The Secret World: Way, way, better than some reviewers think

2012-08-10 13:04

Inexplicably, TSW reviews sort of poorly. Wait, that’s not inexplicable; it’s totally explicable, it’s just sad. Many of them aren’t even reviews of the retail; they’re from mid-to-late beta. Others are just plain wrong on basic claims about mechanics. But mostly, I think, reviewers tried to play it as though it were a modern-setting WoW, and got disappointed when it wasn’t.

Overall, TSW is a pretty high-quality game. The devs have done a good job of making an interesting setting, developing a combat system which is at least moderately fun to play, and so on.

However, it does a few things which go against norms and expectations, and that means that people who are trying to play through quickly in order to write a review seem to sort of miss some of the points. For instance, one of the game’s big selling point is “investigation” missions — missions where the challenge is not defeating enemies in combat, but solving puzzles and following up on clues. The investigation missions are by design structured so that you may have to use sources outside the game — in some cases, a website maintained by funcom which provides relevant clues, in other cases maybe just Wikipedia or any reasonably complete art history. Yes, art history. And the Bible. And you might want to be able to decipher Morse code.

So when people complain that the puzzles are too hard and they can’t find solutions from the material in the game, that’s saying that Funcom delivered exactly what they offered — and that means it’s not a bug, it’s a design choice. Writers who think the puzzles are “too hard” or “unfair” are in many cases simply complaining that they never read the manual or tutorials.

Similarly, the game’s design offers a fairly unusual degree of flexibility in character design, and this permits poor choices. And there are missions which are designed explicitly so that you can’t complete them by brute force.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the developers have intentionally created a game where some character builds cannot complete some content; if you want to beat everything, you need to be willing to switch builds and approach things in different ways. And a lot of people, not expecting that, think this is a failure of the developers to properly evaluate content, rather than a choice to make some things hard.

This ties in to the general observation that you can play WoW in any MMO. In the case of many of the negative reviews of TSW, the problem is that the reviewer tried to play WoW in TSW, discovered that it didn’t work, and dismissed the game as a poorly-made WoW clone, when in fact it is neither.

Peter Seebach