.

Ok, what makes it different… First up, it is set in the modern world. All the others I have played are fantasy or Sci-Fi (or died before they really existed). Secondly, it is horror based. Yes, many others have claimed to be so . But this one really is. And finally, it is kinda different (and I have played a lot of it).

You get to join one of the three major factions in the game. The Templars (Order and goodness), the Dragons (Chaos and naughtiness) or the Illuminati (Capitalism and conspiracy theory). But other than the back story and a bit of flavour (and minor in game stuff), it has absolutely NO impact upon the game. You occasionally do Faction missions, and the flavour of these really fill out the story of your chosen faction. But other than that, there is no real impact upon the game. Except for PvP (player vs player). You fight for your faction in the battle for world domination.

After character creation, you do the usual newbie intro shit. The tutorial level is a nice introduction to the world. It shows you enough to play the game, but not enough to understand it. And this is a beautiful taster of what to expect. The Secret World is one of mystery. Every step you take offers you glimpses into a world much more complex, that exists around you, but you have never truly experienced before.

Once you get into the real world (there are several levels of intro, faction hub and transportation hub, none of which are irritating), you are thrown into genre heavy nods. The initial stages of the game are heavily influence by the Cthulu Mythos and Stephen King. In fact the works of Lovecraft hold sway in this world, and this is one of the major reasons I am revelling in it. But there are many other, less in your face, nods to that which has shaped the worlds we love to immerse ourselves in. I am not going to throw out spoilers, but the Twin Peaks thing at the Motel and the James Herbert references (which I may have imagined, but I’m gonna run with) really made me smile a lot. And they were not the whole.

So, you get to beat down zombies and a bunch of minor denizens that resemble those from the Cthulu mythos. This is good. Is this enough? Ok, the Filth (think Alan Wake and you’re not far wrong) and suggestions that there is more going on, and you get a small insight into the world they are throwing at our feet.

But is it fun?

Well, at the moment… Hell yeah! I was so bored of hitting Orcs with a pointy stick. Now I get to shoot undead in the face with a shotgun. But if shotguns aren’t your bag, you also get assault rifles, pistols, swords, fists, sledgehammers, and three different kinds of magic. And if what you are using doesn’t float yer boat, you can try something else. You are not locked into anything, and you don’t lose any of what you have already learned. In fact, if you play for long enough you can learn everything. Which is nice, but will take you quite a while. And by ‘quite a’, I mean ‘a REALLY big’.

As for the missions… I could wax lyrical about these for hours. But I won’t. A hell of a lot of thought has been put into these. Most other MMO’s I have played have pretty standardised missions. Not here. Yes, there is a certain amount of similarity… because there has to be to a certain extent. But one type of mission that I have never encountered before are ‘Investigation’ missions.

These provide you with clues. You then have to solve the clues. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many of the clues refer to things outside the game. Things, assuming that you aren’t an all knowing planet brain, you will have to search the interweb for. Fortunately they provide an in game browser for just this purpose. One that goes to the real interweb, not a home grown in game imitation. A mate and I put our sizable brains together, and it still took us well over an hour to solve the first one. If this doesn’t sound like fun you can always skip them, or utilise one of the guides that people have already flooded the web with. But my advice… don’t. They are seriously good fun. Having to actually think in one of these games is really refreshing.

If you are new to MMO’s you may find it a bit overwhelming. It seems to have been designed challenge MMO fans. If you are coming to it fresh you may struggle. But don’t let that put you off. It is not insurmountable. And much fun can be had simply running around doing the missions that are thrown in your face (and it does neatly lead you from place to place without feeling like your are being lead by the nose). But to advance beyond (much past) the first region, you will have to dabble with advancement (learning more abilities). But fret not. There is a bit of in game guidance (decks). And there are plenty of guides on the web, and people in the game are (for the most part) really helpful.

If you are an old hand at MMO’s you may find it a bit of a challenge, but I refer you to everything I said in the previous paragraph. Think you are superior to newbies? TSW is a bit of a leveller.

But all in all, it is seriously good fun. It is a rich environment with buckets of nods to the genre we love (I grinned lots at the sign on the offices of a professional ‘Horrorist – part time’), and is hugely varied in content. I would challenge any game head to not find something they enjoy in it. And is a cornucopia for horror fans.

The Geek Bit

If you are not an MMO player, you may not understand all of the references in this bit. I would explain them, but I really can’t be arsed.

First up, there are no character levels or classes. XP earns Ability Points and Skill Points. You spend them where you want to create your own build. AP are used to buy abilities (the things you use to hit, heal, buff or debuff shit). SP are used to raise your ability to use stuff (weapons or kit). And there are absolutely no restrictions. And sadly, very little in game guidance about this. Thank heavens for the interweb.

The beauty of this is you can craft the build you want. The down side is that there is a vast array of what you can choose. And I mean VAST!!!

