Tucked away in the depths of the Koelnmesse, EA were previewing a number of high profile games to members of the press. Among the numerous titles on show was the upcoming MMORPG The Secret World from genre veterans Funcom. While quite a few cinematic trailers have been floating around internet for a while, in-game action was on display and Dealspwn was there to check out what Funcom had in store.
For the uninitiated, The Secret World is an MMORPG that takes place in a modern day setting where the numerous myths of ages and conspiracy theories are all true, filled with horrors clearly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. In this world, secret societies work to preserve humanity’s place, although they all want to ultimately have power and be on control. Players will be able to choose from three such factions; The traditionalist Templars, the extravagant Illuminati, and the manipulative Dragon, and it is down to the players to help fight for their faction whilst keeping the forces of darkness at bay.
The press session started off with the confirmation that The Secret World will be launching in April 2012. This comes ahead of the confirmation that sign-ups for the beta will be starting next week on the 26th. We were then presented with a montage video of in-game footage, which was used to highlight the ‘freedom of progression.’ We were reminded of the fact that The Secret World does not have classes or levels, but the developers stated that they did want players to “feel like they are progressing in knowledge as they go through the game.”
One example that was given was how players could gain knowledge about their chosen faction, and in doing so not only progressed you in said faction, but also unlocked vendors that could give you better weapons, crafting recipes, and even new PvE missions in what was called The Secret War. While such missions would take place in many locations, such as dark alleyways and boardrooms (apparently), we were shown a demonstration of one such mission that took place in a car pack in New York. For the demo, we saw the perspective of the story from a solo Templar. I state this because we were informed about how every mission is designed as a layered story in which all three factions are involved. For example, the Templar is alerted to the fact a known agent for the Dragon had been spotted in the vicinity. If you were playing as the Dragon however, you would assume the role of said Dragon agent, and would be told that a Templar agent was approaching and that you would need to be careful. It was a clever touch which should allow all players to feel very connected to the world as they progress.
With it being a modern day setting, mission dialogue is delivered to players on the fly via mobile phones, as well the ability to hack into camera feeds to provide the player with a better idea of what to expect as the missions moves forward. It was at this point that we were given a demonstration of the dynamic lighting used in The Secret World, something that had previously not been implemented in an MMO. Using a headlamp being worn on the player’s head, a light was illuminating the dark areas of the level wherever the player was pointing. It was a feature that looked very responsive and very impressive in live play.
However, it we were then told that it was not always be the best option to use this gadget, as some monsters will be attracted to the light and attack the player, sometimes from over a fair distance. The same thing would happen should a mob see the player while they are standing in a spotlight, allowing for an interesting dilemma for players; use the light and prepare for some fights, or forgo the lighting option and risk bumping into enemies in the dark. Flare guns are also available at certain points, which can be manually aimed at a desired location to light up an area or even lure in an enemy for the kill. We were told that such mechanics using dynamic light would also translate into PvP, allowing players to apply some serious tactical thought to prevail against their foes.
As the level progressed we were shown several moments of combat against various enemies, leading up to a section where the lights slowly turned on to reveal a large looking beast that soon charged towards the player. It’s worth pointing out that for the sake of time the developers were using an overpowered character, and as such managed to one-shot the fiend, but regardless of the anti-climactic ending the combat was looking very slick, the ranged weapons providing some great visuals to the action going on.
The mission ended soon after with the discovery of a bunch of corpses and an ominous message written in blood. The player was then swarmed by enemies before the screen faded to black. The important thing to take from it all was how story focused the entire sequence was, from the audible backup over the comms, to the atmospheric set pieces that were placed along the way. It was clear that a lot of work had been put into creating an entertaining experience for the player, and with the addition of puzzles (which weren’t shown during the session) it will be interesting to see how full groups of players tackle the missions.
Next up we began a preview of the newly announced PvP persistent warzones. While in PvE situations all players are working towards a common goal, in PvP the factions are fighting for control of the world, or more specifically fighting for control of bonuses specifically for their faction. Taking place in various locations around the globe, these warzones are based on locations of legend. While Stonehenge, Shambala and Eldorado were briefly shown as smaller battlefields, persistent warzones provide a much greater bonus than battlefields, and as such provide for a much larger scale encounter for up to 100 players. We were given an extended demonstration of one of the objectives in a warzone, taking place around a Chinese temple which was under Illuminati control, and followed a band of Dragon players as they fought to take it over to claim the bonuses for themselves.
For the Dragons to do this, they first needed to breach the main gates to the temple. To do this they needed to obtain five Anima Charges, which are powerful magic spells capable of causing huge damage. These charges are obtainable from Anima Wells located on the map, but there is one slight hitch; the Templars have the exact same plan. This leads to a full out conflict between the two factions, and gave a chance to show off the different armour sets provided to different roles. Fast, nimble players capable of dealing heavy damage wore something closer to street clothes than armour, while people who were the damage takers of the group were wearing what looked like anti-riot gear. These uniforms are put in place to help players know exactly what type of role their enemies are playing as during a hectic conflict.
Ultimately the Dragon forces were able to obtain the charges, escorted their payload safely and blow the gates wide open to begin their assault on the temple proper. From here, the Illuminati begin their final stand to protect the temple (and their bonus.) As the Dragon players pushed the defending troops back, I had to admire how action packed the combat was looking, with the varying forms of offense mixing guns, melee, and spells making for quite the cinematic appearance.
Ultimately, the Illuminati were pushed right into the heart of the temple, which activated the a huge golem-like creature to come to life to fight the invaders in what looked very much like a boss battle. It isn’t long though before the Dragon forces overwhelm and disable him, allowing them to infuse their own brand of magic upon the construct. This leads to the golem changing colour from blue to green, signalling that the Dragon forces had finally been successful in their assault, which in turn meant that the associated bonuses were theirs for the taking.
The large scale battles looked very impressive, and the added incentive of faction-wide bonuses should provide a strong sense of competition come launch. The PvP battles, along with the atmospheric story driven PvE content, suggest that The Secret World is gearing up to be the modern day Lovecraftian online adventure the world has been waiting for.
If you’re interested in more coverage on The Secret World, be sure to check out our video interview with Creative Director Ragnar Tørnquist!