Saturday, June 16, 2012

First Impressions of The Secret World

So, how do you feel about Mankrik's wife?

Amusingly, right after I wrote the last post, I got a Beta weekend key for Funcom's upcoming MMO, The Secret World. Here is a quick write up of my first impressions. I'm going to cover character mechanics in a separate post.

The setting of The Secret World is the modern world, but one where the supernatural is seeping in, and organizations like the Templars and the Illuminati are dealing with the darkness. This is a very interesting choice, because a lot of history and backstory is real history. There is a great sense of mystery and a bit of horror.

The Secret World is like an old school adventure game (King's Quest, The Longest Journey, etc.) crossed with a quest-driven MMO. I hesitate to say "themepark" because the defining measure of themepark MMOs is hand-holding on the quests, and The Secret World does not hold hands. There's sometimes a little bit of help from the map, especially for kill quests, but often you just have to figure out what to do from the quest and clues.

For example, one early quest has a step which requires you to log into a doctor's computer. But the computer requires a password. In the room, there's a picture of fireworks with the caption "The day I met Helen, listening to my favorite composer". The computer also gives two password hints: "music of the seasons" and "1723". Thus we realize that the password is "Vivaldi", who composed The Four Seasons in 1723.

If you didn't know that, or weren't able to guess that, the game has a built in browser you can bring up and google things. Googling those two clues will bring up articles on Vivaldi. This makes total sense, because in a world with smartphones, Google is at most a call away.

There are other quests like that. Some of them are simple jumping puzzles, where you have to figure out how to get to the right spot. Others involve things like hiding in the shadows and avoiding spotlights which move in a pattern. There's also the standard kill and fetch quests.

Of course, the big issue with puzzle quests is that they can be solved and the answers put online. Not to mention that general chat is pretty much, "What's the solution to X?" It's like everyone asking where Mankrik's wife is, back in the Barrens.

It's a pretty interesting experience, to have to turn your brain back on during questing. I'm not really sure how this will work in groups. The thing about groups is that there is always one guy who will immediately google the solution, before even thinking about it.

I guess we'll see how all the voices who cry out for MMO innovation deal with actual innovation. The setting of The Secret World is unique, as is much of the gameplay.

However, I rather think that The Secret World will end up as a niche game, but one with an extraordinarily loyal following. I would also wager that the resulting community will be one of the best MMO communities to be a part of.


  1. You sold this game to me with this preview. I have not been anticipating a title in a long while (the same I felt about WoW or the Fire Emblem series).

    I just would like to comment on group play. You seriously underestimate how this works and how much fun this can be.
    One of my more memorable experiences in World Of Warcraft involved exploring Sunken Temple (with the statues)for the first time. Or imagine a Black Rock Depths with puzzles and clues to solve!

    There is a simple (although technically complex) solution to your problem, design it to require group effort. This can be done in a lot of ways. Require players to pass information to solve their puzzles in different locations, with means of communication. Else you could just choose for portal 2 puzzles or for 'Stand on X Y Z'. I do agree that this is dependent on a good community. But there are tons of fun group puzzle games on television and even in other video games.

    Randomized dungeons can be chosen to avoid cheating (random puzzles), random layouts for example. You can just randomly design certain puzzles that would have no standardized solution (or would require you to browse through X amount of solutions to find you puzzle). Think of number combinations, types of locks, picture puzzles.

    This type of game is however content driven. It is like SWoTR, but worse. I do not expect to play it for as long as WoW. It could however be a very cool experience.

  2. One more added to the list "to test out". Even if when reading your post: to have to turn your brain back on during questing it would seem that it's google you have to turn on :)
    If the puzzles are well done it can be a nice diversion (well done = not frustrating, as in the typical quest, "go find something", and nothing indicated on the map and no hints in the text).

  3. The setting sounds incredibly interesting. I'm almost annoyed at the idea of another MMO fighting for my precious time, but I might have to check this out.

  4. Google is sooo 5 years ago. The game isn't even out yet and I count three Wikis up.

    Incidentally, this is why I prefer skill-based puzzles, rather than the sort of text-based ones. Avoiding spotlights is always going to be challenging, whereas knowing the password is not. And unless they randomize said passwords, what's going to happen when you bring alts through that same area?

  5. @ 1st Anon

    A problem with randomized puzzles/maps etc. is however that it takes away (at least to an extent) the joy of Exploring/getting to know a certain aspect of a game world. 'Progress as player' if you will.

    For example, while Boss Mechanics leave me utterly cold (and the whole 'Kill Healers Last, Whack the Tank' thing Bosses - understandably - have make them 99% unimmmersive to me), I loved the 'Dungeon Crawl' aspect of the Vanilla Dungeons, learning to navigate the various maps, devulging their secrets (Sunken Temple was an aboslute favorite of mine) and the behaviour of their denizens.

    Randomized challenges would make things less predicatble, but doing so with maps/hidden latches like the statues etc. would take away the sensation of 'player progress', of really learning to KNOW a certain place. It also imo makes more sense that e.g. a Boss would learn and adapt to pesky adventurers invading his home time and again, than ancient real estate build eons ago would change every time people entered.

  6. I'm just waiting for the Goons to googlebomb INCORRECT answers to TSW puzzles as a way of griefing the community. :)

  7. I keep thinking that as long as the lag isn't bad (FunCom still needs to work on that for AoC in the States) and the game has more polish than traditional FunCom games at release, it ought to make money.