The RPG Scrollbars: Back To The Secret World

What do Egyptian pharaohs like to feed their cats? I don't know, but Akhenaten cats prefer Whiskers.

You know those games that you can never really get into, but you keep dipping back into, time and again? For me, they tend to be MMORPGs, and two in particular – City of Heroes, which I’d often feel the urge to just fire up for a weekend and clobber some stuff, and World of Warcraft, which I always jump into each expansion pack to take my Undead Mage out of storage for one more adventure. The Secret World is also on my list, but from the other direction. It’s a game that ticked every one of my boxes when it first came out, save the one about actually having fun with it. Yet I’ve been back several times, always secretly hoping that at some point it will have morphed into the single-player Vampire: Bloodlines type game its world constantly cries tortured screams to have been.

Well, spoiler: It hasn’t. And yes, I know in my heart that it never will. However, last month… actually, wait, we’re in May. Bah! Fine. Back in March then, Funcom launched what it called ‘The Enhanced Player Experience’. Well, it’s been a quiet week. I thought I’d see if it’s helped things out any.

Make it quick, I'm waiting to be a character in a Joss Whedon movie.

Just in case you’re not aware of The Secret World, it’s an MMO that placed its bets almost entirely on story and narrative and quickly ended up losing its shirt as a result. It came out mid-2012 as a standard subscription MMO, sold around 200,000 copies at launch, and became (shudders at the term) buy-to-play within six months. It was a bomb that reportedly took out about half of Funcom, and almost immediately faded into obscurity. This isn’t intended as a scientific analysis or anything, but I remember seeing more stories about Anarchy bloody Online’s latest patch than this one.

Still, better late than never, right?

For the second time this year, I fired up the epic download and jumped back in. Speaking as a member of the Illuminati, I’m always a little surprised not to log in and find 50,004 increasingly angry phonecalls from faction handler Kirsten Geary (quite literally Kieron Gillen’s alternate universe self in high-heels) demanding to know where the shit I’ve been. She’s one of the best reasons to side with the Illuminati, along with the fact that Jeffrey Combs is their doctor – as well as the headmaster of an Illuminati run school on Solomon Island who is easily one of my favourite characters in the whole game so far. It just goes to show, everything’s better with Jeffrey Combs. Except Gotham. (Seriously, every genre show gets one chance to play the Combs card, and it spent it on that? Good grief…)

The Secret World is of course the clash between secret societies at the end of days. Lovecraftian horrors are invading New England, an ancient evil is rising in Egypt, vampires are stalking Transylvania, and that’s to say nothing of each side’s schemes and counterplans and mutual distrust for other organisations around the edges, notably the Orochi Group and the Secret World equivalent of the UN, The Council of Venice. You’re a new recruit given magic powers by swallowing a bee… just roll with it… drafted in to push your side’s agenda in each new trouble spot, while being repeatedly reminded that being able to throw magic lightning from your fingers or whatever doesn’t make you a superhero. It makes you cannon fodder, and just another conscript in an army.

Weapon specialisation, Cane! Skills include Time For Tea, A Darn Good Thrashing and the Threat builder, Listen You, Sonny Jim.

Dipping in is all the reminder I ever need that The Secret World isn’t a bad game. When it’s on form, it’s a fucking brilliant game. It’s easily the best written MMO ever made, even if the unfortunate decision to make the characters mute generally leaves everyone else with little to do but monologue incessantly. That’s definitely one of the Big Mistakes that sunk it on release, making it too tempting to just skip the characters and especially the more casual dialogue that fleshes out the world. The occasional quip about your silence and cute slapstick moment aside, it’s too much. In fact, hold that thought. We’ll be back to it quite a few times over the next few hundred words.

The brilliance is there though, and all around. I could go on for hours just about its location design alone, from the fact that you can actually visit the Illuminati HQ if you go to New York, to the amazing level of detail and craft of the original locations. The Blue Mountain, with the tourist Wabanaki Village next to the trailer park where they actually live. The city of al-Merayah in the Scorched Desert. The fact that you can walk from the exquisitely detailed Kingsmouth Town to a fully rendered funfair (complete with rideable rollercoaster in one mission) to the divine Innsmouth Academy almost works against it. In most MMOs, those would be high-points to point at and praise. Here, the world is so lush and well made that it’s easy to become blind to just how gorgeous it is.

Okay, so yes, Transylvania does look suspiciously like New England with mountains on occasion. By the time you get to that point though, you’ve been to New York, London, Seoul, Shambala, Egypt, a dream world of ice and Tokyo, to name just a few places, and all of them have looked great. The odd phoned-in zone now and again is forgivable in such a generally lovely bit of gamecraft.

So what went wrong?

Does this game have permadeath? Shit. Well, call me if that changes.

