BUCKING THE TREND
I always try to keep my enthusiasm in-check during the honeymoon phase with a new MMO, and I also try to refrain from working too “blue” when writing for the site, but I @!#?ing love The Secret World. (Henceforth referred to as TSW.)
In all of the high-fantasy MMOs we’ve been hammered with over the years, for me, questing usually amounts to arriving at a quest hub, picking up all the available quests and clicking next-next-next to get through all of the generic dialogue so I can set about knocking them off my quest list. In TSW, I find myself savoring every bit of dialogue the quest-givers give me, as well as the tasks involved in completing the missions. Where in every other MMO, questing seems like the same old pointless shite we’ve done a million times over (and rest assured, we HAVE), in TSW it has a sense of realism and weight to it, as if what you’re doing has some real value, even if at times trivial. It also helps that the vast majority of the quests are highly interesting, and often require you to use your investigative and reasoning skills in order to figure them out. Unfortunately, in nearly all other MMOs, it doesn’t much matter if you skip over quest text. In TSW, it does.
SOUND AND VISION
And forget all of the ballyhoo regarding Star Wars: The Old Republic‘s voice-acting… Despite having a much smaller budget and fewer resources, the actors that Funcom hired for TSW are pretty great, and deliver the realistic dialogue in a realistic way. The characters in the game say things that you might hear real people say under such situations, and that attention to detail is much appreciated.
I’ve read elsewhere on the ‘Net that the visuals of TSW were lacking, but I’m having a really hard time figuring out that complaint. Running with graphic settings on “ultra”, I find the game to be quite visually impressive. Character models and environments are of high quality, and the game is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. While exploring the town of Kingsmouth (the first large location in the game), I often find myself getting the same feelings that I did when playing the first couple installments of the Silent Hill franchise, or the Ravenholme stage in Half-Life 2.
EATING OTHER MMO’S LAUNCH
I’m given to understand that the game’s combat was a bit dodgy during beta and has since changed, and from my experience, that part of the game is just fine. I’m also a big fan of the design of the combat system, and very much like how you can switch skills and abilities (through different “decks”) whenever you want — easily changing your character’s play-style. I’ve always maintained that one of Ultima Online‘s strongest features was the absence of levels or classes, giving you the ability to grow your character in a free and realistic way, and finally we have a post-UO AAA title from a developer with the balls to break the modern mold and implement such a system.
I’ve participated in a large number of MMO launches over the years, and the one thing they all had in common was an incredibly rough and aggravating launch period. Even to this very day, and with far less complicated online games (e.g., Diablo III…LOL), you can always expect a plethora of broken things in-game, as well as servers that are constantly being taken offline. I’ve not experienced either of those issues yet with TSW, and from my experience, Funcom has had the most rock-solid MMO launch ever…by a LONG shot. (Seems like many lessons were learned from their Age of Conan experience.)
YOU CAN”T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT, BUT…YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED
The Secret World isn’t that ultimate “sandbox” type of MMO that I’ve wanted since Ultima Online was ruined with the Felucca/Trammel split in early 2000, but at this point, all I know is that I’ve been more intrigued and invested in this game than in any other MMO since I took my first steps in UO on September 24, 1997. Even though you could probably say that TSW is another “themepark” MMO that isn’t exactly doing anything that hasn’t already been done before, it feels excitingly fresh and different from everything else that has been released in recent years. If you clear your mind of the MMO conventions that have been hammered into your brain over the last decade+ and open yourself up to what TSW has to offer, I can’t imagine any true MMO fan would be turned off by the experience.
The MMO genre desperately needed a game like The Secret World at this time, and Funcom deserves a ton of credit for developing and releasing such a game under the heavy shadow of World of Warcraft and its many doppelgangers. If you’re a fan of MMOs and support jump-starting the genre’s move back into innovation, then this is a game you just have to support.