The Secret World - One Week In
The Secret World - One Week In
The Secret World is a new MMO developed by Funcom, with a focus on doing something a bit different to other MMOs. Set in modern times, you use a mixture of guns and magic to fight your enemies. Some of the more minor missions are your standard fetch quest types, but they are interspersed with bigger missions focusing on puzzle solving and a huge focus on story. Needless to say, The Secret World is no WoW clone.
To complain about something off the bat seems a little harsh, but it needs to be mentioned if I'm giving you an a account of my first week with the game. Good lord I hope MMO developers figure out a better way to get me my game than the current restricted peer-to-peer nonsense. I began downloading the 14GB game on Wednesday last week, but I couldn't start playing the game until Friday - thanks to download speeds flickering between 10kBps and 300kBps. While I'm sure there are legitimate reasons I don't understand as to why they don't just upload a torrent and let people have at it - it seems to work fine for the smaller and lesser known MMOs.
And so that was my first two days experiencing The Secret World. Looking incredulously at the download client, looking up forums for possible solutions and sighing. But on Friday, everything changed. On Friday, my eyes were opened.
The premise of The Secret World is simple - as human beings we wander about our lives doing everyday normal activities. Certain people however, have powers beyond mortal ken - and alongside our everyday world of work and television and families, they wage war and keep the world safe from powers unknown. Naturally, you are one of those people - recently awakened and able to see The Secret World - the real world.
There are three different factions to choose from - The Illuminati, The Templars and The Dragon - each with their own set of beliefs and ideals. The Templar focus on the greater good, The Illuminati believe in power through strength and The Dragon are all about order from chaos. As I am also all about order from chaos - and just chaos in general, I picked them. The tutorial mission looks nice and plays nice - it's effort in letting you know how to play the game it is rather poor. The tutorial explains basic aspects like fighting well enough, but it plays out a lot like any other mmo - run forward, kill the enemies and move on. It feels familiar - which is comforting, but ultimately misleading.
Once you complete it, you visit your faction leaders and choose your starter weapon. There are nine different weapons or magic to choose from - guns: shotguns, pistols or assault rifles - magic; blood magic, chaos magic or elemental magic and melee weapons: swords, hammers or fists. You can test and use all of them, trying out their basic skills on dummies and seeing which one you like best. Having enjoyed using the shotgun in the tutorial mission, I went with it and left - and was told to go to Kingsmouth, the first area of the game.
Kingsmouth is a small town located on Solomon Island. Note, that's Solomon Island, a fictional island in Maine, USA - not the Solomon Islands, a very real chain of islands North of Australia. Thanks to not paying proper attention, I was very confused when the predominantly white residents of Kingsmouth spoke with thick New England accents. Nevertheless, Kingsmouth has a serious problem with the undead coming back to life and I was there to help out.
Going to the local police station, I had several mission choices. Following standard MMO protocol, I accepted one, then attempted to accept the next one - it would pause my currently accepted quest. This was the first inkling that things work a little differently in The Secret World.
Instead of wandering about a safe place, grabbing up quests and then heading off to complete them, in The Secret World you are supposed to follow one quest to its conclusion. While sometimes they will lead you back to where you started, a lot of the time you'll finish up somewhere else entirely. Nearby however, there will be a new quest to take on, sending you off wandering again as you complete the different tiers (stages) of the quest. Doing so will take you all over the map and it draws you in a lot more - you feel like you are Adventuring, not performing the busy work quests you see in most MMOs.
Many of the quests require some thought - not necessarily a heavy amount, but more than just killing monsters for bones. One of the little missions has you accessing a hidden computer - you read an sms on a dead maid's phone, which tells you to move a rock out the front of the church and then input the keycode 'the first song he planned to sing on Sunday.' A little searching and you see that the hymns planned for Sunday are listed on a board inside the church - input the first one and you're away.
Then there are special investigation missions. These missions are different, with a very strong focus on exploration and understanding. They require puzzle solving, but they also require frequent use of the in-game browser - you might need to google a name to find out more about a person or visit one of the websites the developers have created specifically for the game and learn specific information.
The investigation quests are without a doubt the strongest lure of the game, but they highlight the biggest problem with any MMO - bugs. As a new game, The Secret World has its fair share of bugs and while bugs are annoying in any game, the second you come across one in The Secret World you are filled with doubt. I spent half an hour doing a tier of one quest, searching and looking and trying to figure out what I was doing wrong only to learn the answer - nothing. I did nothing wrong, the quest was bugged. I’d need to start it all over again and avoid that element if I wanted to finish it.
If I hadn’t looked it up on Google, I’d have never known. I’ve switched off the General chat (as I always do) but looking in there wouldn’t have helped. The chat servers are filled with people saying that any quest requiring a little effort is bugged and doesn’t work - and until I encountered that bug, I thought they were idiots.
But when I did the next quest that required some thinking and searching, I spent one minute looking around and then had a thought - what if this quest is bugged? Was I going to waste another potential half hour pointlessly searching for something that isn’t there? Even though it probably wasn’t bugged - it almost definitely wasn’t bugged, how stupid would I feel taking a half hour only to find out it was?
One week in and that seems to be the real struggle of The Secret World. Not the Templar and Illuminati and Dragon, not good vs evil, not man vs machine. Man vs Himself, as I stand in the dark again, arguing with myself about hitting ‘B’ to bring up the browser and just look up a walkthrough.
Next week we’ll take an in depth look at the combat, as well as more of my impressions of the game.
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