Surface Review: The Secret World

2012-06-30 15:40

So, a friend of mine has been really interested in Funcom’s The Secret World, which is currently in “early access”, with full launch on June 3rd. This means that, for the next couple of days, “pre-order” bonuses are still available, which may be of interest to some people.

A friend of mine is super into this game, for a number of reasons, and I had agreed that it sounded fun. What really convinced me to give it a closer look, honestly, was some particularly vehemently hostile Funcom-bashing that was happening in a thread about the game on the Rift forums.

So I looked into it. Here’s the elevator pitch: Dark urban fantasy setting, sort of survival-horror genre at least at first, advancement system does not have levels (and I think that really is the case; it’s not just that nothing is labeled “levels”, it’s that they don’t really have a corresponding mechanic), and any character could, in theory, with enough time, master all the powers in the game. At any given time, you have at most seven active (click) powers and seven passive effects; you can swap between sets of these. Game focuses on more immersive quests, and you actually have to read the quest text, pay attention to other in-game items, and so on.

EDIT: A friend points out that you can sort of view the item quality level as being comparable to level. You can have levels of “skill” with various categories of equippable items, and equipping items requires that you have a high enough level of skill for them. Items which require higher skill can provide higher stats. So in a way, you can sort of have an effective guide; if all the gear you’re equipping is QL3, you are probably noticably tougher than someone in all QL2. But since this can vary with item type — you could be able to equip QL4 pistols and only QL2 rifles — it’s still quite different from a “character level”. Players of some of the old FF games might consider this similar to “job levels”.

There’s a lot of interesting bits. There’s nine basic skill trees; all nine can serve to build DPS characters. Three of them also have healing abilities, three also have “support” (buff/debuff) abilities, and three also have “survival” (read tanking) abilities. You can effectively have two skill trees available at a time — you equip two weapons, and each makes that tree’s powers available, if you’ve trained any. So you can change your role and build around quite a bit.

I don’t actually know whether I’ll really enjoy this game for a long time. It certainly has flaws. The character creation options are sort of lame, with most items coming in three colors, and you can’t necessarily match any given item of clothing to any other item of clothing — they may not have any colors in common. The “cash shop” for cosmetic stuff is (MHO) badly overpriced, and you have to buy each item separately for each character, and in each color. The UI is full of “not quite ready yet” bits, although mostly what’s there works fine, it’s just that other parts aren’t there yet.

But the company appears to have been doing a lot of things right. They have more dev and staff involvement on their forums than a lot of games, GM responses are fast and don’t seem to be form letters at all, and the basic game experience is pretty light on bugs. I would compare this roughly to the launch quality of Rift; maybe not quite as good, but it’s doing pretty well.

And most importantly, the game is full of New Ideas. Yes, the game is split into “dimensions” (aka servers, shards, whatnot). But you can group with people who aren’t in the same dimension, because you’re all sharing a world in some way; you can get moved to their copy, or they to yours. Not just something like the cross-shard dungeons in WoW or Rift; ordinary questing, too. The level-less system, with two kinds of sort-of-parallel advancement? Neat. The “all the skills if you want them” advancement? Amazing. The way they’ve mixed up roles like survival/support/healing? Pretty cool.

So if you like MMOs, and you can afford to spend money now and again, I commend this one to your attention. It is a non-crappy attempt at implementing some fairly cool new ideas, and I think that the industry as a whole will benefit a lot if this game does well enough to encourage other people to be willing to think a bit more outside the box.

And since a lot of my friends are likely to ask: Female costumes are not overwhelmingly slutty, although you can get bright red hot pants if you really want to.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. As the friend in question, I suppose I’m in a position to offer some clarifications on a few of the notes here.

    While the game lacks genuine discrete linear ‘levels’ in the traditional sense, there IS linear advancement; there’s a set of ‘skill tracks’ which determine the maximum quality of the gear you can equip of that type. Higher skill = higher quality level gear = higher stats. This is what functions as power level gating in TSW.

    Of course, ‘power level’ is not the only kind of gating. The game doesn’t just do ‘gear checks’, it also does diversity checks, where you really REALLY need to have multiple kinds of builds available to you (or to your team) to tackle certain kinds of obstacles.

    One enemy might really need penetration, or evasion, or tohit reduction, or.. Most of the tough bosses have particular things going on where they either have certain strengths (that can be removed with certain tools) or certain weaknesses (that can be exploited with certain tools), or will change behavior when exposed to certain things (putting an Affliction on a dude might make him hit harder).

    Functionally, ‘adapt or die’ is part of the game’s core design, and if you insist on sticking to one build forever, you will suffer for it.

    This is awesome stuff. The main unawesomes are things like what seebs mentions above: the UI (has development time scheduled for improvement), character creation (has development time scheduled for improvement and estimated time of deployment

    There’s also some more controversial things, like the enforced pacing on mission completion (you can only have a limited number of active missions at a time), or the investigation missions (You got your Myst in my MMO!).

    I have high hopes, overall. I suspect if the game fails, it will undoubtedly be due to a failure to create content fast enough, but they aren’t nearly as crippled as SWTOR on this front; there’s voice acting, but they aren’t putting voicing on Every Little Thing For Every Line Of Text. Hell, mission turn-ins are a little text box response from your character’s handler.

    It’ll be fascinating to see how TSW sinks or swims.

    (Note: This was composed before Seebs’ edit, and I don’t feel like adjusting to compensate.)

    — Amy · 2012-06-30 16:25 · #

 
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