The Secret World: Preview & Footage

It features a player wardrobe! A WARDROBE!

The The Secret World reveal at GamesCom began with a video that rapidly confirmed a heaving mass of conspiracy theories. “Stonehenge is a portal!” flashed the text. “The Dead walk the Earth! Noah’s was not the only ark! The Merovingian bloodline is pure!” After 30 seconds of these, I was laughing. After a minute and a half, I realised Funcom’s point. In making a setting where absolutely everything is true, you immediately get a world as rich and fantastical as any fantasy setting, but one that everybody’s already familiar with.

With this over, Ragnar Tornquist and Lead Designer Martin Bruusgaard cheerily talked me about The Secret World, and explained everything they’re doing with combat, character progression and the contemporary setting. This game’s been thrown wide open. Squeeze yourself down the rabbit hole of the jump for our preview and a video of the first 30 minutes of the Templar faction.

As has been revealed before, The Secret World puts you in the fashionable shoes of somebody who’s become newly infused with Anima, the mysterious Earth magic that allows you to see and generally take part in our reality’s secret world. For the Templar faction I was shown, the game begins with a montage of your character first freaking out and then learning to control their new powers, followed by a Templar representative dropping into the flat like an exceptionally presumptuous Jehovah’s witness to provide an explanation.

From here, the footage moves on to the Templar home city of London, with the character exploring, chatting to NPCs and receiving quests. There’s an enjoyable Hellblazer-like vibe to the city, with African mystics hanging out around fruit’n’veg stands, and hideouts decked out in fairy lights hidden along rickety walkways.

There’s been so much secrecy (not to mention beautiful, hyper-real artwork) surrounding The Secret World that it’s probably worth mentioning that it is, in fact, very recognisably an MMORPG both visually and in its structure. An MMORPG that’s full of ideas and doing its own thing, but an MMORPG none the less, one with PvP, raid content and crafting. There are no classes, but you do go on missions for experience and loot. And while there are some exciting-sounding puzzles that I’ll get to later, the mainstay of the game is monster-killing and dungeon-delving.

And the monster-killing does look very cool. The Secret World will feature hundreds of abilities that you spend your time collecting, “Like a trading card game” chimes Ragnar, and from these you equip your character with 7 active abilities and 7 passive abilities. So, before any mission you can spec yourself towards melee, ranged or magic, soloing or teamwork, supporting, damage dealing, tanking, healing or any mix of all of these.

Combat also centres around the idea of putting your enemies in various states, which Martin explained with animated hand movements.

“Let’s say I throw a fireball at you. It does 100 damage, and puts you in the Burning state. But then if he [gesturing at Ragnar] comes along and shoots you with his AK, it does 50 damage- unless the target is in a Burning state. Because you’re in the Burning state, you’re also knocked down.”

What this means is that you and your friend, or your entire guild (called Cabals in The Secret World) can spec yourselves to be completely in sync with one another, and choreograph intricate battle plans or little emergency procedures. It sounds great. Anybody who played Everquest 2 will be able to tell you how fun it is when your whole team is timing attacks together, and this sounds much richer.

In the demo, our newbie character was now in the Templar faction’s first dungeon. With no quest text it was hard to tell precisely what was going on, but it was called Future Tokyo and took the form of a subway station full of horrible, fleshy monsters. Some sections of the station were literally full, with holes in the wall revealing mutant pockets of flesh that had grown to fill their surroundings.

At around this point Ragnar first mentioned the puzzle missions, leaving me a little stunned.

“We’re actually putting teamplay into things other than combat. We have puzzle solving and investigation, and we’re not afraid to challenge the player. Even going outside the game to do research to find the solution.”

I responded by saying the thought of an MMO that makes you stop what you’re doing and, well, think was a bit mind-blowing for me.

“Yeah! But that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re tired of games that just give you a marker on the map and tell you to run there, do something and run back. We want people to actually be challenged. Yes, we have missions that are just about going and killing demons in inventive ways. I mean, those missions are fun too, we have a great mechanic there, but the missions that intrigue me are the ones that encourage you to decipher ancient heiroglyphs or find the code to the door to solve an Illuminati mystery. We have a lot of these puzzles and riddles, and people can choose from different mission categories. So if you don’t want to, you could progress without doing the puzzle missions. If you don’t want to use your head, you can focus on the combat stuff.”

It dawns on me now that for lots of players any research will probably begin and end at an online guide for the game, but if I’d raised the point I doubt they would have cared. Martin explains that this kind of unorthodox design is what The Secret World is about.

