The Secret World is my favourite MMORPG of all time and I make no secret of it. Last April I wrote a call to arms entitled The Secret World Is The Secret MMORPG Revolution, explaining how it's the most unique and forward-thinking example of the genre we've seen in years.
Breaking from World Of Warcraft's template, it's an experience that puts the focus on storytelling, on detective work, on brainpower and fourth-wall breaking alternate reality, a classless and peerless adventure that takes you from New York to Egypt and dark dimensions beyond. A game that slows down to let you engage with its lore, to find the macabre and the terrible behind modern life, where every myth, legend and Lovecraft short story has a basis in fact and is probably hiding down the next dark alley. Its atmosphere is palpable, its pacing perfect. Also, Tuvok and The Reanimator are in it, so there's that.
However, there's also no denying that The Secret World had a few flaws; a handful of gripes holding veterans back from returning and newcomers from finding their feet.
Bugbears that have now been either fixed, removed or mitigated by one of the most important updates that The Secret World has ever received: the Enhanced Player Experience.
Meaning that it's time you finally got involved... or returned to take on the fantastic Toyko content.
It's difficult to overstate just how impressive the Enhanced Player Experience is, and how it fundamentally improves the game on a number of levels.
First off, enemies have now been rebalanced to make kill time quicker and combat less arduous. This might seem like an odd step for a traditional MMORPG to take, but The Secret World is not a traditional MMORPG. Its major draw is lengthy exploration missions that challenge you to out-think some magnificent puzzles, many of which actually require you to delve into the real world or actual websites to solve. For many, getting drawn into combat against tough and durable foes during these epic quests was an annoyance rather than an exciting encounter, and though I don't personally take that view I can still still admit that I tended to try and 'game' the mechanics and evade foes rather than fighting them. Hurting immersion in the progress.
New players, meanwhile, were slapped around the face by a fairly sizeable difficulty spike in the third zone. Again, I actually like the way The Secret World makes you think around problems using its incredible Ability Wheel to theorycraft and develop completely new builds, but even so, I hit this wall myself and remember it well. Now progression is much smoother and snappier, with the added effect that the slightly static combat is now delivered in smaller tense chunks. It's a huge change for the good.
And the first of many. Rewards have also been punched up a notch. You'll find better gear as you progress, with main missions tuned to dispense items that passively buff health and damage in order to increase your survivability, before revealing the opportunity to dabble in more specialised items. The maps have been completely overhauled, marking practically every useful point of interest and making navigation much more intuitive, while it's now possible to -- oh joy of joys! -- fast travel instantly between each zone rather than navigating the arcane recesses of Agartha, the game's hub area. Again, I'm a huge fan of how The Secret World slows down and makes you experience its universe first-hand, but this can only be a good thing especially for veterans like myself (who tend to memorise the exact places to jump off the starting platform and eventually end up somewhere near where we want to be hundreds of metres below).
These are huge upgrades. Huge. New players will discover an experience with the right level of friction, not in terms of lengthy combat encounters, difficulty spikes or backtracking, but in terms of satisfying puzzle solving and theorycrafting. Hats off to Funcom for what couldn't have been an easy decision.
But perhaps the biggest improvement isn't for new players. It's for lapsed players, those who completed the campaign and always meant to return once the Tokyo content released, but then found themselves facing a nasty barrier to entry: dozens of hours of grinding in virtual reality 'scenarios' before being allowed into the new expansion!
"At the risk of sounding arrogant, I'd urge Funcom to consider retooling the current status quo by awarding players the Council Seal for successfully completing any single scenario," I wrote in my Issue #9 - The Black Signal Review. "That way, the story remains intact and players get a chance to taste the Augment system, but can then move on or continue running Scenarios because they want to."
Now, I don't want to take credit for what you're about to read. I'm not that egotistical. But... I'll let Funcom explain.
"Players who have finished the main Story Mission in Transylvania may now continue the story for free in Venice, and then move on to Tokyo. They can travel through the Venice sewers and make their way to Tokyo via the subway before they enter the city. Any player must still own Issue #9 to continue the story in Tokyo itself though. The Council of Venice has reduced the amount of training needed to progress to Tokyo. Players now only need one mandatory training session in the virtual reality training facility."
Coincidence? Yes, probably. But whether they heeded my advice or not, it's an absolutely massive move that should finally open the floodgates.
So I'd urge you to try The Secret World. I'd beg you to get back into it. Because while The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar tried to innovate and failed, The Secret World promised a genuine MMORPG revolution and actually delivered.
I'll keep an eye out for a deal, and I'll see you in Tokyo.