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Diaries of The Secret World #1

I rarely play more than a single MMO at a time, and, if the past week of playing The Secret World is any indication, Guild Wars 2 is going to have some ferocious competition when it arrives. I’ve been aching for a good MMO set in a modern world. The Secret World still has swords and sorcery, but the combination of Lovecraftian horror, secret societies, and grand storytelling has firmly planted its teeth.

I had some initial doubts. The sight of everyday citizens dual-wielding pistols and performing backflips stands in stark contrast to the gloom and grime of the atmosphere. And, unless your goal is to create a Gordan Freeman doppelganger, a blue-haired clubber, or a half-naked hottie, character creation is bland. This is especially surprising given the variety of NPCs. The voice-acting is heavy on poetic exposition, but NPCs are distinctively memorable and they effectively instill The Secret World with a livelihood that boxes of text can’t match.

The introductory segment falls short in both excitement and explanation, leaving you to navigate a miserably planned Help section. Here’s a tip for future UI designers: if your document contains numerous sub-menus, a ‘Back’ button is mandatory. It’s not as if the menu system is all that helpful anyway; nearly skipping the process of Assembly (crafting), breezing through the ability system, and neglecting other key details. For any questions, the in-game web browser is greatly appreciated, and makes a person wonder how such a feature is not yet a staple of the genre.

The seaside town of Kingsmouth is the most engaging starting zone I have encountered in an MMO. I have yet to feel the jaded cynicism that early missions tend to inspire. The usual tropes, such as ‘defend this’ or ‘kill that’ or ‘go there,’ are brilliantly masked. You don’t ‘just’ kill zombies. You dump napalm in the sewers and bludgeon the burning remnants. Instead of escorting a courier, you watch him get mangled and then follow the blood trail to retrieve the package. Even the simplest of side-quests, of which there are plenty hidden throughout the town, have a wonderful tendency to expand upon the overarching storyline.

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Investigative missions are particularly worth mentioning. These are missions that require players to utilize the in-game web browser to find clues beyond the confines of the game. Clues might be hidden in dummy websites created specifically for The Secret World, or they may be based in real-world trivia. The nature of search engines makes me question the longevity of this system though; the more people search for clues, the higher particular topics are ranked, such as guides for The Secret World.

When the missions in The Secret World fail, they fail hard. There are a few notoriously buggy quests, which are to be expected. My main concern is with quests that both require and assume, without any indication, that you are simultaneously performing other specific quests, or that you are looking in a specific direction to notice a vital clue. Fail to follow the developers’ invisibly assumed path and enjoyment quickly transforms into frustration. I can only hope that such instances are the exception and not the norm.

What surprises me most is not only how long I have been in Kingsmouth, but that I have yet to grow tired of the town. I already know the streets and much of the terrain by heart, and yet, I still look forward to the few missions that I have yet to complete. Whereas my focus in other MMOs has been on progression, on completing the next quest and moving to the next section, The Secret World has managed to make me care about the well-being and stories of its inhabitants.

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Brian Rowe

Writer, videographer, and perpetual purveyor of geekdom. Brian has contributed to gaming outlets such as GameShark, GameRevolution, and GameZone, and thinks too many websites have "game" in their titles.

21 thoughts to “Diaries of The Secret World #1”

  1. I am loving it something fierce.

    Kingsmouth is fantastic and well done, and the investigation missions alone have been more fun than any mmo quests ever.

    I was well put off by the tutorial in beta but my wife convinced me to try the full thing. So glad I did, it is incredibly satisfying and addicting. Better than anything I played since WoW in its heyday.

  2. Funcom should seriously consider reworking that tutorial. It’s boring, disjointed, teaches very little, and gives the wrong impression of the game to come.

    All I want to do lately is play TSW, which is good sign for the game, bad for productivity.

    1. I agree about the tutorial, and the digital manual sucks hard, too.

      As for the missions, I will smirk as I say: go cry, emo kid. I will concede the puzzle missions can be wicked hard. That said, though, they have ludicrous XP payouts; you can’t repeat them, like you can everything else; and you can already Google the answer in thirty seconds using the in-game browser.

      In the end, deciding to have these things in game at all is going to be a crapshoot. If you just managed to find a group to go into a dungeon, but now you want to sit and make them wait three minutes so you can watch the intro video, is that bad design?

      If you want puzzles, what’s too tough, and how do you stop other players from spoiling the answers?

      I have to applaud Funcom for being willing to create such unique problems for themselves.

      1. Other ARG games have always faced this exact same issue.

        I know that the ‘Missing’ series of adventure games had a special browser that actively filtered out walkthroughs for the game proper so you didn’t spoil yourself.

        Never worked QUITE right, but it did filter out a large amount of the cheats. Here at least when I get frustrated and want to get back to killing, the option is available ;).

        Wife and I just finished Something Wicked and no way would we have figured all that out with no hints.

        I think this will also balance out once the next set of adventures comes out – there won’t be any ‘head start’ players or people just playing catch up from just entering the game.

        And what’s everybody playing? Templar here, my character’s a blade/pistol mix right now, going for that Paladin outfit. She looks mighty bad-ass in that pistol inner circle duster though…

        1. Dragon, Blades/Chaos tank. I’m having fun finding matching clothes for the quest-reward jackets the game seems to throw at you every few hours.

