After a month of fighting the darkness, putting on our investigation hats, and getting magic bees everywhere, we’ve reached the conclusion of Dealspwn’s review for The Secret World. We only have a few things to get through before we make our final judgment on whether Funcom has achieved their goals, and ultimately decide if The Secret World is worth your time. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid the review up until this point, we’ve got a handy mini-hub below that will get you up to speed.
One thing I wanted to go over before we get into the final hurdle are the dungeon instances in TSW. With one located in every zone in the game, these instances provide an additional challenge for players, as well furthering the story for the zone they are currently in. Gear level requirements and player roles of the “holy trinity” provide a familiar feel for MMO veterans, but beyond this there are a few things Funcom have tried to break away from the rest of the online pack. Firstly, trash mobs (or “enemies that aren’t bosses” for the newcomers in our ranks) have been reduced, with environmental puzzles and traps taking their place. Secondly, Funcom has tried to make the later bosses in a dungeon more than just the “tank-tank-tank, heal-heal-heal, kill-kill-kill” affair by including fights that require some awareness and careful thought as you go.
As with the combat in the rest of the game world, movement is key to survival in dungeons and bosses utilize abilities that will keep players mobile at the best of times. Overall, I found the dungeons to be the most traditional aspect in terms of MMO structure in TSW, but that isn’t to say that they aren’t enjoyable, because they were. Funcom have made every effort to make sure that the dungeons are a challenging yet fun experience, with greater challenges awaiting those who complete the regular dungeons. An Elite mode awaits afterwards, providing tougher bosses to kill, and those able to best the dungeons in that mode have a final difficulty level after that; Nightmare. Of course, gear and bragging rights are the main reason to repeat the dungeons beyond the first difficulty, and some players may decide to call it a day after the first round, but there should be enough to get through to keep players busy for now. Let’s just hope that the monthly Issue patches continue to deliver additional content to provide new experiences for players.
So now all the bases have been individually covered, we need to look at whether the complete package is worth your time, and if Funcom have delivered in creating a mature and mentally involving MMO. I’m glad to say that overall the answer is yes, but it would be irresponsible of me to not voice my concerned observations over the month with my Illuminati superstar McGarnagle. Firstly, despite the flexibility of the non-level system there are entry barriers to progression, and while this is made clear when accepting missions from NPCs, the game doesn’t explain how to stay in line with the content, and it’s a simple answer; the player must complete everything they come across in a zone at least once to stay par for the course. In doing so, they will unlock skill levels which allow them to damage, tank or heal at the appropriate rate, and acquire dropped gear (or tokens to buy gear) that stays in line with the progression of content.
This means you can’t just do the main story missions, or even decide to miss a hub without eventually feeling underpowered for the missions. This is more the case playing solo though, but it is an important note to make because of the restriction on how many missions players can pick up at once, and with many quests ending nowhere near the original quest giver, or even sending you to a brand new hub, even MMO veterans may find the process disorientating to finish everything a particular zone has to offer. This brings me to another point; I found that the investigation missions, which are a personal highlight (despite occasionally being downright fiendish), became far too irregular for my liking moving beyond the first zone. While they did pick up again in the first part of Egypt, I found the same thing happened in the second zone there, which was a little disappointing.
It’s a good job then that the stories themselves, regardless of the mission type, are worth doing with interesting characters to meet along the way. Having a mute character does sometimes make the cutscenes seem unusual, but thankfully it doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and this is helped by the (previously praised) visuals and ambience throughout the game world. My newly built PC rig was able to show off the game in all its glory, with the dynamic lighting being the star of it all. Dark areas were made to feel creepy, and I honestly felt like I was fumbling around in the dark as I guided my character around. If that doesn’t give you a gauge of the immersion levels, that I don’t know what will. That said, owners with minimum spec PCs be warned; TSW is a rather demanding beast, and while the game will be playable, it certainly won’t be pleasant or smooth experience.
Elsewhere, the community aspect is well implemented with the Single-Server technology allowing everyone to play together, and thanks to the fact that quests are replayable (outside of the main quest) I actually found myself teaming up with people of varying progression. It’s an system that encourages players to work together in PvE, especially in regards to working out puzzles.
Action junkies or those that wish to blitz content may well want to step back a little before diving in, as TSW is an experience to that requires patience. While the combat is incredibly visual in terms of indicators and keeps players very mobile, the pace can slow down fairly significantly when taking part in investigation missions, and when you add in fact that Funcom have removed a lot of the typical helping hands found in other games, some players could find the game drags from time to time. Walkthroughs are available from various websites, but as I have previously stated in other parts of the review, I feel using them defeats the purpose of playing TSW in the first place. The satisfaction, at least for a few attempts, comes in solving them on your own.
I even downloaded an ARG tool app on my phone to help solve some of the puzzles. Yeah, that’s right, McGarnagle was a bearded super-sleuth… with an assault rifle.
So while TSW is not necessarily as ground-breaking as it wants to be in terms of no levels and no classes, and at its heart remains a “theme park” MMO, its smartly-scripted content and fluid action more than make up for it. If I had a worry moving forward, it would be that while the Issue patch updates are enough for now, they may well not be enough moving forward once the larger challenges have been conquered. At the end of the day, it’s the story and the content that stands tall in TSW, providing something utterly different in terms of setting that provide an eerily familiar setting. Whether it be defending the local Police station against a horde of zombies, riding a haunted rollercoaster, fighting an huge elemental in the middle of a temple, working out someone’s true identity, or standing tall for your chosen secret society, Funcom have done a fine job in setting up the foundations of a brave new world for players to explore. It’s down to them to build upon this strong start to make it a worthwhile on-going investment.
Understandably, some of you might still be a little weary about putting down your hard earned cash on this one. Thankfully, Funcom has recently announced that a 3-day trial will be available, so you can find out for yourselves if it is really has been worth the wait.
- Brilliantly crafted world filled with a familiar yet eerie ambiance.
- Investigation Missions are a breath of fresh air in the MMO genre.
- Free-form skill progression allows players to choose the path they want…
- … but it can be disorientating to decide what to do at first.
- Levelling still exists, just transferred to item levels.
- At a base level, not as ground-breaking as it wants to be.
The Short Version: While it may not be the online revolution in terms of its core design, Funcom have succeeded in providing an alternative online experience worth exploring. The foundations have been laid for a dark and mature MMO that provides a new challenge that many other games in the genre lack; the need to think. Dark days may well be here, but it’s a brave new world worth spending time in.