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The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

Carl Phillips
Abilities, EA, funcom, Missions, MMORPGs, PC games, The Secret World

The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

Platform: PC

Developer: Funcom

Publisher: EA

We’re back with the second part of our extensive review of Funcom’s MMORPG The Secret World. This time we will be taking a look at the various types of missions you can expect to find in the game, as well as delving into character progression within the Deck system. If you haven’t seen it already, be sure to check out Part 1 of our review for the initial impressions, which includes our very first Dealspwn Playthrough video.

Before we go any further, I wanted to address something I wrote at the end of the previous instalment about server loads and limits. I had previously stated that due to Dimensions stopping the creation of new characters after a certain amount had been created, it prevented current players from being able to play with any latecomers. After this was published, I was informed (and later confirmed for myself) that this is not the case.

Thanks to the single-server technology that Funcom uses for the game, any players from any dimension (or any country) can team up to experience the missions together, join the same cabal (aka guild) or take part in PvP battlefields. The only exception to this rule is the PVP Warzones, which are dimension specific due to the persistent nature of the mode. In short, it means that dimensions are effectively shard servers that players can hop between. For more details you can read more about the server system in this blog post, but the gist of it is this; unless you want to do Warzones with your friends, just hop in anywhere and play. Many thanks to Funcom’s Erling Ellingsen for letting me know!

Right then, with that out the way, let’s get back to business, shall we?

The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

Content is always king when it comes to MMOs, with the quantity, fun factor, and delivery of the storyline objectives all playing a factor into proceedings. In recent years MMOs have provided a system where the player doesn’t necessarily have to think and can complete tasks , but with TSW aiming to be a mature MMO it allowed Funcom to look into making their content a little different in terms of how players would be engaged, and this is down to one golden rule; less “hand-holding”. Players will need to be prepared to use some brain power when playing TSW, because even though it is still essentially a “theme park” MMO (where PvE content is generally static, eg. WoW or SWTOR) the clues to solving puzzles will not be given to players. No, in this MMO, the answers need to be earned.

This lack of “hand-holding” is achieved in a number of ways. Firstly, waypoints in TSW are generally vague, with a large circled area being highlighted on a mini map in which the player must search for an objective or clue. That isn’t to say that players will miss clues complete though, as interactive objects will be highlighted in a yellow outline as soon as they are within range. However, this is just an example of making players think at a base level, as it goes much further depending on the type of missions players are on.

The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

There are five different types of missions players can have. The most simple of these are the Action missions, which have a red icon. Almost certainly giving the player something to kill, these are not necessarily brainless endeavours, as Funcom will have players tracking their pray before taking them out. It could be that an enemy has dropped empty boxes, or they have left bloody tracks to follow, but beyond this they are a simple and traditional affair in regards to MMO content. Sabotage missions, represented by yellow icons, involve interacting with equipment and occasionally require a stealthy approach. One example, where I was tasked with shutting done some transmitters in a closed off airfield,  required me to sneak inside by finding an access code and then carefully navigate to my objectives without being caught. Failure ended up with my character being stunned and forcibly removed from the area to start over.

However, it is the investigation missions that provide something unique for TSW, which is actual investigation. Through use of elements usually reserved for Alternate Reality Games, players will come across puzzles that will require them to go outside of the game world to find the answers. In one mission I was required to go to a website and type in an ID number I found in game, while in another mission I had to translate a morse code transmission. Alt-tabbing isn’t necessary either, as Funcom have built in a handy web browser within the game so players have everything within the push of a button. Some of the puzzles are relatively easy to solve, whilst others are devilishly taxing (or tedious if working out morse code isn’t your thing) but as with all other MMOs, walkthroughs & solutions are out there online.

That said, I’d question your reasoning to play the game if you went straight for them. Half the fun is the discovery, after all.

The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

Side missions, represented by green icons, can be found all over the place and are usually quick tasks for the player to complete. Much like the action quests, it could be following a trail to a target, or it could be as simple as delivering an item, but they provide an easy way to gain some experience. It’s important to note that all of these mission types can be repeated on a daily basis, meaning players have an easy source of XP from which to gain Anima Points and Skill points (more on those in a bit.) Each mission also provides reputation points for your secret society, progressing your rank and at certain stages providing special quests to do (which I won’t spoil here.) It’s a system that rewards completists and those that wish to delve a little deeper which, considering the nature of TSW, should be their entire audience. However, it is worth noting that there is a limit to the amount of missions you can take, with only three Side missions and only one Action, Sabotage or Investigation mission available at any time. If leaving things behind undone bugs you, you may find some frustration while exploring the game world.

Finally, we have the Storyline missions. Indicated by a blue icon, they provide a mixture of everything previous described whilst delivering an on-going narrative to players. Establishing a path on which players will progress through all of the areas of the game, players have the option of ignoring or exclusively following these missions as they wish. However, out of all of the mission types, these are the only ones that are not repeatable, so enjoy them while they last. In short, there’s a boat load to do in TSW, just as long as you are willing to utilize a little patience. With some distances between objectives there is a fair bit of running to be done, and with enemies at every turn you may find yourself in fights along the way. It is, as I’ve previous said, still a “theme park” MMO after all, but the need for observation and investigation, along with effective ambiance should be enough to distract players so that they can enjoy the game.

Want some examples of the types of missions in TSW in action? Check out our latest Dealspwn Playthrough video below!

