Reader Review: The Secret World

Reader Review: The Secret World
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Usually I insist on reader reviews following the structure we use for reviews, but when someone puts so much effort into creating something as definitive as this The Secret World review, who am I to tell people what they can and can’t write? Great job here by Nathan Kelly. Well worth reading if you have any interest in this game whatsoever, and even if you don’t!

Take it away Nathan!

The Secret World Review

When we hear the term ‘MMORPG’ we tend to think of Elves, Dragons, and grinding out levels. The Secret World seeks to subvert this trend by not being set in a high fantasy world and doing away with levels, skill trees and the class system entirely. Set in the present day and in this universe, The Secret World has players assume the role of a regular person who has been granted fantastic abilities, and uses them to do battle against dark forces on behalf of The Illuminati, The Templar or the mysterious and chaotic Dragon.

The Secret World is a recently released MMORPG, published by EA, and developed by Funcom; the people who made Age of Conan. Let me say right now that Funcom has come a long way from the still alive, but ultimately forgotten AoC.

I pretty much purchased The Secret World on a whim after seeing folks tweet about it, coupled with the urge to play something new while I waited for upcoming releases. I didn’t know a great deal about the game before I started playing, but I became very impressed, very quickly.

The biggest thing that sets The Secret World apart from other MMOs is its setting. Events take place in our present day world, and reference real world culture. For instance, the Templar make a point of telling the player that they are nothing like what one might see in a Dan Brown novel. Early locations pay homage to the likes of HP Lovecraft and Stephen King, and mission-giving NPCs feel like they’ve stepped out of film and literature as they go off on their pre-quest monologues. Enemies are taken from myth and legend, and include the likes of Draugh, Wendigo, Zombies, Vampires, Demons and The Bogeyman. I’ve even seen a tribe of Sasquatch.

Zones are large and varied. In the early stages of the game, players explore haunted carnivals, sleepy towns plagued by the undead, occult institutions, and forests inhabited by vicious beasts. I’ve been putting many hours into the game since I got it, and still haven’t left the early zones as there is plenty to do in each of the game’s large, open areas.

Most of the time, like in other MMOs, I’m doing missions for NPCs. Upon accepting a mission, the player is treated to a cutscene where the quest-giver tells you (sometimes in a rambling, roundabout way) what they need done. I really like these cutscenes. Despite the player’s character not having any dialogue, the quest-giver monologues are entertaining, as the NPCs have a lot of character and the voice talent has done a good job of bringing them to life.

While still maintaining the “Kill 10 X” style of quest, The Secret World expands on the formula by introducing a couple of new quest types. Investigation missions are probably the most enjoyable of these new types, as they deviate most from the standard MMO fare. In investigations, players have to employ detective skills, along with logic, problem solving, and perhaps a little research (made easier by the games handy built in web browser) to uncover clues that lead to other clues, that eventually lead to uncovering some important knowledge. Some of the investigations are absolutely devilish, requiring a substantial degree of effort on the part of the player. One such mission presents the player with a message encrypted in Morse Code. To advance to the next stage of the investigation, the player must decipher the coded message (or give in to temptation and google up a guide using the games handy built in web browser). Investigations may also task players with cracking a computer password or following a series of cryptic clues in a treasure hunt across the zone. The investigation missions are a lot of fun, provided you’re the kind of person who is into cracking clues and codes, otherwise they can just be infuriating and force the player to follow a walkthrough to get it over with.

The other main type of mission introduced in The Secret World is Sabotage. These involve sneaking into an area, avoiding laser tripwires, security cameras and enemies who are capable of quickly dismembering the player if their attention is accidentally attracted. Sabotage quests are not as common as investigations or “Kill X” quests, possibly because they can be a little repetitive. Most Sabotage missions require the player to navigate an area where the price for failure is almost instant death.

This wouldn’t be a problem, but at times, jumping over a low tripwire is complicated by sloppy jumping mechanics, often ending in something exploding and severely damaging your character, if not killing it outright and forcing you to attempt the section again.

