This week, Jasper, Jarenth and Nagilum review the third beta weekend of The Secret World. We only really played one day, but we did continue playing non-stop until football-related matters intervened, so we like to think we got a pretty good impression. We talk about atmosphere, levelling versus not levelling, terrible combat animations, and why we’ll probably all buy it at launch.
Jarenth: So, what did you guys think? As a general impression?
Jasper: I like it a lot, especially compared to other MMOs.
Nagilum: Same for me. It’s quite interesting, not your typical MMO, and that made it attractive.
Jarenth: And the same for me as well. I even went back in for the fourth beta weekend. So I guess we all like it?
Jasper: I’m sure Nagilum doesn’t really like it, though.
Nagilum: It’s decent compared to other MMOs. It’s not super super great, but it’s good enough to consider actually buying. And that’s high praise from me.
Jasper: So, we should probably give a brief description of what makes this game special.
Jarenth: Ok, well… The Secret World basically takes place in the modern, current world. And you play a regular modern guy or girl, nothing special… until one night a magical bee flies into your mouth and gives you super powers.
Nagilum: Not the game’s strongest point.
Jarenth: Then you get inducted into one of three secret societies: the Illuminati, the Templars or the Dragon.
Jasper: We all played Illuminati in the beta.
Jarenth: The Illuminati starting area has a little puzzle segment, right off the bat: you have to follow their secret marks to find their headquarters. I’ve also played Templars later, and they’re just kind of right in the open.
Jasper: The Illuminati weren’t very hard to find, either, though.
Jasper: So about that combat, that’s probably important.
Jarenth: The Secret World is basically an MMO, but it claims to have no levelling system. Normally when a game says that I get sceptical — EVE Online doesn’t have a traditional levelling system either, but you’re still levelling — but it’s looking like in The Secret World it’s actually kind of true.
Nagilum: It still has something very much like a level, though. You get experience and skill points and everything.
Jarenth: But it’s not permament, almost never permanent. It’s really easy to bring yourself back to the power level of someone who just started.
Jasper: You will get higher skills later on.
Jarenth: Well, they’re not stronger, per se, but better. More awesome.
Nagilum: But now you’ve basically described a levelling system.
Jarenth: Well, true. But again, it’s easy to go back. You’re never ‘high level’. In WoW, if you hit max level and go back to the starting area, naked, you can still auto-attack-kill everything. In The Secret World, if you hit max level and unequip all your gear and abilities, you’re almost a level-one character again.
Jasper: The gameworld is pretty unforgiving, too. YOu can get killed pretty easily. But the penalty isn’t very severe… though Nagilum probably disagrees.
Nagilum: No, I love corpse-running for twenty-five minutes! There was only one resurrection point near where I died, which we missed, and then I got stuck.
Jasper: The lesson here is probably that you should not die.
Jasper: So yeah combat.
Jarenth: The basic idea is this: there are nine weapons, of which you can have two equipped at any time. Every weapon has a bunch of active and passive skills associated with it, which you unlock through a couple of trees. And you can have up to seven active and seven passive skills slotted at any time. That’s it.
Nagilum: The combat animations are pretty bad.
Jarenth: They did feel a little unfinished, yeah.
Nagilum: I really hope that’s a beta thing, but I’m negative about what this means for what’s to come. Looking purely at the beta, it’s the biggest disappointment.
Jasper: Yeah, all the animations are really terrible.
Jarenth: Especially the jumping animation.
Jasper: Besides the jumping, it feels a little like City of Heroes. The combat animations are… they work, but they’re nothing special.
Nagilum: And The Secret World is a decent-looking game, otherwise. I’m surprised it has what feels like dummy animations.
Jasper: You have to take into consideration that they had to animate the Running Man, though.
Jarenth: It takes resources to do that right!
Jasper: I understand their choice, here.
Jarenth: The animations lack a certain weight. You fire a shotgun and it goes blam, I’m a shotgun, how are you. But it’s not a deal-breaker.