As simple as it would be to say that The Secret World got an unfair rap, it didn’t, particularly. Instead, it fell victim to a few serious mistakes, and a handful of unfortunate elements, most notably length and complexity, that soon drown out the immediate appeal. Levelling for instance. The game promised horizontal levelling, but in practice was a good deal more vertical than that due to the tiers of gear and talismans (as attempting to take a walk in the world soon demonstrated). The system itself was fine, but poorly explained and hard to get a grip on while being surrounded by so much other stuff to learn – the plot, the active combat, the different mission types…

Similarly, the skills on offer demand an unusual level of synergy from the start – skills building and spending resources, playing off various debuffs, and never being particularly intuitive in use. Once in the world it was impossible to ruin your character, true. There are always more skill points. However, it was very possible to inadvertently design terrible builds, especially before you had the points to upgrade to one of the preset ones the game suggested, and end up struggling or trapped redoing the overly long missions to get more skill points and ability upgrades instead of making progress. Progress that, incidentally, was already made to feel glacial by the first story mission being eighteen tiers long over three maps instead of being split into three more accessible chunks. See also the individual missions, which hate to offer one tier of objectives if it can possibly stretch to six.

The result was that The Secret World almost seemed to want everything to outstay its welcome, with players confused, Solomon Island especially becoming interminable, and most simply bailing early. I’m aware that hardcore fans may disagree with these things as criticisms, hold up the complexity as a sign of greatness. Fair enough. However, and I think this has to be kept in mind when defending it and its core mechanics: The Secret World was a flop. And not because of any conspiracy.

Combat Roles: DPS, Tank. Combine with fedora and pistol to unlock the Pretentious Douche class.

The Enhanced Player Experience… really makes a difference. It doesn’t change that much, but what it does play with helps far more than I was expecting it to. One of the most basic yet useful tweaks for instance is to the skill bar. The Secret World’s basic system involves some skills that build up resources, others that use them. An Elementalist for instance has Wildfire, which deals minor area of effect damage on its own, but also builds up charges that you can spend on, say, Electrical Storm – a more powerful AoE attack. Or perhaps Shootout, which deals a ton of damage to one enemy.

Remembering what does what in the heat of battle though can be tricky, especially if you’re chopping and changing skills and trying to react quickly while also diving around and avoiding enemy fire and otherwise dealing with the complexities of the combat system. Now, builder skills have a plus sign at the top of their icon, while consumer skills have a little star at the bottom. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s incredibly helpful. (And if you hate their presence, you can switch them off.)

That’s just a basic tweak though. The big push is to help people like, well, me, get to enjoy the story stuff without too much messing about. Even by Personal Quest standards, The Secret World is largely a single-player game that just has other people running around, until the dungeons and PvP stuff of course, and even then, not many. My server is Cerberus, named after the three-headed dog. Appropriately, that’s about as many heads as I saw in the PvE areas until hitting Transylvania. As such, the quest rewards have been rebalanced to basically shower players with damage-dealing talismans, allowing everyone to punch through the story and see the content without too much headache. Early enemies have also been rebalanced, especially on maps like the Blue Mountain, making the difficulty curve smoother and less painful, and there’s far, far more feedback given about how tough things are and what you’re ready for. Monsters have tier levels to look out for. Endgame ‘Nightmare’ zones now look scary from the map itself and in the UI, with funky Filth effects.

(Though I do like that at least once, you end up going into one when dismally unready – scavenging items and trying not to trigger the enemies at all. The Secret World has some truly inspired quest design that I wish other MMOs would learn from. It really is on another level at times.)

Don't ask how I attached an assault rifle to this e-mail. Ask what I'll attach to the next one if you let me down.

It’s always tough to say exactly how effective balance changes are, since expecting them is to be as primed for seeing something that might not be there as when the pretty lady in the mall asks how much cleaner your hands feel after bathing them in brand new Pig Urine Wash. The difference did seem notable though, with trash mobs quickly swept away and far more time spent on the awesome missions that The Secret World offers – things like its genuinely challenging end of zone boss fights, or dramatic moments like fighting an entire legion of reborn Roman legionairres. At times it still writes checks its mechanics can’t cash, with a truly appalling stealth mission between Egypt and Transylvania winning the Bowl Of Chilled Piss award for Unforgivable Excrescence In Design.

Those moments are the minority though, in a game that pound for pound produces more great single-player moments than any other MMO. Even if the actual mission is fairly bland, I always look forward to the ending, which usually features my girl Kirsten shooting over one of her sarcastic e-mails about how totally ordinary shutting down arrogant gods of evil actually is. Certainly for the first time since launch, I’m seriously considering finishing up before again waving it ciao-ciao.

You couldn't get better narrative storytelling if the whiteboard regularly updated with the latest Jeopardy rerun times.

