Magnificent And Important Advent Calendar: Day Fourteen

There are many theories about the true meaning of Christmas. The local department store reckons the season is all about attempting to overcome the economic tribulations of the year by selling you some underpants with a picture of a reindeer on them. More sensible folk believe that the year is simply breathing a sigh of relief and inviting them to relax for a moment before the next begins. Those theories are fine but there are darker mutterings too. Some of those can be heard behind the next window of the advent calendar.

It’s… The Secret World!


Making a new MMO is insane. It’s like adventurers setting out to steal the gold guarded by the evil dragon at the top of Dangerous Mountain. The promise of such riches blinds everyone to the near-inevitable failure on the way.

Funcom’s idea was a really great one. An MMO that emphasises story, that embraces the reality that a huge core of any MMO’s audience doesn’t play in a group, but reserve the right to want to sometimes. An MMO you can solo through, where the rest of the world playing with you serve a useful function. And then all that in an elaborate story written over many years, spanning dozens of myths and cultures, from one of the most respected storytellers in the industry. Sure, why not?

And here’s the thing: the game succeeds. It’s really good. It does tell a great story, and it is a far more interesting world than you’d usually expect from an MMO. There are huge issues, not least the dreary combat (although let’s be clear about this: it’s less dreary than WoW’s, despite the peculiar world-wide pretence from all of games journalism that it’s beyond criticism when from Blizzard), and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the game would really flourish if it had only been an RPG – its MMO-ness, like The Old Republic, is responsible for everything that’s immediately problematic.

The Secret World does everything a game should need to do to be successful, and yet it always felt like it was going to be niche. Either because it was too different, or because it was too smart. It seems Funcom believed otherwise, and hedging huge bets on a mainstream win, they lost 80% of their employees and an awful lot of money. Overcharging for the game from the start, despite a hefty subscription, was always damned stupid, and incredibly obviously a bad idea. I’ve my doubts that the Guild Wars 2 model is the one they should have belatedly picked, too. I think subs is actually what they should have gone for, after making the game itself free to start playing for a month. “The first one’s free, kids…” Right now they’ve chosen to maintain the significant entry barrier to a game people aren’t sure about – that doesn’t seem so smart.

The Secret World deserved to have managed to grab an armful of that dragon’s gold. It was definitely one of the best games this year. But I fear it set out on that adventure with too much confidence, and not enough sandwiches.


I’m going to end up contradicting myself in these calendar entries and I’m absolutely fine with that. Mostly fine. So fine, in fact, that I felt the need to draw everybody’s attention to it. I’m so damnably comfortable with my contradictions that I’m like the macho university rugby team spanking each other in the showers after a game – no questions to ask of myself, but please somebody notice the exposure of my doubts and quietly acknowledge that it’s OK.

I fully agree with and am defiantly at odds with the opening of the next paragraph.

A brilliant system of possibilities and places is enough of a strength to shatter the manacles of sometimes restrictive mouth-waffle, or ‘dialogue’ as word-scientists refer to it. They’re often wrong, those biblioboffins, because what we’re treated to in games is frequently monologue, forcing us into the role of silent partner to unceasing and oddly directed soliloquies. How often does the screen become an arras behind which we are concealed, witness to the plotting but barely a part of it? And then, with no chance for recourse, some bastard stabs us in the gut. Hamlet, I’m suggesting, had far too many cutscenes.

The Secret World is full of monologues. Every NPC has something to say and they do like the sound of their own voices. Fortunately, on the whole I like the sound of their voices as well so I’m happy to listen to them. In fact, I’m usually disappointed when they run out of things to say. They’re good company, this wide cast of misfits and mystics.

I’ve read about the banality of the combat so often that I sometimes tell myself off when I accidentally enjoy an encounter. Admittedly, my happiest hours are spent exploring the most obscure areas of the globe-spanning locations, avoiding conflict and instead searching for clues, whether they link directly to a mission or not. The views aren’t as impressive as those in Guild Wars 2 and the world is more segmented, but I find much more meaning in the details.

The setting is densely packed with information, whether it’s the murmuring white noise of the mind-messing lore or the rich and witty allusions that fill almost every available surface. Except the desert because deserts are just sort of orange and yellow, which isn’t particularly witty of them at all.