You can carry 2 weapons, and all of the abilities are linked to one of the nine weapon classes available. On top of that, you can only equip 7 active (hitty or healy) abilities and 7 passive (just kinda sit there and do stuff on their own) abilities. So you have to pick the few abilities from the dozens (as in multiples of a dozen) of abilities you can choose for each weapon class that compliment each other. This is no mean feat, and will keep the number crunchers happy for many an hour. For the rest of us, we can just go for the ones that make pretty sparkles and big bangs.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The Good? Funcom have tried to do something different. The no levels thing is refreshing. And no classes means you can create the build you want. You are not tied into a predefined form. And if you don’t like what you are, you can change it (with a bit of work). The world is great. If you want to blat through and kill loads of things, you can. But if, like me, you want to immerse yourself in the mythos… you can do it in spades. Each NPC will waffle on for ages (if you click on the dialog options they provide). These are not compulsory, and don’t really provide much mission related info. But they do help set the pace and the idiom of the game. It’s not all about running around and hitting things. It is also about immersing yourself in the world. They have spent a lot of time crafting character and depth to the universe. This is where you will find it (in the none essential dialogue, I mean). And wandering around exploring has more reward than just seeing pretty landscape. Oh, and the crafting system is absolutely fantastic (and used in missions). There is more, but I shall move on…

The Bad? Funcom have tried to do something different. As I said, I applaud this. But it is kinda complicated. The tutorial missions teach you how to play the game. But there is so much more than playing the game. Old hands of MMO’s (like myself) will suffer a real culture shock when it comes to the advancement system. It does work, but it takes getting to grips with. And trying to work out if you can cope with ‘instances’ (group ‘dungeons’)… Levels made it easy. TSW‘s none level approach, not so much. New MMO players may well feel completely swamped. It is not an insummountable hill to climb, but I would not envy a complete newby to this game (unless you have people like me to tap for assistance (I am willing to help, but if you bug me too much…)). Oh, and the subscription. You get the obligatory one month play free (for your £30 quid game purchase). But after that it’s £12 a month. That is pretty fuckin’ steep in my book. All the others are about £9. Is this to keep the kids out? This I like. But I’m poor.

The Ugly? Um… Well, not so much. If you are an old hand at MMO’s there are differences that you will have to get used to (some abilities are based on your target, some on which way you are facing). If you are fresh on the scene, it is likely to be a bit confusing. But it does not seem to be intended for people who want things neatly layed out on a plate for them. And there are plenty of guides on the interweb to help you through stuff.

But what is the gameplay like?

Well it’s an MMO. So we are talking third person, click on a bad guy and hit buttons to hurt him (other than when the buttons just shoot in the direction you are facing). But the variety of ‘standard’ quests are above and beyond anything I have previously encountered. You have your ‘go here and kill so many of these’, but there is so much more. You also have your sabotage missions. You need to go somewhere and do something, but killing everything that moves on the way may well screw you sideways. It’s not a Metal Gear or Splinter Cell stealth mission. But it is a nice change from ‘if it moves, kill it’. And there are investigation missions. Killing things is not the point. You need to follow the clues and solve the problems. And many of them are not obvious. I’m not talking the wander about clicking on everything until you find what works, cos the world is big. That method would get old very quickly. These need thought. Occasionally (very) cryptic, but not unbeatable. But after playing one, you will spend a lot more time looking at what you run past, and this adds huge depth to your enjoyment of the environment. But the depth and scale of the missions varies greatly. There are long sweeping story based ones, medium lengthed NPC based ones, short ‘picked up in the field’ ones. Hell, if I covered everything I’d be here for a week (and you’d get bored). At the risk of over enthusing… these are the BEST thing in the game. As hinted at, I have played many MMO’s. These are the most inventive, refreshing and fun missions I have played in many years.

This being the modern world, you’d expect the facilities that we have. And so you are given. There is an in game web browser. Not some dodgy in game intraweb. The proper thing. The first clue based mission I came across mumbled something about seasons and a year(no spoilers here). I googled it on the in game browser, worked out what they were getting at and solved it. Shit is not handed to you on a plate in this game. You don’t get big arrows pointing to every solution (some, yes. All, no). And for this, I’m kinda falling for the game. Actually, that is not true. I have already fallen for it. You don’t know morse code? And we have yet another reason God invented Google.

Some of the investigation missions are being raved about as the best MMO experiences that some people have had. And I’m inclined to agree.

All in all, this is a long awaited kick up the arse for MMO’s. SWtOR was hugely anticipated, but kinda failed. The game didn’t support the hype. This one had no hype (that I caught, I found out about it less than a week before release). But right now, I’m kinda hooked.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

2 Comments on “The Secret World”

  1. Phil says:

    You’ve got me tempted, Blythe. If it weren’t for the distinct lack of monies, I may have had to pick this up. I s’pose it’ll just have to wait…

  2. Matt Blythe says:

    The Secret World is now ‘free to play’. The reason I stopped (the over the top subscription) is no longer an issue.

    I will be back there in the new year. If you feel like joining me, I’ll be the one beating up tree’s and attacking innocent bystanders.

    I never claimed to be good at these games!

    (You still have to buy the game. But there is no longer a subscription required)

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