“We have to acknowledge that a lot of people play MMOs just to reach the endgame, but we want people to actually enjoy the ride. People have gotten so used to being on rails, and we’re trying to remove those rails, shake the players, and wake them up a bit.”

Lowering the tone a little bit, I ask whether they got any Norwegian folklore in the game.

“There are definitely elements of the vikings,” says Ragnar. “We all know the vikings visited North America. They met the Native Americans and… shit happened. So that’s definitely a Norwegian influence. But especially for me, I love Norwegian mythology, nature and history. Growing up in Norway you’re surrounded by this vast, dark nature, and all of our fairy tales are very dark. They all end with kids being eaten by trolls. And the trolls aren’t cute things with big noses, they’re vast, natural things. I’m actually writing stories about this because I love it and I think it’s influenced this game.

“A lot of people have talked about the Lovecraftian influence in this game. We have that too, but it goes further back than that. Lovecraft was influenced by European fairytales, and that’s part of our universe too. It’s light and serious, but there’s a darkness at the centre of it.”

Which leads me to the same question I asked the developers of the 40K MMO- with both games there’s a visible shift away from the setting’s artwork and towards a warmer, more friendly visual style. Ragnar remembers the initial teaser images they put out for The Secret World.

“Yeah. The poster with the big tentacley things. We’ve been asked to steer away from that, because then people get this feeling of being trapped inside this darkness all the time. I wouldn’t want to be inside a dark, Lovecraftian universe for hundreds and hundreds of hours. You need some light there as well, and I feel we’ve found a good mix of a world that’s magical and ethereal, and also dark and ominous and cool. And the deeper you dig, the darker it gets.”

There’s still plenty left for Funcom to reveal- my knowledge of The Secret World’s loot and crafting is limited to the fact that you equip weapons, tattoos and jewellery, while clothes can be bought or received as quest rewards- but The Secret World’s already looking very interesting.

Unlike Guild Wars 2, which is reinventing the MMORPG with the force of a plastic explosive, The Secret World feels like another City of Heroes- a gentle revolution in every respect. I’ll be keeping my eye on this one.

Ooh, I’ve been talking for a while. I bet all you really wanted was the video, you swine. Well, here it is. Enjoy!

67 Comments

  1. Chris D says:

    I have currently sworn off MMO’s but there are two games that may make me change my mind. This is one, Guild Wars 2 is the other. Now if we could get the ideas of Guild Wars 2 in this setting I may never go outside again. Although it sounds like Secret World may have some pretty neat ideas of its own. If that turns out to be the case then that would make me happy.

    • Navagon says:

      This sums up my attitude completely. I rarely play games online, never mind MMOs – of which I have yet to play one.

      But Guild Wars 2 looks amazing. I was kind of interested in the first one, but not quite enough to tempt me. The sequel doesn’t look like something I want to miss out on.

      This one I’m somewhat optimistic for. The thing I love most about their previous games is the storytelling. I don’t know how well that’s going to translate into an MMO with morons hoping about everywhere and trying to mine for fish though. Plus there’s a fair possibility that the controls are really going to suck if Dreamfall is anything to go by. But if there are subscription fees then that’s all I need to know. No thanks!

    • Kryopsis says:

      Ragnar Tornquist is what made me interested in The Secret World in the first place. In fact, I even picked up Age of Conan to take a look at the technology that is going to be used for The Secret World. Funcom is actually rather good at story-telling, even in a medium not known for it (MMO). Despite the various issues, Age of Conan is the only fantasy MMO I really enjoyed besides the original Guild Wars (although ArenaNet does not consider it an MMO). The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 are the only games on my wishlist for the next few years.

  2. Choca says:

    I really had a hard time enjoying their presentation honestly. Every other MMO on the floor of the gamesom was either playable or shown by a team of devs actually playing the game and The Secret World was shown by two guys sipping beer in front a giant screen with a video on it.

    Plus, while they did say a lot, they actually showed very little.

    Don’t tell me that your combat system can do this or that, show me how it does this and that, because right now, the entire game could be vaporware and I would’nt have any way to know.

