Editorial | 8/13/2012 at 10:07 PM

MMO Co-Opportunities XXVI: The Secret World

We spill the beans on this unique multiplayer game.

Mike here. For this installment of MMO Co-Opportunities, our esteemed colleague Jason Love and I checked out The Secret World, the latest from Funcom. It promises something different, and from its modern day setting and heavy emphasis on story, it definitely forges an identity of its own.

The Secret World’s playerbase is split among the three factions - the London-based Templars, the Illuminati, based in New York and The Dragon, based in Seoul. Each has their own goals and philosophy for taking on the shadowy/demonic invasion taking place in, you guessed it, The Secret World. The storyline draws inspiration from the Lovecraft mythos, urban legends and pop culture, which is a wonderful change of pace from standard fantasy fare.

Two things really set The Secret World apart - the first is the fact that there are no set character classes (and you don’t gain levels) - as you earn experience you may put skill points into any weapon/armor specialty, and whichever weapon you choose to wield determines what abilities will be available to you in combat. Shortly after you create your character, you’ll be given an opportunity to test out all of the different weapon/magic types and pick one to start with, which helps eliminate choice paralysis.

As you gain skill points, you’ll be able to choose both active and passive traits to create your character build, but you’re limited to a certain number of slots - it’s similar to the original Guild Wars in that regard. While in town, you’ll be able to swap skills and rebuild your character if you like. It’s a system that encourages experimentation, though in practice things seem to push you towards the traditional Tank/Healer/DPS model from other MMOs.

The second is its mission structure. While plenty of the missions you receive play out in your bog standard MMO fashion (deliver this thing, pick up that other thing, wonder why your questgiver can’t be bothered to walk 100 feet), it’s the investigation missions that make exploring The Secret World more rewarding, and it’s even better in co-op. Jason and I had fun solving puzzles together, and more than once one of us found the way forward and had to gently coax the other towards the solution. (More details in Jason's portion of the article).


Combat, to be blunt, isn’t that fun. While my characters are still early on in their development, I’ve never felt like they’re particularly effective in combat. Each weapon type comes with its own resource to manage, and abilities either build or expend them. If you’ve played any title with a class that uses combo points, you’ll understand exactly what to do. You’re also able to actively dodge attacks from enemies with a quick double tap in any direction, but the cooldown for this is fairly severe.

While five-man dungeons currently exist in the game, Raids are still forthcoming. Funcom announced that the first of these will be patched in soon. The dungeons are given decent story reasons for existing, and can be quite challenging, as players are prevented from rejoining tough fights until either all players are killed or the battle is won. It’s odd that no WoW-esque dungeon finder exists at this point, but one should be made available in the future.

I had severe performance issues with playing The Secret World - while my CPU and graphics card were more than up to the task, the amount of data streaming off my hard drive combined with my now (apparently) paltry 4 GB of RAM caused considerable stuttering, especially if I was loading a new environment or encountered more than a handful of players on-screen.

For my money, The Secret World is worth playing for its setting and the investigation missions alone, but I’m not terribly compelled to come back until I invest in a few more components for my PC.

Abandoned amusement parks: the least frightening of all environments!

  Jason’s 2 cents:

Mike’s already gone over some of the main sticking points with The Secret World, so I wanted to focus on just a couple of features of the game that I really like and keep me coming back for more. The first of these is a sort of cooperative feature based around quest completion, specifically, having to kill X number of enemies, or having to kill an enemy in particular. If you’re given a quest where you’re required to do some cleaning up, and you see another player (or players) doing the same thing, all players can get credit for the kill - provided that they actually contribute to the fight. This doesn’t work all the time, as some of the enemy fights may be scripted in such a way that you have to go through the whole fight, but it works for a majority of the quests you’ll come across and makes questing that much easier/friendlier as you’re no longer competing with other players for kills.

The other compelling feature of The Secret World is the Investigative Missions. These things are somewhat addictive, in my view. Combining equal parts puzzle solving with exploration and clue finding, these missions do something very few MMOs do - require you to use your brain. Some of these missions may simply entail running around a certain zone, finding different spots based on semi-vague descriptors, and some may have you pulling up the in-game web browser to look up a fake website or a piece of scripture. The same web browser can be used to look up any of a number walkthroughs, but give the mission an earnest shot before going down that path. It’s rewarding in its own right to know you figured something out, and most of the puzzles don’t go much deeper than what’s presented to you (i.e., don’t overthink it). They mostly seem to work off a key/priming word within the phrase or note you find to point you to the next part of the puzzle.

Big Pimpin'.

The Secret World isn’t the greatest MMO to come out in a while, but it is certainly one of the more unique ones. There’s a lot of solid Lovecraft short story and Cthulu mythos integrated into the game, along with conspiracy theory, and it has a few features, like the Investigative Missions, that keep in interesting. My free trial-month with the game comes to an end this week, and I’m very tempted to pay the $15 to keep going for another month. There’s enough potential, through the regular content updates and patching, for the game that it really seems worth it.