One change that absolutely, 100%, unequivocally helps the game be better is being able to get around it faster. One of The Secret World’s many annoying methods for stretching itself out like Scrooge McDuck working a taffy stand was its love of backtracking, made harsher by not even being able to stock up on missions, go get the job done, and head back and turn them in. (You get one story mission, one main mission, three side missions, and that, bucko, is your lot.) Now, you get to teleport between anima wells at any time, except in combat, for about the cost of beating up one random enemy on the field. There’s no cooldown on this either, letting you bop around at will. Died? Zap back. Want to replay a mission? Zap over. Broken equipment? Zap to a vendor, then probably zap back. There’s still enough running around to enjoy the scenery, and enough to reward going off the beaten track. It’s just not punitive in the way it sometimes used to feel. Hurrah!

This doesn’t fix The Secret World’s overwriting problem, says the guy who’s about to hit 2000 words about a month old patch, but they do make it far easier to handle. Solomon Island is still somewhere between ‘too long’ and ‘way too fucking long’, but nowhere near as painful. The new presents are very helpful, and if you’re still hurting, the feedback from monsters makes it clear that when you’re outside your comfort zone and when you’ve just completely borked your build.

I don't know where I am, but I'm glad I bought this blazer.

Along with these changes came a whole lot more, including basic stat changes, and a reworking of a number of Elite skills, and trying to reinforce the difference between AoE skills and single-target ones by making them hurt less, but hurt more enemies at once. Whether any of these improved or ruined the higher level game, I don’t know. My interest going back in was very much on whether the changes could help it for someone like myself, who wants to like it, but has always had that initial interest quickly eroded away by a few of its more irksome fundamental design decisions.

Yes. Yes, it does. It’s not a magic wand, and those problems still exist. Missions have too many damn steps, the mute characters are still infuriating enough to have even Gordon Freeman screaming at them to say something, and like The Longest Journey before it, the script calls for an editor armed with a machete. It’s still a potentially brilliant single-player game unfortunately forced into an MMO’s body and restrictions, much like the Imperial Agent storyline over in The Old Republic.

Some will have you believe this isn't complicated as hell. DO NOT HEED THEIR LIES.

With that said though, the changes make it far, far easier to enjoy what it does well. The mission design, where you genuinely never know what’s around the corner. The world, in all its complexity and beauty. The great moments in the script. The sense of humour. The bosses and systems that, while not necessarily well explained, don’t treat you like a moron and pull out every stop to create a proper world where you can be awesome even if you don’t care about the group-play stuff.

If you’ve already got a copy, and especially if you burned out early on Solomon Island, it’s worth giving it a shot. As a new purchase… eeeeh, that’s trickier. It’s still a pretty expensive game, even just for the base package, and you need to track down a trial key (which only lasts 3 days) to get even a brief taste of it. As much as there is to enjoy in the world, there’s a lot to deal with in terms of things like floaty combat and the general feel of it, and I’d definitely recommend seeing how you feel about that first. There’s a thread on the Steam forums where people regularly offer keys, and quite a few offered upon the official forum as well. Certainly though, if you’ve previously considered giving it a shot but been discouraged, this is the best time since launch to hit it and see if it chimes.


  1. Premium User Badge

    It's not me it's you says:

    Oh, TSW. How I wanted to love you and how I… kind of just didn’t.

    The narrative stuff was a joy and my wife and I love playing MMOs together but I got driven insane by the little things like how there was only 1 ‘sword based special move’ sound that played over and over and over and over and over. SHJINK … SHJINK … SHJINK … SHJINK. (Most moves also shared animations making the combat feel incredibly boring).

    I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a ‘classless’ system in a game, either, for all the trumped up ideas on how cool that’d be. Pragmatically I’d vastly prefer well-designed classes that complement each other and have a decent feel over a sea of skills that I can barely tell apart.

    Anyway, it’s encouraging to hear the patch might just have more or less taken an axe to lower level combat. I think we ran out of steam around the Eldrich horror university somewhere but I do recall enjoying the story (and specifically the characters) a lot.

    Lastly, *ahem*

    Illuminati 4lyfe

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      I think a big problem with the quest structure, on appearance, is that it’s really hard to tell when you’re just spinning your wheels and when you’re making progress, so you end up doing a whole ton of quests without really improving your state any. Now, it throws so many talismans and things at you and their levels and the monster levels on their profiles act as a good indicator of “Okay, I’ve gotten all I can out of this bit, and it’s time to move on…”

      • Premium User Badge

        It's not me it's you says:

        Honestly that was probably the least of my issues. It’s the only MMO I’ve ever read all the quest text in, and I generally enjoyed doing even the little side quests and such because they’d provide me with a bit more character or flavour.

