The Secret World generated a great deal of buzz with its initial announcements – the modern setting albeit one with magic and demons and the like seemed to hit a certain fan nerve, along with some extremely slick video marketing. As time rolled on, Funcom began making large promises – no levels, classless, big skill trees, play that didn’t fit the normal multiplayer tropes – a game unlike any other MMO. As the days to launch dropped away, people were curious to see just what The Secret World would be like.
Here’s the bad news: it’s a lot like other MMOs. Here’s the good news: it’s an extremely good MMO, with superb writing and tight plotting that helps carry it through some occasional gameplay niggles.
The Secret World’s premise is that there is a, well, secret world alongside our own, where magic, ghosts, zombies, demons and all the extremely weird stuff happens. The player finds themselves inducted into this world by way of one of three secret societies: the Templars, the Illuminati or the Dragon.
In many ways, The Secret World is like numerous other MMOs: you accept missions and quests from NPCs, loot dead bodies, gather experience and participate in player-vs-player activities. But there are more than enough differences to make it a genuinely novel addition to a growing landscape of titles.
The Secret World, for a start, is genuinely classless. You simply pick from 9 different “weapon styles”, three of which are magic, three are ranged firearms and thee are close-range melee weapons. (Whichever faction you chose for your character has no impact on your abilities or skill choices, but it will change faction missions that become available later on in the game.) Want to be a chaos magician with a sledgehammer? You can. Want to have a shotgun and a sword? No problem. The only real limit is that you can only use two weapons at a time, but it is up to you whether you focus down on two or spread your points around and jump between different weapon setups.
To give some guidance, there are “decks” in the game, that offer templates you can work toward. Or, once you have a solid chunk of skills and abilities under your belt, simply activate a deck to “spec out” your passive and active abilities on the fly, giving you the flexibility to fill out different roles depending on what’s required.
PVP gaming is optional, but elegantly done. The three factions are technically allies, but rivalry still exists and it’s this that fuels the PVP. If your faction controls enough assets, you get bonuses and buffs, making PVP a worthwhile activity and not an annoyance.
While the regular quests can sometimes be quite standard – kill x number of y, or fetch z from a and take it to b – the game has some remarkable investigative missions that can be incredibly fun, requiring you to do web searches, solve puzzles and more. In fact, there’s even a browser built in, letting you google clues without breaking the play. It’s novel and often exciting to find clues and answers seeded around the net and it works mostly thanks to the titles modern setting.
There are a few niggles – crafting in particular suffers from a lack of extensive tutorial, remaining opaque on a number of levels. The ability to physically dodge certain attacks seems like a nice idea, but actually adds little to the gameplay. Sadly, the biggest issue of all is the games popularity – for a supposed secret world, it’s often hard to move for all the other players, tearing around small towns and deserts alike, giving an almost surreal tone to what should be tense and atmospheric play.
Above all, however, the Secret World differentiates itself with its superb writing – dialogue is never something to skip, but instead a wonderful experience, often moving or amusing on various levels. The mythology that has been created for the game is deep and exciting and something to be genuinely appreciated and lingered over.
In all, The Secret World is a well-crafted and often elegant take on the MMO that benefits most from its detailed and beautiful setting. Whether it’s a World of Warcraft killer remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a highly recommened game and one we look forward to returning to on a regular basis.