Released at the beginning of the month, Funcom’s latest foray into the MMORPG genre has been a long time coming. Ever since its engrossing ARG started back in 2007, I’ve kept a close eye on the development of The Secret World. Coming from the minds that gave us Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, there was plenty of expectation on creating a rich and engaging world to explore. While Funcom’s previous MMO Age of Conan may not have been the success they had hoped for, The Secret World provides a brand new opportunity to capture the market thanks to an incredibly unique premise.
For those of you who have not delved into our coverage, The Secret World takes place in a modern day setting where every myth and every conspiracy theory you have ever known is real. Imagine if our reality and the works of H.P Lovecraft had collided to form a brave new world, with you thrown right into the middle of it to face off against twisted horrors that want to destroy everything we hold dear, and you’ll have the basic gist of what is going down. Three secret societies stand in the way of the forces of evil to ensure humanity survives, and it is up to you which one you join. Firstly, there are the Illuminati, who above everything desire power, control, and ecsentrism. Secondly, there are the Templar, an ancient order who wish to vanquish evil through tradition and order. Finally, we have the Dragon, an enigmatic group who believe in Chaos theory, using manipulation to bring balance to the world.
Also, there are magic bees. LOTS of magic bees, and they are going to change everything.
It is during the character creation process that players will notice something different in comparison to many other MMOs; they do not get to choose their class. There’s a very good reason for that, which is classes in a traditional form do not exist in TSW (but more on that later.) This means that all players need to concern themselves with is forging an avatar to their own liking, and I’m glad to say that there have been significant improvements in this process since my last experience in the beta. Skin tones are now less restricted to specific facial shapes, and there are plenty of options to create your digital representation in-game. It’s worth pointing out that you only really get control over changing your face, as your body build and size is predetermined to be athletic (and in the case of all males, quite chiselled.)
While I would normally state this as a flaw, I can understand the decision to do so due to the second portion of the creation process; clothing options. A selection of garments, as well some accessories, are available to choose from initially and players should hopefully find something to their liking. If not, it isn’t long before players get the opportunity to buy new additions to their wardrobe (but more on that in a future edition of our review.) It’s for this reason I can overlook the preset body builds, otherwise Funcom would have to cater to several sizes, or risk lowering the number of clothing options available.
Once players have selected a getup of their liking, it’s time to decide on a name. TSW requires players to provide three things; a first name, a nickname, and a surname. The nickname must be unique as it acts as the in-game identifier, but the other two fields can be whatever the player wishes, so if you wanted to name all your characters John Smith and provide a different nickname for each one, you could. From here, the game begins with a short cinematic explaining how the player is brought into this secret war between good and evil (Spoiler Alert: The bee did it.)
From here, the game begins with a short cinematic explaining how the player is brought into this secret war between good and evil. While the first portion is identical each time, the recruitment process at the end will vary depending on which society you have picked. Having seen all three, I must commend the different styles and personality each faction provides, giving the player a sense of how each group operates. For instance the Templar are fairly “do or die” about the whole situation, the Illuminati are rather forceful, and the Dragon are just downright filthy. All players then run through a tutorial which explains the basic mechanics, including a hallucination of a recent even in Tokyo. You can see one such example for yourself by checkout out our video walkthrough below.
So, how do the controls feel? The default settings are a standard affair when it comes to movement, with WASD for movement. Shift provides an active dodge to help evade incoming attacks, although a cooldown timer ensures players aren’t spending every second rolling around everywhere, which would just be annoying (that, and for balance purposes.) Players are also given access to a Sprint ability from the start which allows them to move faster when out of combat. As there are no mounts in TSW, it’s a feature that will be relied upon to get from point A to point B in a quicker fashion. Along with a jump ability which comes in handy for a few platform-esque sections, players will also find themselves interacting with various objects such as doorways, items, and even ladders. While I did find myself cancelling interactions every now and again, I found the overall controls to be responsive and well implemented. Genre veterans should have no trouble jumping in and playing from the word go.
After players have completed the Tokyo flashback, they are sent to an area where they are able to try out all of the weapons the game has to offer. There are three main schools of weapons in TSW; Melee, Ranged, and Magic. Each of these are split into three weapon choices, with each choice split into two sub-sections of abilities which are (usually) offence and support. For example, the ranged weapons are dual pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles, each one providing a different role in combat situations. Pistols are up close and personal, shoguns are medium range Area-of-Effect damage, and assault rifles provide the longest range of the three in a support role. Players are encouraged to try out every option available at this point to find the right weapon, although I felt it was generally quite hard to pick with only the first few abilities to try out, with some options seeming too similar or lacklustre at such an early stage. This is a shame because each path has some unique and awesome abilities later down the line, but we will look at the advanced abilities and setups (known as Decks) in the next review.
Let’s take a moment to look at the basics of the combat mechanics. Generally speaking the basics aren’t too different from the usual MMO affair, but there are some differences to the formula. Abilities are assigned to the number keys, with the basic attacks building up something called Resources for your chosen weapon. Acting in a similar manner to combo points for a Rogue in World of Warcraft, Resources can be built up to a maximum of five, and can be spent on Finisher abilities that unleash heavy damages depending on how many Resources have been accumulated. Melee weapons start off with full Resources, while ranged and magic weapons must be built up from nothing. Perhaps the most important difference in comparison to other MMOs is how even when channelling an ability, players can move around as they please while in the middle of a fight. The end result is a mobile and unhindered feel to combat, and is something that has been long overdue for caster roles.
There is much more to the combat, including the ability to use two weapons at once, but we’ll delve into the advanced mechanics in Part 2 of our review.
So what happens beyond the tutorial and you leave the safety of London, New York or Seoul? Kingmouth happens, which is the first area players will be sent to. Suffering from an outbreak of a zombie nature, it manages to create rather dark and sinister beginnings to the adventures players will experience in TSW. A variety of quests (something we'll expand upon next time) gives highlight to both some entertaining voice acting duties, and some utterly bizarre performances (I’m looking at you, Sheriff Bannerman.) However, a personal highlight must go to Tim “Tuvok” Russ as his role of a special agent later on in the Kingsmouth area. The Star Trek reference in one cutscene was a cheeky wink to his previous role on Voyager.
Other initial observations? My main one would be over the current server limit situation. At the time of writing, once the server decides it has reached maximum population it outright blocks anybody from creating a new character, regardless of whether they have a character there already or not. While I understand this keeps server loads in check, it also prohibits newcomers from joining in later down the line, or more importantly stops friends from joining existing players later on. Hopefully once the launch period calms down this will either be relaxed or replaced by a server queue. Elsewhere, I have to applaud the atmosphere and tone that has been created for the game. While I plan to assess the art direction in detail in a later part of the review, I had to mention how I constantly find myself in awe of the tone the game exudes as I play. I suspect a large part of this is down to the haunting soundtrack that manages to blend into the background, but the attention to little details is seriously impressive.
In the Part 2 of our review, we’ll be taking a look at the advanced mechanics in the combat, and we'll take a detailed look the different types of missions available, including the adventure-game-meets-ARG style investigations. In the meantime, here’s a rather bad-ass screenshot of my recent encounter in an underground car park.