Another interesting aspect of The Secret World is the way in which it does away with the traditional class and levelling systems that appear in other MMOs. The Secret World employs a system that allows the player to create their own class, or ‘deck’ as it is called, by equipping two weapons, and up to seven active and seven passive abilities. Decks are built by spending a combination of Action Points (AP) and Skill Points (SP), which are gained through accumulation of experience. Abilities are split into categories based on the weapon a character a character needs to use them. Currently, the weapons available consist of Swords, Hammers, Fists, Blood Magic, Elementalism, Chaos Magic, Pistols, Shotguns, and Assault Rifles.

If one were to play the game for long enough, one could obtain all the available abilities, as there is no limit to the amount of experience a character can accrue. For this reason there is no way to refund spent Ability Points, nor does there need to be.

If someone was to do what I did, and create a character build they weren’t happy with, remedying the situation simply requires picking up a new weapon and buying some new abilities to go along with it. I was genuinely surprised with how easy it was to alter the developmental direction of my character. I just stopped, equipped a hammer I had lying about, used my spare AP and SP to grab some abilities and weapon skill, and off I went.

The limitations imposed on the number of abilities a character can equip may be jarring to MMO veterans who are used to loading up their half a dozen action bars with dozens of abilities. I too felt somewhat strategically hindered at first. Eventually I came to see the restrictions as a deeper level of character customisation, intended to force the player to design their deck of abilities around the situation at hand. There’s still times where I really, really want an eighth ability slot, just so I can squeeze in one more attack or passive ability, but I’ve come to appreciate the strategy behind customising my build within the constraints of the system.

Combat is probably where The Secret World is closest to other MMOs. The player still has an ability bar, and the abilities on that bar still have cooldowns. Resources like mana have been done away with however, and each of the two weapons a player is carrying uses its own resource pool. During combat, players use abilities to build weapon resources, then spend those resources to unleash their more powerful abilities, then resources are built up again and the cycle continues. The Secret World seeks to break up the repetition of combat by letting the player perform a dodge roll, which allows the character to get out of the way of incoming area of effect attacks some enemy types like to use.

Engaging enemies must be done with some degree of strategy, as for each unintended enemy entering combat, the player’s chances of survival decrease quite a bit. The enemies that inhabit the outside environments tend to boast roughly the same, if not a larger, amount of health as the player and are capable of taking a bit of punishment, so engaging with too many enemies at once is not in the players best interests. I’ve died quite a few times from one extra foe entering combat when I wasn’t expecting it. It can be frustrating knowing you’re dead not long into a combat just because you’re fighting three enemies instead of the two you’d intended.

The crafting system in The Secret World also warrants mentioning. Instead of choosing a profession and grinding out levels in your chosen field, players are free to create weapons, gear, potions and weapon enhancing glyphs as they see fit. Materials are gathered by disassembling unwanted items, and are made into new items by laying out the required parts in a specific pattern, not unlike Minecraft. Personally I like this crafting system as I can craft items as the need arises, without having to have learned a load of useless schemata beforehand. However, the system does have a glaring flaw in that players are required to memorise patterns, or continually rely on outside websites as reference due to a lack of an in-game pattern list.

Before I address some of the bugs that have hindered an otherwise immensely enjoyable experience, I would like to touch on the PvP aspect of The Secret World. Unfortunately, at the time of writing this, I have not had as much time as I would have liked with PvP, due to exploring the PvE side of the game, and real life obligations that have forced me to leave my keyboard.

There is no open world PvP in The Secret World, as the player factions have called an uneasy truce in order to fight the dark forces that threaten the planet. Instead, players can participate in 3 PvP scenarios, which directly influence player’s attributes in PvE. Factions vie for control of locations around the world including Stonehenge, El Dorado and The Fusang Projects in Korea. For each of these locations that a faction controls, members of that faction get a bonus to attributes like damage, healing and xp gain. Stonehenge and El Dorado are pretty standard as PvP scenarios go, with Stonehenge using a King of the Hill format, and El Dorado consisting of a modified Capture the Flag. Fusang Projects on the other hand is interesting in that it is a continuous 24 hour battleground, in which players battle for control of several strategic locations. The little PvP I had a chance to do was enjoyable, but it didn’t stand out as much as the rest of the game.

