I think I mentioned before how much the constant vicious circle of MMO hype irritates me. Games rise, and then crash like falling stars, ripped apart by a former fanbase. Current example: SWTOR, kicked into the dust by EA, people celebrating its fall to F2P with true German Schadenfreude.
A lot of the MMO folks I follow on G+ got into The Secret World which launched a month ago, and even though it sounded incredibly interesting, I was suspicious. I hadn’t heard anything good about Funcom, it’s a sub game in a world where sub games are doomed to failure, and it has a modern setting, the first game of its kind, afaik. I missed the beta weekends, and given that I am still unemployed, currently in training to become a certified system integrator, I am very wary of spending money on stuff like games. Not wary enough to not haven fallen for the Steam Summer Sale, but…careful. As part of their one month celebration and their first content patch, Funcom allowed free access to the game for everyone, for a weekend. Here was my chance to test it and see for myself.
Despite really wanting to be illuminati, I was convinced to play a templar, joining the Templar cabal Knights of Mercy on Arcadia, filled with such good folks as Belghast, MMO Gamer Chick, Rowan and many others.
By the first cutscene I thought that it looked pretty cheesy. But once the tutorial section started, taking you to Tokyo, I was pretty hooked. The video tutorials are pretty amazing. I wish more games paid great attention to tutorials. You want to be sure that you grasp the most important concepts, and this video and the seamless integration was very slick. I also like the mission system that guides you through quests in different tiers, the story evolving as you go. The combat was okay, and the mobs looked very Lovecraftian. I have to admit I didn’t really pay attention to the setting before I installed the game, I only knew modern + occult. I am a huge fan of Lovecraft, and Stephen King, so imagine my squee when my character was sent to New England where the town of Kingsmouth has been affected by a strange fog. Zombies everywhere! Creatures from the sea! Insanity! And so you get into figuring out the mystery of Solomon Island, trying to find out what happened.
Questing works slightly different in The Secret World. There are no traditional quest hubs with lots of exclamation marks all around, but there are people marked on your map that do have main missions for you. You always have one story mission, can have only one main mission and up to three side missions. Side missions you can pick up anywhere. A good example for a side mission is you finding the corpse of a woman, with a cell phone in her hand. The cell phone shows a text message that indicates she was supposed to spy on the priest of Kingsmouth’s church, and that there’s a laptop hidden by the church, with the passcode the first song that’s going to be in the sermon. Now your task is to a) find the laptop and b) break the passcode. Quite fun! It’s quite cool to stumble over side missions, and at times I felt they were used to gently nudge you towards the next available main mission. As example, you find a weird pseudo-religious cult called The Morninglight, and an RC plane there guides you towards the next mission guy in the Skate Park.The main missions exist in three different types. There are normal action ones where you run around a lot and kill ten zombies, but there’s also investigations and sabotage missions. Investigations are for example that you are to look into a series of murders that happened in 2002. Belghast gave me the hint to look at the phonebook for ideas where to start, and I took it from there. You have an integrated web browser that you will need to use for some missions, and I had to take notes on how to disable a machine in reverse order. Heck, apparently you need to learn morse code or have a morse app on your phone in some cases. Sabotage missions require stealth, disabling traps and avoiding security cameras. As much as I cursed at the stupid cameras, I really had a lot of fun with the two missions of that kind I have done so far.
I felt the challenge of the mobs was pretty nice. You start mowing through normal zombies quite easily, but if you run into the stronger ones, more than one might be lethal. When a mission indicates ‘Very Hard’ it’s indeed tough to survive. At no point did I feel like I wanted to throw my mouse against the wall, unlike Guild Wars 2 where I find the difficulty frustrating at times.
The skill system and abilities wheel is quite interesting, but I wish decks were explained somewhere. MMOGC had to help me with that, and I started building towards the paladin deck. I would like to experiment with healing sometime. Or tanking. I didn’t fully get the crafting and only later found out that you need to upgrade your mats through the assembly window. Again, that would have been nice to get via an advanced tutorial mission, like the one you get initially for crafting weapons.
TSW is a mature-themed game. There’s a lot of gore and horror, and characters you run into swear a lot (a motherfucking lot) or talk about sex, like the fake fortune-teller who survived the fog because the mayor had her in fuzzy handcuffs in bed. That made me laugh. Big thumbs up for the big biker dude who is sweet on deputy sheriff Andy, and there was some chick who hit on my character pretty hard. Yay for gay!
The game is not without its problems. It crashed multiple times for me, with the Out of Memory bug that seems common in Win 7-32 bit, and sometimes face textures looked pretty awful. Also, Kingsmouth feels like a single-player game, totally. That’s probably its biggest issue. In fact, having other people around was actually disrupting in some cases. There was an investigation mission involving ravens you needed to talk to, and if another player was doing it, the ravens kept flying away. I had to restart this at least three times, and a Twitter friend, at_marianne, and her husband were unable to finish at all, because they were grouped. That is pretty sucky! You shouldn’t be punished for playing with people, because that’s after all the MM part here. SWTOR set such a high bar for duo content, so it is disappointing to see TSW fail here. Others are telling me there’s more group stuff outside of Solomon Island, but I can’t say if this is so.
A plus on the group side is that you can help other players kill mobs and they count for you, even if you didn’t tag the mob first. I happily helped pew-pewing zombies with my pistols whenever I ran into other people.
I have to say, this was the first MMO since WoW that totally made me forget the time. When my SO told me it was time to do groceries after I sat down to play it at noon, and it was miraculously 6 pm, I was boggling. It really sucked me in, with a fantastic atmosphere, great storytelling, and interesting missions. According to Raptr I managed to clock 23 hours of gametime since Friday, which…seems a bit high. Raptr did not stop counting when I crashed to desktop, so that probably explains the discrepancy. Still, I likely did at least around the 20 hour mark. The weekend was enough to convince me I need to play this for at least the free month. It’s given me a bit of hope, because I seriously thought I was done with MMOs as a genre, the passion for the games out of my system. Guess I was wrong!