Meet The Dragons: The Latest On The Secret World

By John Walker on March 15th, 2012 at 4:02 pm.

It's hard to see how things this big are going to stay a secret.

The Dragon certainly seem the most intriguing of the secret societies that make up The Secret World. But perhaps that’s because they’re the group we’ve so far heard the least about. At a recent demonstration of the game, a little bit more was revealed, along with some news about the character creator, dungeons and the game’s intriguing crafting. Oh, and the oral sex.

Character creators seem pretty crucial to MMOs. I was enormously surprised by the lack of variety offered by The Old Republic, and the peculiar disappointment of running around looking like everyone else in the world. Funcom’s solution for The Secret World is to try to create a tool that’s not enormously fiddly, yet produces decent variation. They’ve tried to offer a lot of options, but provided via relatively few sliders. There’s a section for faces, then hair, make up, and finally clothes.

Having been shown this, but not being able to touch it, it’s pretty hard to say how effective it will be. The results looked good on the screen, but then they would, wouldn’t they? What I can say is that the results looked contemporary, creating something pretty unique for MMOs – regular looking humans. And with clothing acting as a reward for progress, as well as something available to buy in the game’s shops using in-game money, that will also offer the variety so many players crave.

Past that, with the newly created trendy girl, the Dragon’s opening was shown for the first time. In Seoul, S. Korea, our heroine is kidnapped and dumped in a van, driven wildly through the streets, until she’s eventually dumped out. Behind her, the street she was just driven down has been replaced by a solid brick wall, and in front of her is what appears to be a small child in a yellow hooded coat, toddling off into the distance.

So the kid is followed through the twisting streets, and obvious tones of Don’t Look Now resonate, along with a touch of Dark Water, the game already cramming in its cultural references. We’re led to a hotel room, where we’re first met by something that had previously been impossibly missing from a Ragnar Tørnquist game: someone wearing only their pants. This time it’s a strange, tattooed man, in just a pair of tighty-whiteys, who grabs our character, who is then led to a bed by a very flirty lady in a slinky red dress. Oh I say.

In an extremely sexually charged scene, as the player lays helplessly on the bed, this mysterious lady crawls over us, her head above ours, and calmly informs, “You’re not lost any more. The Dragon found you.”

“Everything happens for a reason,” she continues. “It is the curse of the Dragon. We do not know why we do what we do, But we do it, because they tell us it is right.”

Uh huh, okay, so why am I on this bed, and why do you have your face so close to mine? “When our minds are empty, we are receptive to the truth,” she mutters, before slowly slinking down our body, until her head is just off screen, and rather close to our ladyparts. And then the cunnilingus begins. No, seriously. (Off camera, but the expression on the player character’s face leaves little to the imagination.) Goodness me.

Crashing back down to Earth, we’re shown some rather more mundane aspects of the game. Like XP gathering. I’m certain that at one point it was claimed there’d be no XP at all, but something slightly more traditional is in the game now. While there are still no levels, and certainly no classes, you have an XP bar along the bottom of your screen, which when filled gains you a skill point. These are then spent in the skill wheel, letting you specialise in any field you wish, the idea being that your character is uniquely yours, focused in any aspect the game offers – rather than restricting you to the specifics of a particular class. And with these, you can have one passive, one active skill equipped at any time, as well as two weapons at your immediate disposal. But you can set up various load-outs and then easily switch between them, letting you convert yourself from, say, a range fighter to a tank as the situation requires.

We jump to what we’re told is 40 to 50 hours into the game, on the Blue Mountain in Solomon Island, investigating a CDC camp. A central theme of the game is the Filth, a malevolently evil slime that’s infesting the world and corrupting that which it touches. Hello Grant Morrison. This CDC outpost was part of an investigation into a particularly bad outbreak of the Filth, which appears to have killed all but one of the workers, whom you meet trying to contain her panic. “Frankly,” she says to you once she realises you’re an uncorrupted human, “if it didn’t violate protocol I could really use a hug.”

