So as you probably know, Funcom’s new MMO, The Secret World, is having an NDA-free beta weekend. I got in via a PAX East give-away and I’ve now had a wee bit of time to play. Here’re my thoughts based on the first hour or two of play.
TSW makes a pretty horrible first impression, at least in the beta. Character creation options are very limited (there will be more on release), textures on the characters are just awful (details like laces or decorative medals are just ‘painted on’) and there’s a lot of exposition in the form of NPC monologing in the little prologue (which was apparently crafted for this beta).
Your best bet is to get comfortable and just go along with the prologue in order to get it out of the way asap. Once you leave London and head to New England the game starts to really open up.
TSW uses a classless system and at low levels at least, gameplay is going to be defined by your weapon. I chose a sledgehammer for mine. My first 3 skills were a basic attack which generated a Resource and had the potential to Weaken an enemy; a longer cooldown, more powerful attack that also generated a Resource and could trigger AOE secondary damage if used on a Weakened enemy; and a big cone-shaped AOE attack that consumed all those Resources. The more resources, the more damage. You can hold up to 5 Resources and for a Hammer-wielder they’ll fill by themselves, but doing attacks causes them to fill faster.
Honestly at low levels combat isn’t all that exciting but I think it’ll get more interesting as we get deeper into the game. You’re constantly unlocking Skill Points & Ability Points that you can spend on new skills & abilities, but you can only have 7 Active and 7 Passive Abilities in use at any time (Skills seem to be more generic buffs to particular weapon types). So after a while it’s going to be like Guild Wars where you have to pick and choose from your Abilites in order to develop an effective set (or Deck in the game’s nomenclature).
When you finally get to New England, you’re supposed to be on a small island off the coast somewhere near Maine (one of the NPCs talks about kids going to Bangor for hay rides) but everyone on the island was imported from Queens or Jersey or somewhere like that. If you’re not from New England this might not be as jarring as it was for me, but wow, did the voice acting directory ever get these accents wrong!
But once there, you’re kind of overwhelmed with quests. Quests work differently than they do in most games. Rather than run around and gathering a bunch of kill ten rats quests, you can only work on a single quest at a time, as far as I can tell. There are about half a dozen different types of quests and maybe you can work on one of each kind? Still figuring this bit out.
But I want to tell you the [SPOILERY] story of one quest just to try to illustrate why I’m liking this game so much. The Sheriff of Kingsmouth, which is under attack by zombies, wants you to help set up surveillance cameras. So step one is leaving the safety of the barricades and running around pulling down security cameras from buildings (well almost constantly fighting zombies). The first few are really straight foward… you just right click on them. Then you find one you can’t reach, and you have to find a way to climb onto the roof of the building to get to it (via jumping on boxes around back). Then there’s one really high up. To get to that one you have to climb a ladder to the roof of an adjacent building, then leap across the gap between buildings, only to get the camera and find out its broken. But there’s a note attached to it saying there’re replacements in the basement.
You head into the basement of the building, which turns out to be a solo instance. The janitor in charge of the building has turned into something inhuman, though with his last shred of decency he warns you to stay away and then barricades himself behind a series of booby traps. You need to get to him though, so your next task is figuring out how to avoid the booby traps.
The first few are laser trip-wires that you can just leap over, but then you come to a grid of lasers. You have to enter a side room to turn these off. Inside the side room are security cameras, motion sensitive, which will set off deadly bombs if they detect movement. Suddenly you’re in a stealth game, avoiding the cameras by timing their movements and scurrying from cover to cover. Eventually you come to a switch that’ll turn off the grid of booby traps in the hallway, letting you get a bit further.
Before you get to the janitor you’ll have to walk through a maze of laser beams and do another security camera-avoidance room. When you finally get to him, he attacks, so then you have to kill him. And finally when he’s down, you can collect the last camera. I died 4 times in that darned basement!
But you’re still not done. Now you have to place 4 cameras around the Police Department barricade, avoiding or killing the Ravenous Hordes of zombies while doing so.
Once THAT is done, you head back into the police department and access their computer system to bring the new cameras online. When you do, you can actually access the cameras to see what’s going on out there.
Then FINALLY this minor side quest is finished. It was one of the most elaborate quests I can remember doing in an MMO.
So exploration, combat, jumping puzzles, stealth puzzles, more combat, more exploration, more combat and then some basic computer skills, all required to solve that quest.
I have to admit at first I found the basement to be annoying as heck. MMOs aren’t supposed to make you figure out things like this! But then I made a conscious decision to treat The Secret World as its own thing, not like “another MMO” and I started to really get into it.
I’m probably done for the beta weekend. TSW doesn’t lend itself to being played under time pressure, in my opinion. When you’re playing a weekend beta you tend to want to go through content as rapidly as possible so you can see as much as possible, and The Secret World seems designed to be a game you have to think about, puzzle over…maybe even walk away from now and then. Try to rush through it and it’s just going to be frustrating rather than enjoyable, like trying to rush through an adventure game.
I still have a TON of questions and honestly it doesn’t feel like a game that can get polished up between now and June so I expect a rocky launch, but I really like what Funcom is trying to do here. I’ve pre-ordered; I’m happy to support a company that’s breaking the MMO mold; I can tell you that the chat was full of people taken by surprise and really frustrated that they weren’t being given more explicit instructions, so I think TSW is going to be a niche hit that’s disliked by many MMO vets.
When I gave up on SWTOR I remember saying that I was done with MMOs because there weren’t any good ones coming out any time soon. Now I’m hooked on TERA and excited about both The Secret World and Guild Wars 2. Talk about being spoiled for choice; I guess there’s still life left in the MMO genre!
PS: Sorry no screenshots. I was hitting PrintScrn on the assumption it was taking shots (I wasn’t really paying attention) but as in AoC the screenshot button is F11 or something. Doh!