I’ll be honest: I had very little interest in playing The Secret World, partially because I fear Funcom but mostly because talking to earlier beta testers convinced me that the game’s modern setting resulted in some pretty problematic moments. As I wrote last week I’ve already felt a little battered about by the industry lately and I really was not in the mood to process unexpected real life social issues in my games.
That all being said I must have signed up for the beta at PAX last year because a key randomly showed up in my mailbox on Friday morning. What the hell, huh? Installing the game did feel slightly like compromising some of my principles, but it was good blog fodder and hey, by getting beta without pre-purchasing I’m stickin’ it to The Man a bit, right? Yeah? Anyone?
To be fair in my 5 hours or so playing as a Templar nothing particularly untoward happened. Overall The Secret World has some genuinely unique ideas (a rarity in the current MMO market) but was riddled with bugs and performance issues that seemed out of place in a game that is supposed to be out in a few weeks. It was fun to play for a few hours for free, but once I logged off from that initial session I certainly wouldn’t have paid money for the game and I didn’t feel an urge to log back in.
Let’s go to the point form!
Atmosphere and Art Direction: Excellent
The vision of the world is fantastic. Environments are suitably dark and dirty, and the zombies and other monsters are creepy. (It reminded me a bit of the Echo Bazaar universe.) I would have enjoyed interacting with the environment more but at least it looked good and was evocotave. Most quests had some element of voice acting. The writing was adequate and the voice acting was solid.
Character Creation: Pretty Bad
I have complained in the past about character creation processes that always result in a teen supermodel, but in The Secret World every single character looks slightly deformed, like they’ve been hit in the face with a frying pan one too many times. Face/hair combinations are limited, and everyone has the same body type, leaving me with the feeling that the big Secret in this World is that we’re all clones. (Rumor has it that customization will be availble in the cash shop, which would make sense.)
Also, despite the fact that most quests involve the quest giver talking to my character, she in turn just stood there mute and impassive the whole time. A few NPCs even commented on the lack of interaction! It felt really weird, like maybe my character was too stupid to realize that someone was talking to her.
Talent System: Interesting, Probably Good
Instead of levels or classes, The Secret World has a system somewhat reminiscent of Skyrim. Your character has an ability circle that is broken down into weapon type, such as pistols or a school of magic. Within each weapon type there are a handful of unique skills that you buy with an increasing number of Ability Points. You earn these AP like candy, and I can see how one could easily set up an interesting build with two or more weapon types.
There is no respeccing, which is an interesting call. I assume one could grind repeat quests for AP to invest in a new weapon type, but that only seems viable to a certain point. A permanent skill tree seems like a gutsy design call.
Combat: Not As Exciting As You Hoped
“Dynamic combat!!!!!” is the new buzz phrase for MMOs now, but I wasn’t really feeling it in TSW. To be fair I was a noob and perhaps ignorant of the advanced features, but combat for me wasn’t a whole lot different from the usual hotkey battles. Click buttons, wait for cooldowns while you kite things in a circle, then kill them. I will say it felt like aiming my gun was more important than the “click to auto-aim” WoW model, which I appreciated, but overall the low level combat was not particularly interesting.
Technical Details: Buggy Bug Buggy
The Secret World is, in my experience, buggy as hell. While the game is still in beta, it IS supposed to launch in a few weeks so I was anticipating a certain amount of polish. I had problems entering my beta code on the website. I had problems logging into the client. I had problems moving the sliders on the character creation window until I realized that for some reason my mouse pointer was registering as being slightly up and to the left of where it actually was. The game crashed my moderately appointed computer at least half the time upon zoning.
The game fell well short of the WoW gold standard of responsiveness, but really every online game that isn’t made by Blizzard has a hard time with that so I won’t hold it against Funcom.
Overall, trying out The Secret World reminded me a lot of the time I booted up Allods Online for a few hours. The world design is cool, and some of the mechanics behind talents and quests are neat. However, there isn’t enough polish overall and in general the gameplay is nothing new. Personally, I wouldn’t pay a subscription to play this game.