Along with the criticisms of the combat, much of which is deserved, it’s often said that the story is The Secret World’s strong point. That’s not entirely true because it’s stories, plural, that keep me going back. The grand plot is interesting, sure, but I’m in for the long haul because it’s the only game I’ve played this year where I stumble across a forlorn and unexpectedly moving backstory when receiving a fetch quest, or discover the echoes of a surprising relationship in a throwaway line.

Because of its ongoing episodic nature, there’s always the possibility that the writers will lead me back to those diversions one day and if you’re interested in the bigger picture, maybe your favourite myth will make an appearance if it hasn’t already. Maybe you’re that one guy waiting for the appearance of a sidequest about a nachzehrer psychically devouring its traitorous family while still concealed six feet under? No you’re not. I’m that guy.

Whether the dropping of the subscription fee will reverse the game’s fortunes isn’t clear. It will be a great shame if Funcom can’t find a solution – or indeed, if there isn’t a suitable one available – because, despite its flaws and confusions, the writers and content designers working on the game have shown that they can create consistently interesting experiences.

Returning to that third paragraph, I’m struck by how much of The Secret World seems to be in direct opposition to what I most often enjoy in a game. Throughout, it’s a scripted experience in a very real sense, and the mechanics of play distract as frequently as they entertain. But it’s also a richly detailed world, populated with distinct and entertaining people, most of whom are NPCs rather than actual people. In that sense, it has more in common with The Walking Dead than World of Warcraft.

Did I already mention that there are other people involved? I usually forget that I’m playing an MMO but when I do need to team up with people, strangers are more often accommodating than not and, within the niche that it has come to occupy, an ecosystem of engaged and engaging players has sprouted.

It’s flawed, sometimes in concept as much as execution, but I expect to return until the updates cease – which will hopefully occur with a bang rather than a whimper – and with the number of games I play every month, there’s precious few I can honestly say that about.


  1. caddyB says:

    I don’t think it’s better than WoW’s combat at all, I didn’t like the animations and the combat felt unresponsive.

    Then again, I had the same issue with the Old Republic which tried to copy paste WoW combat.

    • lordcooper says:

      There are methods of physical torture that are better than WoW’s combat.

      • caddyB says:

        I’m not saying WoW’s combat is good, I’m saying these aren’t really better.

      • Faxanadu says:

        Are you kidding me? WoW combat is amazing. It’s extremely responsive, the UI is snappy as hell. If only Blizzard didn’t absolutely loathe PvP (and that’s an understatement) WoW would have been an amazing PvP game. The fact that it focuses solely on PvE is the greatest MMO sin of our era.

        EDIT: It seems I took PvP into this conversation out of my magical hat. I apologize. It’s simply because I find it baffling anyone would discuss combat quality in PvE. PvE is by default boring and mind numbing, combat mechanics do not affect.

        • caddyB says:

          Oh, WoW pvp gameplay is great and has a very high skill ceiling.

        • Gorf says:

          totally agree.
          TSW combat is just awful and WoW is far superior in how it feels. Personally I find GW2 and TERA combat more fun then WoW’s, but even the combat in TOR is better then TSW. It just looks and feels so dull and crap to me.

      • Stevostin says:

        WoW PvE combat are not good, not because of game mechanics (they’re good) but because of design goal (everyone can complete every quest without a struggle).

        WoW Group PVE are not good, because a really talented individual move can’t save the day. Ultimately it’s all about no one doing big mistakes.

        WoW PvP is really good, despite an awful network handling. Don’t do directional conditions for gameplay choice if you’re engine is so much struggling with space and time in the first place.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I feel the same way. I appreciate TSW encourages you to experiment with combinations of skills like Guild Wars but either I was very poor at TSW or there are scores of unviable combinations that get me killed way too often. WoW, especially in Mists of Pandaria, gives all players of a class a standard loadout with only a few choices to select impactful and unique skills that enable a group to bring 3 of one class without significant overlap of roles. TSW’s decks are freeform to a fault – you’re forced to make decisions based on familiarity you haven’t yet cultivated.

      WoW has the best combat of any MMO I’ve played. I don’t PVP but for soloing, dungeons, and raids, WoW can’t be beat. This genuinely surprises me because Funcom has proven itself capable of great MMO combat via Age of Conan and Anarchy Online.

      TSW would be a good RPG and an exceptional adventure game but as an MMO it feels too saddled with filler. For example you’ll grow a beard, regardless of your gender, before you get out of freaking Kingsmouth.

