This is a post of my experience playing The Secret World beta, and it is a doozy. Because of the length, I’m going to sum up my actual feelings about the game in another post.
The very first thing you are asked is to choose your faction and you can play a short video right there within the game to get a preview. After making your faction choice you are taken to character creation, which surprisingly is a very simplified experience.
You choose from standard “head” templates, and you can slightly customize the eye size, eye color, nose and mouth size, and skin tone. There are no complex sliders at all and not many color choices. There are only a few hairstyle choices and it seemed most of them for females were of the short variety. Then you had your basic hair colors to choose from. There were no unusual hair colors like pink or purple so if you had your heart set on the punk rock look you would be out of luck. Naturally this is beta, so I’m really hoping we are only seeing a limited selection and that more choices will be available at launch.
Next you choose your initial clothing, and once again I was disappointed in the selection given. You choose between 3 shirts, 3 pant styles, 3 shoes, and 3 coats. One pair of eyeglasses or none. I could live with that, but the clothing didn’t even match well. I definitely looked like a fashion reject. Apparently you could get more clothing from The Secret War Facebook event, and I suspect they will be available in the cash shop.
Choosing a name was also a little strange because you have first and last name plus a nickname. It seems the nickname is the one that has to be unique and it is the only one that gets displayed in the game.
There are many cutscenes throughout the game, as some of them are part of your story line and will start up automatically when you enter a designated area. Many times I found myself caught up in the moment, using hints given to me to follow someone or something, or find a way out of a bad situation, only to cross some invisible threshold and be whisked instantly into a cutscene. It can be a little jarring.
However, you will come across NPCs in the game and you will see icons floating in the air beside them (a neat trick). If you click these you get a short description of the quest and once you click the “accept” command the associated cutscene will begin. The cutscene serves to deliver the quest to you straight from the mouth of the NPC and give you a little more background then you would just reading a short sentence or two.
Your own character is unfortunately mute throughout this process and only stands there listening. The cutscenes are not terribly long, but you can hit the escape button to end it prematurely and the quest will still appear in your log. The voice acting I’ve seen so far has been very good, only the animations don’t match up. Sometimes the character’s mouth will not move at all while they talk, making it seem like you are watching a ventriloquist without a doll. Hopefully this is another beta quirk that gets ironed out. I also had a few issues with cutscenes locking up the game during the transitions, and the only remedy was to force quit the game and restart it.
I will cut to the chase now and say that “questing” in this game is more investigative than in any other MMO I’ve played. The game points you in a general direction using arrows and colored areas on both your map and mini-map. The objective might be to find a person or object, or to follow something. When you get to the area you will either find that thing or be given another clue, or you may be asked to solve a puzzle. These aren’t overly complicated puzzles like in the Myst series of games, yet you still have to use your brain a bit. The objectives often do not tell you exactly what to do.
Here is an example of one such quest I did in Kingsmouth. I was led to a building from a different task. I noticed there was an NPC inside because they are marked on your mini-map, so I went in. I went down a staircase and this new-age type of music began to play. The room was dimly lit with a reddish light and there were bookshelves all around. There was a woman sitting at a round table in the corner with her head down and on the table was a crystal ball. She appeared to be a fortune teller. I clicked on her and she told me a story about having recurring dreams of ravens. She felt these ravens were connected to the events happening in Kingsmouth.
My objective was to find a raven. I went outside to the spot indicated on the map and a raven was on the ground, and when I approached my quest updated telling me to follow it. It flies up in the air and though I can’t see exactly where it took off to, I start following in that general direction. I find more of them a short distance away, they keep flying off and I follow. At times a monster pops out of the ground and I need to kill it, collect a feather that drops, then follow the ravens again. They lead me to a fountain in a park. I’m asked to find a way to summon the Revenant. I would have had no idea how, but if you look closely there is a piece of paper on the ground you can interact with. When you read it, it shows you a picture of a pentagram and instructs you to place the feathers in certain corners to begin a ritual. The paper pretty much tells you what to do, so I placed the feathers in the corners indicated. A pentagram lit up in the center of the fountain and the Revenant boss appeared, whom I killed without too much difficulty. I was then able to receive my reward for that quest. There was a follow up quest given by the fortune teller, but I was going to have to go see her again to get the next part.
What I’ve just described is a typical quest in this game. A trend seems to be finding small things to interact with that are easy to miss. I found myself oftentimes led to a colored circle on the map and roaming around it searching desperately for whatever I was supposed to click on. Those don’t glow and sparkle in an obvious way, in this game objects are outlined in red when you can interact with it. Oh there’s that dead guy over there, behind the bush in the one direction I didn’t look. Ah, a tiny piece of paper on the ground. Or a little switch on the wall that disables the camera that will kill me with flame if it detects me. Quests have all been multi-step and they advance themselves as you go along. When you complete them, you send your report to your faction (not by magic, but cell phone) and they credit your account with your rewards.
