I’ve recently begun to experience what seems like burn out from MMOs. I suppose I’m starting to grow tired of having to group with four misfits in order to trudge through a thirty minute dungeon just to kill a dragon. This is why The Secret World is a literal breath of fire air. Sure I’ve dabbled in non-fantasy settings with Champions Online and The Old Republic, but The Secret World aims to be the most “real” MMO out there. This game is set in our actual world. There may be magic and monsters, but there’s also London and New York. Welcome to Earth, enjoy your stay.
So what’s the deal with this game? Not many people seem to know because Funcom (Anarchy Online, Age of Conan) did such a poor job of marketing the game. The game received an inadequate amount of media attention, so not many people have really been informed as to why this MMO is worth checking out. As I said, it’s set in our own world… but with a twist. In The Secret World, players get to experience a bizarre and supernatural side of our planet through the eyes of the Dragons, the Illuminati, or the Templars. The latter two should be familiar to many readers. Both are very much real world organizations that are hidden in the shadows. They are in their own secret world, and it is this world that we’ve been invited to play in.
So you hop into the game and get to choose one of the three factions. From there it’s off to the character creation screen! The Secret World doesn’t really push the envelope here, but there are enough options to make characters look moderately unique. You can only adjust aspects of the face, but it’s not so bad when you have several head, nose, mouth, jaw, eye, and eyebrow options. There’s also hair (of course) and skin tones (duh). After you’re satisfied with your character, you get to play dress up! You get to choose from a few basic pieces of clothing to form your initial outfit. It is worth nothing that clothes do NOT affect character performance in this game. There is no such thing as “gear” in this game, at least not in the traditional sense. Your physical appearance is just your outfit, nothing more and of course you are able to buy new clothes from vendors and change your overall outfit.
After you make your outfit it’s time to pick a name. You get to choose a first and last name along with a nickname. Your character’s nickname is essentially your username and it must be unique. There cannot be two characters with the same nickname, but first and last names can be whatever you wish. You can be John “NarutoLover834” Doe and run into another character named John “HockeyFan” Doe.
So what replaces gear in this game? Equippable items that go into “talisman” slots. They can seemingly be anything from bracers to necklaces to wrist watches. These items do all sorts of things such as increasing your max HP or boosting your attack power, critical chance, evasion rate, etc. You can wear about eight of these items at once, which is a pretty good variety.
Something worth noting is that this game has an experience bar, but… you don’t gain levels! No longer will people refuse to group with you because your level isn’t high enough. Experience is still gained from killing enemies and, periodically, you will reach checkpoints on your experience bar that will grant you ability points and skill points. What are those, you ask? Well, let me give you a basic summary!
Skill points govern how proficient you are with weapons. There are several different weapon types and you get to pick a starting type at the beginning. I personally like assault rifles and blades, but whatever. When you are awarded with skill points, you get to distribute them. Increasing your weapon skills will allow you to inflict more damage and equip better types of your chosen weapons. I like the skill point system because, well, say you pick up a hammer but you chose to use shotguns. You can’t use that hammer until you put points into the hammer category on your skill tree.
As for ability points, they are your basic spell/talent trees. When you acquire enough ability points, you can purchase new active and passive abilities from the ability wheel. There are tons of things to learn in the ability wheel and I can predict that a lot of people will be farming experience points like mad to have more abilities earlier on in the game than they should.
Combat is pretty much standard MMO fare. You have your hotbar full of skills that all have cooldowns. It’s nothing revolutionary, but everything works pretty smoothly in this game. The fact that there’s no auto attack (so you can’t go AFK while your character beats on an enemy) is also fantastic. If you want an enemy to die, you’re going to have to keep clicking.
Questing is done in the form of picking up various missions from NPCs. When you speak to an NPC for a mission, you enter a voice acted cutscene in which the NPC describes the situation. The voice acting as a whole is pretty good in this game. I dare say that it has the best voice acting in any MMO that I’ve ever played. Anyway, when you finish a mission’s objective you do not have to return to the NPC who gave you the quest to turn it on. You can simply do so right from where you stand by clicking a button to turn the mission in and acquire your rewards. This is a great feature that eliminates A LOT of running back and forth that plagues other MMOs.
I’ll also mention that the missions are pretty varied in this game. The very first quest you get will have you killing zombies followed by provoking them by setting off car alarms. After that you get to joyfully lure zombies into huge fires that you’ve set off and watch them burn. Delightful! Not long after that and you’re defending a sheriff’s barricade followed by running around town and digging through various abandoned shops in search of provisions for the sheriff and her people. Oh yeah, there’s also a mission that involves following ravens that I continuously fail because I’m not understanding what to do with the mission. There are a few like this, and some missions actually force you to locate key codes for doors and such before continuing on. One mission had me evading security cameras while trying to disarm lasers in a basement so that I could reach my ultimate objective. The game didn’t tell me what to do here, I had to figure it all out on my own. More MMOs need to do this, because most of them spoon feed us quest instructions these days and it’s really frustrating. A lot of MMOs definitely cater to casuals these days, but The Secret World does not.
My favourite part of the game though? The atmosphere and tone. This game is just so dark and depressing, but it also feels so… real! The town of Kingsmouth (the first questing zone of the game) feels fantastic as you run around looting abandoned shops while evading packs of zombies which litter the streets chowing down on dead victims. Everything about Kingsmouth is just amazing in terms of feel. One really cool moment is when the ingame clock is reaching morning and there’s a thick haze in the night sky that beams of sunlight are struggling to penetrate. You actually see these sun beams fighting through the mist as zombies run at you on the desolate streets of the town. It’s so immersive and you feel like you’re in a horror movie. I really, really love the vibes that are oozing out of this game. My only beef is that the starting zones (which basically set you up with a weapon and introduce you to your faction) feel a little bland. They’re not bad, they just don’t compare to the awesomeness of Kingsmouth at all. If Kingsmouth is indicative of the quality of the rest of the game’s zones, then I’m in for one hell of a treat.
So far I’m really enjoying my time in The Secret World. I haven’t dabbled in the social side of the game too much yet, but I definitely want to get myself in a guild (or whatever they’re called in this game) sometime soon so that I can comment on that aspect of the game as well. I’m still not too far in, so there’s definitely a lot to this game that I haven’t seen yet such as PvP and group instances/missions. In time I’ll get to experience the wealth of content this game promises but, so far, I’m enjoying the experience! This game is great for anyone who needs something other than dragons and orcs for once.