        The only exception being group missions. Who the fuck thought putting missions where you have to actually know what you’re doing on the levelling path in an MMO was a good idea? I’m only half joking when I say this. Levelling in any MMO is basically sufficiently easy that you cannot fuck it up. TSW broke this sacred pact (which sucked for us, because we enjoy playing MMOs to unwind and chat with friends, not to MLG pro-strat our way through stuff).

        My pet theory is that the designers mostly hated MMOs and hated the idea of making an MMO (but couldn’t get the concept funded any other way).

        We even ran into Ragnar Tørnquist and others of the crew at Rezzed some years ago and chatted enthusiastically about some of the story stuff in TSW. It ended up becoming a little awkward when they asked if we’d finished the story and we had to work out a way to tell them the game parts got too frustrating to keep going.

        • malkav11 says:

          Wait, since when are there group missions on TSW’s critical path? If anything, it randomly forces you to solo in ways that make it frustrating as a group experience.

          • Premium User Badge

            It's not me it's you says:

            Yeah the missus mentioned the same. I know the group stuff wasn’t on the crit path but it did generally pay off story lines, which is sort of why I was there in the first place.

            And yeah, we just got talking about TSW and she mentioned how the solo missions killed her desire to play. She’d made a sort of healery character that worked well in tandem with mine and she’d just get -splattered- several times in a row every time the game decided now is solo time.

          • Richard Cobbett says:

            Eh, the group content in TSW is way less tied to the main drag than something like World of Warcraft, which would have let you get to Tier 17 of the story and then gone “Right, now here’s a dungeon/raid to finish off.”

            It’s one of my biggest pet peeves with WoW that I can play through the whole thing as a single character and be treated like this heroic figure, but never actually get to finish the stories of each expansion because I have no interest in raiding. Always wanted them to, if not until the next expansion or something, offer a cut-down version of the last mission so that everyone can fight the Lich King or besiege Orgrimmar or whatever and see the ending.

          • malkav11 says:

            There are a couple of side stories that culminate in group content but although I haven’t played anywhere near all of them, I don’t think most of the dungeons are anything to do with core storylines except in a “you get some more background lore” sense. The raids might be, I don’t know. It’s not that the story missions necessarily give you all the key details of what’s happening in a given location, and what they do give you isn’t laid out all neat and Cliffs-Noted for you, but the big hanging threads have tended to be paid off in the DLC missions, not dungeons.

      • Premium User Badge

        It's not me it's you says:

        (to sum up: I basically want TSW to be an adventure game, or at least have the gameplay be sufficiently inoffensive that it doesn’t cost any brain cycles if you don’t want it to)

      • Koshelkin says:

        I don’t know… City of Heroes ended service in Nov, 2012. I checked the date of the article several times. I never heard of a CoH private server. Am I missing something?

        • Fontan says:

          “City of Heroes, which I’d often feel the urge to just fire up for a weekend and clobber some stuff”

          Here I believe he means “I would” as in something that happened in the past, no indication that he still plays City of Heroes (as that is probably impossible now).

    • bjohndooh says:

      Ultima Online was the only MMO I felt ever nailed a real classless system.

      • Orageon says:

        Ultima Online indeed had a great class-less system (at least in the first years I don’t know about now), but also because it paired-up with a level-less system, kinda.

        There were no levels for your char, just your skills and the points you had in them (with a cap for total skill points). You could work skills up, let others wither away with time, to readjust your character over time.
        I also liked how original some skills and their use were : Like “Evaluate Intelligence” that not only boosted magic damage but allowed to “guess” another player’s intelligence level (to see if he was rather a mage kind of character) etc. Good times.

  2. riadsala says:

    I would love to play a well paced single player version of this game. Or alternatively, sound HBO give Ragnar a swimming pool of money to make a TV series?

  3. malkav11 says:

    Personally, it was Egypt that overstayed its welcome and it’s only two zones instead of the other two’s three (I’m not counting Tokyo, which is accreting Issue by Issue). There’s no part of TSW that isn’t at least a little awesome in its ideas and ambience, but Solomon Island is IMHO easily the strongest part of the game, with plenty of lower order stories of weirdness and terror surrounding its primary themes of zombies, Norse sea zombies, and the fog. Whereas Egypt seemed real intent on its Amun cultists and relatively light on much else. And hey, the cultists are kind of terrifying, but…variety!

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Just as an FYI, I beat Egypt in a couple of days casual play without breaking a sweat. The biggest problem with it is the amount of space to traverse *all the time*. With the warps, that’s largely dealt with. The only sticking point I had was not having the crowd-control to handle the penultimate tier of the story quest and needing to grind up a bit to get something to handle the rushes. Bouncing around from things like the Orochi base to the town missions to the various temples, it was pretty fun, despite definitely being a step down from Solomon Island.

