The Secret World (PC)

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I have a real fear of playing massively multiplayer online games. From what I’ve heard and seen is that they have a real ability to turn your life-upside down and tap away at your free time until you have nothing left. Plus, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun grinding hour upon hour only to get to the endgame.

It’s no secret, though, that I love a good story in a game and that’s where Funcom’s latest MMO is so strong: the story. Does it have enough to lure me in and subscribe past the one month trial?

The Secret World Screenshot 1

The Secret World is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, which means it immediately competes against behemoths like World of Warcraft. Unlike the MMO’s currently doing the rounds, however, The Secret World doesn’t focus on high fantasy or science fiction. The Secret World is set on Earth, in modern times, around cities you have heard of before, but behind this familiar world is another world. One where zombies and werewolves and all sorts of other monsters are real. This is the Secret World.

When signing up to play The Secret World you can choose one of three factions to enlist with. The Templars from London are honourable and focus on discipline. The Dragons from Korea are based in Seoul and are the agents for chaos and manipulation. Finally, the Illuminati can be found in New York, and like most people in New York are all about power and control.

Regardless of faction, the games start off and, from what I can tell, play through many of the beginning missions in exactly the same way. Through flashbacks you are introduced to the underground world and made aware of an infection in the world called ‘the Filth.’ You soon find yourself at the base camp for your faction and sent on your merry way to do that faction’s bidding.

The Secret World Screenshot 2

Since The Secret World is a role-playing game you can expect a few things – first of all is combat. The modern weapons in the game include things like machine guns, swords, hammers and various other items. These weapons can either be used or disassembled into their parts. Using recipes at work-benches you can then use these parts to create new weapons. They can also be upgraded with better materials of higher quality, ensuring your weapon of choice gains levels alongside you.

This crafting system plays a big part in The Secret World. Finding the right materials and combining them with the right items in the right way allows you to create some very rare and powerful weapons.

Your weapons are also affected by your abilities with them. Abilities can be upgraded with ability points that are gained in a way similar that other role-playing games handle levelling up. Active and passive abilities are available, too, and many of them are locked to specific weapon types. That means you cannot use a whirlwind attack from your sword while carrying a machine gun.

The Secret World Screenshot 3

Deciding on which class to choose can be quite tricky, especially since there is no class system in The Secret World. Your style of play is affected only by your abilities, and not by special traits associated with classes. Funcom has made it a bit easier for those of us who need a guiding hand on what type of player we are and provide you with decks which show you suggested paths when upgrading your character.

Combat itself in The Secret World is pretty arduous and I often found myself fighting purely to get to the next part in the story. With a great story and a weak combat system, they do tend to make the bad look worse and the good look even better. This disparity became more and more clear as I played. I figured the controls were just something I needed to get used to, but alas, after three weeks of playing I still find them clumsy – more of an obstacle to The Secret World than a welcoming path.

The animation during combat is very smooth, except characters don’t actually seem to make any contact, while the enemies don’t seem to be too much affected by attacks, either. I feel there needs to be a bit more weight behind attacks to add that realistic hit sensation.

The Secret World Screenshot 10

The second big part of role-playing games is questing and The Secret World allows for many quests, just like a normal MMO. The difference here is the fact that all characters are fully voiced and you actually want to listen to them. They are sometimes overly melodramatic and reek of B-movie action stars, but in the end I found they simply add an extra level of character to the game as a whole.

You will find that most of the quests given to you are the usual chores of fetching and delivering items, or killing ‘this many zombies,’ or on the odd occasion, you’ll need to solve a puzzle or two. Only now you actually know why you are performing a certain quest. You’re only allowed a handful of quests at a time so you’re always fully aware of why you’re chasing a bunch of crows through a zombie-infested town, or fighting a bunch of Mayans alongside some Vikings.

The Secret World Screenshot 13

Visually, The Secret World looks much better than any other MMO I have seen. It’s all in the details – the bigger city levels, small towns, zombie-infested forests or even the Agartha hub world all have a touch of detail not normally seen in MMO’s. It also manages to run pretty smoothly at the same time. Spells and environmental effects from the top drawer completes the visual feast.

Your aural senses will also be pleased to know that, musically, The Secret World does very well. The music never intrudes and always adds some depth more than being in the way. Sound effects are adequately punchy.

Yet still, it feels like The Secret World could have been better. Normally an MMO launches with a few hiccups and gets ironed out as time goes along, which means huge updates every few days. It also means that in order to get the game in its best form, you’re probably better off waiting a few more months. The only problem then is that very few players might still be playing.

The Secret World Screenshot 6

During my time with The Secret World I never felt like I was playing an MMO – this may just as easily have been a singleplayer game. You can enter some player-versus-player arenas and duke it out with others online and you can guild up and go on raids if you want, but the main character is the story that could easily be enjoyed on your own.

The benefits of playing on your own is that nobody can interfere in your missions. I was setting up a ritual with crow’s feathers early on in the game, which requires feathers to be placed around a pool to summon some monster. I was about to place the last feather when someone else did the same thing. We killed the monster together but my quest was still active. Kill steal!

The Secret World Screenshot 9

My one month subscription is running out soon. I enjoyed my time with The Secret World, but my fears can be put to rest. This is not the MMO to totally engage me and suck me in with a monthly subscription. If this was a singleplayer game with better controls, it would have scored at least one more star. World of Warcraft does’nt have to lose any sleep.

- The Good: Wonderful, rich world with very good story; Easy on the eye; Nice crafting and ability system

- The Bad: Controls; No real need for it being an MMO

- The Ugly: Stealing quests is just not cool