Real Talk By: Eva
To create an MMORPG with a vibrant enough world, thick enough action, and compelling enough story to sustain a fanbase for years to come, is no easy task. World of Warcraft made a famously huge splash, and the game has since become something of an all-father for the next generation of MMO’s–whether they like it or not. Even those games that stray from the beaten path seldom escape the shadow (and an inevitable comparison with) Blizzard’s cash cow. As a word of warning, this review will contain one such comparison.
Funcom’s “The Secret World” lays claim to a “classless” and more customizable sort of leveling system, where characters aren’t confined by a particular trade or style of combat, but can instead draw from all of the available weapons, spells and resources to make war. While the system sounds quite fanciful and limitless, the mechanics of the game still end up mincing players into particular “classes” and functions within a group, even if they go without an official name.
There are nine different types of weapons, with groups of three in Melee (Blades, Hammers, Fists), Ranged (Pistols, Shotguns, Assault Rifles) and Magic (Blood, Chaos, Elemental). A character can equip only two weapons at a time, and while they can carry more, they cannot switch out while in the middle of combat. This makes a blend of two types of weapon the only feasible option–with some combinations making for better pairings than others, and thus creating particular concentrations within the world. I encountered many players using Pistols and Blood Magic, and many more using Fists and Chaos magic–with the former providing for support and healing, and the latter being great for tanking multiple targets at once.
Combat is fairly simplistic, with the only functional challenge being the need to properly line up your spells and attacks so as to maximize damage with area of effect spells. The essence of effective attacks in The Secret World hinges on pairing up particular debuffs that are distributed to enemies through specific attacks–i.e., a more basic “Fist” attack will put an “afflicted” debuff on a target, paving the way for a deadlier attack that capitalizes on however many “afflicted” debuffs are present on the foe. New attacks are purchased on a “wheel” of abilities, which allows access to the inner, more deadly techniques, only after you’ve worked your way through all of the outer abilities. As you can only equip a certain number your available attacks at once time, a large part of combat strategy comes simply in choosing which ones are best paired together, or which are most useful for a certain area.
Attacks are further augmented with skill points, which go towards fueling passive buffs for the particular schools of combat. This is an agreeable enough interface, but for the need to put skill points into separate categories for character gear: headwear and assorted talismans. As with most MMO’s, gear is very important for survival and character customization, and to have to individually level one’s ability to wear particular gear seems less of a choice, and more of an obvious need, especially with the unique talismans and headgear being a very common form of reward in the game.
The enemies are varied and inventive, but the feeling of combat itself falls a little short of the colorful nature of your opponents. It’s usually apparent within an instant of attacking a target as to how well the fight will go in your favor, and from there it becomes a “rinse and repeat” process of using your tried and true debuff combinations. All in all, fighting, which is usually the crux of an MMO, comes off a little…flat in The Secret World. Perhaps the combat aesthetic is just a little bit lacking, as there’s little motivation to grinding out multitudes of the same foe, over and over–which was something WoW pulled off so famously, and even had folks asking for seconds.
However, even if it’s combat aesthetics are a little lacking, The Secret World scores points in its ability to tell a story. The game takes place in a parallel, future-world, inhabited by magical energy, Matrix-esque fashion and three playable factions: The self-righteous Templars, the dark and edgy Illuminati, and the mysterious, oriental Dragons. Yet for all its warring factions and underground societies, the most colorful characters are found in the everyday yokels who are caught up in the supernatural nonsense. One of my favorite run-ins was with a road warrior, who believed that zombie slaying was best appreciated with equal parts knowledge in bomb-making and Buddhist philosophy. Unfortunately, this savory characterization is completely lacking in your own avatar–who stands mute and expressionless through each and every cutscene of dialogue.
So does The Secret World have the chops to stay populated with players for years to come? Only time will tell. For now, there’s still plenty of improvements to be made–so smart money is on waiting for the initial buying price to fall and for the inevitable patches to smooth things out.
The Secret World Gets
Out of five
+ A Vibrant world
+ Fun personalities and enemies to be encountered
+ “Classless” system not quite so free-form
+ Combat and grinding feel uninspired, and quickly grow tedious
+ Some unwelcome hoops to jump through with the skill-point system
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