Another interesting thing I noticed is that all the quests are repeatable, after they’ve gone though a “cooldown” period. Since the game has no classes and there are 500+ skills to unlock, could this mean there is not enough content in the game to unlock all these skills without repeating quests?
There is a limit on how many quests you can have active at once of a certain type. If you try to go over the limit, you get a dialogue box warning you that your current quest will be cancelled. You can put the cancelled quest into a paused mode, so you can go back to the NPC and reactivate it again and it will save any progress you made on it.
You can only track one quest at a time, so which ever quest is “active” is the one that will be represented by the colored circles and waypoints on the map. You can easily change the active quest by hovering over it in the UI and a pop-up menu of your other quest “icons” appears. It seems they wanted us to focus on one task at a time, but this means you can’t knock out two or more objectives that happen to be in the same area.
What I’ve seen of the game so far is impressive. There is a good day/night cycle and the in-game time is always represented by a clock on the top right corner of the screen. You can actually see the minutes ticking by.
Kingsmouth has a creepy and foggy atmosphere so it is always a little dark even during the daytime hours. You will also find out pretty quickly that Kingsmouth is overrun by zombies, and the way the zombies hang out in groups munching on a corpse is a nice touch. It feels just like walking around in an episode of the Walking Dead.
The sound effects are quite nice too, with music being localized to certain areas and good environmental effects. I often heard the zombies near me before I necessarily saw them. I noticed while fighting if your health gets low, the combat music gets louder adding to the excitement of the moment. While the cutscenes give the NPCs some character, unfortunately they just stand rooted to the same spots in the game. They don’t move around or fidget much, but some of them will acknowledge you when you walk near them.
It performed well on my mid-range machine and I was able to get consistent 60 FPS on high settings. Use CTRL-ALT-F to show FPS.
If you weren’t aware, you can technically use any weapon you find in The Secret World, but if you don’t have any points invested in that weapon type you won’t have any of its associated abilities. The game has an area in the tutorial where you can equip and try out all of the weapon types, but they only give you 2 abilities to play with of each type. You must choose one weapon type before you leave this area, so you at least have a starting point for your character. Similar to Guild Wars 2, you only have 7 active abilities equipped at any given time on your hotbar so you certainly aren’t overwhelmed with buttons to push.
All attacks build up a resource, either on you or your target. You can have a main-hand and an off-hand item, like a fist weapon plus a focus that allows for Chaos powers for example.
The combat and spell casting effects themselves are pretty underwhelming at this point. It is the complete opposite of Guild Wars 2 which are at times overwhelmingly colorful. I’m not sure if this was intended because the game is a modern setting and they wanted to make it more realistic, but they fall flat when compared with what we are used to as MMO gamers.
The combat is not billed as “action” combat, but you don’t want to just stand in one place. I found myself constantly circle strafing mobs while using my rifle, because I seemed to take less damage that way. Some mobs have special attacks which will be obvious and you need to move out of the way of them. There is no auto-attack.
Seeing as this game has no levels, it was never easy to tell if a mob was going to be a challenge or not. Some of the zombies would always come as a group, and I noticed when I targeted them there was a 3-circle symbol by the name. Other mobs which came as singles only had a one-circle symbol, but they had a larger hit pool. I found the single mobs to always be a little bit tougher.
There is a pretty complicated Ability Wheel in the game. You can either try to plan out your own progression or use one of the game’s recommended builds. This is similar to Fallen Earth’s skill based progression, except in this game once you buy abilities you can switch them out anytime you want and you can earn all 500+ abilities. There would be no reason to re-spec and lose all your progression if you wanted to switch paths, you would simply start spending your points in a different area. I didn’t want to use up a lot of time looking at all the different skills, so I based my build off one of the recommended builds or “decks” as they are called in game. The decks are given creative but vague names like Executioner or Witch Hunter.
There are anima points (AP) and skill points (SP) that you earn by filling up your experience bar. Experience is gained through killing mobs and doing quests, PvP and crafting. AP are spent in the Ability Wheel on both active and passive abilities. SP are spent in a different window, and from what I can tell are just more points that you spend on a certain weapon or magic category. You can spend SP to boost either the damage, healing, or support effectiveness of the weapon. I also had to spend some points in Major Talismans, so I could equip a higher ranked talisman that I got as a quest reward.
So while gear doesn’t have a level requirement because there are no levels, there is a SP requirement associated with them (presumably so one couldn’t become super powerful at an early stage via gear given to them). You don’t equip armor in the traditional sense, but you do equip things that are more like jewelry and accessories that increase your stats. The clothing itself appears to be purely cosmetic.
I can’t comment much on crafting because I honestly couldn’t figure it out. There is a grid that you place a toolkit into, but then you are to place components into the grid in a certain pattern. I tried various toolkits and placing components in randomly but got no where. I was looting crafting components off mobs as I killed them but I didn’t know what the components were for. I would need lots more time to figure this out, and I imagine the recipes will wind up online eventually.