The Secret World’s Templar Beginnings

By John Walker on October 24th, 2011 at 12:00 pm.

Absolute filth.

I was recently sat down to watch one of the opening sections for Funcom’s MMO, The Secret World. A game that promised much, and so far seems to be confusing everyone by delivering on those promises. Is that still the case? I consider such things below.

There are two lies most developers tell when they’re starting the development of their MMO. The first is that their game will have no levels or classes. The second is that their combat will be real-time. Then comes the actual process of developing such things, and it is discovered quite how difficult that is to do. And neither happens.

When Funcom were first talking about The Secret World, they explained that their game would have no levels or classes, and the combat would be in real-time. Despite this coming from the people who made The Longest Journey, even I was able to turn a cynical eye toward them and mutter, “No it won’t”.

Except, well, it might be true. With only a few months left until release, and the game currently in the early stages of its closed beta, it’s a bit late to introduce levels as every other MMO eventually does. And as for real-time combat – I think I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

I was recently shown the opening sequence of the game, the one for those affiliating with the Templar…

Let’s not get too confused here. While your character doesn’t have a particular class, rather access to a route through the same 500 available skills as everyone else, you do pick an allegiance at the very start. In fact, it’s Funcom’s hope that you’re already picking an allegiance, months before you ever play the game, such that when you finally get it you’ll not hesitate before making your choice. There’s the fervent Templar, corporative Illuminati, or chaotic Dragon, and which you pick will certainly affect the game you play. Indeed, it will define the opening you receive.

For the demo I was watching, Templar was picked, and so it was that at the time of the awakening of paranormal abilities in thousands of humans across the world, it was the Templar who visited the girl featured here. Not before she’d destroyed her apartment with her newfound skills.

Gaia, in reaction to something unknown (indeed, something that the very point of playing TSW is to learn) is awakening these humans to fight back against the rise of an evil known as The Filth. An occult bomb went off on the Tokyo subway three weeks earlier, and led to a chain of events that saw this Filth leaking into our world. So it is that our character woke up one morning to find herself feeling a little strange (with a copy of Dreamfall on her bedroom floor – fnarr). The sort of strange that causes someone to be suspended in midair, arms hanging backward, as torrents of magical energy start screaming out of one’s eyes, mouth and fingertips. We’ve all been there. During a series of vignettes across a week, we see this girl accidentally breaking everything in her home as she comes to terms with it all. Until finally there’s a knock at the door.

A brilliantly sass-mouthed lady boldly steps in, informs the girl that she knows exactly what’s happening to her, and asks if she wants to come join an ancient secret organisation in doing something about it all. The mute player character (a necessity of the way the MMO will work) stares in bemused silence as this excellent diatribe is delivered to her. And it’s worth listening to. This is a game that (later) includes lines as splendid as,

“I’ll show you how it all goes down through the medium of unreliable narration.”

That’s the sort of writing we expect from Funcom, and it’s going to be a delight to see an MMO with some wit about it. I was also pleased to learn that one of the benefits of joining the Templar includes, “A fantastic medical plan.”

Our character begins in a fictional area of London, which is astonishingly carefully created. This is London, not just a generic street with the odd red phone box. From the architecture to the flaked road markings, it’s a painstaking effort, and one that looks unlike any other MMO I’ve seen. While The Old Republic (and the two games will never escape comparison – the first two story-focused MMOs releasing within months of each other) looks very much like an updated WoW, this is something else entirely. It’s set in the real world, and they’ve gone to some considerable effort to have it look like the real world.

Pretty quickly the character finds herself taken back in time, by three weeks, to what’s known as The Tokyo Flashback. She’s in the subway where the bomb went off, and she’s met by those four characters so familiar from all the TSW CG trailers and posters. It’s a tutorial, but a well disguised one. Because here you’re going to learn combat.

So while watching the opening sequences of the game can only prove that there are no classes, it doesn’t demonstrate how the lack of levelling will work. (You can read much more about that here.) But it certainly does make a convincing argument about the fighting. Because it’s pretty hard to doubt when you see the character firing a shotgun with no cooldown, and dodging out of the way of attacks.

There are compromises here. The shotgun really is firing in real-time. There’s no greyed out icon cooling off after you fire, there’s no bullets bending through time and space to hit a fleeing enemy. It’s firing a cone of damage. At the same time, there will be magic attacks that lock onto a target, and will hit no matter where you run. It’s a halfway point to a genuine freeform fight, but it’s technology MMOs have struggled to do before – in fact a Funcom representative informed me they weren’t able to do it while they were developing Conan.

