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.