Something that struck me as a nice touch was her instructions to you at this point. Ordinarily you’d expect her to say, “Please go down into the valley to see if any of my colleagues are still alive.” You know, the traditional MMO quest pointing. But here she says quite the opposite. She insists that you not go down there, telling you it’s too dangerous. Of course you’re going to – that’s where the interesting stuff happens – but it was refreshing to see the game not so overtly signposting it, and perhaps most of all, an in-game character not expecting a stranger to risk their life for their personal needs.

We were also shown one of the game’s dungeons for the first time. And it involved time travel. Time travel seems to be a recurrent theme in the game, and appears to be more a sort of temporal astral projection than literally transporting to the past. It happens to every character early on in the game, for the tutorial, and seems to be something that you’ll come back to. In this instance (geddit?) you find yourself back in ancient New England, witnessing a group of Mayans about to perform a ritual to create an extra-dimensional rift.

That’s not the sort of thing you want happening, so the party of players begin fighting the Mayans, and it seems relatively easy. However, as each dies, their soul is seen fleeing their body and diving into the half-created rift. It turns out you’re playing into their hands, and your ritually sacrificing them brings out an absolutely enormous enemy, The Hound Of The Nameless Days.

This Filth-spewing beastie offers a far more intense fight, especially when he starts bringing out the now undead Mayans in increasing numbers, constantly shifting the balance of the fight, with the intention of keeping it interesting.

And then just when things seem far too overwhelming, a white glowing dude appears, wielding Excalibur. Er, okay! His presence makes all the players more powerful, so long as he stays alive, giving everyone the satisfaction of being able to slaughter these once super-tough enemies, before a big climactic fight with the returning Hound.

The last new feature we were shown was the crafting. And if you’re like me, you’ll have already fallen asleep. But wake up! This looks kind of interesting. Crafting is learned by dissembling items, but rather than this being a collection of dull icons or a pile of peculiarly named fragments and the need for a thick ledger, instead Funcom have rather boldly lifted from Minecraft. Yes, Minecraft! A hammer, when broken down, revealed its crafting recipe in a 4×3 grid of tiles, those filled forming the crude shape of a hammer. The four tiles down the middle, and the three at the right. So once you know the shape to make a hammer, now you can build a new one using “pure metals”, plopping the tiles into place, and ding! A new, better hammer.

These items can then be further augmented by placing the entire hammer tile into the grid, in any old place, and popping in a special weapon assembly doodah, and they’ll form themselves in the a “Rare Hammer”. It’s incredibly simple, and visually intuitive, and made me not hate the concept of crafting for a few moments.

Again, The Secret World appeared to be genuinely unique in the world of MMOs. But again, this will all come down to its actually succeeding when played for a prolonged time. As I sat to play the opening sequence for the Templars, I noted one line uttered by a character, and thought: that’s the line that’s going to bite you if this doesn’t hold together.

“You haven’t strayed into some atrocious Dan Brown airport paperback.”

Let’s hope they’re right. So far, I’m optimistic.

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52 Comments »

  1. liquidsoap89 says:

    Wow those characters sure stand out from the environment in that first image.

  2. Gesadt says:

    can someone that is following this game give me a tl:dr version of why this is “unique in the world of MMOs”? does it not have leveling and xp grind or what?

    • diamondmx says:

      Well, it seems to have not-quite-levelling, and no explicit classes, quite actiony, and with an interesting theme.
      It also looks to have a quite good story.

      And did you miss the part about cunnilingus?

    • Parthon says:

      1) No levels, no classes. You pick a skill load out from over 600 skills.
      2) Modern day world, but magic based theme. Lots of mystery and intrigue.
      3) Storyline where you are NOT the hero destined to save the world.

  3. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. says:

    The 4th picture confuses me. You got a guy in full hazmat suit for protection and even he’s worried, yet someone thinks a TankTop, Thong, Emo Jeans combo is proper protection?