    • Hallgrim says:

      But but but… but Funcom would never release an MMO with missing functionality! Or one where the open beta experience is vastly different from the rest of the game! (and keep the NDA in effect for beta testers to conceal that fact)

      Sounds like a neat project conceptually, but I agree that without an overload of gameplay footage I would never consider buying another MMO from Funcom.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Hallgrim –

      Has anyone thought this may be why they are being very slow to release information and low-profile about the Secret World? After the disasters of the AO and AoC launches, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      Why? Unlike Cryptic(who just admitted they released two consecutive turds, but don’t really plan to do much about it), FunCom has at least tried to ameliorate things. And, unlike Mythic, who also released a buggy PoS in WAR(BoS and complete shut-downs first month, anyone?) that had hopelessly broken, unplayable classes that they still hadn’t fixed when I rage-quit(only time I’ve ever done that) in July 0f 09, that claimed everything was working as intended, and most of whose ‘fixes’ made things worse, while trying to distract people with PvE shinies in a proclaimed PvP focused game, FunCom hired a community manager who repeatedly has apologized and kept people informed as to what they’re attempting to do.

      *Whew*

      Having spouted all that, I am very skeptical as to what FunCom releases in the future., but am at least willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But….just…barely.

    • Ignorant Texan says:

      Hallgrim –

      Having just gotten that venom out of my system, and realizing my tag probably should read IgnoRANTING Texan, I actually bothered to read your post. My most sincere apologies for misunderstanding and seeming to direct it at you personally. I shall now go get owned in M&B:WB on easy in penance.

    • Hallgrim says:

      If that’s as bad as your ranting gets, I think you’re doing ok :)

    • Ronin says:

      Well, since the game is still in pre-beta (or possibly closed beta at this point), they can only show you so much. But this is more than we’ve seen in the past, and each time they reveal info, videos, etc., we’re seeing almost exponentially more than the previous time.

      This is one to keep our eyes on.

  3. psycho7005 says:

    To visit the forums and join in the discussions that the community are having there, or just for more information about the game you can visit:

    link to darkdemonscrygaia.com

    Just thought i’d be helpful…..for once :P

  4. DeepSleeper says:

    So I guess they’re not really doing the solo play thing.

    Shame I hate people then, this is otherwise exactly the kind of thing I want to play.

    • psycho7005 says:

      In interviews had with Ragnar he states you can go through the whole game solo if you want to do that. You are never forced to group up if you don’t want to. Apparently.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I’ll turn the Excitement Hose back on then.

    • Fumarole says:

      That’s what she said.

  5. Dominic White says:

    This looks pretty good for an MMO. The problem is that after Gamescom, ‘Pretty Good’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. Guild Wars 2 raised the bar. What was once fairly good by MMO standards is just dissapointing now.

    Hopefully they’ve got some clever gameplay elements under wraps still, because if they want to compete with the big boys, they’re going to need something beyond a cool setting.

    • RQH says:

      @Dominic White:

      1. I’ve been ready for about three or four years now for more high-profile MMO makers to follow the EvE route and not actually try to compete with the big boys. Just you know, build a game to the scope and size that you can make good and still support if you only get 50-100k subscribers to start.

      2. It’s possible I’m in the minority, but I’m more sick of the generic Tolkein-inflected fantasy genre (and its cousin, the generic JRPG hodgepodge fantasy world) than I am with trad. MMO mechanics. I’m also still skeptical on whether Guild Wars 2 can deliver its promise. Both of these = more excited about generic (but underrepresented in videogame RPGs) urban fantasy setting with tradition MMO mechanics than about Guild Wars 2.

      3. Guild Wars 2 still intends to be subscription-free, right? One less reason to need to choose between The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, eh?

    • Ronin says:

      Again, the game is in pre-beta development. And this is just one aspect they’ve revealed, it’s not intended to be a stand-alone introduction to the game. There’s sort of a corpus of info that’s been revealed, and we’re intended to add this to what we already know. (There’s a whole growing community that’s been following the development of the game for the past couple of years).

      Of course, TSW won’t be to everyone’s liking, and that’s OK too.

    • Rugged Malone says:

      “3. Guild Wars 2 still intends to be subscription-free, right? One less reason to need to choose between The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, eh?”

      Perhaps, but unfortunately we don’t have unlimited free time. :)

    • Dominic White says:

      That, and GW2 seems to be offering the full MMO package without the subscription, so Funcom are going to have to show me something *really* special if they want to siphon off some of my money every month.

      GW2 is raising the bar and lowering the price simultaneously. That’s a hard act to follow. I really do hope some other companies try to, though.

  6. Deston says:

    In making a setting where absolutely everything is true, you immediately get a world as rich and fantastical as any fantasy setting, but one that everybody’s already familiar with.

    This approach worked extremely well for the comic series “Fables”.

    The universe they created blended hundreds, if not thousands, of fairy tales and pieces of folklore into a world where all these fantasy characters and settings existed and worked together somehow.

