Against my better judgment I recently purchased Funcom’s new MMO, “The Secret World”. I had seen the balls up they made with the launch and initial two years of Age of Conan and was not willing to touch another of their games. I really liked the ideas behind The Secret World, but was hesitant to go anywhere near another Funcom MMO. Once bitten twice shy.
I’m happy to say that the game isn’t as bad as I imagined it would have been. It is not anywhere near as good as the fanboys have been making out though. It has a lot of issues, but is also fun in many areas. There are things about the game I love and things that drive me into a frothing rage. The good and the bad kind of balance each other out though and make, for me anyway, an overwhelming average experience.
Overall, there is a lot that is familiar if you played Age of Conan. It has the same game engine (with the same memory leak), the same launcher, the same game menus, the same bank/auction house/guild bank, the same guild/cabal setup up, the same.. well… you get the point. If you liked the way Age of Conan did things then you’ll like the way it is done in TSW. If you didn’t, then you you’re shit out of luck with TSW
Before going into the good things that the game has to offer, I’m going to outline some of the things that are not so good. First, and I know I’ll get flamed for this, but the game has an unfinished feel to it. Not as bad as Age of Conan did at release, but it is still there. Things that should have been in at launch are being added in the regular updates that Funcom are blowing their own horn about. As an example… character creation. The character customisation in this game is SOOOOO LAME. Very, very few options to be had. They are addressing this with a new patch soon by introducing “plastic surgeons” and the like, where you can further customise the look of your toon. They are touting this as a great new feature. Fuck you Funcom! That is something that should have come right from the get go, and calling it a great new feature is just a sly way of saying “we are now starting to add stuff that should have already been there, we just hope you don’t notice it as being such.” Age of Conan had great creation choices at launch. With the same tech running under the hood of TSW, why would it not be the same with this game?
Now to the bugs. Whilst none of them are game breaking, there are lots of little ones I’ve encountered thus far. They range from the dreaded AoC memory leak, through to the usual bugged quests/mobs and bugged features. Not as bad as AoC had in its first couple of months, but more than I think is acceptable from a AAA MMO at launch. There have been so many instances of these that a new saying has cropped up between myself and the person I am playing the game with. “You’ve been Funcomed”. Usage: whenever you encounter a bug in any game, or something inexplicable happens resulting in a negative effect. Like I said, none of these are game breaking, but there are enough that it becomes very frustrating at times and it definitely takes away from the enjoyment of the game.
My two pet peeves with this game though are the lack of tutorials with the new elements that they have introduced into the MMO genre, and the tendency to discourage group play. As an example of the former, the first time I looked at the skill wheel I was overwhelmed and lost. A feeling that didn’t dissipate quickly. This is compounded by the sheer number of skills that you have access to. I’ve just about finished the Blue Mountains (ie, the third area) and I am STILL discovering things about the skill wheel/skills that I wish I had know right from the start. I’ve made so many mistakes with my skills and build due to lack of knowing just what the fuck was going on. Sure, some of this could have been averted by reading forums or wikis, but one should not have to go to that extent to get a grip with core important mechanics. The skills and skill wheel is not the only instance of this kind of thing, but it serves as a pretty good example.
What do I mean by “discouraging group play”? I mean that there are way too many quests that involve “solo instances”. I understand the need for some of these to exist, particularly in the main story quests. But as someone who is playing through the game with a partner it really does start to feel like we team up to get the quest, get to the quest area, and then go our own separate ways at the interesting parts. It’s a personal flavour thing, but I just don’t like it. In addition to this, many of the quest bugs I’ve encountered seem to bug out when grouped, but not solo. More reasons not to group.
There are other things too that make me rage, but I won’t dwell further on them as I don’t want to give the idea that I hate the game entirely, and I’m sure you are getting the general gist. Oh, actually, just one more example of getting “funcomed” then I’ll call it quits on the negatives. A message from me to Funcom: ”Fuck you Funcom for billing me (and my friend) for a years Age of Conan subscription when all we did was buy some Funcom points for use in your store.” Grrrrr. Ok… now I’ll leave the negatives alone.
Whilst there are some things about this game that annoy me even more than Justin Beiber’s voice, there are some things that are really quite awesome. Take the story, for example. There is some really great writing here. Set in a Lovecraftian modern day setting, the overarching story is really interesting, gripping, immersive, and keeps you coming back for more. The characters are memorable and the voice acting is up to snuff.
On the note of voice acting, I was glad to discover that Funcom learned from the mistake it made in Age of Conan. All of the main quests that you do are voice acted and contain cut scenes, not just the starter area. This means you have a consistent feel to the game that enhances immersion, unlike Age of Conan where you had an immersive tutorial area and then were jarringly thrown into the equivalent of a silent film.
The quests in this game are probably one of it’s best features. The investigation quests and sabotage quests are so different to what you would normally see in an MMO. It is very refreshing. The investigation quests in particular involve some really challenging puzzle solving. Do yourself a favour and don’t go cheat by looking for spoilers on the internet. These quests are truly a joy and are a big part of the fun factor of this game. Hopefully other games learn from this and move away from the “kill 10 rats” quests that the genre has been plagued with.
The biggest innovations in the game though are it’s skill sets, lack of classes, and lack of “levels”. The skill set idea is not totally new; The original Guild Wars did something similar, but TSW takes it to new heights. There is a bewildering amount of skills to choose from. This is both a positive (lots of customisation options) and a negative (it’s unwieldy). From my point of view it is mainly a positive, but I can certainly get on board with the people who point out the negative aspects.
The lack of any real classes in the game is welcome and innovative. You can pretty much make whatever type of character you want. In the end though, to group with people for dungeons you are going to get slotted into the tank, heal, or DPS rolls, and there are cookie cutter min/max builds for all of these. Once you are at endgame, you can kiss your custom built character goodbye. “LF1M, Tank. Chaos/Sword only please.” Endgame doesn’t interest me however so I am enjoying making something that suits my own personal play style.
Lack of levels is a weird one. I like the idea but it isn’t the reality of the game. Whilst there are no levels in the sense of “level 1 -80″, content is still gated and tuned around how many skill points you have invested. Essentially, this is the same thing under a different name. The levels are still there they are just behind the scenes.
Overall, I am enjoying the game. I am playing it like a single player RPG, but with a friend, and to me that is how the game feels. Like an RPG. This is a good thing from my perspective. In the end though, I think that once I’ve played through the story there will be very little left to keep me around unless new areas/stories are added. If I was reviewing the game I’d probably give it a score of 65%-70%.
TL;DR Average Game. Fun, but with some problems. I don’t regret buying it (or the life time subscription)