Random gaming related musings and geekery from Wabbage.

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First Impressions of The Secret World.

Like so many other people, I seem to have a massive love/hate relationship with MMORPGs. Due to being large in scale, new MMORPGs can be hard to get into, requiring a hefty time investment to understand all their various mechanics and skill systems. As the years’ have gone by I just don’t have the free time to really get to grips with anything new properly and as a result start to feel like I’m missing out on something exciting but cannot achieve. Enter The Secret World.

The Secret World (TSW) is the latest title from MMO veteran Funcom (don’t let the issues that Age of Conan had put you off). Not only is it a fun game that’s offers up an incredibly flexible character talent build system, it stands apart from the pack by giving you a puzzle of conspiracy theories, mythical abominations, ancient evils and pop culture, leaving it up to you to figure out the pieces.

Refreshingly TSW is set in modern times with a dark fantasy spin, drawing from popular mythology and culture for its characters, creatures and locations. Instead of Orcs and skeleton warriors, there’s Wendigos and Zombies, your traditional swords and sorcery are replaced with assault rifles and blood magic. Your character starts as an average Joe that awakens from a dream to find they’ve developed “powers”. Follow that up with a brief yet interesting meeting with your secret society of choice (Dragon, Illuminati and Templars) and you’re good to go.

I’ve only had TSW for a very short time – I declined my beta invite – but already it feels like I’m playing inside a crazy conspiracy movie inspired by The X-Files or an RPG from my earlier years. In a similar fashion to Star Wars: The Old Republic when you accept a major mission, you’re not just given a text blurb explaining what needs to be done or how many zombies you need to kill, you’re shown a fully-voiced cutscene where characters actually talk to you about the situation, while giving more insight into the game’s back story. You also have a few extra chat options available to you with most quest giving characters which provide extra backstory and humour.

As TSW doesn’t have your traditional levelling process I was able to login and meet up with two friends and take on missions together with ease. A portion of quests have a 24 hour cool down, making them repeatable and opening up more options to “questing with friends”, and means that you can play solo and still be able to join up with friends without impacting your own gameplay.

Quests range from simply killing a certain number of tentacle-faced monsters to assembling home-made shotguns and sealing off dimensional portals to Hell. I really liked how TSW is defined by its cast of strange and colorful characters. Listening to a teenager claim he learned everything about killing zombies from playing Left 4 Dead or watching corporate agents debate security protocols using Star Trek references really is making me feel immersed in TSW. While there are some predictable quests, solving the “Investigation” missions provide a larger challenge than just killing some enemies. It’s cool that you’re never told outright where to go or what to do and are only given brief hints, so you have to pore over the in-game map or think back to areas you may have been to before to discover the next clue in the investigation.

Character talent building is a much more open-ended process in TSW than in other MMOs, so if you get bored of using one play style, you can easily switch to another with little penalty. There are tons of abilities to pick from, but instead of having a three-tiered hot bar packed with dozens of skills you rarely use; TSW restricts you to seven active skills. This encourages you to mix and match to find a good combo that works for what role you’re trying to play. There’s no level cap or limit to how many skills you can purchase so if you play long enough, you can max out every available ability tree and become a one-person hell spawn killing machine through the sheer number of options and combos you can create. I’ve seen a few people referring to the skills system as pokemon – gotta catch em all!

Funcom have also done away with your traditional MMO server choosing in TSW by making only one and adding “Dimensions” which are similar to ‘channels’ that some of you may have come across in previous games. Your dimension only comes into play with PvP as far as I’m aware. If you roll on one dimension and your friend on another you can still quest and dungeon together, kind of like Warcraft’s cross realm content… but good :D

TSW includes a nifty in-game web browser (the game is set in the modern world after all), letting you conduct research without alt-tabbing, just in case you don’t know any Bible excerpts or classical composers off the top of your head. However on a Social Networking side of things there is only Facebook integration – I still miss Rift’s built in twitter.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only had TSW for a short time, but already I’m starting to see why some people are hooked! If you fancy solving some mysteries of the world with me feel free to add Ketz or Wabby to your friends list!

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