Those of you who have read just about anything I’ve written here at LoreHound are probably well aware that I’ve been avidly awaiting getting my hands on The Secret World for years. That time finally arrived, and I played it as much as I possibly could. By the end of my time I resembled nothing so much as a raccoon from staying up way too late playing this game. I haven’t had this much fun playing a game in years. It has its problems most definitely, but even so, I had a blast and don’t at all regret purchasing the lifetime subscription. I simply can’t wait until this game goes gold and I can start playing to my heart’s content!
It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a game; freeform character progression, appearance separated from gear stats, references to real world histories and myths, puzzles, difficult challenges, a need for thinking! Just one or two of these things is enough to make me stop and look, but this game combines all of them together into one fantastic whole. While there are many flaws in the game – and don’t worry, I’ll spell out all of the ones I’ve noticed! – I had an absolute blast playing it.
On to the details …
Let’s get the worst of the worst out of the way first. Character generation is easily the worst part of the game.
I’m a very vain gamer. I’ll spend hours tweaking my characters’ looks and outfits, and my banks are usually filled to bursting with cosmetic outfits in the games I play that have social clothing. That was one of the initial large draws of The Secret World – separating stats from appearance is like my dream come true in a game, and so few games do it. There’s been a heavy focus on character customization in the advertising for TSW, both in appearance and abilities. The message I come away with after watching interviews is “Look how you want to look, play how you want to play.” I was looking forward to hours of appearance fun. So my first moments in TSW were a giant letdown.
Unfortunately I have very little good to say about character generation in The Secret World. The characters are just unappealing. There’s no other way to say it. Also, appearance choices are very limited. I was too bummed to remember to count the number of options, but there was only a handful of heads to choose from, and skintones are locked to the heads. And while they had sliders for hair, eyes, nose, lips and jaw, there was a paltry amount of those as well. The same with hair and eye color – is there any reason at all not to give us a color wheel? Games have done it before, and it’s not as though it’s out of lore in our modern world of hair dyes and colored contact lenses.
When I finished making my character, I was so depressed at how ugly I looked that it was difficult to hit play and enter the game, and this was compounded when I finished loading and immediately saw several clones of myself. Yup, not one clone – but about a dozen of them. The devs have said that there will be more options at launch, but I’ll admit to being skeptical that it’ll be anything but disappointing. Even if they double the selection of heads and hairs, the basic foundational style is rather unappealing. Even if a choice of 10 ugly heads is better than a choice of 5 ugly heads, at the end of the day you’re still ugly.
But TSW does manage one feat when it comes to character making – it’s one of the few games I can think of where the male characters look better than the female. I spent the whole time being jealous of my fiance’s character – he looked so cool!
That unusual achievement aside, I give The Secret World’s character generation a failing grade. I thought SWTOR models were ugly, TSW‘s makes them look like superstars. Though at least the character doesn’t move around! I hate games where the character moves while you’re trying to build it.
I have a love/hate relationship with The Secret World‘s UI. On one hand, it’s slick, clean and doesn’t clutter up the screen with those weird scrolls and patterns that many games saddle you with. It’s also customizeable – you can move the elements all over the screen to put them where you want to put them. Which is great! Fabulous!
On the other hand – the color scheme is awful. The text is silvery grey, and it’s set on a silvery grey background. Difficult to read is an understatement. I was popping advil all weekend; whenever I’d try to plan out my character I’d get a headache from trying to read my skills. I wish I was exaggerating, but seriously – I needed advil to survive reading the descriptions of my abilities. Quest text was no better, when you select a quest from an NPC a descriptive blurb pops up floating in midair. The font size was tiny, and the text was the same silvery grey as the skill wheel. With no background, it often gets lost in the game’s environment.
Also on the other hand, certain parts of the UI are immobile. You can’t move the group window, and it’s in a very inconvenient place – it’s large and right smack in the middle of the left side of the screen. So it impacts the chat window in most places I tend to put it, up and left or bottom and left.
The devs have said the UI will be moddable, so at least this is something that can be fixed come launch (which is in just a few days!). A moddable UI doesn’t need to be brilliant, just passable. So I’ll give TSW‘s UI a passing grade – it’s sleek, functional and efficient even if the colors leave something to be desired.
The freeform progression of The Secret World is one of the key features that’s had me excited for this game – and it doesn’t disappoint. There are 525 abilities divided among 9 weapon types, and every character can learn every single one of them. You can only use 14 abilities at a time, 7 actives and 7 passives, but you are free to use any of the abilities you have learned and you can swap them on the fly. Magic, assault rifles, katanas, pistols, hammers, you can use any of them and all of them, and swap between them at will.
