A Sneaky Glimpse At The Secret World’s July Update

By Adam Smith on July 12th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

Holed up in Mistakotonic Prepatory School Innsmouth Academy yesterday, I stumbled across a headmaster’s report on a girl who was in a spot of bother with some wendigos. I don’t know how I’d missed it before, lying on a desk in plain view, but somehow I had. That’s the nature of The Secret World; look around and you’ll probably spot something you missed first time through. Despite this abundance, on July 31st, the first monthly injection of additional content arrives. Gather round, because I’ve had a private look at Funcom’s secret bits.

There will be more on the hows, whens and whys of The Secret World’s monthly updates in an interview on this very site tomorrow afternoon, but first I wanted to share some specifics about what the first Issue will contain. That’s the term Funcom are using – ‘Issues’ – and it actually raises a query about my earlier use of the word ‘updates’. I think it’s probably correct to stop talking about updates, or at least it should be on July 31st when the pudding can be eaten and the proof digested.

It was in the interest of discovering proof that I spoke with Ragnar Tørnquist and Joel Bylos, who showed me highlights of three of the new missions that will form part of July’s Issue. The characters were people I’d met already but now they have more to say, their stories continuing. The bulk of the new content will be made up of investigation missions, which is grand as they are the most powerful storytelling devices and also the areas where the game is at its most experimental, fusing puzzles, adventure game concepts, real world knowledge and understanding of The Secret World’s own rules.

Back to Innsmouth Academy where the classrooms and laboratories are home to animated dolls, stitched up students and the phantoms of the faculty. Observant eyes may have noticed, when collecting anima charges during The Breakfast Cult mission, that the item used to bolster the school’s wards is described as being available for use in another mission: “Carter Unleashed”. People have searched for that quest to no avail and that’s because it’s part of July’s content.

This particular extra-curricular activity focuses on, as you might expect, young Carter, a lady with the ability to burst animals with the power of her mind. She is also, rather regrettably, a lady who sometimes has a total inability to stop herself from bursting animals if they happen to be in the vicinity. Your task is to craft a device that will prevent the overflow of psychic dissonance from melting your brain, while guiding Carter and her destructive noggin through the school for…what? I don’t know because they didn’t show me how it ends.

Integrating crafting into missions more directly isn’t entirely new, it’s something that some of the Academy missions already do, but continuing to do so, perhaps in more interesting ways, could convince people who have ignored the system to take another look. I’m one of those people, with pockets full of bits and pieces that I never find a use for, and I’d happily be nudged toward working with another aspect of the game.

It’s what the mission offers in terms of the expanding story that’s most interesting though. From July 31st, anyone arriving at the Academy will find they can ask Carter about the mission but it’s only those who have progressed further in the game’s overall plot who might understand the full implications of it. For some it will be a reason to revisit the Academy, for others it will change the complexion of the experience first time around.

The other missions are deeper, both in terms of their stories and their construction, and I’m loathe to spoil anything about them. But I will. Just a little. The first allows the player to explore more of ornery writer Sam Krieg’s character and history by tracing the journey of a devoted fan. More than anything I’ve seen in the game so far, this investigation plays up the ARG aspects of The Secret World, not just happy to co-exist with our version of the modern world but increasingly reaching its tendrils across, creating blogs, bibliographies and books. All of this isn’t just background reading either, with elements of the mission tying directly into details found far from the mission description in the game. Expect less ‘goal markers’ than ever.

Final stop on my glimpse of the future was the Overlook Motel, although despite starting at the hell-ruptured ruin of a rest-stop, the distinct impression was that the mission would end somewhere else entirely. Just like the many-tiered story missions, new content will send players travelling from location to location, hunting down clues, duffing up demons and piecing together puzzles. If you’ve delved into The Secret World’s Hell dimension, you’ll most likely be aware of Theodore Wicker. Troublesome sort, isn’t he? Did you know he presented a lecture, very much like a TED talk, to Oxford University’s Division of the Occult in 1970? Neither did I but now I do because I’ve seen it.