Dodging also works on a semi-compromise. When you’re about to receive a big attack, a warning exclamation mark appears above an enemy’s head. That’s your cue to dodge out of the way. And of course if the enemy are using cone attacks, simply running around will evade. Indeed, running around is a crucial part of the combat here, since you can – and here’s another big difference – move while spells are being cast. Where most MMOs will cancel the casting if you wobble a toe, here the bar will carry on filling as you charge around to the back of the fight, or peg it backward. The result looks like something much more fluid, much closer to the freedom of small-scale arena online gaming. Of course, I’ve not yet played it for myself, so how it actually feels to handle isn’t something I can comment on yet.

Again, the underground is vividly created, dull and crumbling, but brought alive with the remarkable spell effects. And we see the character accompanied by the gang, until she’s sent off on her own for a bit, and then stumbles upon what’s causing all this trouble. Through some windows she sees what looks like the stretches of space, the front of the view filled by a vast, molten orange sphere, threateningly… and that’s where the demo ended.

It was convincing. But then, when I was a kid – in Norway appropriately enough – I was in a toy shop and saw this amazing video of a furry creature that seemed almost alive with the way it could wiggle through your fingers and over your shoulder. Begging my parents for one, my father heavily warned me it wouldn’t work, but I was completely taken and would not relent. They gave in and bought one for me, and I was utterly devastated to find that rather than being some remarkable new thing, some gorgeous piece of cleverness, it was just a lump of fur on the end of a thin nylon thread. I was so very upset, not just because my toy was crap, but because I’d been tricked.

It’s a cautionary tale, and one that will be on my mind until such a time as I’ve got my hands on the game itself and experienced it first hand. Which shouldn’t be too far away.

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45 Comments »

  1. Dominic White says:

    If Funcom are really so confident in their game, they can prove it – go to any of the big trade-shows, and let people play a couple hours of the game in fully open format, with and against other human players. Give them access to mid/high level zones, big bosses, notable quests.

    Age of Conan has already showed us that they know how to make a memorable newbie/opening segment. I’m just not entirely convinced about their ability to apply that to a whole MMO.

    To any MMO studio who wants to tread the retail + subscription route, I will say ‘Put your money where your mouth is’. Show me that the game is worth premium price + $180-ish a year.

    • DarkFenix says:

      Agreed, I got Age of Conan at release and sure enough the early game content was excellent. On the other hand there were enormous content gaps midgame and endgame simply didn’t exist.

      TSW does look interesting, but Funcom are going to have to prove that the whole game is interesting before they get my money.

      That said, it looks a lot better than The Old Republic, Christ that looks awful.

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  2. Lars Westergren says:

    >”Gaia, in reaction to something unknown (indeed, something that the very point of playing TSW is to learn) is awakening these humans to fight back against the rise of an evil known as The Filth.”

    This sounds a lot like the metaplot of the classic World of Darkness. Werewolf:The Apocalypse sub-setting, to be specific. Not a bad thing to be “inspired” by. Especially since the original Werewolf: The Apocalypse game was cancelled.

    >furry creature that seemed almost alive with the way it could wiggle through your fingers and over your shoulder.

    Oh yeah, I remember those.

    • Dominic White says:

      “This sounds a lot like the metaplot of the classic World of Darkness. Werewolf:The Apocalypse sub-setting, to be specific. Not a bad thing to be “inspired” by.”

      Yeah, sounds like it’s halfway between Werewolf and Hunter. With CCP clearly having trouble, looks like path is clear for a World Of Darkness-esque MMO.

      Edit: That reminds me – one of the Hunter hack n’ slash games for the Xbox was a crossover with Werewolf. After a few skirmishes with them, your party of hunters learns that the Werewolves are pretty cool dudes, and team up with them to take on the mustache-twirlingly evil megacorporation Pentex.

    • Leonard Hatred says:

      somebody else doing a WoD-esque game first could be just the thing CCP need to kickstart their WoD development, given they seem to have no idea what the actual World of Darkness game is going to be beyond having some lovely avatars and some occult-linkedin mechanic going on.

    • Wulf says:

      The bad parts of this though is that I won’t be able to play a werewolf, a changeling, or other interesting elements, which really made the World of Darkness worth playing. This is due to unlike WoD’s more nuanced approach to good & evil, The Secret World is very black & white. This is very disappointing, it’s all the more disappointing because they take the “pretty” is good, and “ugly” is evil approach.

      And something about that rubs me the wrong way, I can feel my skin making a break for freedom. It isn’t crawling, it’s fleeing. This is one of the things that tends to make gamers look very plebeian when compared to pen & paper gamers. Because they have interesting scenarios to play with which aren’t so incredibly binary. Really, developers… really, all developers, let me ask you two important questions.