      • malkav11 says:

        But that’s why they include prepopulated “decks” to work towards. They’re not optimal in the later game, from what I understand, and they’re exclusively built around the two skillsets that correspond to a particular weapon loadout, whereas the real power builds work in passive skills from elsewhere (very few of which require a particular weapon despite being unlocked in their skillsets). But they demonstrate the sort of principles involved in concocting a worthwhile build. Personally, I don’t think builds are all that unintuitive, either. Again, you may not be able to immediately gravitate towards the optimum setup for tanking, DPSing, or healing in dungeons or the more intensely challenging encounters in the late game. But I for one was certainly able to put together builds that have served me well enough through (the notorious difficulty jump of) Blue Mountain. And if push comes to shove, there are more optimized builds listed on websites. To me it’s kind of like talents in WoW used to be. Anybody could throw together a talent spec that was fine for solo pursuits and lesser dungeons. But you had to do some research to get one together that optimized you for your chosen role in raids. (Granted, they pretty much eliminated that -particular- learning curve in Pandaria, but I for one am not wild about the change.)

        • djbriandamage says:

          Thanks for the tip about the prepopulated decks. I’m going to give that a try. My biggest challenge has been finding two complementary weapons. It took me a few characters to realize how badly you need self-heals and CCs in your solo rotation.

  2. GernauMorat says:

    “Hamlet, I’m suggesting, had far too many cutscenes.”


    Does anyone remember the bit in Feersum Endjinn where the King is playing an interactive Hamlet?

  3. frightlever says:

    “I usually forget that I’m playing an MMO but when I do need to team up with people, strangers are more often accommodating than not and, within the niche that it has come to occupy, an ecosystem of engaged and engaging players has sprouted.”

    Will be interesting to see how F2P affects that.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I have to wonder this as well. TSW had one of the most kind, helpful, patient communities I’ve ever participated in. I hope it will persist.

    • sinister agent says:

      You have to buy the game to play it, so it won’t.

    • lordcooper says:

      Yeah, it isn’t going f2p.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      He meant “Fee to Play”. It’s a new thing.

      • The Random One says:

        Paying an amount of money so you can play a game? What a preposterous concept.

  4. oceanclub says:

    I admit I’m intrigued by this, and kicking myself I didn’t buy it 75% off on GMG the other day (just before they announced they were going sub-free – DOH!)


    • Colonel J says:

      Me too, annoyed I’d didn’t spot that GMG sale in time, I have a feeling we won’t see it as cheap again for while.

      I’ve been wavering on the brink of picking it up in the last couple of sales, definitely getting it now as soon as it drops to 50% or 75% off in the Christmas sale. Even Origin had it 50% off last month.

    • bit_crusherrr says:

      FUCK, I was kind of hoping it would show up on sale on GMG. I had no idea it had already been on sale.

  5. Xzi says:

    TSW is just terrible. There are many things that FunCom came close to doing right with it, but instead did them almost right, the end result being a resounding “MEH.” Even the bits that are decent (some of the puzzles) are overshadowed by the worst combat system to ever make it to a release candidate. If they had made combat completely optional, it’d be a different story. But as-is, it’s still a big part of what you’ll be spending your time on in TSW, and by your third encounter, you might as well be watching paint dry for all the excitement it brings.

    TLDR: Don’t waste your time and money. Several games out there are better MMOs, and several games are better RPGs.

    • malkav11 says:

      “MEH” != “just terrible”

      • Xzi says:

        I said that much of what is in TSW is meh, and that those bits don’t do enough to keep the game from being dragged down by what is terrible in it.

  6. Oozo says:

    “and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the game would really flourish if it had only been an RPG – its MMO-ness, like The Old Republic, is responsible for everything that’s immediately problematic.”

    So very much this. As it is, it was the biggest (game) disappointment for me in 2012. I mean, I’m fully aware that the fault is on my part as much as theirs, for expecting a game that ultimately would have boiled down to a single-player experience. What’s more, it’s the first MMO I’ve played, so the fact that I was a bit abhorred by the combat is probably also due to it being the weak part of the genre, not only TSW. (And I got to this game after having played the splendid “Dragon’s Dogma”, which makes the weightlessness of the combat in TSW so much more unbearable.)

