Thoughts & Reviews
Main | Tribes: Ascend open beta »

The Secret World

Funcom have caught some flak from gamers over the years, but The Secret World is turning out to be a pleasant surprise due to the way it handles certain aspects of this kind of game.

First, it's in a modern setting but magic (aka "Anima") exists.  Characters use guns and/or melee weapons combined with magic.  My character's assault rifle can kill things with bullets and grenades, and some abilities use magic to add extra effects like stuns and healing.  I'm also packing a shotgun (great for taking down large groups) and, alas, a magic book.  Never mind, I can overlook that last one.  Even if it is the size of a yellow-pages mysteriously attached to my back.

Second, the story is good so far.  The lluminati's members all seem to fall under the "so hip you want to puke" category.  Shame - I'm glad I chose the Templars instead.  Once you leave your starting city and get to Kingsmouth the writing gets much better, with reasonably deep characters and most cliches being left in the writer's bin.

The atmosphere of the game is excellent.  One minute you're in the streets of London, the next you're entering a subway station, but there seems to be a garden growing there... and where's that light coming from?

There's no class system, you just pick a pair of weapons and spend points gained by killing stuff, completing missions and PvPing, on abilities for those weapons.  There's no limit to the number of abilities you can unlock and no restrictions on which two weapons you can use at the same time.

But the best thing about TSW is the missions.  The basic go somewhere > kill stuff > pick something up > deliver formula is there but there's no avoiding that.  Unlike other MMOs though you can only have a small number of missions active at a given time.  Instead of having hubs where you pick up a laudry list of many missions all at once then hand them all in at once, they're spread out.  You tend to find more stuff to do along the way.  It flows well.

The best missions though are the investigation missions.  They're very detailed and require alot of thought, attention to detail and actual investigation and research both in and outside the game.  The in-game web browser turns out to be essential.  I was delighted to see that I could find the location of a business in Kingsmouth by looking it up in a phone directory.  No, not the one strapped to my back.

As an example, the mission "Dead Air" required me to do the following, without any in-game hints.  Minor spoilers ahead.

1: Find a radio mast.  Found it on top of the airport control tower, easy enough.
2: Repair the radio mast.  This involved looking up the mast's serial number on the manufacturer's website to figure out the required spare parts (fake company, real internet).
3: Record the signal the mast picked up.
4: Decipher the signal.  It was morse code.

Pen, paper, a whole load of replays as I note it down character by character, wikipedia for the international Morse Code chart, and a quick google of what I suspected was an acronym (I was right - ADOA = Air Defense Operations Area).  Mission done.

Step 2 was harder than it sounds - who'd think to check the internet for a fictional company's fake website?  Thankfully a previous mission had used the same site so I already knew it existed, though frankly I wish I'd done them in the opposite order since this one had a pretty obvious clue leading me to the website.  It took me a long time for me to figure out the previous mission!  As for step 4, have you ever tried noting down morse code?

That might all sound like a pain in the arse.  But it's not.  The investigation missions boil down to puzzles of a kind we're not used to seeing in video games.  You have to think outside your little MMO quest mindset, and although the puzzles are difficult they're well-written and varied, and they're extremely satisfying to slowly figure out even with the temptation of googling the solution right at your fingertips.

It sure makes a refreshing change from following a big red arrow to a circled area on a map, killing an arbitrary number of bandits, and bringing their teeth back to the quest-giver.