      1.) Is it really so hard to blur the lines of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in a nuanced way? Is it really?
      2.) Do you really always have to make the embodiment of ‘good’ either an Aphrodite or an Adonis, whilst the embodiment of ‘bad’ seems to be embodied by disfigured/strange people?

      In fact, let’s make that three…

      3.) Are you saying that disfigured people are inherently evil?

      This is just one of the things that really depresses me about the state of gaming, and there are a few of those, but this is one of the most prominent. Does it always have to be that way? If so, why? I mean, even old ’90s shows that were family entertainment had a better grasp of this. Even bloody Hercules: The Legendary Journeys blurred the lines better than the best of our games. To me, that’s a problem.

      The other reason I’m not interested in The Secret World is that, frankly, the combat looks shit.

      But mostly I’m just so incredibly bored of this binary, black & white, good & evil thing. So sick of it. The greatest innovation a game developer could frankly add to their game is the blurring of the lines between good and evil. Look, there are even some MMORPGs that get this right. The charr in Guild Wars 2 are the good guys, and that delights me, but why is it so rare rather than more common?

      And it’s not just bestial people, either. But even just not perfectly pretty characters.

      I just find this… unsettling. I’m not sure what it says about me as a gamer to play something like this and enjoy it, but I’d constantly be badgered by my conscience if I did. If they’re going to be inspired by the World of Darkness, can’t they be inspired by how subtle and clever WoD is? This is just… hamfisted, awkward, and clumsy to the extreme.

    • Nim says:

      Hunter: The reckoning is the first thing I thought of, not having played any werewolf games yet.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Thanks, Wulf. Now I want to play Changeling. *sigh*

    • Blackcompany says:

      Thank you Wulf for pointing this out. I too have said the same about gaming. Look at Batman: Arkham City; at Rage; Borderlands. It seems the evil guys always have to be psychos or disfigured in some way. Its a hideous practice that frankly needs to cease.
      .
      I think devs do it to help dehumanize the bad guys. Makes it easier to gun or mow em down in these games. Ostensibly. But frankly I see little entertaining in Batman beating up a one-handed weapon wielding psychos who still sport impossibly well muscled physiques.
      .
      All quite ridiculous. And disappointing.

    • Jake says:

      I’m amazed that you are discounting the good vs evil side of things so quickly. Maybe I am just more optimistic about the game but I am really hoping we get all sorts of shades of grey here. Are we really expecting that factions like The Illuminati are going to be generic good guys? And all the factions are working against each other: I am expecting/hoping for all sorts of treachery and backstabbing with the fact that the world is overrun by ancient evils being the least of our problems. Sure the monsters may appear ugly, but who knows what their agendas are?

      Guild Wars looks like it will have more simplistic moralising from what we know so far – you play as the good guys and fight the bad guys, save the world, etc etc – but then with Secret World it is the unknown elements that make it so interesting. Of course, it might all flop massively, but it is too early to write it off yet, just as it is too early to proclaim that the Charr are the bestest thing ever.

    • scatterbrainless says:

      @ Wulf – what about Metro 2033? That game had a largely uncommented upon moral system in which it turns out at the end that you were a monster for simply shooting all the terrifying Dark Ones just because you were afraid of difference. I thought that was a pretty cool dissection of the imposition of the good/evil divide upon a new world with new conditions of existence.

    • Cerius says:

      Wulf…. Where are you coming to the Good/White conclusion and that it applies to the whole game?

      Especally when we are talking about funcom. Especially when we are talking Ragnar Turnquist.

      Remember? The Longest Journey? One of the best written games of all time? Yeah? Remember that?

  3. BenMS says:

    Combat sounds interesting, I wonder how it will go on people with less-than-ideal latency who try to PvP.

  4. sneetch says:

    Hmmm…. cautious optimism returning after reading this. I had already dismissed the no levelling and real time combat claims but if they can deliver it might be worth playing. It depends on what they put in the game and what is the end game.

  5. JackShandy says:

    Great article. But when I was a lad, I saw these great green thorny plants growing up in the creek outside my house. I went and bashed them down with a big stick, but every week they seemed to grow back again, all the more virulent for my hearty whacking.

    It’s a warning that’ll be constantly on my mind as I consider RPS’s future output.

  6. mjig says:

    They still sell those furry creatures at hobby shops across America. Luckily I was never duped by them.

  7. aircool says:

    Wow! Never noticed this game before. Looks like they’ve raided every classic pulp/horror writer from Lovecraft to Miéville, which is no bad thing at all.

    Thanks for pointing it out. I’m gonna keep my eye on this one :)

  8. MaXimillion says:

    Combat system sounds like a sligthly updated version of DDO. Not that that’s a bad thing, it is the best MMO combat system alongside that of Tabula Rasa after all.

