Ever wondered what the world would be like if the supernatural mythologies of the world weren't so mythical? Funcom's new modern-day MMO explores the idea of secret societies and allows players to explore a world where the supernatural is something very real; and depending on your chosen faction, something to be embraced... or snuffed out.
Funcom has opted for three factions – the Illuminati, Dragons and Templars. Each have their own beliefs, moral grounds and ideally their own play-style for people who like to roleplay with friends, or perhaps even enter one of the few dedicated RP servers available. Deciding on which faction you choose doesn't really affect the game play too much, though; rather it will slightly alter your story as you progress through the game and begin discovering the secrets hidden throughout the world.
The emphasis on personal story is also a strong one, as the game is set up in such a way that you can progress through the majority of game content without even speaking to or seeing another player-controlled character. For some this may be a good thing, though for the more social MMO players out there, there’s still plenty of opportunity to pair up with friends or the general public to complete certain quests and instanced content.
Traditional RPG-style character levelling is not present in The Secret World, instead equipment upgrades are an important part of the game, while an ability wheel allows the selection of active and passive abilities into one ‘deck’. You can then switch this Deck around quickly and easily, essentially changing your character role without the need to re-spec.
Weapons play a vital part in the game, with the choice of melee or ranged as the two primary options, though there’s a break-down in each, ranging from large and powerful assault rifles all the way down to quick and nimble blades.
Gear is acquired in the usual ways, either through quest completion, vendor purchasing, crafting and randomly generated loot from the many corpses you’ll leave in your trail. Each item has a level, which is safe to say has been the replacement for traditional character levelling, though there are a few small problems with this transition.
For one, it's hard to find out exactly the ‘item level’ your character needs to progress to the next area in the story, as you're just greeted with ‘not high enough level’ text when you attempt to do so. This leaves you with two options, continue to farm or engage in side quests in an attempt to find better gear, or change out some of your lower level items for higher ones in order to progress, even if they don't suit your current play style.
Level design is beautiful in parts, though quite clumsy in others, really ruining any sense of awe and quickly replacing it with disappointment. This doesn't happen just once or twice either; on a few different occasions we were met with invisible walls, jagged edges that protrude further than the geometry would otherwise have you believe, and glitching & jittering textures.
The cut-scenes aren't safe either, with our character on more than one occasion failing to render pants (no, not in that way, there was simply a solid colour where the texture should have been), and in others textures failed to connect properly, causing invisible textures and a whole bunch of other anomalies. This isn't gamebreaking, though it is annoying.
Other problems are present in the game, like small zones and a heavy reliance on loading screens. We understand the need for loading screens, however this feels more like Neverwinter Nights than it does a modern MMO. Given the resources a modern day computer has access to, there really is no need to force small zones and load screens into the game.