We’re still going full steam ahead with our review for The Secret World. In this week’s instalment we’ll be taking a look at the economics, give an overview of the crafting, and analyse the art direction throughout Funcom’s MMORPG. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already to get caught up on all the action so far.
As with every MMO on the market, economics are an important to progression and lasting appeal. Beyond XP (and in the case of TSW, abilities and skills acquisition) currency really is the second biggest reward when ploughing through content (after new gear, of course.) With the release of the first post-launch content patch, titled “Issue #1: Unleashed”, all of the economic systems are now implemented in the game, so we’re going to take a look at how you earn money, the different types of currency, and how effective the systems are.
The basic form of currency players earn in TSW is PAX. This is given whenever a quest is completed, or whenever an item is sold to an NPC vendor. For the most part, PAX can be spent on lower level or entry level weapons and talismans, weaker buffs, character upgrades, and additional clothing, with tokens used to buy the more advanced items (more on those later.) The UI for vendors is laid out well, with monetary cost displayed clearly to the side along with any QL requirements. In the case of clothing, when I item is bought it cannot be purchased again, with the item in question greyed out and the “Buy” button made inoperable until something else is selected. All vendors also have the ability to repair your equipped items which suffer durability damage whenever you are defeated.
Essentially the vendors behave as they should and their menus are easy to navigate, but there is an issue that I have noticed. Certain items, such as the second rank of Quickened Anima (improved sprint speed) are available to buy, but are greyed out until your character has reached a certain society rank (which is 6, according to some googling.) The fact this information is not properly indicated anywhere in the UI is an oversight that can be easily fixed, but as it stands now it could cause confusion for newcomers. Other than this issue, unusable items can be filtered out or easily identified.
For more powerful upgrades, players are required to earn tokens. These come in the form of Marks of Venice, which have White and Black variations, and Sequins, which are given for completing missions in a given area (so for example, Sequins of Solomon Island are given out for missions in Kingsmouth and The Savage Coast.) These can be spent at vendors provided by the Council of Venice, a group that act as the governing body of the secret societies. These vendors, identified by their all-white appearance, can sell powerful upgrades and toolkits (which are a part of crafting. More on that later.) These tokens are slower to attain than PAX, but so far I feel it has balanced itself out in terms of progression. This doesn’t mean that tokens are the only way to pick up more powerful gear though, as players can alternatively spend their PAX on the newly-implemented Trading Post.
Located in London, the Trading Post acts as the Auction House for TSW, and can be found in the bank which also provides the place to store items, as well as send and receive mail (there are no working postal services in TSW, unfortunately.) The interface works as you would come to expect from an MMO, with the usual dropdown menus for item types and sub-types available, along with being able to search for specifics such as certain Quality Levels and keywords. Along with the option of only displaying usable items, the layout is clean and simple to navigate around, with results showing expiry times and price (although I’m not certain that the seller’s name is necessarily needed. My only gripe about the Trading post is how it deals with stacks of items. The number which displays the total items available is far too small, and is only legible for the briefest of moments when scrolling down the available items. While I assume this could be remedied by making the UI bigger in the options, this would surely mean that the rest of the interface would take over the rest of the screen. Hopefully this can be rectified early on, as it makes purchasing crafting materials more troublesome than it should be.
Speaking of which, all players have the ability to craft items in TSW by using the Assembly window. From glyphs to talisman to weapons, all a player needs is the right materials, a toolkit, and the knowledge of which patterns work best. By bringing up the crafting window, players are presented with a 5x4 grid in which to place materials in certain patterns. For example, weapons require 7 pieces of metal arranged in a way similar to the intended outcome, with a weapon toolkit placed in the Tool slot underneath. Providing the materials are the right QL for the toolbox, the end result will pop up in the box at the bottom, and then all the player needs to do is hit Assemble. Without the need to grind crafting, it effectively means that any player can make any level item, providing they have the materials to hand.
