Monday, October 22, 2012

The Secret World (Review)

July 3, 2012

Developed by Funcom

Published by Electronic Arts

The Secret World (2012)
This MMORPG tries something new and largely succeeds.

First, a confession.  I like fantasy and its place in video games.  Great stories and games come from this genre; however, it seems that the massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) market is overcrowded with fantasy style games.  The only other prominent genre is sci-fi  (Star Wars: The Old Republic, Eve Online) but much less so.  So when I heard about a modern day MMORPG, it piqued my interest.

The Secret World is set in modern times but with a twist.  As the tag lines states, "Everything is true" and "Dark days are coming."  Three secret societies (Templars, Illuminati, and Dragons) exert there influence all over the world and each attempts to be the dominant faction.  You, the player, recently came upon some mystical powers and get recruited by one of them depending on which you chose during character creation.  You find out that not only are there secret societies but every legend or myth is true, from werewolves to hidden messages in radio waves.  Alas, all is not well.  An unknown force is assailing the world, opening rifts to hellish dimensions, and the factions must sheath their backstabbing knives for as long as possible and work together in order to confront this new threat from beyond.

The developers did a fantastic job of world-building.  Mystical creatures chat with secret world members in the London markets.  Travel is done through Agartha, the woods between the worlds with giant robotic custodians and a Victorian England-era navigator.  Lore is hidden away everywhere and can be collected to expand your understanding of factions, places, creatures, and everything else.  Although your character is always silent, the voice acting for everyone else is good and believable, keeping you immersed.  Funcom went out of their way to give everyone you can talk to fleshed out personalities, which I greatly respect. 

That flaming portal to Hell?  We should totally go in there.  The Secret World (2012)

Character creation is about on par with modern RPGs.  Clothes, eyes, hair, body and facial structure can all be changed.  Choosing stats and powers come later in what Funcom proudly boasts is its classless based system.  Instead of choosing a class and increasing levels, you gain skill points and ability points.  These points can be assigned how you want to weapons and talismans.  You can wield two weapons at a time ranging from shotguns to swords to chaos magic.  Skills unlock proficiency in a weapon, allowing for more effectiveness in combat, while abilities unlock new moves.  Though there are not classes per se, the standard MMORPG trinity of healer, tank, and DPS is still prevalent, for better or for worse.  Instead of leveling up, increasing your skill allows you to buy higher level weaponry and talismans, with the best stuff only available in the toughest dungeons and lairs. New clothes are also available through purchase, missions, or bonuses.

Each weapon has two tier one subcategories and six tier two subcategories for abilities, allowing for a wide range of gameplay.  Some abilities naturally play off each other better and allow for synergy, which results in a lot of experimentation.  To help, Funcom created decks unique to each faction that are a set of abilities and weapons that compliment each other in some way.  Players can work to unlock these or they can forge their own path and make a more customized character.  It is also possible to unlock every ability, allowing you to experiment however you want.

Choosing a faction doesn't affect the gameplay as much as one would hope.  A few faction related quests are different but otherwise all gameplay is the same.  Instead, the faction you choose sets the tone of the game.  The Templars are traditional, professional, and crusade oriented.  The Illuminati are shadowy, practical, and manipulative.  The Dragons are mysterious, strategic, and mystical.  After completing a mission, you report to your superiors by PDA and they comment on what happened and where it will go.  The responses between the factions are vastly different and help the game feel more immersive, but I wish there had been more story and mission differences among them.

Scarecrows with chainsaws in abandoned carnivals.  Nothing you can't handle. The Secret World (2012)

The missions (or quests) are much more thought-out than in most MMOs.  Some of them are your typical "kill 10 monsters" or "collect 5 items," but even these are spiced up a bit by having monsters be killed in specific ways such as with environmental effects or a special weapon for just that mission.  Missions are separated into seven types with six capable of being active at a time.  There are story, main, side, sabotage, investigative, dungeon, and faction missions each with a unique distinction.  

By far the most interesting and most difficult are the investigative missions.  These require puzzle solving, internet research, and attention to detail.  There is even an in-game browser to assist with research.  I feel that these missions are one of the strongest distinctions between this MMORPG and its counterparts.  The story and main quests are immersive and fun though the main ones can be repetitive.  I was very impressed by the effort that goes into making each mission have a story-driven purpose even if I felt some of those missions were monotonous.

Dungeons, instances in other games, are very well done and keep being fun to play by having three different difficulty levels.  The visuals for the bosses and battlegrounds are impressive, and the stories still take center point.  In addition to dungeons, the highest level players can go to lairs.  Lairs are found in every area and have much more difficult monsters to defeat.  Defeating the right monsters and doing missions within lairs results in blueprints which can be assembled to fight the lair boss.  Defeating enough lair bosses gets you higher level blueprints which allow for regional lair bosses, the ultimate tests in skill.  Funcom worked hard to make sure higher level players would always have something to do.

Don't worry guys, we totally got this. The Secret World (2012)
  Combat is similar to most other MMOs but with a higher importance placed on mobility.  Fourteen different abilities based on your current weapons can be chosen.  Seven of them are active abilities which are moves that you can do.  The other seven are passive abilities which buff you or debuff your opponent in specific ways.  Each active ability has a use time and a recharge time.  Some of the more powerful abilities also require weapon resources, which are built up by using specific weaker abilities.  Unlike most other MMOs, combat is not just clicking your abilities and waiting for them to recharge.  Movement allows the player to dodge many of the more powerful attacks, and when in a group, you can direct the monster to where the group can be most effective.  It's a nice touch to the combat system, but I would have preferred a real time battle system like Fable if possible.

The weakest part of the game is the player vs. player (PVP).  It is only permitted in certain designated areas, the Fight Clubs and the PVP Zone.  Fight clubs are where you go to just, well, fight.  The PVP Zone has three different modes: Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and Capture Point.  The funnest one is Capture Point which is simply a large map with bases that each faction fights for control of.  This mode can be entered and left whenever you wish and can be quite entertaining when yourself and forty other players rush a small group of five opponents; however, the combat system is much better suited to AI enemies and I really wish PVP could occur anywhere.

Funcom does a good job of putting out regular new content and have committed to putting out new updates every month.  In addition to fixing bugs, they add new missions, new clothing, and even new weapons and abilities.  Most bugs I have run into with missions have been fixed by the subsequent patches.  That doesn't mean everything runs perfectly, but it's nice to see problems found and fixed in a timely manner. I feel it makes the $15 monthly fee worth it because new content is being added monthly or even more regularly.

The Secret World is definitely a must have for anyone who likes secret conspiracies, interesting missions, or just having fun. The world is immersive and the stories are interesting, very important in this kind of game for me.  Despite its weak PVP, I highly recommend it to anyone who likes MMOs and would also recommend it to anyone who doesn't play MMORPGs as a good starting game.


Words by Josh Matern

1 comment:

  1. Forget my previous comment about needing MMORPG love on your site. I should look around more before shooting my mouth off.

    This game looks really interesting and seeing as I kind of hate pvp (cos I always get spanked) it doesn't bother me in the slightest that it has that weakness. I'll look into it.