    • Kdansky says:

      It’s the rule of awesome. If you wield enough mystical power, clothes really stop to matter much. Odysseus or Herakles don’t need armor, because it’s really not relevant on their power level. I would actually love if a game would implement it that way: Have different clothing give different effects on irrelevant scale: +0.1 points of armor for chain, +0.2 for plate, -0.1 for clothes, but the simplest magic powers give a few hundreds. That way, my sense for realism is sated.

    • FlexXlutor says:

      or maybe the government just dont want people hanging around for some reason….

    • Askeladd says:

      Well, I think what contributes to the overall feeling of the game is to make the characters feel as ‘out of place’ as possible.
      I can think of 3 things:

      - if wearing a protective suit in that situation, which we don’t know, is beneficial.
      - the person is only wearing it as a precaution(saftey regulation).
      - You just arrived there and don’t know whats going on. Maybe your first mission involves getting a full HAZMAT suit

    • Daoler says:

      I ate a shiny bee! I don’t need no stinky hazmat suit.

    • Sassenach says:

      Normal MMO male/female armour disparity rules in effect.

      edit: Oh, Hazmat person is a lady, thus making the rule irrelevant.

    • Aardvarkk says:

      ..and here I thought the weird readings were emanating from the thong wearer.

    • Parthon says:

      The person in the hazmat suit is the last surviving member of the CDC team that went there to investigate. Obviously the one in the thong is the player who is just way too awesome to be worried about petty things like radiation and diseases. ;)

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      How many poor little hazmats were killed to make that suit? Call PETA.

  4. RedViv says:

    Kinky. I’m glad that personality test gave me a 100% Dragon result. If there’s anything I can trust in this world, it’s internet personality tests. Or maybe I’ll just play because of general rainbow colours myself, who knows.

  5. FataMorganaPseudonym says:

    So you essentially get raped during the Dragon opening? Huh… how about that.

    • Buttless Boy says:

      Yeah, that sounded pretty fucked up. But I like fucked up, so maybe I’ll give this game a shot.

    • jezcentral says:

      What made you think it wasn’t consensual?

      EDIT: Ah, the word “grab”, I guess.

      • Chris D says:

        Perhaps because the character is followed through the streets, grabbed by the tattooed man, is led to the bed and “the player lays helplessly on the bed” ?

        • jezcentral says:

          Yes, but the impression I got it that the PC doesn’t seem to mind too much. I guess I’ll have to check the video to make sure.

          • Chris D says:

            Maybe so, though there doesn’t seem to be all that much opportunity to say no, or to express an opinion at all. I think you could read the scene as either rape, seduction or something you actually wanted to happen.

            Doesn’t seem to be something you have much control over though, possibly it’s something you’d want to go along with, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot you could do about it if you didn’t. I suspect it’s supposed to be a metaphor for your whole relationship with the Dragons, which certainly seems like an interesting place to start.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            I’m just going to point out that the trope where a woman is made to have sex without explicit consent, but “seems to enjoy it” or “winds up liking it after a while” is just as problematic (probably more so, really) than violent rape. It just plays into the narrative that you can get a girl drunk and “hey, she didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no, and well, she seemed to like it, the slut”.

            I’m fine if a narrative contains this subject matter and deals with it in an adult way, but I’m not seeing any indication that’s what’s happening in this sort of throw-away intro piece.

            Also, it just screams “written by a man with the sophistication of a 15 year old whose only experience with sex is porn”, which is not the level of writing I’m hoping for here.

            Also also, your XP bar’s kind isn’t wanted here, it can wait outside.

      • crinkles esq. says:

        Even if it was written as consensual (which didn’t seem to be the case), it was obviously written by a male, because only in the male fantasy world is every woman kool and the gang with female sexual encounters. If this is the kind of adolescent narrative that pervades the game, I’m already losing interest. (But it’s a good excuse not to get sucked into another MMO)

        • chaos4u says:

          it may not have been sexual . the dominant women made no sexual contact with the lady. she just dominated her and placed her in a submissive state using body language and control of personal space.