No MMO is without bugs, and The Secret World is no exception to this. During my time with the game, I have encountered a few bugged quests, and have even fallen through the world on one occasion. The GMs were amazingly helpful with the bugged quests, rectifying the situation within 15 minutes of me sending off a petition. Other than these isolated incidents, my time in The Secret World has been essentially bug free.


    • With GW2 so close on the horizon, I agree.It looks like one of those games which demands a lot of time and attention. I’m going to use it as a fallback when I get bored of GW2.

      • Not at all, it’s actually the most casual friendly MMO I’ve played to date.. and I have played them all (since Everquest) 🙂

        I just jump in from time to time, sometimes to play for hours, sometimes to complete a single quest or run one of the many (quick) dungeons. The first one, Polaris, is a real treat and doable in only 30 minutes with the right group. Later on they just get better.

        Of course, this means you have to pay 15$/month for ages, cause so far not even a single one of the most die hard of the crazy hardcore rushers have reached “max lvl” – that is completing the ability wheel. The game has been out for 20 days so far.. compared to SWTOR where they reached max level before official launch this is a game that will keep you entertained for years 🙂

        • Oh, should probably mention why it is so casual friendly – horizontal progression! I have almost two weapons/styles maxed now so I am able to compete with that crazy rusher on almost even grounds, while he has a ton of more diversity (and slightly better gear perhaps). Anyways, the point is you dont have to put in 20 hours a week or more to be competative and useful.

  • I’ve been pondering whether this game would truly be worth buying.The idea was very appealing to me, and after reading this I’m kind of really keen to give it a go.

  • I wish they had trials, considering how different it is to other MMO’s i’m not keen to drop any $$ on something I possibly go “yeurrgggghh!” within 10 minutes of play.. (short attention span)

  • That’s an awesome write up! I’ve never really been interested in MMOs, but this sounds pretty cool. The investigation missions would be right up my alley

  • I played WoW for years and then after the disappointment that was SWTOR, I was a little apprehensive about buying another MMO. However I did buy it and i’m totally hooked.

    Yes there are some bugs but thats to be expected and its not a deal breaker. Go get this game today, its awesome!

  • Looks very interesting.Might try it sometime.
    p.s if you want to play swtor and want to play on an active server with plenty of players to talk to and do Flashpoints and pvp select at the server selection screen the Canderous Ordo pve server.

  • Yeah this game is pretty sweet, it plays more like an action rpg with the global cooldown at one second, limited skill selection means everything has to be justified when you get to higher level areas. If you spec into a defensive skill with a cooldown reduction, then you’re gonna need it every damn fight when soloing, sometimes twice. Each mob is a challenge individually, unintended adds make you sweat, mobs tend to be close together, and your agro radius increases by 50% when you’re in combat.

    I get around having to remember the patterns for crafting by just putting the item I am thinking of replacing in the disassemble box, and take it out once I’ve seen what it is. And don’t be afraid of experimenting with patterns, someone discovered kickbacks that way.

    And i gotta say I’ve had much better support in this game than I have in SWTOR.

  • I haven’t played an MMO in almost 5 years. Jumped into The Secret World on the weekend. Loving it so far. You could easily play it as a sandbox single player RPG if you wanted, but grouping up is always fun. I ran my first Polaris last night (the first 5-man instance) and was pretty impressed, although as the group healer I didn’t get as much of a chance to look around as I might have otherwise. I want to go back as a DPS at some point, and thanks to the very flexible system I can do exactly that very easily.

    I also think it’s very impressive how well they have balanced a mana-less system. Perhaps the only drawback is that the system is built around spamming abilities as fast as possible, and this can leave one without time to smell the roses (as I alluded to regarding healing in Polaris).