      To hell with Akhenaten’s “Haha, destroyed the bridge” attack though.

      • malkav11 says:

        I say that not in a “I stalled out in Egypt and never went back” sense, but in a “I had a real hard time mustering the enthusiasm to clear Egypt and had significant difficulty issues until I discovered I could buy cheaty blue QL10 gear with veteran points” sense. I have gotten through it at this point. And Transylvania, although I didn’t do that many of the sidequests there and really should go back. I’d like to rack up slightly better gear before tackling nightmare missions again, though. No, right now I’m in Tokyo. I pretty much reached it, fixed the mod issue that was fucking up my ability to control my AEGIS controllers, and got distracted by other stuff.

        My issue with Egypt wasn’t -just- the huge amounts of running around, but also that whereas there are relatively clear paths to at least the general vicinity of most of the major subareas of Solomon Island and Transylvania, Egypt has monsters all over the place. There aren’t even roads in the second zone, but in the first zone they’re covered with patrolling Atenists and such. (Aten, not Amun. my bad.) Add the generally less varied content and the trouble I was having with fighting stuff and it was offputting. Quick travel probably makes things a lot nicer.

  4. smokiespliff says:

    It was the spammy combat that killed it for me, despite falling in love with the game at the start. Repeatedly hitting builder skills with the odd consumer skill… gah.

    1,1,1,1,1,2,3 – 1,1,1,1,1,3,4 – 1,1,1,1,1,2,5

    It was probably my poor build-making but I tried a few different setups and they all ended up a variation of that. Maybe even a bit of 1,2,1,2 if i’m lucky.
    Thanks for this tho Richard, been meaning to get back to TSW for awhile!

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      Rotations are kinda endemic to MMOs. But The Secret World is a lot more interesting than most with its enemy telegraphed attacks throughout and pushing some pretty complex boss encounters at times. And I do like that its builders opt to work on both weapons, so you should at least have a couple of options after powering up.

    • Vandelay says:

      This was my major issue too, along with the dragging out of every little bit of the game to justify the 100s of hours required by a MMO. I don’t think I got hugely far in Solomon before tiring of it.

      To echo pretty much everyone else here, I would lap this up if it was a single player game. I don’t mind that it has a focus on combat, but I would want that combat to not need to compensate for the fact that some people might have poor internet connections. Even if they didn’t want to make it too action orientated, a traditional single player RPG style would have been fine.

  5. Thirdrail says:

    If they want me back, they need to redesign their player characters. Everyone looks alike, and everyone looks bad. They have a ridiculous amount of cosmetics now, but almost all of them are just awful and clunky looking. The skill system is too wonky to ever really feel good about, and the combat is repetitive even by MMO standards, so there’s just nothing to latch on to. As fantastic as their writing is, and it really is the best in the MMO/RPG kingdom, I just find it impossible to stay invested in a game where, at best, I’m tolerating my avatar. (In all the years I’ve been coming and going from TSW, I’ve managed to get to the final mission of Solomon Island. I want to play the game! I really do. It’s just hard when I’m playing someone whose face looks like a foot. I even spent real money on clothes to try and fix it, but it was about as effective as swaddling an eel to call your baby.)

    Really, the best thing that could possibly happen to The Secret World is if someone remade it all in Second Life, minus the boring combat. THAT I would play from start to finish, with bells on.

    • April March says:

      I agree. After Saints’ Row, I keep raising my eyebrow when I’m not allowed to create a character that doesn’t look like an underwear model.

  6. Jakkar says:

    Let’s break it down to a simpler problem;

    TSW was a failure because it split itself in two; it targeted a demographic of players who WANTED to read the quest dialogue, who wanted to be immersed and drawn forth not by the lure of glowing shoulder pads but by the temptation of dark and secret knowledge, influence behind the scenes.

    … and forced them to play the World of Warcraft third person aggro-and-grind of the conventional MMORPG.

    This simply isn’t logical. There has always been the classic split between the number-fiends, the min-maxers, the optimisers who care more for the DPS of a magic spell than the story of what elemental plane it was forged from by the Grand Wizard Plyc Holdar. There’s some crossover, but this game was trying to appeal explicitly to both extremes at the same time, and subsequently satisfied neither of them – while leaving those in the middle completely nonplussed.

    It may have been aiming more for plot than art and action, but this was simply Hellgate London, all over again. Fantastic world design, asinine, conservative inability to either craft a new foundation of gameplay or regress to earlier ones that worked.

    Take the damn dicerolls out of the MMORPG – STALKER showed that people can enjoy the immersive sim RPG without the damn level-grinding, without the weapon restrictions or the skill tree.

    Why couldn’t we have had a third person action-RPG with 6-64 players instead of a failed, derivative MMO with a glorious story no-one could be bothered to suffer for? Why not multiplayer State of Decay meets Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth?

