Updated Wed, Feb 22, 2012 by Shayalyn
Back in 2008, Funcom gave us Age of Conan, a game that, for all its flaws, still provided a compelling story (at least for the first 20 levels), deliriously gorgeous graphics, engaging combat and boobs. (With its M rating, AoC was big on boobs.) Now, Funcom has announced the impending launch of its next project, The Secret World, currently in closed beta. You’ll find no Cimmerians or Stygians in this title, however, just a bunch of humans from different parts of the modern-day world, belonging to different secret societies, battling monsters that have somehow progressed from myth and legend to reality. It’s also less about boobs than Conan was. We’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that’s a good thing.
The Secret World has a core of avid followers—they’ve been the people working tirelessly to figure out the clues Funcom delivered earlier in development as part of a clever conspiracy-themed marketing scheme—but it may not appeal to every MMO gamer. One thing’s for certain, though, The Secret World won’t be your average MMO. To help you determine whether TSW is a game to put on your radar, we’ve laid out five great reasons to play. You’ll likely enjoy The Secret World if…
There’s no shortage of love for fantasy games, but…there’s also no shortage of hostility toward them. If you’re tired of fantasy settings with fantasy characters, The Secret World could be a real treat. Ditto if you’re sick of futuristic or space themes. TSW takes place right here on Earth in the modern day. Instead of choosing to play an Elf or a Gnome (or a Twi’lek, for that matter), you’ll be playing a human being.
That’s not saying that things will have a dreary ordinary-world feel. You may be a human, but you’re a human who’s learning to wield weapons and some incredible powers. You may be in New York, or Seoul, or London, but you’re part of a secret society (the Illuminati, the Dragon, or the Templars) exploring exotic locales from Egypt to Transylvania and discovering hidden dungeons where evil lurks. This is the modern world with a twist—in The Secret World, it turns out that all the stuff of myth, legend and conspiracy theories is real. Instead of encountering orcs poisoning the forests or Norrath, you’ll run into zombies shambling around New England.
Lovecraft, Stephen King, The X-Files, Indiana Jones…if all those things blow your hair back, then actively engaging in the story behind The Secret World will turn your umbrella inside-out and knock you off your feet. The game rests on one central principle: “Everything is true.” Those myths you’ve read about the Lost City of Atlantis? True. Vampires? Werewolves? Zombies? True. Hollow earth? True. In The Secret World, what has been hidden and only discussed as wild conspiracy theory is revealed.
In a world where conspiracy theories meet reality, three secret societies are pulling the strings—the wealth and power-driven Illuminati, the loyal and traditional Templars, and the chaotic and mysterious Dragon. Powerful dark forces are rising in the world, and the secret societies work cooperatively to fight the darkness, yet remain divided in their pursuit of power. Your character’s story begins when you choose your alignment.
The Secret World promises to be overflowing with intriguing settings and compelling stories. One look at the recently released Blue Mountain area trailer provides insight into the sort of lore that awaits. And all of it’s familiar—it’s the stuff of myth, legend and nightmares made real.
If you’re tired of the sort of games where you pick a starting class and then immediately start researching builds to figure out how you’re going to optimize your character so that you play just as well as (and exactly like) the next guy who plays the same class…then you’re in luck. The Secret World takes an entirely different approach. Instead of having you stick to a class-based ability tree, The Secret World gives you access to over 500 abilities on its Ability Wheel and lets you customize to your heart’s content.
Sound confusing? Never fear. The Secret World also has what it calls “decks”—basically a template system to help you sort out which abilities work well together. Prebuilt decks are ranked from easy to medium to hard, and the completion of an entire deck (14 abilities—7 active and 7 passive) scores the player a badass outfit so he can look the part. You don’t have to use a premade deck—you can progress your character entirely in freeform—but they’re available for guidance to keep the system from becoming overwhelming.
You’re not locked into specific abilities, either—you’ll be able to swap out the decks you’ve acquired to suit different situations. Certain skills will exploit enemy weaknesses called states (bleeding, for instance, would be a state) so you’ll need to understand what you’re up against and how to take advantage of it.
The Secret World not only lacks classes, it lacks levels. Funcom has balked at the idea of a number determining how a player discovers content in The Secret World. In an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Lead Content Designer Joe Bylos has said, “I think I said before that I believe World of Warcraft uses a very heavy hand to guide players. It says, ‘pick up this stuff here, go and do these missions in this place here, do all the quests then go this place here and do the quests there’. That’s very heavy handed. In our game, we try not to be as heavy handed. It’s much more of a light touch and comes through in the places you visit and the people you meet.” [Source]
How does this play out? Much remains to be seen, but suffice it to say you won’t be running to a quest hub, picking up a bunch of quests appropriate to your level, then venturing off into the world to knock them all out. And you won’t be using a Pavlovian “ding” to serve as a hallmark of your progression. You’ll be led to increasingly more difficult content, but in a more subtle way, gaining skills as you go.
Funcom’s marketing department has done a masterful job of putting the game’s most rabid fans to work solving puzzles that lead to content reveals. In fact, the first real details about The Secret World were “leaked” onto the Internet in 2007 in the form of an image that served as a riddle for would-be fans to solve. Solving the riddle eventually led to the newly launched official TSW forums. And, based on the notion that a whisper is louder than a shout, Funcom has been dishing out information in similar fashion ever since.
Funcom has constantly intermingled game lore and narrative with the real world in a series of ARGs—Alternate Reality Games—that lead fans on what amount to online archaeological digs to uncover The Secret World bit by bit. Want an example of how this works? Go to Funcom’s website, click anywhere on the page that is not a link, and hit the 3 key on your keyboard twice. Then wait. (Don’t worry—the blue screen isn’t your computer crashing.) Now, head to the official forums to see how the community is working to solve the puzzle.
The ARGs are a clue in themselves as to how the game will play out at launch. Some quests in The Secret World will involve piecing together clues and solving puzzles. Funcom has also hinted that the game will encourage out-of-game interaction with clue-finding that involves the community, the Internet, and social media. (Don’t worry; there’ll be plenty of monster slaying to accompany all that detective work, and if searching for clues is not your thing, this appears to be a game ripe for spoiler sites.) We have yet to get the big picture as to how all of this will play out, but it’s no doubt intriguing, and hasn’t been done in an MMO on this scale before.
If you’re in search of something different, The Secret World may be the game for you. It’s skill-based and classless progression system certainly bucks the norm. Its setting and theme are unique in the MMO marketplace, and its story appears to be rich and detailed. What other game is going to let you fight zombies, werewolves, vampires, demons and more as part of a power-hungry cabal?
The Secret World, originally scheduled for an April launch timeframe, has recently announced a June 19, 2012 launch to allow Funcom time to fine tune and make sure the game is ready for release. Keep an eye out for Ten Ton Hammer’s hands-on preview from The Secret World’s latest press event coming Friday, February 24th.