Nagilum: It isn’t. But the game is set in 2012, while the animations feel like they’re from 2000. Like they were unfinished.
Jasper: But, then again, it didn’t bother me while playing.
Jasper: Let’s talk about the questing. The Secret World has different types of quest: there’s the big main story quest, and a bunch of side quests…
Jarenth: There’s one story quest, then a bunch of smaller sub-story quests, and some actual sidequests.
Jasper: Do the smaller story quests count as sidequest?
Jarenth: No. And that matters because… in your quest log, you can only keep one small story quest and up to three side quests at any time, next to the main quest. Find a new quest, but you have no room? Either cancel one of the ones you have or forget about it.
Nagilum: And that’s annoying. We ran into a lot of interesting quests, but the constant running to quest givers instead of putting them in your log is annoying.
Jasper: I don’t understand why they did that, too.
Jarenth: Maybe they wanted to keep you focused?
Jasper: Well, that worked.
Nagilum: In general, though, the quests were interesting and refreshing. Especially the investigation ones, where you have to follow a bunch of hints. Bees and flowers, you had to find those.
Jasper: You actually have to think to solve those quests.
Jarenth: It can get annoying though, if you really have no idea what to do. I wouldn’t have been able to solve the last stage of the one investigation we did, Jasper found the answer.
Jasper: So it’s fun to do together. I did some stages, you did some stages, Nagilum searched the internet.
Nagilum: And that’s fun, and refreshing, it’s not just follow-the-arrow. But the quest log restrictions are still annoying.
Jasper: They might change that in the future, who knows. Also: all the important quests have voiced cutscenes.
Jarenth: Yeah, that’s how you distinguish sidequests from the rest.
Nagilum: That was pretty impressive.
Jarenth: Also, when you finish a quest, you don’t turn it in to the quest giver: you send a little report over the phone to your society contact. Main quests get you little write-up responses, which depend on your faction, and those can be quite funny. You also get your rewards over the phone, I guess?
Jarenth: I was quite impressed with the game’s atmosphere. The world feels very much real. I’ve been to in-game London, and I’ve been to real London, and while they’re different in-game London still feels like a real place. The first real quest hub is small-town America, New England. It makes it all feel more real.
Jasper: It feels like a single-player game sometimes, and I mean that as a compliment.
Jarenth: Then there’s the mysteries, of which they don’t tell you much. There’s things going on, but what is even going on? With those Ravens, for instance?
Jasper: I was looking for my flashlight the whole time.
Jarenth: So they keep you guessing. And I think solving the mysteries, learning about the mysteries, will be the biggest draw for me.
Nagilum: Did you go to a different first quest area as a Templar?
Jarenth: No, that does look quite linear. And you can team up cross-society, too.
Jarenth: Yeah. Remember the Tokyo tutorial? That had three faction people, too.
Jasper: How about PvP?
Jarenth: I think that will be faction-based, yeah.
Jasper: We didn’t really play any PvP. It’s probably not world PvP, which it too bad, because I love that.
Jasper: One small note on character customization before we wrap up: there is loot, but the only look-changing loot is the weapons you find. You have to buy new clothes at in-town stores, and you can always choose what you look like without losing stats. We didn’t see any super-interesting clothes, but it might be worth mentioning.
Jarenth: Consider it mentioned.
Nagilum: It’s a very un-traditional way of handling gear and character looks. It fits with the modern-times setting well.
Jarenth: I liked it a lot. The animations are bad, and the combat might be unbalanced — it seems likely — but playing this game it actually fun, and a lot of MMOs miss that aspect. I’m definitely planning on playing it on launch.
Nagilum: I agree. It has pros and cons, but the pros clearly win. There’s a certain fantasy element to everything that happens, but it still feels as though it could actually happen in the real world, and the investigating keeps you playing. If it wasn’t for that, things would be different. But the questing was interesting and the voiced parts were pretty good. It stands out. I’m considering buying it as well, and that’s saying something.
Jasper: As for me, I has a blast playing it as well, and I’m looking forward to us solving mysteries together.