    • Morte66 says:

      Spot on. Absolutely spot on.

    • malkav11 says:

      TSW is easily the least WoW-like MMO I’ve played outside of the PvP sandboxes like Eve. I don’t disagree that it’s an uneasy marriage between what people are looking for when they play games for story and setting and some of the compromises that have to be made to exist in the MMO space, but I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the gameplay as being that of a conventional “theme park” MMO. In fact, I’m pretty sure a big part of why it didn’t perform well financially is that it doesn’t deliver that much for people who are fans of the MMO grind.

      • Asurmen says:

        In terms of combat it’s more or less the same as WoW.

        • malkav11 says:

          If you mean in the sense that you’re hitting hotkeys to trigger abilities, yes, I suppose. In terms of how those abilities actually work and interact with one another, how you structure your build, how combat actually plays out, etc, not actually particularly close.

          • Asurmen says:

            Nope. More or less the entire thing. Building spenders or resources to be able to use or improve abilities, positioning and reacting to enemy abilities. The combat in TSW was second nature to me because of WoW.

            Building your character is vastly different but that isn’t what is being discussed.

          • malkav11 says:

            Then I disagree. Combat in WoW (which I have played since before launch and am currently actively subscribed to) is a much more static, single target affair which proceeds almost entirely by rote except in group content. They’ve gotten better about it in the last couple of expansions (largely by introducing the occasional miniboss fight during questing but it still actively discourages movement, rarely has you fight more than one thing at a time, and I’ve never needed to switch up my tactics or really pay very much attention during the vast majority of my time in WoW.

            I am constantly maneuvering in TSW, need different tactics and different sets of abilities for different foes, and regularly fighting swarms of enemies (which I personally much prefer). I’ve been consistently challenged by fights through most of the game (at least until I significantly outgeared them). And I don’t agree that you can separate character building from the combat because it’s such an intrinsic part of how TSW’s combat plays.

            All of that is questing, of course, which is the majority of the time I spend in any MMO, but I’ve found the few of TSW’s dungeons that I’ve played have generally demanded more of me as a player as well. I can’t speak to TSW’s raids, though, which are where WoW’s combat most shines (and I haven’t been able to try hard mode raiding in WoW since Wrath). So I can’t compare that particular aspect.

  7. TobleroneRoloCombo says:

    I’m thinking of giving the game another go, create a new character, try starting out as one of the other two factions and all, but the file size scares me. Kind of dampens the notion that I can casually check it out again (and not play it if I get bored of it easily) when it’ll take 12 hours to download.

    These file sizes are typical with this kind of MMO, I know, but I rarely play MMOs in general.

  8. anHorse says:

    I kinda like TSW but I don’t like MMOs of it’s traditional style

    Especially when everything but the combat is so bloody good. I sincerely believe that if it was a single player game it would have been one of the best games ever made.

  9. Luciferous says:

    Had this installed for ages but never really gave it a fair shot, think I might update it and make a shiny new character to give it a fairer shot.

  10. MykulJaxin says:

    title=”Combat Roles: RPS, Tank. Combine with fedora and pistol to unlock the Pretentious Douche class.”

    I think you probably just type RPS more than DPS, but in either case the text ends up being funny.

    Also, I’m pretty sure this is in my ever-growing mountain of un-played games on Steam. I’m generally not one for MMO’s at all, but I’ve been watching this since launch and it seems interesting.

  11. Angstsmurf says:

    I don’t understand how people can stand the dialogue in this game. It is constantly trying to be funny and cool and failing miserably. And there is so much of it!

  12. tumbleworld says:

    I absolutely loved everything about TSW except having to actually play it. The environments were incredible, the story intriguing, the voice-work wonderful, the writing snappy, and the setting inspired. The ARGs that were involved in the pre-launch build-up were awesome. Quest design was fresh and fun, and the real-world quests that required you to go actually solve things as a person were one of the best MMO innovations I’ve ever heard of.

    And then it made you arbitrarily pick a couple of functionally-obscure weapons, mash up a set of impenetrable skills that might or might not work together, and throw you into a set of twisty corridors that were pretending to be an open world. Take a step, get jumped by a huge bug. Move out of its Red Cone Of Impending Doom and pull another one, for funsies. Having tediously slogged your way through your moth-infested corridor so you could continue the fun quest stuff, you’d then need to tediously slog your way back along the same territory again. Doing anything quickly became a trade off between “It sounds fun” and “Oh god, more moths.” Later, of course, moths became terrorists, and then vampires. “Classless” just became “Can switch classes if you go back and grind everything again”, and “No levels” was just a flat out hollow joke/lie.

