Fighting The Secret War

Riknas, signing off!

….Wait, that’s not how a post goes!

Hey again everyone. Today I wanted to talk about some of the comments people have made specifically about combat in The Secret World.

A fair number of commenters and bloggers have gone on to say that gameplay and combat in The Secret World is very “samey” or “standard”. To be fair, even I thought that for a little while. But having invested a much larger amount of time into the game over the past week, I feel l should clarify that this is very much not the case, and there are two key reasons why.

1. More Action Based Combat

I know it sounds very lame to say, “The further you go, the deeper it gets” but that’s the truth of it. When you first start playing the game, especially if you are beginning with melee combat, it comes across as pretty standard affair. However, as you learn new abilities you will find the need to carefully balance them pretty quickly. As you develop your character, the enemies become stronger in a way that you can no longer stick to your standard attacks, and they will force you to keep moving, literally. Many higher/moderately ranked enemies have special attacks with different area of effects. These are high damage, however you can avoid them if you pay attention to their animations and a white outline displaying the attack area. These shapes can be as simple as circles that might pop up around you or, or a long box appearing in front of the enemy. As such, you must continue to move your character to avoid these attacks. If you end up fighting multiple enemies like these, the faster pace quickly becomes a frantic dance as you try to keep up a consistent wave of damage without taking too much yourself.

The big guy says you can’t hold still.

Another thing that’s cool about the combat is that you have a limited number of ability slots. Hold up a second while I explain why that’s good, okay? In the “average” MMO you slowly fill up your hotbar with different abilities and then you need to assign new keybindings to have easier access to them. By end game, you have set your character movement to the left mouse button instead of the WASD keys, because you ran out of other buttons to use as shortcuts for your massive line-up of abilities to be used like some sort of super-powered conga line.

The Secret World isn’t like that. Instead of having an ever growing list of powers on your hotbar, you unlock new abilities without the hotbar expanding. The Secret World forces you to be efficient, carefully picking your abilities for the best set-up you can come up with. Often after each difficult battle I found myself stopping to look at all the different abilities I had and wondering if I should switch one ability I have out for another… Which actually brings me to my next point.

Normally, you wouldn’t even be able to stop and think, “Man, I should change my set up,” without immediately groaning afterward. Changing your character’s specialization is often a long process, an expensive process, or a long and expensive process. Not in The Secret World. Of the nine powersets available, you can use two at any one time. Pistols and Assault rifles? Sure. Sword and shotgun? Go for it. Bronze knuckles and blood magic? Be my guest. The other specializations aren’t forever lost to you, you can start putting points into those other abilities whenever you like. The only caveat is that you can only have 7 active and 7 passive abilities at any one time. And while this might seem like a hindrance at first, you have less skills that you have to keep track of so you can focus on your target and tracking their movements. At the same time, this also stops you from crippling yourself while trying to switch out to a new build. Early skills come quite quickly and you should be able to replace your old abilities with new ones without much problem.

Even then, almost any combination is valid because each weapon type has two primary uses. For example, while my pistol abilities can be used for damage, they can be also used for support; I can shift myself toward healing and defense without stopping myself from doing damage again later. This can be great if you want to get in on a raid and they already have enough DPS, or whatever your preferred build is. But even when it just comes down to damage, there’s still wiggle room to be had. My second weapon of choice is elemental magic, and with that I often find myself deciding between chain abilities (attacks that hop from one enemy to another) and higher damage single target attacks. Even after I’ve acquired those abilities, I’ll be able to switch them as necessary when the situation changes. That zombie mob went down fast with my chain lightning, but then I might need to switch to using heavy flames and a rain of bullets when I meet that demon around the corner.

2. The Secret World Mixes It Up

At one point I went on to say that the quests were more interesting and compelling than regular quests. Each quest opens with a unique cut scene and has multiple tasks to stop them from being as simple as “kill ten zombies”. Indeed, you might kill ten zombies doing the quest, but that’s because you went to a phone book to check for locations that might have valuable supplies, and while you went to the gas station to pick up oil and the diner to find cans of food you happened to kill some zombified waitresses at the diner and some demented sea creatures for when you passed by the beach.