    They definitely put their own strange twists on everything mind, but it was highly effective in creating something familiar and accessible to people while still feeling fresh and interesting.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Fables didn’t do “everything is true”. It just did, as the title may suggest, what if all the Fables are true. It’s a thing about “What if all the stories were true”.

      This isn’t – this is about “What if all the things people think are true *are true*”.

      (The reference I’d go for would be Deus Ex, which worked off a “What if all the conspiracy theories were true” axis. And obviously drew from Illuminati there)

      AND RANT OVER.

      KG

    • RQH says:

      @KG: The comic I thought of was The Invisibles. Of course, that was a lot more than just conspiracy theories.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      I can see what you mean. I prefer to think of the Invisibles of “What if Grant Morrison Took A Lot Of Drugs In The 90s?”.

      (The answer being “you end up with something this awesome”)

      I’ll agree the Invisibles strikes me more like this. I’d also suspect the Invisibles was an influence on Deus Ex.

      KG

    • Kryopsis says:

      Yes, The Invisibles is what I thought myself, although The Invisibles is absolutely insane and is much more than an amalgamation of conspiracy theories.

    • Deston says:

      @Kieron: Agreed, and granted that DX and Invisibles are perhaps more relevant comparisons, but I wasn’t trying to assert that Fables did “everything is true”. I was just referring to the structural approach in combining recognisable fantastical elements and not necessarily comparing the potential end results. I haven’t played this title yet so I avoided attempting that.

      I’d like to discuss this further but I’m having to read and write all this at work while my boss’ back is turned and I don’t fancy getting caught with the mood he’s in.

    • mrpier says:

      A good chance they’ve read the Illuminatus-trilogy also.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    Nooo! An interesting sounding MMO! Stay away from me, you life sucking monster.
    :-(

    • Moth Bones says:

      I know, it’s awful! I just hope I can get a job before it comes out…

  8. crooon says:

    Shouldn’t it be “The The Secret World reveal” in the first sentence?

    #correction #nitpick #bored

  9. Farfarer says:

    Anyone else notice the Arcadia/Stark reference on the poster in the first scene? :D

  10. Sunjammer says:

    “The secret world” is still the worst title of any MMO, ever.

  11. Ignorant Texan says:

    By ‘shit happens’, I’d guess he’s refering to first stabbing the natives to see what was inside, then, after deciding they might be human, unintentionally ‘poisoning’ the aforementioned lactose-intolerant natives with milk?

    I am interested, and this will remain on my radar.

  12. ChaosSmurf says:

    Trailer wasn’t exactly inspiring, the ideas are nice. Couldn’t it just have been a normal RPG instead of jumping on the bandwagon? I’d love it to do well, but the track record of MMOs is against it.

  13. sfox says:

    The concept sounds great but the three letters, ‘mmo’ are a huge turnoff to me.

  14. Oisin says:

    Reminds me of vampire bloodlines. The dark atmosphere but also the shitty combat too.

  15. ScubaMonster says:

    Sorry. Funcom = no sale. Not after the disaster of Age of Conan. I have better things to do with my cash.

    Guild Wars 2 is the only promising mmo on the horizon.

  16. drewski says:

    I was like “wow, this sounds really really interesting! Wait, it’s an MMO? Boring.”

  17. Chris says:

    Hmmm. Being a paper-and-pencil games fan, this sounds like Illuminati: The MMO (the description of how your character starts sounds pretty much like ‘You’ve Just Been Illuminated’…at least Illuminati in how the SJG (*other* than the INWO game, that is! :-) )stuff I’ve played always seems to handle it. :-) The ‘everything is true’ premise was also used in a little known, and much more tongue-in-cheek RPG called ‘Pandemonium’ where the idea was that the players were tabloid reporters, and everything in the tabloids was actually true (I fondly remember a scenario published in a gaming magazine where a misfired attempt to use an Ancient Egyptian Artifact resulted in the local medical profession and the local gun enthusiasts to fuse into the Cult of AMA-NRA…)

  18. YogSo says:

    So, another game by Ragnar that starts with a young girl in her underwear? What’s the problem with him? /joking

  19. Tei says:

    Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!.. don’t join the templar!. .Will lie to you!. these guys are just artifact-greedy. But are ignorants. Join the iluminati!. The iluminati will tell you all the truth!. The only ones that know all the truths is the illuminati. Avoid all other groups!.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      I signed up as a Dragon at their website. Not that I’m going to play the game of course. And if I do, I’m sure I can quit at any time.

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Lars:

      Sure you can.

  20. Kelron says:

    Suddenly looking forward to this.