    Whoever it was who was in charge of player experience should have been taken aside early on Day 2 — around the time he or she started muttering about the glories of mazes of twisty canyons, all alike — and put on coffee duty.

    Gods, what a waste. To imagine what it might have been in that parallel dimension where it was a spiritual successor to VTM:Bloodlines… *weeps*.

  13. James says:

    Reading through this I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to SWTOR.

    It likewise gambled (well, not so much gambles – Bioware’s writing isn’t exactly poor) on story and narrative to sell the game. Quite the opposite to Secret World occured. Bioware based their development cycle on an average playtime of 5 hours per week. By their reckoning they could get more endgame content out before most people finished their first storyline. They massively underestimated; most people were spending over 10 hours a week and the average for the first 3 months wound up as something around 15 hours per week. When people got the endgame they went ‘umm… where’s the content?’ and left in droves. The game went F2P and people thought it would be scrapped within a year but contrary to internet pessimism the game bounced back fantastically. A lot of people thought it was just the Star Wars IP carrying the game, but creatively the developers left traditional ‘Star Wars’ design in the dust so there must be more to it.

    I wonder what made the two MMOs have such different fates.

  14. FuzzieBoy says:

    This is actually the only MMO that’s kept me interested for any reasonably extended period of time, and I’ve personally disliked some of the changes made. I do think the balancing of everything is great, and the author here is definitely right, the start of the game drags on a lot (I hadn’t left the first of the 3 areas in Solomon Isle after about 35 hours of playing), and the first story quest is insanely long to the point where I haven’t completed it after around 80 hours of gameplay, and numerous breaks from the game.

    The main thing I have complaints with is that after this update all quest starting points are on the map, whereas before it just told you where important people were (who would have some of the more involved quests), and as you were just wandering around to get to these people, you’d find items you could interact with to get a small side quest; kinda feels like a game that was before about exploration is starting to verge on becoming an ubisoft-esque check-list of do-all-the-things. Still a fantastic game with some incredible writing that’s actually kept me engrossed and wanting to know what the hell is going on.

  15. aepervius says:

    Thanks for the article I am re-downloading it now.

    By the way, did anybody do the Transylvania serie of quest ? I always (for the 3 times I made a a character leveled it up) achieved coming to the first map of the third “story” and then gave up quickly.

    My bet memory curiously was being in a group for the second 5 man content at the motel, and when all my guys in my group died, soloing the boss with my sword-heal combo (from 7% maybe down to kill). Might have been a bug though that I did not die. My group was behind the force wall and initially told me to die, but then they changed their tune and were cheering me. Took a long time.

  16. Andy_Panthro says:

    Glad I wasn’t the only one annoyed at Jeffrey Combs brief appearance on Gotham… I am very close to giving up on that show.

  17. Rizlar says:

    Well daaamn. Didn’t realise there had been a patch. I’ve often been tempted to fire it up anyway.

    Getting towards the end, in the last-but-two zone I think. It really is brilliant, the storytelling, the deck building, the characters and setting Moved away from a tanky chaos/sword build towards shooty bang pistols/sword last time I played. Freshened up the combat a bit and enemies die a lot faster than before but I still got my arse kicked a good few times. The game really doesn’t make things easy, it is nice!

  18. somnolentsurfer says:

    I gave up on The Secret World after spending about two hours repeatedly killing ak’abs before finally deciding the quest was bugged, and I couldn’t face doing it all again. If they’ve made killing things easier perhaps I’ll give it another go. I really wanted to see the story through.

  19. Chaosie says:

    This is a game that call me crazy, having played so many MMO’s over the years, really had me hooked. The whole setting and idea was really just different than your typical offerings. Something contemporary.

    I also used to play a lot of Anarchy Online. So when it came to complexity in character builds I personally didn’t have a hard time conceptualizing how I wanted to build up my first set of skills. I will not for a moment say it was intuitive. But I personally enjoyed it.

    I got to the end game pretty quickly, stuck it out for a while but I couldn’t really stay. I attribute that to a personal lack of time, and probably some other MMO dragging me away.

    I still think fondly of the game but where player progression is involved, generally the cool stuff in any MMO starts at the end, and without a strong population or much personal time there’s not much for someone like me. :x

  20. rexx.sabotage says:

    You had me at Jeffery Combs

    so does this jobber ever get a promo?

    I wouldn’t mind dropping forty bones on two copies or, is not even the type of soiree you drag a friend along to?

  21. Rikard Peterson says:

    Thanks for the article – it was an interesting read!

    (I also appreciate that it’s slightly longer, and not broken into pages.)

  22. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I think you’re spot on on your Secret World analysis, but I’ll add one more failing: a lack of server mergers. There was a really great social community on my server, but when I returned (before this patch!) to see if I could recapture the magic, I found a total ghost town – and learned that I’d have to pay $15 to move to a server that may or may not be populated.