But the thing is, it doesn’t actually stop with “slightly more interesting” quests, it also has “completely different” quests, times where you simply can’t just fight your way through a mission. With quests categorized as “Sabotage” and “Investigation” you will need to rely on stealth and careful thinking if you want to succeed. At one point, a Sabotage mission actually had me jumping over and maneuvering around laser sensors, and then I needed to evade  spotlights attached to cameras, because someone actually rigged them to explode if I triggered any alarms. Later, for an Investigation mission I was inspecting a room of paintings, trying to determine which one might have a clue that would lead me to some ancient artifacts. To stop me from simply looking at all of them, several would have their own riddles on the back to throw me off the trail; if I was going to save time I had to know what kind of painting I was looking for. At another point I had to look up a site via the in-game browser so I could check the materials I would need to do a makeshift repair on a radio tower. How many games will have you do something like that?

He doesn’t look like it, but the blue guy an solve a rubix cube pretty damn fast.

The Secret World is far from being a “standard” game, and that’s no secret.

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Investigating The Secret World (Part 2)

Naturally, this is a follow up on The Secret World from Part 1.

So, I’m going to skip over a second set of introductions because chances are if you’re reading this you already read part one. That, and if you didn’t read the first part I can’t imagine you caring much about this post either.

One thing I would like to say before discussing my experiences in-game is to say that Funcom has really gone the extra mile in this project, especially as one of the few prominent independent studios left. I never thought the newsletter that I signed up for on a whim would actually come back and entice me the way it has. Their use of the Facebook “social experience” The Secret War managed to make a simple map of our own world seem significantly more mysterious and enticing. Along with that, they kept me checking in on it regularly with offers of in-game items, treats, and guaranteed beta access for those that accumulated an exceptionally large sum of “points”.

Along with that, they continued to string along the conspiracy theorists with unique marketing, sending those who signed up for the newsletter on an elaborate internet chase, trying to unravel two mysteries at once in what people are calling an “ARG” or “Alternate Reality Game“. They have been keeping us active digging through pastebin archives, searching for hidden meaning in songs on Youtube, deciphering secret codes to unlock Live Action videos that bring us one step closer to understanding another conflict occurring in The Secret World. If you want to try and see what I’m talking about… go to www.funcom.com and wait for a few seconds for the site to load. Then hit “33” on your keyboard, and you can see what I’m talking about They are currently on the sixth seal here. See if you can figure out the questions you may have on your own. One would normally think a game rooted in mystery, deception, and espionage would not lend itself especially well to an MMORPG; while I can’t speak for everyone, Funcom has done a damn good job at making it work so far.

And with that out of the way, let me tell you about my experience inside The Secret World. Keep in mind, there may be spoilers.

The first rule of The Secret World is tell all your friends about The Secret World…Wait, what?

Just before the character creator, you are asked to choose between one of three factions, the Templars, Illuminati, and the Dragon. To help you decide, each faction has a simple trailer (click the links if you want to see them). Considering how they have much more elaborate trailers, I’m surprised that they chose to use those ones. My personal guess is that these trailers are easier for the client to run as opposed to the full CG ones, and they don’t want to tax the program more than necessary.

Anyway, while my personal choice was the Illuminati, I decided to try the starter areas for each of the factions. Regardless of your choice, the game opens up with a cutscene referred to as “One Week Ago” in what is presumably your apartment, unless you actually are a squatter or stole another person’s apartment after killing them and throwing their mutilated corpse in their own closet. “Why so specific?” you might ask. Don’t. Worry. About. It. Okay?

As I was saying, you are sleeping in your (alleged) apartment while a radio broadcast mentions investigations into the Japanese government after an unclear accident took place against a certain “Orochi” group. Meanwhile, while this broadcast takes place, one glowing insect and another regular one fly onto your windowsill and slowly make their way across their room. The first insect flies into your mouth, and the glowing one follows right after it. Almost immediately after, your character brings a hand to their throat and sits up coughing. Reaching out for your jacket across from your bed, a blue fire comes from your hand, and you jerk back in surprise. Testing your hand once more, the flame appears once more and you stare in shock. The screen goes black, and we then see ourselves “Four Days Ago”. Your apartment is now a wreck, CDs, books and various objects are strewn across the floor, along with an entire bookshelf toppled over. And then there is you, tucked away in the corner curled up holding your knees to your chest, face distraught. There’s a rumbling in the background, and you find yourself yanked upward as you let forth an explosion around you and are held up in the air while beams of energy shoot out from your mouth and eyes like you were running a laser-light-show for your organs. By the next time skip you’ve decided to use your fire as part of your own break dancing routine as you throw it back and forth between your hands, until you decide to absorb it from one hand, and let the blue energy travel through your shoulders, up your arm, and materializing it once more in your opposite hand. After that, your paths finally diverge based on your faction choice, and a representative of that group shows up at your door. They capture the moods of their respective organizations very well, with the Illuminati man clarifying the playboy/party life you can lead, the Templar woman explains the importance of nobility and your responsibility to the world, and the Dragon sends a monk with lips stitched together, knocks you out with a bolt of lightning to the forehead, has you dragged off, so you can wake up being thrown out of a van in South Korea. For a bit of context, it is heavily implied that your apartment is in New York City. The Dragon are agents of chaos indeed.