Ragnar believes that the reaction to the areas where the game deviates most from the MMO template have been so positive that the time is right to push things further. If you enjoyed deciphering Morse Code you’ll probably get a kick out of translating from a non-existent language to a dead language, he figures, and if the creaking neighbourhood nightmare of The Black House made you want to dig deeper into Solomon Island’s past, then he seems happy to break open the archives, bit by bit.

The reason these are ‘issues’ rather than update is because, despite looking back so often, they all aim to move the game forward. Every month there will be more to do, more stories to discover and more of the bigger picture available for those willing to connect the plots. New stuff. Sure, seen it before, if not as regularly and widely as promised here. The most exciting prospect by far though, and don’t expect this in the immediate future, is the idea of subtraction. Eventually The Secret World will start to change forever. Imagine, instead of discovering more of Sam Krieg’s story, you were to find that he’d been killed off in the latest issue? What an investigation mission that could turn out to be. I expressed concern about latecomers to the game – wouldn’t they then miss out on that character’s missions and dialogue?

Yes they would and, indeed, yes they will. But that’s how a world creates a history for itself, in the conversations about what has been before but is no longer, and in the memories of those players whose experiences can no longer be replicated. The idea of a changing world, which evolves not through procedural wizardry or player action but rather through the guiding hand of a team of writers, goes a long way to explaining both why The Secret World isn’t simply a single player game with an MMO glued onto it and, if the changes are significant and the monthly plan is adhered to, justifying that subscription fee.

I’ve only seen a small sample of what’s to come but in terms of quality it looks to match what’s in the game already, and in terms of imagination and ambition it has a good chance of outshining what’s already there. It seems braver and more certain in its deviations from the expected. It’s the long-term future that I’m most excited about though. I want upheaval, chaos, death and discovery.

Expect a full transcript of the interview tomorrow, in which we discuss the reception so far, raids, the future, killing your own creations and much more.

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38 Comments »

  1. Ross Mills says:

    While this is 99% awesome, I find the idea that a content might be permanently removed (if a character dies, for example) to be horrible. New players might simply be confused in an “Oh was he important?” way, and that little bit of culture will never be accessible ever again.

    It’s like pre-Cataclysm WoW. It’s a story that will never again be told, and cannot be experienced. This is the bad side of “Games are different to films and TV”.

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      Bluerps says:

      I agree, I don’t like this at all. Changing the world is a great thing, even (or especially) if it’s radical change. But I see no value in permanently removing the old content. In addition to that, I think it makes it harder to get into the game. I know it would for me. I hate it to begin following a story somewhere in the middle. I would never begin reading a trilogy of novels with book two, or begin watching a TV series with episode eleven, no matter how good they are.

      • Tacroy says:

        I never got in to WoW, and at this point I never will – there’s just way too much backstory that’s simply inaccessible now.

      • Asokn says:

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have aspects of the game that are removed, it’s just a question of how it’s done. If the player ends up wandering to an empty location which used to have a quest which has since been removed rendering the entire place pointless, for example, that would obviously not be good. If, however, it’s as suggested in the article, swapping Mr. X from a quest giver to a new quest itself I can’t see how that would be a problem. I don’t mind in other games if I have a quest to investigate a murder, I don’t get annoyed that I never got to talk to the victim.

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          Bluerps says:

          I don’t think your example really fits here. That I cannot talk to the victim is not the problem, in itself. It’s that I could have talked to the victim if I had started to play two months earlier.

          Even in a game in which you can talk to an NPC which is later murdered, you can always load a savegame, or start a new game, if you not want to miss the story of this guy. Here it’ll be simply gone, with no way to actually play it.

    • DClark says:

      With The Secret World’s server setup (characters have the ability to travel between servers) Funcom could kill off characters in some servers while leaving them alive in others; you’d simply have to jump to the correct server to get the missions from the characters who are still alive on that server (then jump to a server where the character died to investigate his death).