    • megazver says:

      The game has a single mega-server, where everyone mingles together in single player. The individual server populations are only divided for the PvP and I’m pretty sure you can hop server to server all day long and PvP will still be dead these days.

      Not that it was anything interesting even back in the day.

  23. kwyjibo says:

    Appreciated the return to an older active game. Games are now a service, but in many cases, press coverage still follows the release-once model.

  24. Gaff says:

    I love, love, love the setting and art style. Real-world fantasy is a woefully neglected niche that I wish more games took advantage of (I was looking forward to Shadow Realms until… yeah).

    I picked the game up for $7.50 in a recent Origin sale, and it was worth that and more. Launching with both a sub and a cash shop did the game no favours, but at least they ultimately fixed that.

    The quest system really bugs me though. For as good as the writing in the game is (and as the piece said, it’s generally superb), the clunky way you are limited to a very small number at once really does detract from the experience for me. It creates a lot of artificial back-peddling that gets very old, very quickly.

    I still dust TSW off and play every once in a while, mostly because I love the style so much.

    • malkav11 says:

      I would have liked to look forward to Shadow Realms but nothing they were showing us looked at all inspired or even moderately interesting from a lore perspective (especially next to The Secret World), and I really didn’t want a 4v1 multiplayer experience from it either.

  25. Frank says:

    Why is everyone making up complicated explanations for the game’s failure?

    It failed because it is an MMO. I wish it wasn’t but…alas.

  26. Ungenious says:

    This game had probably the best community in any recent MMO that I’ve played. Though I haven’t played in years, so it could be just emptiness now.

    I loved all the crypto puzzles and teaching noobs how to complete bosses. Or getting a good group and messing around.

    It’s not for everyone, even people who want to like it. Personally, I thought the puzzles and boss fights made up for the mushy (non)classes and lengthy narrative portions.

  27. Kez says:

    IMO, the most brilliant MMO ever made.

    Combat isn’t it’s strongest point but it’s still an amazing game.

  28. HidingCat says:

    I think everyone has more or less said what I wanted to say, but I still want to add:

    Great idea, brilliant world, so-so models, poor animations, and terribly long and boring combat.

    • Phantasma says:

      Thanks, you perfectly summed up what i wanted to write as well, regardless of the general concensus above.
      TSW is my go-to example when i want to stress how not everything is better as a MMO.

      The new rebalancing efforts intrigue me, but i dread the 40ish GB of data i’d have to download again… and that it still wouldn’t be enough to let me overlook the exceptionally bland combat.

  29. Politik says:

    As an aside to a comment in the article about the price. Amazon UK are currently selling copies of the game for £13.99. So if you’re interested in jumping in…the price of entry isn’t that steep!

  30. Darth Gangrel says:

    Damn you for reminding me that there is still no Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines sequel or even spiritual successor of any kind!

  31. MellowKrogoth says:

    Should’ve made it a single player game. The locations are well done, but seeing players running and jumping around kills any believability for me, and the MMO combat is just too stupid.

  32. CraftyBanana says:

    I have a persistent fantasy in which someone take The Secrect World and SWTOR, pulls out all of their delicious story filling and wraps it in a tasty non-MMO shell without all the grinding an soul-crushing travel times.

    Sigh. A man can dream…

    • malkav11 says:

      As of Monday, if you subscribe to TOR you get 12x experience from story missions, which is enough to level purely on story missions and then some. And you get enough commendations to keep yourself in good equipment as long as you have “adaptive” gear to stick mods in. (There are various ways to get this.) Also, they’ve immediately unlocked all taxi points, dramatically reduced the cooldown on the Quick Travel ability (to 6 minutes by default, which is enough to recall home after every story mission, really, or you can spend a little cash shop currency to knock it all the way down to 0 if you really care to, and I think that’s global to every character you have on that server once you’ve unlocked Legacies. I also think you can buy those unlocks with in-game currency, but that’s harder to come by for someone who bounced off the game early.) and Emergency Fleet Pass ability (to 1h30 by default, same deal on unlocks). Training is now free, and speeder access starts at level 15 for subscribers or 10 for people who’ve bought the appropriate unlock.

      It’s still an MMO and will never be as good as a proper singleplayer Knights of the Old Republic game with all that content, but you can stick mostly to the juicy bits as long as you subscribe. At least until fall, when the bonus apparently ends again. But hey, this is already the second time they’ve run it (the first being before the latest expansion came out, for preorderers), so it shows every sign of recurring again in future.

      TSW’s recent revamp ought to make it a lot easier to get to the good stuff as well, although I don’t think TSW’s ever been what I would call grindy except for group-content related gearing that you really don’t need to bother with to enjoy the vast majority of the singleplayer story stuff.