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A Sneaky Glimpse At The Secret World's July Update

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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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Adam Smith

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