      I’m really enjoying TSW so far and have no regrets for going with the lifetime subscription.

      • Ross Mills says:

        I’d suggest this’d be better with some sort of phasing/instancing, so that for some he’s alive, then as you continue he’s dead.

    • Stiler says:

      The thing is, if Content changes but everything “stays the same” then what’s the point?

      If the guy is murdered and yet you still see him standing there and othe rplayers talking to him? That kind of takes the “dynamic” part away from it.

      I have played mmo’s since UO, and Asherons call. Both games had “events” in them which happened, such as monthly story updates for Asherons call (you played after that event? It was not there then) and UO where you could have say, an undead attack on one of the main towns that players could fight off.

      The point of these things is that it makes the world feel “alive.” Every mmo since UO/AC hasn’t really tried these thing since, and every mmo has had a stale and boring world that hardly ever changes. Nothing feels quite that “dynamic” or evolving like the real world where things change.

      Part of the world feeling alive is having things happen that happen “only” at that time. Sure you will and can miss out on something, at the same time you fcan experience things that you only will have by being there at that time.

      I think once you experience how dnyamic it can make a game world feel you can understand it better.

      If they had events that happened, and didn’t actually “change” anything the events would be meaningless. The guy dies in the game, but then you see him back at his old spot after he respawns talking to other players? That makes that event feel “worthless” and the world feel like it’s not evolving or changing.

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        Incidentally, that is the only real issue I have with GW2, from what i`ve seen of the beta. Yeah, dynamic events are nice, but it is ultimately just a quest that doesn`t need to be handed in. It has no effect on the world at large. The only MMOs that really avert this are EVE and Perpetuum. Other than that, themepark seems to be the norm.

  2. chewbaccasdad says:

    I really love this game, and this game loves me too.

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    AmateurScience says:

    I look forward to this getting a trial of some sort, because I’d like to give it a whirl, but after SWTOR I’ve sworn off all subscription games.

  4. 7Seas says:

    This game is awesome. First MMO I’m genuinely excited to play in a huge huge long time.

  5. Cooper says:

    “Ragnar believes that the reaction to the areas where the game deviates most from the MMO template have been so positive that the time is right to push things further.”

    No shit.

    The write-up here on RPS got it right. The MMO-ness of the world gets in the way. It might be laugh-off-able in the end as you do the conga with mythical monsters through town, or the respawning pockets of mobs you hang around waiting to pop back into existence so you can get “organ X”. But at the end of the day it’s only laugh-off-able because it’s cliched tripe.

  6. Tom OBedlam says:

    I absolutely crave a changing world. I’m enjoying TSW hugely, but, as a non-mmo player, the lack of true permanencey of feedback keeps jarring my suspension of disbelief. It’s weird RPing and talking to people who are about to stop the Big Bad of a chapter and having to ignore the fact that I’ve already done that.
    I know this is probably a common complaint of newcomers to the genre and that the rebuttal of ‘but my Shepherd stopped the Collectors already’ exists, but being able to reminisce with old timers about ‘Kingsmouth, yeah I remember that. That must have been before your time, eh youngster? Back before it slipped into the sea.’ would go a long way to making me feel the world was less static.

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      JohnArr says:

      Exactly. There’s a lot of parallels with Risk Legacy here; the world/board evolves over time. Player’s actions (ideally) are stamped on the world for new players too see. Boring/ignored quests and characters are replaced with fresh ideas. It gives the game genuine history, rather than a bit of pre-written lore.

      Also, fuck crafting! I’ve got a lot more money for clothes now.

      • DeathHamsterDude says:

        I really think you should take another look at crafting. It’s actually pretty cool, although I’ll admit a bit hard to grasp at first. Once you realise the core shapes and materials for crafting it is great. Also, alt-left click your stack of materials, and then, still holding alt, right click in the crafting menu to quickly drop materials down. Once I learned that, it took me ten seconds to put together a talisman or anima where it had taken forty before.