          If your familiar with what little there is to know about the dragon, this is actually all inline with their philosophy .

          total control of the mind and body .

          the dominant women uses the control of personal space and mind to place the subject in a submissive state .

          while our primitive minds may think she had her way with her.

          she actually placed the subject in a state to be more aptly controlled.

          which is what being a dragon is all about subtle control .

          creating change through passive influences . leaving those who are controlled confident that the decisions they make are their own, all the while their actions fulfill the desire of the dragon.

          • dajt says:

            I’m going to assume your reply is a carefully crafted joke.

            OK, the deal with the Dragon society and its members seems pretty well established.

            But to put lesbian sex there, and include g-strings on the women… I guess they know their audience.

        • Jerakal says:

          It happens regardless of if you’re male or female, calm down.

          • dreadguacamole says:

            But is it done to you by a guy if your character is male?
            Because if it isn’t, then yeah, it’s pretty troubling. They’re basically saying it’s ok to “force” a homosexual encounter on one gender, but not another.
            Also, it does indicate a certain pandering to a certain demographic, and I kind of hoped the writing would be above that sort of thing.

      • Consumatopia says:

        Even assuming that you can tell the PC wants it, doesn’t solve the problem.

        If you give me a character to play in single player, and then show me some cinematics involving that character’s gay lover, I don’t have a problem with this–you gave me that character, so if you want to decide that character is gay, that’s up to you.

        If you have me select the gender and even facial appearance of a PC in an MMOG, then later inform “ps this character is bisexual because, you know, hotness”–that’s ridiculous. I created that character, I control that character, I should be the one to decide which kinds of sexual encounters are wanted. In an MMOG, that character is the face that I use to interact with other people–it’s absurd that the developer decides what my avatar’s sexual orientation is.

        Maybe in character creation you actually choose what you’re into?

    • Blackcompany says:

      I will be surprised as hell if this intro makes it into the game’s release. Especially given American hang-ups about sex and entertainment.
      .
      We like it well enough. But various social protocols and a society still largely hung up on ancient traditions steeped in religion and other nonsensical beliefs insist that we never see it, even so.
      .
      That’s fucked up.

    • Grey Ganado says:

      I kind of hope that the lady is replaced by a guy when playing a male character.

      • Skabooga says:

        “I do what the Dragon tells me.”
        “He was probably just using an idiomatic expression!”

      • Neurook says:

        I was just thinking that. Have the lady in the red dress hold you down, and let the shirtless guy go to work.
        Unless they’re going for the whole “all girls are actually bisexuals” things.

  6. Greg Wild says:

    New England: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England

    Mayan civilization: http://www.mayan-world.com/mapa-i.htm

    The Algonquians are the native population of New England.

    /when pedants attack

    • Torgen says:

      Yeah, I wish I could see a screenshot of that part, to see if they really did put Mayans in Boston, or someone isn’t up on indigenous western hemisphere populations. :)

      • Jerakal says:

        It’s almost like there’s magic in this game or something.

    • puppybeard says:

      Which part of the Americas was The Hound Of The Nameless Days found in? </reversepedant>

  7. Blackcompany says:

    So…a game which promised no classes, no leveling and no grinding now has XP and a skill tree? Guess what: When you have to choose skills one at a time when leveling up, and when each skill fits beneath the umbrella of a different “class” of combat (magic/psychic, melee/weapons, healing/support) do you know what you have?
    .
    That’s right: You have classes.
    .
    Just throws me off that for so long they put forth the promise that this very thing would be avoided in this game. And now….lo and behold…here it is anyway.
    .
    Hopefully this does not serve as harbinger for other broken promises. Hopefully this game is as intriguing and compelling as its setting. But ultimately, original setting or no, we will have to actually play it. And the game play, quite frankly, looks about as original as a pancake breakfast.
    .
    I could of course be wrong. I hope, quite frankly, that I am. But I am terribly afraid, as of now, that someone is going to find out what bad quotes about cheesy novels taste like with ketchup.