    Still, I can’t help thinking that the game is at war with its own identity sometimes, too. I mean, if you want me to explore your world, your mysteries and your stories — something I very much wanted to do — why can’t I do so without having to fight the same endless mobs of monsters over and over and over again? If you want to be an MMO, why don’t you give me more meaningful ways of interacting with other players? It’s not only that it is not the game a lot of people hoped it would be; it sometimes feels like it’s not the game it wanted to be itself.

    What’s more, the disappointment is so much bigger because there ARE moments there that give you a glance on what might have been. Potential for a highly interesting game — not so sure that there’s potential for being a great MMO, though.

    (A shame that it’s not possible to reuse the assets, characteres, stories, settings to create something new, like an episodic singleplayer RPG with asynchronous multiplayer or something… as it is, the hopes for a new sucessful RPG in a Contemporary Fantasy-setting are smaller than ever, because this one got the setting right, but not much else.)

  7. Lars Westergren says:

    > Whether the dropping of the subscription fee will reverse the game’s fortunes isn’t clear.

    It dropped off the top 100 list in Steam sales over a month ago, it is currently back at #5, beating BLOPS! 2, so it seems at least some people think they picked the right path. We’ll see how long it lasts.

  8. pakoito says:

    I call shenanigans on this year’s calendar.

    • Oozo says:

      Stating that you’re not happy with the calendar is less interesting than explaining why that’s the case, or telling us which games you would have included that have been overlooked in favour of games you’re not happy with.

      (Considering that there are 10 days left and a few games — Dishonoured, Hotline Miami, Crusader Kings 2, DayZ, XCOM, Far Cry 3, Spec Ops — are pretty much guaranteed to show up.)

      • The Random One says:

        I wonder if Far Cry 3 did indeed manage to convince the RPS hivemind in time to be featured, and if it had to bump off another game to be included (I imagine it bumps off the game with a butt motion, like if you had your hands full and was closing the car door).

    • Gorf says:

      For this game,yes, but its too early to make that kinda statement.

  9. Archipelagos says:

    I wonder if Funcom should release a single-player / offline version of TSW. It seems perfect for the medium, especially an RPG akin to VTM: Bloodlines. My only worry is that they don’t have enough money to get one into production.

    • Lambchops says:

      That would be nice. I did keep an eye on The Secret World as I thought the concept/setting was pretty neat, but it would have been my first MMO and ultimately from reading about it I don’t think it did enough to shy away from the aspects of that genre which do so much to put me off it.

  10. uNapalm says:

    I enjoyed TSW but what stopped me continuing was the technical issues I had running the game. I suffered constantly fluctuating FPS and so many crashes in DX11 that I ended up playing in DX9. Changing graphics settings did little to help my FPS and I eventually gave up having to endure extended periods of drops to 5-6fps for no apparent reason. Shame as the actual game was very enjoyable and the characters were genuinely memorable with some outstanding writing and dialogue.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      Ah yes, the performance. I always forget about that. One of the prime reasons I dropped out of the beta so fast was the 5 or so minutes it would take to go from clicking the icon to actually playing the game. It got so bad I actually timed it to confirm how bad it was. The main culprit was the zone load, which would often take upwards of 3 minutes.

      Now, I have an older computer, sure, but TSW was just ridiculous.

      Oh yeah, it also liked to crash a lot, so I’d be dumped out and staring down another 5 minute load just to get back to where I was.

      Now, I’d hope these issues have been fixed by now, but it does make me nervous about paying the $30 to get in the door.

  11. malkav11 says:

    I have vague memories of not liking TSW’s combat back in beta, but I honestly don’t understand that feeling anymore. Sure, if you dislike the button rotation combat of almost every modern MMO, it’s not going to excite you here either, but at least TSW would like you to move and dodge and shift your tactics from enemy type to enemy type, which is not something I can say of most of them. (I think GW2 is trying for a similar style but to me the attacks aren’t telegraphed well enough to actually play that way.) I’ve seen complaints (including from one of my best friends) that the combat was “floaty” and “weightless” and I have no idea where that’s coming from or why it’s supposed to be a meaningful description of their issue with the combat.

    Also building the “deck” with which I fight those combats is to me immensely satisfying. Combos and chains and all sorts of lovely interlinked play between skills.