        In regards to the changing world, yeah, I’m all for that. I’m not a fan of MMO’s usually, but this has really piqued my interest. I’d been waiting for it for five years, and it actually managed to (mostly) meet my expectations, and surpass it in some ways too. Changing the world could be fantastic, and it could be very interesting to revisit Kingsmouth in a year or two when it is slowly sinking into the sea, or become hell on Earth. I’d rather enjoy that, and I think with a story-based MMO like this that focusses so much on making you care about people, it could be a fine way direction to embrace.

        • Tom OBedlam says:

          I’m really trying hard to enjoy the crafting, god knows my inventory is full of junk waiting to be put to use. The problem I’m finding is that, in 30 odd hours playtime, I’ve only made three items that were better than lower QL stuff I’d found previously. Maybe if one of the mythical blue or, whisper it, purple crafting kits ever dropped for me, but at the moment I feel like the Secret World’s tramp with a trolley.

          • DeathHamsterDude says:

            That’s true. Rarely crafted weapons with it, but I’ve made some nice talismans. But there’s also animas and gadgets. You can craft three health potions with 8 dust. Or whatever with whatever material. Also gadgets, which are like reusable potions, have some nifty effects (there’s more than one way to make a gadget). Admittedly, they’re not quite so useful just now, if only because you can’t hotkey them, which is annoying, and I assume a ctrl 1-7 type dealio will be brought in for that soon.

  7. MacGuffin says:

    While TSW has its flaws, I support the innovations it’s bringing to the MMO genre so I hope it is ultimately successful.

  8. Heisenberg says:

    another praising TSW article and more to come? i just turned off adblock and noticed the TSW buy now ads and its just weird coming from a site that usually absolutely hates mmo’s.

    • Vorphalack says:

      My adverts are for Runes of Magic and……Brick Force…….whatever the balls that is. Also I suspect most of the MMO hate comes from the genre doing almost nothing innovative for the last 10 years. The TSW investigation content and potential future development is at least interesting to follow.

      • Heisenberg says:

        well yeah some of it is interesting, but its still just the usual mmo gameplay that doesnt deserve bi weekly articles…and yes i have runes of magic, brick force too but also TSW boxes (above the comments), and apparently there was full page tsw ads recently. i just get a feeling they are trying to drum up business for funcom.sorry.

        • Vorphalack says:

          Really didn’t see that banner add at all. It blends in so well with the RPS red and black that my mind just phased it out. I get what you are saying about the possible bias, and TSW is getting a large share of the spotlight right now, but I don’t think RPS are really out of line here. The WIT seems to be pretty balanced and does poke at the core MMO game play as both unoriginal and ”gamey”. I don’t think all subsequent coverage needs to re-state that point. The investigation missions are interesting enough of themselves to warrant their own article.

    • Tyrain says:

      For alot of people, this isn’t your usual MMO. The game very much deserves praise. In fact, everyone I’ve played with and have spent any time talking about TSW has much greater praise than has been written here.

      I think we can trust RPS to praise what they are enjoying and bring up what they aren’t :) Just because they hated MMOs before doesn’t mean they have to be negative about them all.

      I realize your experience with TSW resulted in a semi generic MMO with fun investigations. But the attention to detail, and so many subtle changes make this a truly different and five star MMO experience for many players. It’s reasonable for an RPS writer to fall into that group and not follow your reaction.

      This is the hybrid of single player games and MMOs experiences that I have always wanted.

      • Heisenberg says:

        I’m glad so many are enjoying and you’re probably right and i should take off my tin foil hat, but i just wish this was a singleplayer game (more then i wished TOR was a singleplayer), its lore and setting is excactly what i like.

        • Tyrain says:

          I can definitely relate to that. I hold the ridiculous hope that someday TOR might break out each of the 8 class story lines and release them as standalone single player experiences. Provided they tune out the MMO pacing, I’d be in!