So other than the satisfaction of solving puzzles and besting the forces of darkness, what else do you gain from completing missions? Experience of course, but not in a traditional sense. Although there is an experience bar, there are no levels to gain. Instead, when players amass a certain amount of XP they are given Anima Points and Skill Points to spend in abilities and attribute. Anima Points are the faster of the two to acquire, and are used to purchase new abilities for weapons on the Ability Wheel, an interface which splits melee, ranged, and magic weapons into tiers and sub-categories. To access the second tier a player must buy all the abilities in the first one, and with the cost going up the deeper you go in it will take time to unlock everything, which is completely possible.

Once an ability is purchased, players can move it into their hotbar by equipping them in the interface, with a maximum of 7 active and 7 passive abilities in total. It’s a simple procedure that can be done time and time again if you wish to experiment with different combinations. It is these combinations that provide players with TSW’s version of classes call Decks, which are guides for players to follow if they want a specific path (and can be found to the left of the screen.) For example, players can follow a deck to become a tank, or a crowd control AoE damage deal, or a magic-based healer. However, these are just guidelines as players have the freedom to choose whatever they wish to use. Perhaps you want to throw in a few self-heals into your DPS deck? Well you can do exactly that. Fancy replacing that suggested AoE damage move with a group buff? Go right ahead.

The Secret World Review | Part 2 – A Class-less Affair

Skill Points take longer to acquire, but provide the nearest thing to a level requirement in the game. Each weapon is given two categories which are usually damage and support / heal, and improves the effectiveness with each level. Costing an additional SP each time, this eventually becomes a costly process, so to unlock level 3 of a weapon the player must spend 6 Skill Points in one category (spreading out SPs over damage and support / healing won’t count, unfortunately.) Once this has been done, a player will be able to equip a Quality Level (QL) 3 weapon on that type. The same goes for equipping Talismans, which act as the upgrades of TSW, although talismans only have one category of SP points to worry about.

It is commendable that Funcom provide such freedom to choose from in terms of abilities and Deck setups, but newcomers may find themselves overwhelmed, even with the tooltips that appear as you open new interfaces. As with many aspects of TSW, with a little time and patience it can be navigated and understood, however newcomers might find they will need to do external research to figure out which abilities, and in what acquisition order, is the best way to proceed, because with no ability to refund abilities or reset spent AP and SP, or even a training area in which to sample or experiment with advanced abilities, players may find their mistakes frustrating and time consuming.

Unless you’re my character, the “bearded wonder” McGarnagle, who is essentially Wolverine with an assault rifle. And better facial hair.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our extensive review of The Secret World, with analysis of system performance, art direction, crafting and economic systems, and PvP left on the coverage agenda before we give our final decision . If you have any questions regarding the game, be sure to post a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

Add a comment6 comments
hurrakan  Jul. 25, 2012 at 16:25

So regarding story missions - is there a "story" for each faction? Or do they all have the same story? And if the story has an ending, what happens after you reach the conclusion?

CarlPhillips  Jul. 25, 2012 at 17:21

@hurrakan: With the exception to how cutscenes play out, all missions are the same regardless of which faction you choose. The only exceptions to this are the faction missions that are handed out upon reaching a specific reputation rank. These take place in the same location regardless of faction and are part of the same story, but the narrative of each society will play out differently.

Here's an example; a Dragon agent might be tasked with assassinating a target, the Templar agent might be ordered to try and save them, and the Illuminati agent might be following the other two agents gathering incriminating evidence.

As far as what happens once you reach the end of a story, I couldn't tell you for sure right now as I haven't gotten there yet! (the mission chains are pretty long.) Hopefully new content will be regular enough to stop there being problems, otherwise there is the PvP modes to take part in. As with all MMOs, we'll only know for sure in time.

Also, in response to your comment on the Playthrough video (cheers for watching!) you don't necessarily have to watch the ability cooldowns on the hotbar, but they are there. Thankfully you can queue abilities a few moves ahead, but at the end of the day, MMOs will be MMOs I'm afraid. Also, there are no mounts in TSW, but there are purchasable upgrades to improve your sprint speed (something I'll get into when I cover the economics of the game.)

Hope that answers your questions!

hurrakan  Jul. 26, 2012 at 10:09

Thanks Carl :) The playthroughs were interesting, especially as I can watch in 1080p on the insanely fast office leased line.

The Hotbar queue sounds better than the average MMO - but I guess we have to wait for Guildwars 2 for the MMO combat revolution.

Tsung  Jul. 27, 2012 at 07:24

Never heard of this game?. A friend mentioned it to me recently and I was like "What is that? I haven't heard of it?". Then I see it's by EA so I guess it's an Origin Exclusive. It might be in shops, but I don't think I've set foot inside a "computer" game shop in months (maybe years).

So congratulations EA, by having your own online store system this game will pass the masses by. Interestingly it doesn't even make the home page of Origin. As far as I know, none of my friends are playing it or even aware of it (apart from one).

The Secret World?... A bit too secret I think.

Late  Jul. 27, 2012 at 11:10

My hat off to you for a killer final line, Tsung. :D

CarlPhillips  Jul. 27, 2012 at 11:46

@Tsung: Surprisingly enough, you don't need Origin to play TSW (unless you buy through their store, of course.) Getting a physical copy, a digital copy from places like GMG, or even ordering directly from Funcom will do the trick to avoid Origin if you don't like it.

And yes, that final line did make me smile (and play The Who in my head :D)

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