Imagine that there’s a world bubbling below the one we know, one where the fate of the world is being fought over by three factions: The Templars – not related to the Knights Templar, but a sort of modern reinterpretation of their religious code that’s based in London; the Dragons, based in Seoul, that focus on orchestrating chaos; and the (in)famous Illuminati from New York, trying to control everything from behind the scenes with cunning and duplicity (no signs of Lady Gaga though). My descriptions might not be doing justice, but let’s just say I was extremely intrigued when The Secret World (TSW) was built around this basis.
The Secret World is an MMORPG by Funcom, the creators of The Longest Journey, Age Of Conan and Anarchy Online. Set in the modern day, TSW features the three warring factions as they try to exert their influence on the world on a Risk-like map. Want to know which faction you should join? Check out the official site.
Before I start, I’d have to say that what I witnessed were very preliminary findings. Due to time constraints I was unable to try test the beta till the end, but there was definitely enough meat to chew on.
TSW has a lot working for it. First up, the setting, mentioned above, had me hooked right away: There’s cyberpunk, there’s conspiracy theories, there’s mysticism. A crazy blends of all things geeky that work really well under the story developed by Funcom.
There’s a very strong Funcom vibe in this, and if you’ve played The Longest Journey, Dreamfall or Anarchy Online the Funcom magic becomes clear. Influences from The Longest Journey get obvious when you hit Agartha, which you use to travel between cities – you need to take a look at yourself to understand the magic of the place. In fact, what stuck the longest for me was the little poster of Stark and Arcadia in the room where you start off – it’s a little nod to Funcom’s roots, and a lovely one at that.
The first place where everybody (from all factions) meets up is called Kingsmouth, which is currently being invaded by zombies and other monstrous creatures. I’m no fan of zombies for the sake of having zombies, but the quiet, ominous air about the town gives the game a feel of dread I can’t say I’ve really felt in other MMOs. While you do start off with “kill three zombies. Ok. Now kill five”, once the game starts proper the kind of missions that you get are amazing. Solve why a lady is having a dream about crows. Explore the symbols of the Illuminati. Use Google (yes, Google) to solve a riddle.
TSW comes with an ingame Web browser that allows you to search for answers for certain clues, and if you so desire, you can also use Google within the game when you’re stuck. It’s not a full-featured Web browser, but it’s such a nice, Matrix-y touch that just works for this game, and quite simply adds a new dimension to questing.
The questing process works similar to that of SWTOR: It’s fully voice acted, but this time with animations that makes SWTOR look like puppetry for beginners. A pity, though – your character never talks, but I guess some of you might prefer that.
A nice touch with the leveling up system too – it’s very very flexible. Whether it was using lightning bolts or knives or guns, there’s really a lot to explore in this game.
But for something quite so cyberpunky, there lies a disconnect – for all the very strong writing, the pall of the failed MMO, The Matrix, hangs over it. It’s from the get-go quite a lot better than The Matrix, but I felt that the combat system felt clunky compared to the almost effortlessness that you get in other MMOs. It’s hard to describe why, maybe it’s because I’m used to other systems, or because the tutorial doesn’t make it all clear – but it was hard to get into the combat.
Being set in the modern world you do get lots of contemporary clothes – and even get a chance to Dragon Tattoo yourself up if you wanted to. But it doesn’t really hide the fact that the game can look a little droll. Maybe it’s the Age Of Conan engine – or maybe it’s on purpose, given how moody the starting locations are meant to be. Still, it seems to be missing a little spark. And because each faction starts in Kingsmouth, it was a little weird for me during the beta period – while each faction does has a specific intro before that, the tutorial for all of them is pretty much the same.
Also: Zombies? Enh.
At its roots, The Secret World has an extremely intriguing storyline, intelligent investigation missions, and a few changes in questing mechanics that try to keep things different from your usual WoW-like MMO. However, the graphics seem jaded, and my problems with the combat system do mean that I’ll be thinking for a while more before deciding on whether to get it.
Early access for The Secret World pre-orders have started, but it’s not too late to buy it. The game launches July 3.