          One thing about TSW, however… the experience of solving a complex investigation with 4 other friends over voice chat in real time was just phenomenal. I really look forward to getting them together to continue that trend. Each person seemed to figure out a different piece of the investigation. In some cases they thought of stuff I may never have done, and vice versa for some of the ideas I had. I agree that a single player TSW would be great ( more engrossing and immersive), but the MMO version offers some uniquely delicious treats of its own:)

          • Heisenberg says:

            yeah its just that feeling of “finally a grown up RPG with well written and well thought out content and in a great setting”……….but its an MMO lol

      • Lemming says:

        It might be really good, but it’s not £11.89 a month good. Nothing is.

        • Tyrain says:

          I can certainly respect that it’s not worth it to you, but it really feels worth more than $15 US a month for me. When it costs $15 for 2 hours at the theater, getting a month-long fantastic cooperative experience with intriguing stories, in depth character development and some persistence is a super deal.

          It won’t be worth it if I lose interest and only play a few hours a month or if enough other games distract me. But as long as a game is my primary source of quality entertainment each month, the monthly fee is a steal, hands down. Anything else I would do is going to cost more, including most game options. For me it boils down to the enjoyment per hour versus the dollars spent, is vastly better than nearly every other choice I could make.

          Also, if they live up to these content update plans, it’s far more than reasonable to expect players to keep paying monthly. That sort of content is not cheap to make :)

          I hope to hear you join TSW when it goes F2P, or that someday the sub fee is justifiable to you!

          • Lemming says:

            I just think that, at the very least, if they drop their price to the standard £8.99 range they’ll get alot more subscriptions. Surely at this early stage in life that’s what counts? Not setting yourself an arbitrary financial barrier to claim some lofty elitism, because that’s how it comes across.

        • malkav11 says:

          You could always buy the lifetime subscription. I dunno what that costs in pounds, but assuming their plans see fruition, I think it’s likely to be a very good buy.

  9. andysym says:

    I honestly rather see this game get optimized with the graphics and stability. No terrible but wouldn’t hurt to give it a go. Game is amazing by the way good job.

  10. Lemming says:

    I’d love to give this a try, but it’s just too rich for my blood. I’m genuinely surprised it’s a subscription MMO given what an unknown quantity it is and because it’s a new franchise. I’m even more surprised it’s such an expensive subscription MMO.

  11. Valkesh says:

    Honestly, I’m in favor of things changing, even if that does mean things become excluded and relegated to the past. You can’t keep pushing the game and the “end game” population ever forward into more distant and disconnected things all the time without ending up with abandoned swaths of old content. Do we really need to keep a particular quest around just so that three or four newcomers a week might encounter it? To keep a world like this alive, a game that lives and breaths its story and atmosphere, you need to keep it dynamic. It’s about time someone came along that wasn’t afraid to axe the old to bring in the new, and actually have a concept of a history in an MMO world again. UO had it, EQ had it, AC had it, they all had things that happened before, or even events that simply happened once and never again that pushed the story forward, and they became events, actual history players could experience as it happened. I highly doubt they’re just going to go back and kill off tons of NPCs and rework everything in the first two months. This will be a slow and natural growth I suspect. Part of growth is letting go of the past so the future can take hold.

  12. johnwalkersmother says:

    Damn, I was hoping the WoW-esque combat was a mere placeholder and the goons at FC would come to their senses and replace it with something that is fun.

    The combat mechanics are ruining an otherwise interesting game.

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      Lorewin says:

      Initially the combat was a chore for me, although I found a lot to like in the rest of the game.

      Changing out specs (without needing to change my character, a notable positive) and giving some actual thought to my new selection based on my experience totally turned me around on it. Adding in the team dynamic and the possibilities for smart combinations really open up, especially as you start encountering beasties with varying resistance/triggers of their own.

      I’ve started to view the combat “build” or decks are another sort of puzzle, and I’m really enjoying it a LOT more.

  13. Josh W says:

    There’s timetravel in this game anyway, so if they implement sufficiently sweeping changes, they can just instance out the past for you to try it!