    • Oozo says:

      It’s interesting that you think the combat is not really more “floaty” than in other games in the genre. As I said, I’m not very familiar with MMOs, but to me, it felt like it was pretty much devoid of “friction” (to borrow Tim Roger’s term). Might it be that it’s not so much the fact that it’s less responsive, with enemies giving not enough feedback, but more that in TSW, it’s more common to have in-fights, being very close to the enemy? I mean, when I am watching videos of boss fights in, say, WoW or Guild Wars 2, it looks a lot more like circle strafing from a distance, while in TSW, players very often move in for attacks and stay on that distance. (I specialized in claws, and that’s pretty much what I had to do during the hours I played it.) The fact that you have to change position, distance and so on makes it maybe feel a bit more like combat in other games, and thus shows even more clearly what’s problematic about the genre’s approach to fighting.

      If that’s the case, I could explain why the lack of feedback might lead to a feeling of “weightnesless”, since close-distance combat is much less forgiving when it comes to “friction” than fights over bigger distances.

      Than again, TSW is, as I have written above, the only MMO I spent actual time with, so maybe all of that musing is just widely off the mark.
      A serious analysis of why people think the combat is that bad and “floaty” would be interesting, though.

      • malkav11 says:

        See, it’s not that I am disagreeing with those people, it’s that I literally do not understand what they mean. Maybe if I did, I would agree that it is. Obviously it doesn’t bother me the way it does them.

  12. Jake says:

    I bought TSW at launch and loved the story and the fantastic puzzle missions, but drifted away after a few months. I didn’t think the combat was terrible but it’s slightly more irritating than I was used to in WoW. I picked Pistols and generally speaking my tactic was to run in circles around my target while shooting with 2-3 abilities. The endless circles and limited spells didn’t seem a lot of fun but I suspect I was doing some things wrong. For example, I decided to put all my points into pistols to try and get the highest up skills because that is what you would do in WoW, and I couldn’t see the point in getting a second weapon type and wasn’t sure if that was just for a second spec – like tanking. I didn’t find the combat very intuitive and I guess it irritated me a bit, but I will certainly go back to TSW and try again. It also occurs to me that maybe some weapon types are more fun than others, melee certainly looked pretty boring.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      > and I couldn’t see the point in getting a second weapon type

      You are supposed to use weapons or magics where buffs can chain and complement each other. For instance, with pistols you might have one special attack that consumes all critical counters that you have built up on an enemy, causing massive damage and applying “weakened” and “slowed” on them – but there is no pistol attack that creates critical counters.

      However, blood magic constantly creates critical counters, and has one high level attack that can paralyze “weakened” enemies. I found it neat to play around and find optimal builds. Unfortunately, once I had found a winning concept (swords plus elemental magic I think) I fell into the same repetitive pattern you did, just much later.

      I mostly solo-ed. If you play instances with groups on high difficulty levels, you also have to consider how your builds play off others. Unfortunately most players ask that you do your typical tank-heal-dps category, but I think Secret World allowed for less specialized and more flexible builds when doing instances. People were so stuck in their old MMO habits they didn’t really try though.

      I wish they had gaving enemies different vulnerabilities and immunities to certain weapons or categories (earth elementals not being damaged by meelee weapons, ghosts only being affected by magic, etc) . That would have kept players on their toes more, rewarded experimentation and generalization, not just specialization.

    • malkav11 says:

      TSW combat is a cycle between resource building attacks and resource consuming attacks, possibly including specials that work off cooldowns or other mechanics rather than resources. Most resource builders will build resources for both weapons you currently have equipped, so you’re being seriously nonoptimal by not equipping a second weapon, if only to have a skill that consumes that other weapon’s resources.

      There’s also a lot of interplay between secondary effects of maneuvers, and you can do things like have one weapon for offense and another for healing/buffs/debuffs. And passive skills for the most part are weapon agnostic, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation there.

  13. Shooop says:

    Someone should write an article about how MMO-style mechanics completely ruin otherwise great RPGs. This needs to stop.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Er, like a couple of articles here on RPS did? One by Richard Cobbett I think, and possibly one more by…Alec? John?

      • Shooop says:

        They must be posted everywhere possible on the internet then. Because this has got to stop.

        • S Jay says:

          Yes. The problem is that (I believe) devs are thinking MMO = more money, not “what could I do as an MMO that I can’t do in single player?”

          Look at The Old Republic and TSW, both should have been single player.

          • Shooop says:

            Even that thinking doesn’t help.