At this point I think I should stop and clarify, not only were all these introductions very cool, for an MMO the animations were extremely fluid and compelling, and from what I have seen, Funcom has clearly gone out of their way to let us know they can do a lot with their character models. This is made especially clear in the Illuminati section as characters stand up and walk around, sometimes raising their fists and shaking their head, while other times providing slight nods and general gestures. In general, the facial animations are a bit lacking, but overall Funcom has conveyed the feeling of living human bodies very well. Of course, I should point out that I did notice a fair number of flaws in the animations for the Dragon starter area, but it appears to be something everyone is aware and should be worked out by the next release date.

Since this article has turned out (again) to be longer than I expected, I will be detailing the combat and gameplay in Part 3.

Riknas, signing off!

Investigating The Secret World (Part 1)

Good afternoon internet. For close to three days, Funcom had its third Beta event “Hell Raised” for The Secret World. This went from which ended last night. The game will no longer be available until June 29th for early access players, or July 3rd for the main release. I happened to be one of the lucky people invited to this beta weekend event, and now I will relay the many things I have seen to you, dear readers. Keep a note, this will not be spoiler free.

Getting Started

First, I may as well point out that installing the game went relatively smoothly. While I did have some difficulties with the installer stopping abruptly, this was caused by external sources rather than the program itself. However, while the patcher works adequately, its still slow compared to the other MMOs I have worked with. Each time I tried to boot up the game after having downloaded the necessary patches, it still insisted on analyzing my computer for 10-20 seconds and then going through a 10 megabyte download (each time) before telling me I was ready. I assume it’s just overwriting the same memory file repeatedly, but in the off-chance that is not the case, I will consider myself both distressed and disappointed.

Even then, once I try to start up the game it takes a while, going from 40 seconds to a little over a minute. Hopefully the patcher will be optimized in the last beta weekend or the launch date That said, the wait wasn’t terrible, but it was long enough for me to wonder, “Is this thing working?”

After that the game booted up in Fullscreen, and ran through the usual promotional trailers and branding. One odd thing I noted though is that after that, every other time I tried to start the game it would begin in windowed mode until I went into the video settings to change it back. Again, this was an oddity that wasn’t especially bad, just a minor inconvenience.  If only I could say the same about the character creation…

Character Creation

It’s a neat little thing, giving you what I would call a “moderate” amount of customization. There is no height changes to make but with the full assortment of skin colors along with sliders for various facial features like “eyebrow”, “jaw” etc. There are a decent number of features to make sure you have a character that manages to look different from the next guy. This would be okay, if the character creator didn’t seem to hate me. Although we were allotted three character slots, I made four characters after deleting one, and each time I managed to fight with the character creator. While clicking on skin colors and articles of clothing worked fine, the sliders worked more like rusted levers as I tried to drag it from one choice to another, and god forbid I try to click over to a different part of the slider. No, it was quite determined that I struggle to go through each choice on the way to the one I wanted to see. Perhaps it was trying to encourage me to be more open minded about the other choices, but I certainly wasn’t convinced. This was the first time I just stopped adjusting my characters appearance because it simply wasn’t worth the effort. That definitely needs to be fixed before release.

But, where the character creator really shines is in having a massive wardrobe to go through, giving you dozens of outfits to put together. The ability to dress like a pimp, a business man, a member of the trenchcoat mafia, a homeless man, a golfer, or a homeless man that looked like he found some dress shoes are all at your finger tips. Really, it’s an excellent number of choices, and there are plenty more outfits for your character to buy when you get out in the real world.

Because I have less time than I would like to write this, I will be detailing the in-game experience in part 2.

Riknas, signing off!