The Secret World review (PC)
Top-level secret or straight into the shredder?
Although I have not been properly impressed by an MMO for years, I was oddly excited about The Secret World. I simply could not help but look forward to what promised to be a fresh setting and a new take on the MMO genre.
In some ways, the Secret World has taken some pretty impressive steps for what is proving to be a very difficult genre to succeed in if you’re not Blizzard, but in others, it fails quite dismally.
The Secret World was developed by Funcom. They’re the guys that gave us Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, as well as Anarchy Online, and some other stuff.
It’s an MMORPG that carries a subscription fee of €14.99 (R150) per month to play.
Players can choose between three different factions: the New York based Illuminate, the Seoul based Dragon, and the London based Templars.
The game is set on the world we live in, complete with real cities and organizations.
Starting out, you are required to create a character. You are given a reasonable selection of customization options, although don’t expect to make any formal class decisions (there aren’t any), or even stat choices at this stage.
Once you have made your character, you are introduced to The Secret World. What becomes immediately apparent early on is that The Secret World has been designed with an emphasis on the single-player experience.
It’s not that much unlike Star Wars: The Old Republic in that regard, and you are encouraged to pursue the story rather than adopt the more free-form approach that World of Warcraft and many other MMOs employ. In fact, a few hours in I started to feel that my link to the broader MMO world was tenuous and at times superfluous.
Having said that, it was still relatively enjoyable. The combat, while not revolutionary, was probably slightly more enjoyable than what I am used to in MMOs, and the new setting made it feel fresh. I did not like the controls, which felt a little clumsy, but dialogue was off the bat of a higher quality than I had come to expect from MMOs.
As I progressed a little further in, I discovered that I was not stranded in my home city. Nope, there are various real world locations that you will get to explore in The Secret World, including New York, London, Egypt, Transylvania, and New England. This was an exciting prospect, and I began to feel genuinely excited about The Secret World.
However, at some point it all just began feeling a little dull and monotonous. It’s a feeling I am well accustomed to experiencing after a few hours into many MMOs. Despite its efforts to make meaningful changes to the MMO template, everything began to drag out and feel tired. While many of the quests are framed quite nicely, the actual gameplay remains boring and repetitive. The content itself is often quite interesting, although the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
The investigation missions are quite captivating and require a degree of riddle solving. However, most of the time I would find myself giving up and resorting to Google to find my way through what felt like impossible obstacles.
As I mentioned, the combat systems are about as engaging as we have come to expect from the genre. So if you hate monotony, repetition, and gameplay cycles that don’t really rely on any skills that you can hone, then you should steer clear.
One of the most seemingly noteworthy diversions that The Secret World makes is the lack of a traditional levelling system. Instead, you earn skill points and ability points as you progress. Skill points unlock new levels of gear and stat boosts, while ability points let you choose new abilities from a wheel.
While throwing out the character levelling system sounds interesting, it doesn’t really add anything positive, and it does make things less clear. It’s harder to tell if you are strong enough to take on a particular enemy, and you can’t really be sure if you are in an area appropriate to your character’s skill level. Essentially, there are still character skill levels, they just aren’t summarized neatly in a number that floats above your avatar, and more importantly, your enemies’ heads.
I did quite like the dungeons, which for the most part are fun and require a level of tactical deliberation that will appeal to gamers who appreciate a bit of depth. Sadly, the game’s focus on the single player experience means that you won’t regularly be channelled towards these instances. There is not even a group finding tool to facilitate what should be a core component of any multiplayer game: actually playing with other people.
Then there is the PvP, which I found sorely lacking. There simply are not many incentives to encourage you to bother with the PvP, which is for the most part clumsy, bland, and poorly balanced. To make things worse, I experienced long queues which ultimately resulted in me spending very little time in that portion of the game.
The big secret?
The Secret World’s greatest strength is its narrative. The world does a good job of creating an atmosphere, and the characters, scripting and voice acting are for the most part very good. The focus on the single player experience is a little disappointing, especially considering that you are paying R150 per month, ostensibly to facilitate a consistent online world where you can enjoy the company of other gamers.
It also doesn’t help that the game is still buggy, although this is being improved with each frequently released patch.
If you are an MMO veteran looking for something a little bit different, then The Secret World might be worth checking out. However, it’s difficult to make a broader recommendation than that.