This summer, The Secret World found its way into the hands of gamers. The title was developed by Funcom, a Norwegian developer with almost two decades of experience. They’re also the same company responsible for titles such as Age of Conan and Anarchy Online. The title is an MMORPG but, thanks to the various genres it incorporates, it doesn’t come off as similar to any one that’s come before it. Regardless of how it’s categorized, the new title has been in the pipeline for a number of years and has gathered a considerable amount of attention.
The Secret World’s setting is also its most interesting aspect. The universe in the title is unlike few before it. The title combines cities and locales from real life and from fiction. Places like New York and London are accessible, even serving as the headquarters for some of the game’s factions. Similarly, characters in the game are both fictitious and from the real world’s history. These all combine to form a backdrop that is unlike any other for the factions in the game.
Speaking of the factions, there are three that players will be able to choose from when creating their character and venturing into The Secret World. They are the Illuminati, Templars and Dragon. As in common mythology, the Illuminati seek to control the world and influence its events. They are the enemies of Templars, a group that forced them out of Europe long before the events of the title. The Dragon faction is the vaguest group out of all three, with their allegiances and origins still very much unknown.
After choosing a faction, players get to experience the story of The Secret World. Funcom has made it a point to incorporate different types of missions and mix up the action a little bit. Some missions feature cinematic scenes with rich voice acting. These can come from nearly any type of character – a character from the Center for Disease Control is seen in one part of the game. Another character has players investigating the presence of the Illuminati. Other parts of the story are unraveled not through scenes, but through observations. Fighting through a wave of enemies to reach the source is one of the ways that the game lets players figure out parts of the story on their own.
How players actually control their character as they work their way through the game is another point of interest for The Secret World. One of the major aspects of the game that Funcom is promoting is the environmental play. Make no mistake about it, The Secret World is not an MMO where you stand still and click buttons. What the player does in the environment directly influences how enemies react, and so does the way a player uses the environment. In one section near the beginning of the game, there are abandoned cars littering the streets. Bumping some of them can trigger a car alarm, which causes a horde of zombies to descend upon the area. Players can pick up a gas can and start a fire and then lead the zombies through it, letting them rack up skill points and quickly dispatch of the enemies.
This sort of think-on-your-feet action is present throughout the title. Players are encouraged to move around during their battles. While the fights are still turn-based enough that The Secret World can’t just be turned into a third-person shooter, the combat is considerably more immersive than some other titles that have the MMO label.
While this might not resonate well with players who tend to choose classes with more methodical abilities, this hindrance won’t be present in The Secret World. That’s because, unlike most traditional MMOs, there are no classes. Instead of a class system, a general skill system is in place. This gives players more control over their character’s direction, removing the class restrictions that are typically found in games of this genre. The ability to develop characters as the player sees fit means that finding two characters that have developed exactly the same will be something of a rarity.
Let’s delve a little bit deeper into this skill system and see how it impacts the player’s experience. At the bottom of the HUD is an XP bar. Filling the bar one-third gives players an ability point; filling it entirely rewards them with a skill point. Players spend these points in the game’s Ability Wheel. As the name implies, this is a gigantic wheel with different abilities spread across it. There are 500 unique abilities to be bought in the wheel, and the lack of a class system means that any character can be assigned any ability. These abilities are split into passive and active categories. Active abilities represent the things a player can do, such as swinging a sword or firing a rifle from a distance. Passive abilities represent the aspects of a character that are always present, such as a resistance to magic or bullets.
To keep things interesting, players are limited to seven of each kind of ability. Much of the challenge in leveling up then stems from the player’s choices. It’s up to each player to decide what the best way to combine abilities is. Is it best to have a character who excels in melee fighting and magic, or would a sniper rifle be more appropriate? These types of decisions come up frequently in The Secret World.
This open-ended ability to level up helps players achieve a high level of versatility with their character. In a typical MMO, class restrictions can and frequently do prevent players from attempting a broad range of tasks. After playing the game long enough to acquire different types of weapons and abilities, players don’t need to worry about not being able to handle a situation. To make it easier for players to jump into different battles, a feature called the Gear Manager has been implemented. It lets the player quickly change his or her character to adapt to different needs. In the Gear Manager, players can switch their player’s weapon set to fit the situation that they’re in. After fighting a horde of zombies with a pistol and a knife, the player can instead choose to equip a melee-based package for taking on a larger foe.
The closest parallel to this skill progression system might be found in the Fallout series, especially New Vegas. Just as those titles contain no class restrictions, neither does Funcom’s game, and the result is an open-ended progression path. The major difference, though, is that the Fallout series contains a mostly linear progression. As such, players are able to advance through the game with the same difficulty regardless of how they level up. With the varied enemies and environments in The Secret World, leveling up a certain way might make things much more difficult compared to players who level up in another order.
It’s difficult to find any game with a similar system. While certain elements of The Secret World are present in other games, The Secret World may very well be the first to put everything into one massive, elaborate package. This lack of closely similar titles is one of the driving forces that makes The Secret World so interesting. By taking so many aspects from different titles, Funcom has crafted a game that mimics no one and is built to a massive scale. There are still a number of things that can go wrong with the title. Maybe the setting will prove to be too cluttered or the gameplay mechanics won’t have appropriate pacing. But The Secret World has so much in its favor right now that it’s difficult to see it not being successful. It’s release has been gone smoothly and the reviews have been very positive. So if you haven’t check out this ground-breaking MMO yet, do yourself a BIG favor and go do so now.
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