There is even the ability to disassemble items by throwing them in the bottom box, which will reveal the salvageable materials that will emerge from the process in the assembly grid. Likewise, these crafting materials can be upgraded into better versions of themselves by throwing stacks of 5 into the assembly grid, and downgraded by putting them into the disassemble box (should you need to craft a lower level item.) While there is a tutorial mission which explains the basics of Assembly in Kingsmouth, advanced patterns and combinations using glyphs (which can make items more powerful by adding stats) require external research, but with a built-in browser that isn’t too much of a problem (and arguably adds to the ARG element of the game.)
Having a unique setting certainly sets TSW apart from other MMOs, but in my mind it is the ambiance created through the art direction that truly helps Funcom’s game shine. I have previously written about how impressed I have been by the general presentation of TSW, but not actually explained why in detail. While hyper-realism has not been the intention, everything is relatable and consistent in terms of the visuals, succeeding in providing a modern day feel for the in-game world. This is aided by some incredibly effective audio design which, while occasionally providing some questionable audio cues for buffs, helps to create a great sense of immersion in game. The sirens as zombies attack the police station in Kingsmouth is a great example of this, forming a sense of gloom and panic as you look around the makeshift fort filled with the wounded and desperate townsfolk.
Then there are copious amounts of enemies that are running around the game. While many of the models appear to be reused with only slight modification, it doesn’t defer from the end result of these foes looking incredibly creepy. From the sea-dwelling Draug to the former-townsfolk-turned-zombies, everything manages to look intimidating enough (especially when there are more than one zeroing in on you.) The Lovecraft-ian influences shine through in this regard, and the design team based in China should be commended for their work in crafting these monstrosities. I fear to think what else lies undiscovered in content further down the line.
Whatever lies ahead, it’s almost certain that the magic bees are to blame.
The variations in locations provide contrasts as you traverse the world as well. The starter areas of London, Seoul and New York each help to exude a different experience from the other thanks to their design. Likewise, when exploring zones such as Kingsmouth and The Savage Coast (the first two proper areas in the game) there are a variety of different locales to come across. One second you could be in a zombie-infested town, the next in an airfield filled with high-tech Men In Black. The Overlook Motel, which provides entrance to the Hell Raised instance, lives up to the name by providing an effective “hell on earth” representation in the surrounding areas. That said, so far there has been a lot of “smokey gloomy darkness” in the areas I have played so far (especially in the rather creepy fairground) but I suspect that this will change once I progress onto Egypt and Transylvania.
Hopefully, anyway. There’s only so much eerie fog that McGarnagle can take.
Animations are well executed for the most part, with a serious amount of emotes available for players (although a lack of dropdown menu or even an easily readable list for them is annoying) While the in-motion animations are not as smooth as their cutscene counterparts, they help to identify hindered states easily enough. This is capped off by an almost consistently high level of voice acting from NPCs (Jeffrey Combs’ roles as Zurn and especially Hayden Montag being personal highlights so far.) The little details, such as conversations as you walk by people, help to build up the ambiance in the world, and when you add in the fairly mature storylines that have managed to keep me engaged and wanting to find out more, it almost seems worth getting involved in TSW on that basis alone (it was what attracted me to TSW when it was unveiled through its ARG years ago.)
Being a self-confessed lover of music and gaming soundtracks in particular, it would be downright rude of me not to mention the score provided by Simon Poole and Marc Canham. From the rousing themes heard upon entering the game, to the quieter pieces that accompany areas that house mission-giving NPC (Innsmouth Academy being a fine example of this) it seems that everything has been composed with the location, and the storylines, completely in mind and it shows in the execution. Even the various stings of battle music manage to capture the level of urgency in any given battle. Haunting and enthralling in equal measure, the soundtrack is perhaps my favourite element of TSW so far.
That’s your lot today. We’ll be back next week with an in-depth look at the Player Verses Player modes available in The Secret World, as McGarganle gets his hands dirty for the glory of the Illuminati. If you have any questions regarding the game or the review so far, be sure to post a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.