The Secret World – Beta Preview

This one.

Since its official announcement in 2007, Funcom’s The Secret World has had somewhat of a troubled development period. With staff reductions, cutbacks and numerous delays the game has been in development hell until quite recently. The ARGs hosted by Funcom over the past few years have given slight hints as to the contents on the game but many still believed it to be resigned to the vaporware drawer.

In 2011 the long-awaited beta sign ups became available and I, along with many others, breathed a deep sigh of relief, maybe this game would see the light of day after all. In April of this year, The Secret War Facebook game released. It offers in-game rewards to players as well as access to the beta and a trip to Montreal. I never managed to get that far in the game so I didn’t win beta access through it but through some odd twist of fate I was offered a beta key by a friend. With a free weekend to myself coming up I could think of no better way of spending it than grabbing a few beers and playing a game I’ve been waiting near enough 5 years for. Here’s my honest to the deity of your choice opinion…

I downloaded the beta client a few days before the game itself was set to begin, there was no way I’d waste precious uptime downloading the rather sizeable game (it clocks in at around 30Gb). The game’s official website features a personality test in which you answer questions and it gives you the faction that best fits your answers. I was assigned The Illuminati (apparently so were most people) however, I found that faction to be kind of annoying so I ended up joining The Templars.

The game itself focuses on the tensions between the three main player factions: The Dragon, a mysterious Asian outfit that are concerned with chaos and believe that the world must return to chaos so a new order can emerge, The Illuminati, the shadowy cartel of high ranking officials that run the modern world and The Templars, the stalwart army in the war against the darkness.

The things that make the game unique amongst its MMO brethren come as a bit of a double-edged sword. The game is unlike any MMO I have played, which is a great thing and a bold design choice but at the same time it feels unfamiliar and confusing at times. To fully enjoy The Secret World players are going to have to abandon everything they think they know about how MMO games work.

Forget the idea of levelling up through quest hubs to get into the endgame, this is not WoW.

Ability window

Firstly, there are no levels to gain. The game rewards you with XP for kills and quest completions but instead of granting you a +1 to some arbitrary number, you gain Ability Points (AP) and Skill Points (SP). SP are used to advance along a path relating to a chosen weapon or proficiency. For example, I have been dropping the majority of my SP in the Blades skill which further fractures into two paths relating to damage and survivability. Moving along these paths increases your overall effectiveness with the ability and allows you to equip more powerful items, a sword that requires you to have Blades 2 is better than one that only requires Blades 1.

AP are used to purchase Abilities, both active and passive, for various weapons. Unlike SP that improves your overall effectiveness with the weapon, AP unlocks the moves you will be using in combat. The Skill Wheel is divided into sections corresponding to various skills: Meleé weapons, Ranged weapons and Magic. Each third is divided into three subtypes, each of which are further divided. It sounds confusing at first but it quickly becomes easy to use and understand.

The Ability Wheel

Secondly, you must abandon the notion of classes. Players in The Secret World do not chose a class, you choose what kind of character you wish to play and then distribute your skills accordingly. So players that want to fill the traditional tank role should be taking defensive skills and skills that generate a lot of hate (the aggro mechanic). Likewise, players wanting to heal should take the healing spells found primarily in the Blood Magic tree but also in others as well. Finally, those wanting to deal damage, such as myself, should simply focus on the skills that enable them to hit things harder and faster than everyone else.

The classless system is confusing at first if you’re used to more traditional games however, I have found it to be utterly awesome. I’m always quite indecisive when it comes to classes in games so this suits me perfectly. After finding myself a little bit squishy as a pure swordsman, I began to invest points in Blood Magic and soon after I had levelled out the curve and found fighting a lot easier.

However with such free reign must come a few limitations, you can’t just have everyone access everything all the time, right? Players must choose seven active skills and seven passive skills to use at any one time. These are locked in combat but can be swapped around outside of combat. It is not too dissimilar to the Guild Wars skill system; however, skills can be moved any time you aren’t fighting as opposed to back at town.

The game does in fact accommodate for a variation on the ‘classes’ theme by providing ‘Decks’. Decks work by showing you which skills to take if you want to perform a set role, a template as such. I found these quite useful and I’m sure many others will too as the system is overwhelming at first. Once a deck is chosen, the skills needed to perform that role are highlighted so you know where to invest your points. For example, you want to be a Gunslinger? Choose that and watch the Pistols area light up like Christmas.

The Paladin setup I later decided to aim for.

Thirdly, the combat system is fantastic. Those of you accustomed to standing still and using a set rotation may find it frantic. The idea is to keep moving. I love this, it makes combat feel much more like combat as opposed to the maths exercise some MMOs feel like.

Finally, the setting. As quite a geek for all things supernatural and horrific, the modern horror theme fits me like a glove. Inspiration has quite obviously been drawn from Lovecraft and King in the first area, in New England no less. With one of the characters being a blatant nod to King himself (a famous horror writer living in Maine) and locales such as Arkham Avenue. I haven’t had the chance to see any other areas yet but I look forward to them immensely if they are as well-written as Kingsmouth (phonetically similar to Innsmouth, from the Lovecraft stories plus Stephen King).

Seriously creepy.

In conclusion, I’ve noticed that a lot of people seem to be calling The Secret World out for being fresh and exciting. It isn’t your run of the mill MMORPG and it doesn’t deserve to be treated as such. Sure it needs a little bit of polish, it is still in beta and of course it will launch with bugs, what game doesn’t? I’ve seen people compare it to WoW, which is flat out ridiculous. Unfortunately, the game is going to launch with a subscription model, a model which hasn’t really stuck in the past few years, as well as a cash shop. According to Funcom, the subs are going to pay for new content whereas the shop is only going to sell cosmetic items and that money will fund the art team to make more cosmetic items. I think that’s fair really, it means my sub money won’t be going to things I don’t really care for. I don’t see the issue.

Got any questions about the game? Drop them in the comments below and I’ll try my best to answer them. Similarly, feel free to share your beta experiences, both good and bad. If you want to call me all manner of unpleasant names, I’d rather you didn’t but you can leave those in the comments section too. Equal opportunities and all that.