            Developers aren’t thinking up anything new at all when it comes to the game’s core mechanics. Namely, the combat. They’re still dead-set on the hilariously inept “Click the little box that has a picture of an attack on it to attack that enemy until it dies” method.

            Someone had a flash of brilliance when making Guild Wars 2 adding a dodge mechanic. But they then right afterwards shot themselves in both feet by making it something you can only do twice every ten seconds. One step forward, one leap back.

  14. Dances to Podcasts says:

    “although let’s be clear about this: it’s less dreary than WoW’s, despite the peculiar world-wide pretence from all of games journalism that it’s beyond criticism when from Blizzard”

    Which is funny because RPS still hasn’t WIT’d Pandaria.

  15. cptgone says:

    “I think subs is actually what they should have gone for, after making the game itself free to start playing for a month.”
    if they had, i would have given it a go…

  16. Lucas Says says:

    I’m glad it’s selling well now that there’s no subscription fee; I know I added it to the very top of my master “When everything on Steam is half off” sale list. Without the subscription fee I can deal with the MMO excesses.

  17. Gorf says:

    “although let’s be clear about this: it’s less dreary than WoW’s, despite the peculiar world-wide pretence from all of games journalism that it’s beyond criticism when from Blizzard”

    hmm, so when was the last time you played WoW?

    less dreary then WoW’s combat?……no it isnt, and no I’m not a WoW fan or currently or playing, althought i returned for a month about 3 months ago.

    “despite the peculiar world-wide PRETENCE”? you mean opinion, just like your opinion that it is less dreary?

  18. Radiant says:

    Terrible game; you’re all fired.

  19. Qazi says:

    :o Thirteen?

    Found it, it is just the main Advent article hasn’t been linked to it yet.

  20. S Jay says:

    I bet they would be better off if the game was single player.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      Then again, in that case they wouldn’t have any excuse for the lame-ass combat, and they would’ve been forced to actually devote some resources to it.

      • The Random One says:

        …which would mean they would have actually worked on it and it would have been good, or at least more involved than spamming the number keys?

  21. jrodman says:

    John, you’re wrong. The combat sucks. Wow’s is so much better, you just got burned out on wow in general.

    • eclipse mattaru says:

      Arguing about whether the combat is better in one MMO or another reminds me of a great Zack Parsons quote: “All the same, puking on your shirt is better than shitting your pants, but I would not recommend either”.

  22. paxundae says:

    Apparently most of the commenters here disagree, but I really felt that this was the best game of the year. The setting, story, missions, and skill system far surpassed any of the other MMOs out there, and the dialogue and setting made it more engrossing than any of the single player things I was into.

    This game completely ruined GW2 for me, somewhat to my despair. The Secret World’s setting was dark, mysterious, and occasionally hilarious. GW2’s relatively standard fantasy/magi-tech seemed positively trite and simplistic in comparison. TSW’s dialog was spot on most of the time, and very mature and complex. With some exceptions, GW2’s seemed childlike coming so soon after TSW. TSW gave you access to hundreds of skills to play with and create your own complimentary builds….GW2 seemed amazingly restrictive by offering access to only a few dozen per class, so soon as TSW.

    In short, TSW is like reading a good (albeit campy) novel, and GW2 ended up being more of a picture book that you read to your kids.

    • Winged Nazgul says:

      It’s obvious the writers of RPS are a literate bunch fond of well-told stories so it’s no surprise that they liked TSW, warts and all.

      Yes, TSW does have obvious warts but, quite simply, it’s the best damn MMO to come out in years for those of similar mind.

    • Kdansky says:

      I knew I didn’t have time to play both, so I bought the one which didn’t have a subscription.

  23. Kdansky says:

    Am I the only one who finds the following sentences strange:

    – And here’s the thing: the game succeeds. It’s really good.
    – There are huge issues, not least the dreary combat (…)
    – The Secret World does everything a game should need to do to be successful, and yet it always felt like it was going to be niche.

    Combat is 90% of this game, as it is of most games (that’s another problem). If combat sucks, you spend 90% of your time being bored, despite great story, great plot, great design and everything else. The core mechanics must not suck. See Hotline Mayami, and its shitty hospital level, which introduces story, but on purpose makes the mechanics suck, and suddenly, the game isn’t fun to play any more.
    This is TSE’s main problem: I’d play it if I could skip past all combat and treat it like a book, because those parts are good, but the core gameplay is really not.