  3. I played a little bit of the game in beta and through it had some nice ideas, but the subscription model makes me a little leery. The Old Republic seems to be having trouble sustaining it with a big name IP and developer. And The Secret World already has a cash shop which makes me think that Funcom may have plans to go free-to-play once they get what they can out of the early adopters.

  4. How is the actually multiplayer aspect? Is it built well to play with friends, or is it a single player game that happens to have some other people running around in it?

  5. I love this game.

    To answer Vexxin: this is a solo/2-player game with bad-assed, but optional, multiplayer dungeons. You’ll have to ask someone else about the PvP because I hate competing against hardcore circle-strafers with the fire of a thousand suns.

    I dearly want, against good sense, for the subscription model to continue. I fear that the F2P tendency is going to encourage people to “wait for the price drop”, which in turn incentivizes bullshit content additions – a wide selection of hats at 99 cents a throw – instead of, you know, *real content*.

    I’d rather see a free-to-install, subscription-model MMOs than this nickel-and-dime horseshit. I know people who get bands to play at casinos. You know why it’s older bands and not main-liner acts at casinos? It’s not because bands have standards. It’s because the in-house talent manager has to justify his spending by demonstrating increased *gambling* before and after showtimes, not just ticket sales. Since Beatles cover bands put just as many butts in front of slot machines as Foo Fighters, why spend more money for Foo Fighters?

    I know, I know. Some of you are poor. You benefit from F2P now. But mark my words, the high-level bean-counters don’t think of you as gamers. Bobby Kotick only knows you have a wallet.

    If you want good, pay the damned money.

      1. Definitely.

        I don’t play without my wife and we have yet to set foot in a dungeon.

        Just the two of us taking all the quests we come across. Rarely do both people have to do a task outside of the occasional solo instance, but those are usually pretty quick anyhow.

    1. “I’d rather see a free-to-install, subscription-model MMOs than this nickel-and-dime horseshit.”

      /cue Sesame Street Martians



    2. I’ve only played one MMO consistently, and that’s City of Heroes, and I will say that the quantity and quality of new content has increased significantly since they went F2P. Though maybe this is an exception in the MMO world.

  6. The Secret World will eventually be F2P. Funcom has stated as such, although the plan is to keep it running as a subscription service for a few years, much like Conan.

    The cash shop is limited to cosmetic items, although they are expensive. $9 (USD) for a full premade outfit. I find that incredibly steep, although I’m reserving judgement until I see what other clothing options might await.

  7. I’m no EA-lover. They pull a lot of bullshit stunts, and milk all they can out of customers, but sometimes you just gotta hand it to em. When they put their mind to (e.g. throw enough money at) something, they can still do a helluva job from time to time. I’m glad this game was as good as I was expecting/hoping.

    Now to figure out why my nothin-to-sneeze-at computer won’t run anything without freezing up every time my brand new video card has to work harder than a slow jog…

    1. What’s your power supply? You a need +12 Volt rail for most modern cards. I found this out the hard way. Look for a supply that says something like “Dedicated Single +12V Rail Offers Maximum Compatibility with Latest Components”

      The symptoms I saw were: everything works fine until you fire up something graphically intensive, then your computer just shuts off with absolutely no warning. I love technology.

      1. I appreciate the suggestion, but I have 1000W, and I’m not really running anything except for the usual stuff, so I would think it should be plenty (The VGU already has a dedicated rail). Also, instead of re-booting, it’s straight up freezing, and would (I assume) stay making wretched noises for hours if I let it.

        I called someone significantly more experienced than me and the consensus seems to be it’s a) XP service pack 3 freaking out because I have 4 gigs of RAM when it can only use 3 gigs and change or b) I’m overheating or c) stop being so cheap, format the hard drive and do a clean install of Windows 7

        /gooooooooooo ventilation

        Thanks again though 😀

    2. Well, in this case, EA seems to be funding someone else’s good idea – which is arguably the relationship I think money should have with talent.

      I understand the profit motive behind wanting to control a dev house completely – sure, they promise you a game will make money, but can you guarantee success without control? That said, the BioWare Thing has proven to me what happens when you give people with money what they think they want.

      1. I like when EA funds peoples’ good ideas. The trick is to figure out how to get them to do more of it.

        I suppose not buying sequels might be a place to start, but even those are good sometimes. I loved ME2, Dead Space 2 as well, but I seem to be in the minority on that, at least around here.

        1. I think it comes down to seeing how the Money Person is setting up his metrics.

          Bad sequels get made, for instance, because of the impression Money People have the Name of Thing Sells Units. Sure, that’s true because people learn to associate a certain awesome experience with its brand name – but Money Person isn’t interest in drilling down on that. They want to sell you those Angry Birds plushies.

          Dragon’s Dogma and Dark Souls are pushing the Sells Because It’s Hard meme now. Expect crap game follow-ups that are Hard Because They’re Unplayable, or Dark Fantasy Because That’s What the Dark Souls Box Looks Like.

          I sincerely hope that this game pushes some similar MMO envelopes. It’s the first one I’ve cared much about in years.

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