The Secret World
Developer: Funcom Release Date: July 03, 2012
Publisher: EA ESRB Rating: M
Platforms: PC MSRP: $49.99

 

After spending nearly a month playing The Secret World, and constantly questioning whether this game was good or bad, I finally realized that it is a little of both. While, TSW does try to stretch the narrow confines of what it means to be an MMO, it still suffers from the fact that, at its core, it is still very much an MMO. The world and storytelling are by far some of the best I have seen, but none of that means anything if the game becomes dull after excessive hours of play, which most MMOs require. I am a little sad in saying this because I loved the fact that I was fully immersed in this game for so long; I enjoyed seeing all of the craziness The Secret World had to offer, and enjoyed the odd characters I got to meet, but in the end I kept seeing the bigger flaw. This game is too much like every other MMO.

From the past two previews I had written up, the basics were described. But I tried to stay optimistic throughout and paint a picture that flattered this flawed game. For the strategic buffs out there, this game will probably wow you. There is a lot to offer, and I commend Funcom for building a combat system that was able to flow together so well. Different moves allow combinations with other moves to deal extra damage, or cause an enemy to become weakened. You will want to play with power sets and read up on every ability to make sure that your powers are always working together. But, and this is a big but, the combat is exactly the same as World of Warcraft’s or City of Heroes’. That formulaic method of combat – click bad guy, click ability, attack bad guy – gets dull real fast. TSW attempts to add some new ideas: dodging, being able to see certain paths where the enemies’ attacks will land, and they do add some difference to the battles but not enough to keep those in the battles interested. After spending twenty or so hours in the game, I realized that I did not want anything to do with fighting. So, then the game becomes how can I run away from enemies the best, which is no longer any fun.

Dying, it happens a little too often. That is unless, like all other MMOs, you grind to get better abilities.

I guess I should continue with TSW’s shortcomings. The most obvious problem with the game is technically it is a little bit of a mess. I have a pretty decent machine; 12 gigs of RAM, six-core AMD processor, and a Nvidia Gefore 560 Ti graphics card. I can basically run anything on high or nearly high settings. For instance, Skyrim runs on ultra, averaging 30 fps, and Just Cause 2 with full settings I get around 40 fps, give or take a few. But in The Secret World, on full settings, I can barely top 30 fps, usually averaging between 20 to 25 fps. It gets bad inside buildings, strange considering a larger draw distance in the outside areas. I do not mind the low fps, as long as the graphics look amazing, which unfortunately they do not. Do not get me wrong, the game looks nice, but with such bad technical issues it is not really pushing the envelope anywhere. Also, it crashes too often. Sometimes when I start the game up it freezes, and random times while just strolling through the world it will crash to desktop. Not so much fun when trying to quest with others. These problems alone bothered me while playing, bugs happen and often are difficult to prevent, but in an MMO where dropping out of an important quest while playing with other people can be detrimental to enjoying the purpose of the game. All of these technical issues are compounded by the large number of glitches and quest bugs that make finishing parts of TSW nearly impossible without support assistance.

I promise I will have positive aspects to bring up about TSW; I do like it but it has flaws. One of TSW’s worst is that I am paying a monthly fee to play with a world of people, but this never happens. Many of the quests are instanced, for non-MMO veterans this means that you and your party are taken to a different area where only you and your party can interact with one another. Everyone else in the world is blocked off. Guild Wars was known for using this method and it was a large component of their mission structure, but then again they did not have a monthly fee tacked on and used this as an intelligent way to make the game cheaper. But TSW does have a monthly fee and still I am instanced for a lot of the quests I run into. I want to see other players running around, fighting enemies; I want to experience a living world with other living people. I understand that instances help prevent hordes of players camping special mobs for special items and drops, but it takes away from the enjoyment in playing with others. Playing alone in an MMO really takes away from the name of the genre, Massively Multiplayer Online Game.

This is Agartha, the hub world where you will most likely find the majority of players…standing around.

At this point you may be confused as to where the multiplayer aspect of TSW is. I guess this missing, and important, link can be found in the PvP battle. There are three possible locations for battles and at scheduled times players from each faction will battle to gain control of that particular area. Minor bonuses are given based on faction control of the world, which is based on the faction’s ability to win the PvP fights. Playing in one is more of a struggle than an enjoyable time. PvP is usually fast paced, strategic, and dynamic. People are always moving, and do not tend to stand still while doing damage like so many NPC enemies. But TSW’s controls cannot keep up with the action, and partnered with some pretty unforgivable lag, creates an arena battle in which chaos and confusion ensue. To put it bluntly, the PvP was not fun.

So, now that everyone is thoroughly depressed, why don’t we all get a little happier? The Secret World, for all of its issues, is still a pretty amazing, if not generic, MMO. If you pull away the standard combat and exploration, you have a realized and developed world. There are no elves, no dwarfs, no damn orks; just regular people and a whole lot of crazy conspiracy theories and outrageous urban myths brought to life. I saw a Sasquatch clan, yeah a whole clan of them, and they were friendly, minus the jagged teeth and powerful roars. This game has characters that actually matter, dialogue that you can listen to, which is interesting, a rarity considering I tend to just skip most of the text in MMO’s to get back to exploring.  In one instance I got to meet a teenager named Danny Defresne. When he is not trying to survive the apocalypse, he is hilariously commenting how he does not understand why the adults will not give him weapons, even though he is a pro at Left 4 Dead. Also, he asks the player to retrieve a remote control airplane with a webcam attached to it, which was used moments before to peep on his attractive older female neighbor. Funcom adds little bits of life into the characters that are rarely present in most other MMOs. Usually, the most personality a character gets is the text box floating above their head. To see this stride toward character development in this game is a nice change of pace for a genre that does not often change.

Another area where TSW succeeds is in parts of its quest structure. In horror and supernatural movies what do the main characters do after they have learned of the possibility of an urban legend come true? They tend to investigate, queue montage. TSW has specific investigative missions, where I had to bring up an in-game browser, search the web, and actually put the pieces of the puzzle together myself. This part of the game was fun, and it brought more life into the world, being able to see behind the curtain and understand more of the backstory behind these places I was visiting. But, players get smart, often too quickly. While looking for information to solve these quests I was too often brought to sites that were walkthroughs of said quests. This takes away the role-playing aspect and made me realize fairly quickly that I was still just in a game. But that is not necessarily something they can be blamed for.

The Black House, probably one of the better quests in the game where you have to investigate a two story haunted mansion. And yes the walls totally bleed.

Disappointment. A word I do not want to use but am because I am disappointed in The Secret World. The world, the characters, and the lore were all delivered as promised. But, the game itself is just too much of an MMO to see it as anything more. Considering how many of these similar titles are out on the market, many for free, I cannot justify spending $60 on the box and an extra $15 a month to continue playing. Even with a world that I would truly love to keep exploring and experiencing, the game is not fun enough to keep me interested. Hopefully, future MMOs will learn from this one and continue to create a fascinating universe. Also, I hope they will see that this generic MMO gameplay is no longer cutting it and needs to be changed to create some diversity within the market.

Story: ★★★★★★★★★☆
Graphics: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Gameplay: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Audio: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆
Balance/Difficulty: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Intangibles: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Overall: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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