  21. Dominic White says:

    “I responded by saying the thought of an MMO that makes you stop what you’re doing and, well, think was a bit mind-blowing for me.”

    Clearly Quintin never played D&D Online, where there are notable key puzzles in a lot of dungeons.

    • The Dark One says:

      I was going to mention Uru Live, but same thing, I guess. :)

    • Dominic White says:

      To be fair, ‘Stopping and thinking’ is the default state in any Myst game. Any part where you’re actually moving about is considered out of the ordinary.

      D&D online does mix in a decent amount of puzzling into the mix, though.

  22. Deacon Blues says:

    This sounds like it was made for me (except I would have kept the suffocating Lovecraftian darkness), which is what I’ve said about three other MMOs that I ended up getting bored of within a week. After Champions Online, I won’t play another MMO without a free trial, which no one seems to do any more.

    I bet if I do end up playing it, I’ll be the one guy in the team puzzle missions who doesn’t know exactly what to do because he wants to figure it out himself.

    • Torgen says:

      Yes, sad that they “lightened it up”, but when the man with the checkbook tells you to do something…

    • Josh W says:

      Paint a thin veneer to make it look like you did, because he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about and won’t engage with it to any level of depth.

  23. Johnny says:

    Love the idea, love the atmosphere – as someone else said, it feels a little like VTMB – but Funcom doesn’t exactly have a track record of being awesome.

    • Paxundae says:

      Here’s the thing…right now, AoC is actually in pretty good shape. A lot of fun, not too buggy, looking pretty, etc. If all of that know-how can get transferred to Secret World *before* it launches, I think it will be a good, playable product. People will still find things to complain about, of course…

    • Tei says:

      The problem with Funcom is not awesome. Are more than good enough to create a awesome MMO. Already did 2 awesome mmos, doing a third is possible.
      The problem is that all MMO’s that create are full of problems at release, lie about future features, lie more about wen things will be release.
      With Funcom you can expect a awesome game, soo broken that will make you angry, and will make you uninstall it. With this in mind, I am ready to fall in the trap his next game.

  24. Zinic says:

    Dunno why, but watching the video gave me some nasty flashbacks to Hellgate: London. This does not bode well.

    Honestly though, I’ve had enough for MMOs. Can’t developers start going back to single player games again? Just like the old days? Pretty please?

    • Zinic says:

      And by that, I mean multiplayer. Damn 12 hour work day.

    • Thants says:

      Even multiplayer games nowadays have MMOesque persistent levelling tacked on.

  25. The Pink Ninja says:

    This trailer is a big relief to me after a rubbish one I saw a few months back. The world, dialogue and voice acting are very enticing.

    I may give this a go barring bug disasters or other such folly.

  26. Ezhar says:

    Dear Funcom,

    please don’t release another unfinished game, mmkay? Cause after Age of Conan we’re not very trustful that you won’t — especially those of us who still remember the launch of Anarchy Online (mine crashed when I tried to turn my character around, every time – I never made it very far because I could only walk in one direction).

    Other than that, keep up the good work.

  27. Marshall says:

    Nice Arcadia/Stark reference in that poster in the opening.

  28. Casey says:

    Funcom takes a lot of stick and while some of it is deserved, I am a fan of their games. I think AO was a great game and in a lot of ways ahead of its time, rocky launch aside. I’d love to see the core game updated with their new engine. I’ve been playing AoC in anticipation of Secret World, ostensibly just to check out the game engine, but I am actually having a lot of fun with it. TSW is the game I am most anticipating right now.

  29. Stick says:

    “I’ll be the one guy in the team puzzle missions who doesn’t know exactly what to do because he wants to figure it out himself.”

    Oh yeah. I’ll be that guy, too. And annoy all the guide-reading, dialogue-skipping types to no end.

    We should form a union, or something. The Wilful Ignorati.

    • Tei says:

      In DDO you can search people to make dungeons and advertise it as “No rushing”. Since if is your first time you run a dungeon, you want to do it slowly, have alll the surprises, dialogs, etc… DDO has the best dungeons, so you want that.

      You still get rushers, that finish the dungeons in record times.

      *sight*

  30. Gargantou says:

    Honestly, I’d rather Ragnar immediately went to work on the continuation of The Longest Journey series(Funcom’s best work), especially since I’m not an MMO fan to begin with.

  31. Matte says:

    Bloodlines is prob the best game in the world. The story, combat, skill-system, atmosphere, missions.. It had it all(well, except Crysis graphics). Bloodlines and The longest journey is the best games made. And this is a combination(i hope) so i guess it will be preeetty neet. :D