Funcom’s The Secret World has been live for more than a month now. In the lead up to launch and immediately afterwards, I was hearing very polarised opinions about the latest MMO out in the marketplace. All MMOs are polarised, but this one seemed expecially so, with people saying it was terrible whilst others loving every second. My curiosity got the better of me so I paid for the digital download version and for the past two weeks have put in quite a number of hours each evening exploring.
Fun. That really does sum it up. I’ve never had an MMO like this where I’ve spent a lot of hours running around a fairly small geographic area (Kingsmouth) and enjoying at least 90% of it. I like the atmospherics, the pacing, the music / sound effects (quite minimalist overall) – in fact pretty much everything.
The reality is that you don’t ‘level-up’ in the same way as other MMOs, and is a big plus. Sure, you still get obsessed about achievement points (for more abilities) and skill points (for buffs to your abilities), but it’s a much more fluid process to gain those points and deciding what to do with them. Believe it or not, a lot of the skill side of things is actually fun to think about, which is something new for me in an MMO. With weapons, you get the chance to try them all out before choosing a skill / ability path to start down, and even then you can easily divert to other weapons if you want to.
Oh and Mac users: this is a Windows only game but it runs a treat on my three year old iMac in Boot Camp.
Like any MMO there are your usual ‘kill 12 of X things’ but I have to say that these were nowhere as frequent as any other MMOs I’ve played. Most of the quests are pretty interesting, particularly the invesitigation and surveillance missions, which require your thinkign skills, not your button mashing skills. There are of course daily quests and the like if you’re on a real XP grind. Oh – and there’s a web browser in-game to make it easier to do online research for some of the quests – a great feature.
Like any MMO there’s the expected social features of group chat, private messages and general chat in each area. Having only got to the end of Kingsmouth I don’t feel qualified to discuss how social people are getting later in the game, but at this stage there’s not reams of toons hanging out in particular locations. One very subjective comment I’d make on general chat is that it’s a bit more civilised than other MMOs I’ve played although that could just be a result of the lower numbers on the server comparatively. That said, a warning: if you are thinking of jumping on general chat to have the brains trust answer the mystery you’re currently trying to solve, then make damn sure you’ve at least tried to research the answer for yourself.
Graphics and Music
This is where I became totally sold on TSW as a game I want to play longer term. I’m going to come out and say this is the best quality MMO I’ve played graphics-wise. Add to that the art style and the minimalist music, and it has me hooked. This is the only MMO I’ve ever played where I’ve always kept the sound on. Of course, graphics are a very individual thing so some may totally hate the style but I’m certainly not one of them. The rich colours (particularly in London as I rolled a Templar), are worth noting as well.
For those really interested in the graphics, I’ve created a slideshow of a dozen or so scenes from the game:
I partly covered this in the quest section above, but I wanted to give some more emphasis to how engaging story can be in this game. Star Wars The Old Republic made much of the fact that it’s obsession is story, and they succeeded to a very large extent. I’m here to tell you though, that TSW kicks SWTOR’s butt in relation to story. Mainly because of how well the cut scenes are done, the natural language the NPCs use and the thought that’s gone into developing a story line that keeps you hooked. Both games appear to have done a good job in making people want to have multiple characters in the game.
The other key point to be made here are the stark differences between the Dragon, Illuminati and Templar. Sure, every MMO has its factions, but Funcom have done a great job in emphasising their differences, even though they’re all human. I’m hanging out to get more in-depth with the two other factions besides my Templar.
Aside from the items you can pick up in the game, Funcom also have an item store where you can outfit your character to the style it deserves. You’ll need to buy Funcom points for the privelege – they start at US$5.00 for 600 points, and the gear you can buy ranges from 80 points up to more than 2000 points for the high end stuff.
I actually found it difficult to find significant negatives, but like any MMO they’re certainly there. The main frustrations / concerns for me were:
1. There’s definitely a lag issue at times. Not being interested in PVP, it never toally impacted my experience but there were times I cold see my cast bar lagging behind what I was pressing significantly – sometime to the point my cast bar was a whole action behind.
2. Some quests don’t work well if done out of order. There were a couple of times I’d realise I’d missed a quest involving a character I’d already dealt with and it didn’t complete for me properly. Some of that will be early teething problems too, and I know there’s been some fixes already with some quests.
3. I hate crafting – I just can’t get my head around the need to manually drag things into certain patterns. The approach does fit the wider design of the game but it just annoys the hell out of me. I may be in a minority there though and would appreciate your comments on crafting in the comments.
If you’re a lover of MMO that’s a little burnt out on the usual fare and looking for something different, then you should take a serious look at TSW. Even if you hate the whole monster / zombie schtick, this game is done well enough that you may still find it more than rewarding. If you want a simple hack and slash MMO then TSW may not be for you as you will need to think beyond key mashing and getting out of the fire.
Given the relatively small price of buying the game, which comes with 30 days free playtime, it’s not a big gamble. If you hate it or are indifferent to what it offers, then you’ve had a $60 experiment fail. If you love it, or can see it’s full potential developing in the medium term, then you keep subscribing.
The strongest point I can make on what I think about the game is what I did with my wallet: I bought a lifetime subscription.
Now over to you: we’d love our thoughts on the game. Feel free to pick apart any claims we’ve made, point out any gaps or give us the low-down on later content in the game if you’ve got that far.