    I think they could do a better job of tutorialling some things (for example, it is not at all clear unless you’re told that you can use the assembly window to combine low level mats into higher level mats, and the lowest level mats you can get in the starting areas need to be combined before you can even make a QL1 item so many people get turned off the crafting straight away because they don’t realise they can turn all that junk they’re collecting into decent gear with a little effort… another thing they don’t tutorial and should is the meaning of the symbols and colors next to mob names… or the fact that weapon strength contributes to healing as well as damage… the forum FAQs are almost required reading).

  • Nice points Arky, and a great write up, Nathan. I’m really enjoying it too, it’s an mmo that actually encourages you to stop and listen to the quests, soak up the atmosphere. A great change from orcs and elves

  • I love this game. I never played an MMO really, I dabbled in Rift, Tera, DC universe but I was able to get into the beta weekends and fell in love – signed up for life. I do have a buddy key for anyone wanting to try this out, but it only lasts for 24 hrs. Send me an email at [email protected] and I’ll hook you up. But be warned – you will not be able to gain the full appreciation of this game in 24hrs. And do not go into this game thinking it’s an ordinary MMO, as soon as I started playing this game, I thought to myself ‘this is more RPG then some RPG’s that I’ve played 🙂 I’ll always sing praises about this game, I think it’s worth every penny.

  • I dabbled in the beta a little bit and was intrigued by how it did things differently in both the class and quest system. I purchased it 2 days ago as a tide me over til GW2 and am thoroughly enjoying my romp through the early stages of the game. While the combat early on is extremely stale, once you unlock a few extra abilities and start mixing up your skills a bit and doing things like generating resource points with your primary weapon then burning through 2 sets of resources with 2 different styles of abilities (I am a currently using pistols and elemental magic so I can shoot a target a bunch of times then use 5 point pistol finisher and also have 5 points of elemental combat points to use before having to build resources again). While I will probably mix things up a bit later to add a little more AoE damage, at my current, early stage of the game, the potential for combinations is starting to become apparent.

    The biggest drawcard for me is the investigative questing system which will either convert you or turn you off completely. If you ever asked “where is npc/mob X”, “where are the felcones” or “whar is mankirks wief?!!” then this game is definitely not for you as all of that information was given clearly in quest descriptions in other games. Quest descriptions in TSW are decidedly vague on purpose. I guarantee you that you don’t want to play this game if you are in a hurry to rush through quests. Anyone reading this that has done the kingsmouth quest with the following manhole covers and reading clocks will know how awesome you feel if you work it out for yourself and how crappy you would feel knowing you missed out on the previous feeling of awesome if you looked up a guide.

    In short, play this game if you like to think, if you are a bit over elves, dwarves and dragons or if you are waiting for other releases later this year, it starts off a bit slow but slowly reveals its potential about 6-8 hours in.

    Also as per Spoonie, I also have a buddy key available, shoot me an email at [email protected] and I’ll send you details, first come first serve, 24 hours

  • This game is definitely worth it. I bought it as more of a joke to have fun with from time to time, but dang is it fun and different. Most people in the game are enjoying the hell out of it too. If you had quit mmos or got tired of bad ones then try this out. After you get the hang of it and the possibilities mixed with the storyline you’ll have a tremendous amount of fun.

  • I just bought this game, and now playing the 30days u get with it.
    I have 2 say the game is AMAZING! Soo much to do, so many quests, the cutscenes r ok, altho u play a complete mute and dont say a single word through the whole game… dungeons r awesome! bosses sometimes need actual tactics. Still havnt decided whether i will be subscribing or not, while guildwars 2 is out next month and im playing the last beta weekend to see if i will b getting that or not… if that goes tits up then i will most likely sub to TSW! Awesome game though!!!

  • good fun, even if you’re not into horror literature (you’d prob enjoy the references even more if you are).

    the writing and atmosphere is fantastic.

  • The greatest MMO of our time! In the beginning it kinda bothered me, the greatness of the game. Bechause i was so much looking forward to Guildwars2. Now, i know its no way back for me. Im sticking with THE SECRET WORLD!!

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