This is absolutley amazing. I was constantly tweaking my builds, and now that I’m not playing, I’m spending hours plotting out what I want to try combining. At first I wanted to heal, so I went with Assault Rifles and Fists. Then I found I didnt like melee, so I switched to AR and Blood Magic. But Elementalism is fun too, who doesn’t like throwing out shockballs? Maybe I should go with a pure mage, so I switched Elementalism and Blood Magic. But I liked shooting things, so back I went to AR and Blood Magic. Dual pistols are cool, so I switched out my rifle for a pair of guns… I just loved that I can do that without having to start an entirely new character. There is no respeccing in The Secret World, but you don’t need to – simply go kill a few things to earn some xp and buy abilities for a new weapon.
The best part is that the ratio of xp to ability points never changes – so the further into the game you are the faster you earn points and the easier it is to try something new.
There are two rings of abilities, the inner ring which consists of basic abilities, and the outer ring which has more specialized abilites. Unfortunately the outer was locked for this phase, although even with the limited choices I still had fun trying to decide which to use. I’ll also note that the inner ring of each weapon is pretty much a complete basic build, so you’ll always have a basic set of abilities to use and won’t be able to “gimp yourself” by picking the wrong skills.
While it is definitely possible to earn xp at a solid rate hunting monsters, questing is the main source. I was initially dismayed to see this as I’m usually an avid anti-quester. I like to find a spot to hunt and just kill and kill to level. I liked original EQ, and L2, and have been so bored with most recent MMOs because of their focus on leveling from quest shopping lists – but I am very much enjoying the quests in TSW. But before I go on to talk about the quests, the quest system needs some explaining first.
There are three different types of active missions: sabotage, action, and investigation. There are also quests you can get from found items in the world, group (dungeons) quests, and quests for the main storyline of the game. You can have 1 storyline mission, 3 item missions, 1 group mission and 1 active mission in your journal at a time. Many people coming from “questhub” styled games, where you go to the mission hub, grab all the quests you can find, then go off on the most efficient route to tick off all the objectives find this very limiting, but honestly, I love it. It does a great job of splitting up the playerbase. You’re not competing with a horde of people at every step of the way because some people picked up the quest that leads down Main Street, others picked up the one that circles down Angel Street, and still others went off into the woods. It also means you’re actually focusing on each quest as you do it, and many of the quests require that you pay attention! I definitely recommend watching all of the cutscenes at least the first time through – not only will you miss key clues in figuring out the puzzles if you skip them, but you’ll miss some absolutely amazing NPC characterization. It’s also important to know that most quests can be turned in remotely. You don’t have to return to the quest giver, you can simply call it in, and whenever a quest ends there is usually another one right nearby to pick up. Rather than a hub of quests, The Secret World has story-based footpaths to explore.
As to the quests themselves, I was having an absolute blast trying to figure out the investigation missions. We’d pick one up, and run around trying to solve it. While we were thinking, we’d do the object quests, and I have to say … I’m just not noticing the “leveling” at all. It’s like a puzzle game, I want to see as much as I can, and figure things out; the gaining SPs is so much secondary that I’m not noticing it. Which is just amazing! Not to mention how great it is when you finally have that moment of EUREKA! and figure something out. I love it. And I can’t leave out how well-written they are. Quest text is flavorful and interesting, with more than a few humorous references and easter eggs thrown in -it’s a real pleasure to read. What makes it even better are the images that accompany many of them; when you’re picking up a quest from an object, you will actually see the fully drawn object. Phone books, cell phones, flyers, it’s all done in great and interesting detail. I love that a lot of it is actually in other languages, and with the wonders of google translate and the ingame browser, if you want to translate it, you can!
My one complaint with the missions are all the solo instances. Maybe we just got “unlucky” and these aren’t as common as it seemed – but it seems like everytime we were midway into a quest chain, we suddenly had to split up and do something by ourselves. Why why why? I play MMOs to be social and group up, why am I forced to fly alone? At least we can stay grouped (unlike every other game I’ve played with forced solo instances that make you actually ungroup), but I’d still rather not be split up at all.
As surprising as it is, I have found an MMO with quests that I actually like doing. The stories are great, the NPCs are fun and filled with personality, and it’s all fun to do.
Stay tuned for the next part of my Preview!