    • Chris D says:

      A little cynical don’t you think? Alternatively you don’t have classes if you’re not locked into one of them. You don’t have levelling up if there’s no increase in general power, only more options becoming available. And you don’t have grind if you’re just doing it because you like playing the game.

    • sneetch says:

      “That’s right: You have classes.”

      No, that means you have a character with skills that allow you to fill roles. You have a choice of learning any skill you want to learn because you’re not restricted by some arbitrary list of skills associated with a class.

      A class defines your character, so I’m a warrior, you’re a rogue and he’s a priest, a class limits what you can do and what you can use, so rogues can only use leather armour, only warriors can use two handed weapons and so on. Here there are roles that you can fill (disappointingly it seems you have to have the holy trinity of tank, healer and damage dealer) but your character can switch between the roles as you play because they can learn the skills needed for them. At least that will remove the need for alts. That’s good really.

    • Screwie says:

      No one ever said there wouldn’t be XP or levelling. And even if you have levelling, you don’t necessarily have levels.

      The system in secret World shares a lot of similarities with Guild Wars 1. You accrue can accure an infinite number of skill points by levelling up continually, since you are permanently restricted in the number of skills you can equip at one time every level brings new choices but does not inflate your power above anyone else’s. That is how characters with different levels of experience can team together seamlessly in this game and this is what the devs at FunCom have always been referring to when they’ve said, “no levels”.

      Likewise, because you are picking skills from classes (or sets, or themes) does not mean you are confined to a class or picking skills from only one class. You can equip skills from all number of classes at once to make up whichever playstyle you prefer.

      • Blackcompany says:

        Let me clarify: Skyrim and games like don’t have classes either. But if you spend the first several levels pouring points into your melee skills, guess what: You’re a Warrior.
        .
        Call it a class. Or a specialization. Or a skillset. It amounts to the same thing either way. You have locked yourself into a methodology and skillset by assigning points to that skillset. That, to me, screams class.
        .
        Also, the no-grinding thing….so, if we don’t grind how do we get skill points? By leveling up. So…we grind?.
        .
        Not that the grind bothers me overmuch. You grind in Skyrim; you grind in Amalur. you grind in every single solitary, level-and-skillpoint RPG ever made. It isn’t the grind that’s the problem. Its how you dress it up, the game play involved in grinding.
        .
        If the grinding is shot through with strategic combat, thoughtful story arcs and meaningful, challenging puzzles and ARG’s, as this game promises, grinding ought to be something of a pleasure, really.
        .
        But I will say a class by any other name – or no name at all – is still a class.

        • Screwie says:

          Except you’re not locked in to anything – you can switch your equipped skills at set locations in the game as often as you like. And you can learn everything available to your faction, eventually. There are no permanent classes.

          And if you qualify all content as grind then that’s your problem.

        • Parthon says:

          Grinding means to perform the same task repetitively and excessively. If you gain exp and skill points as you play the game, having fun, participating in quests, and exploring the storyline, then it’s not grinding. Grinding is when you go out and do things you don’t enjoy doing just get the next level, or for in-game cash, or whatever. Grinding is not the same as progress, as you can have progress without grinding. Grinding is always unpleasant.

          It’s not a Class like normal RPGs because Classes define your abilities and your function. In TSW you select 7 active and 7 passive skills from all 600+ available. You can take any combination you want, but of course, some synergise better than others. A class defines a set of skills a character can use. A set of skills a character can use does not define a class, except explicitly.

          Of course, you could call playing the game normally grinding, or choosing skills a class, but then you would be perverting the usage of those words.

  8. DestructibleEnvironments says:

    The only Funcom MMO game I will buy is a free-to-play one. I can’t say I had a great experience with Age of Conan.

    Edit: Wait, will this one feature bare breasts?

  9. pilouuuu says:

    Is this the first game to include oral sex? Besides modded Dragon Age of course. What a great day for gaming! Seriously. At least we are closer to adult movies.