  9. Faceless says:

    I’m still not convinced in the slightest. From failed early promises to their reluctance to go to trading shows just several months before release, this game already is off to a bad start.

    I’ll gladly be proven wrong, since I was really interested in the game back when it was announced, but right now it looks like Age of Conan all over again – all flash and no substance.

    Also, Dreamfall 2. Ragnar, You promised.

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, GW2 is still quite some way from release, but they were confident enough to show off extensive gameplay as early as last year. Colour me rather suspicious of any MMO that is making huge, sweeping claims and not letting anyone see it in action for themselves.

  10. frenz0rz says:

    Believe it or not, I really do have a copy of Dreamfall on my bedroom floor.

    • Mr_Initials says:

      Gasp! You are the women that was in this demo! Be careful the Templar will be there soon. You may want to stock up on ammo and write your will.

  11. Radiant says:

    I dropped an occult bomb on the tube this morning.
    That is to say that the smell was unholy.

    • Radiant says:

      Here’s what Parliament has to say about it.

    • utharda says:

      @Radiant

      Well done star child, keep your bop gun handy. I’m pretty sure Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk is heading up the bioware development team at this point.

      Off hand, any mmo that lets me have a character that looks anything like George Clinton in 1977, is going to win my eternal devotion.

      To the rear march!

  12. Jarenth says:

    You’re talking about the Magic Twisty, aren’t you? I too have been tricked by their alluring movement as a child. They seem to resurge every couple of years, waiting just long enough for a new generation of kids to scam out of their parents’ money.

    Also, The Secret World certainly looks interesting. I’d read more about it, but I’m deliberately starving myself for info here, so everything’ll be new and amazing if/when I actually play it.

    • adonf says:

      Well unlike you and John, I liked those as a kid and I was very happy to find one in pristine condition* when opening a box of old stuff recently. With a sticker to make it look like the snake in the Disney Robin Hood carton too. Alas, not a trace of my Monchhichi/Chicaboo pencil…

      * they tend to lose their fur quickly

  13. Wisq says:

    The shotgun really is firing in real-time. There’s no greyed out icon cooling off after you fire,

    Oh, so that’s what you meant by “real-time combat”. Here I was thinking, “when have we ever had a turn-based MMO?”

  14. Hoaxfish says:

    evil known as The Filth.

    That’s very derogatory! You should call them by their proper name, the Police.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      That stings, Hoaxfish. If you’re going to keep up that attitude, don’t stand so close to me. Send me a message in a bottle when you change your ways.

    • dazman76 says:

      Are you a legal alien or something BeamSplashX? Hoaxfish is obviously walking on the moon, and so lonely. Until he meets the king of pain, that is.

      De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da

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  16. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    The lady in the bottom screenshot should probably recast her Summon Magic Pants spell.

  17. The Dark One says:

    Clearly you don’t understand anything about defeating (Norwegian) trolls.

  18. namad says:

    they can’t let people play high level areas yet because this game is heavily story driven, and well… they don’t want to ruin the “plot”

    they’ll give reviewers they’re day after they manage to lock them down under the appropriate level of contract/nda

  19. Groove says:

    “it was just a lump of fur on the end of a thin nylon thread”

    I LOVED that thing when I was about 8. I can’t remember exactly why it captured my imaginiation so much, but I believe I’d never had a pet at the time.

    Fantastic article. Oh, and video games.

  20. ockhamsbeard says:

    “At the same time, there will be magic attacks that lock onto a target, and will hit no matter where you run. It’s a halfway point to a genuine freeform fight, but it’s technology MMOs have struggled to do before – in fact a Funcom representative informed me they weren’t able to do it while they were developing Conan.”

    Maybe a struggle for Funcom, but Cryptic nailed this with City of Heroes… even before WoW was released. Fire a ranged attack, and as long as you have LoS at the time, it’ll hit. Means animated blasts sometimes clip through walls, but it’s an able compromise.

    Likewise CoH’s handling of movement and attacks. All attacks have a burnt in animation time, and your character stands still to deliver it, then resumes moving. Means you have to be strategic with when you fire off attacks so you don’t get pinned in an inopportune place.

  21. otaku4225 says:

    Made a profile just to point out that the woman with the blue uniform and gas mask in the third picture is an Illuminati. You’re welcome :D Can’t wait for this game, love the interviews and from what i saw at the panel at new york comic con (SO GOOD) it will be amazing. yesssssssss

  22. gayylalgli says:

    Finally, some more in-depth info. I’m really glad it explains the augmentive gear more and also goes into how decks builds for your abilities. I’m looking for engine innovation these days and not more shoe box, Thunderdome-style meat grinders. Valve has been beating that dead horse for a while now and needs to bring something (with a future) to the table… soon. On the other hand, their games extremely fun to play.giay da

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