The Secret World Beta Impressions

Posted on 29 June, 2012

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The final beta weekend has passed for Funcom’s soon to be launched mmo, The Secret World, and as usual with mmo betas – I was there!

The game kicks off with a series of cut-scenes to provide a bit of backstory. Your character is mute, so much of this consists of watching your character do things (silently), or listening to monologues (which, obviously, you cannot respond to). These go on far too long, do little to grab and excite the player, and provide the first warning signs that The Secret World may struggle to set my world alight.

The ‘meat’ of the experience eventually turns up when you are spirited away to Kingsmouth to investigate a fog and zombie problem. After a weekend of play I had no idea what the supposed ‘problem’ was, but ran in to quite a few gripes of my own. Firstly I never left the murky Kingsmouth that weekend. In other recent mmo betas like Rift, The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2 I would comfortably have moved on from the first area in a weekend. This pacing does of course cut both ways – rush players through content too quick and they run out just as quick, keep players in one area too long and they get bored. Kingsmouth definitely felt like a drag, lacking any serious interest.

Secondly, the mysteries and vagaries of the game design itself weighed heavily on my experience. TSW employs a classless and level-less character system. The player is free to spend skill and action points to customise a build (awarded as a result of accomplishing quests), and thus more experienced characters will have a deeper or broader range of skills to utilise. So far, that sounds like a good thing, one more rpgs should consider. However, at no point did i discover how to identify other players overall level of experience, the same being true for the monsters I encountered. For the most part I ended up attacking everything I came across and waited to see how hard they thumped me back.

Tied to this the equipment progress was virtually zero. The one shop I found had nothing I could afford, and the items that I discovered or were awarded resulted in a change to each equipment slot no more than once across my entire experience.

Thirdly (and finally for what is becoming a somewhat downbeat post) questing is rather lack lustre. A fair portion is the standard kill and fetch quests common throughout the genre. The quests that are meant to provide the intrigue, discovering clues, uncovering mysteries… well they just don’t pan out that way. They are still very much in the vain of “go somewhere, click on something”. Supposedly the deeper you go the more investigating is required in questing (including jumping out to google, trawling websites for clues and the like). There’s an ambition there that is in keeping with the theme of the game, but will it really work? I can imagine all that will happen is the in-game chat channels being awash with people asking for the answers rather than struggling with the legwork themselves.

All in all TSW looks like a surprisingly bleak offering in the mmo genre. It certainly aims to be different and pushes hard to create an atmosphere of its own with bold design choices. On the evidence of this, the final beta however, the combat is weak, enemy AI poor, environments sub-standard, and general range of adventure and activity linear and un-engaging.

Early access for The Secret World starts today, with full service commencing July 3rd.

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