The Secret World Hands-On Preview

Updated Fri, Feb 24, 2012 by B. de la Durantaye

Come June the MMO space will have a new player in the field: Funcom's The Secret World, built from the ground up to stretch the limits of not only our imaginations, but also the extremities of the MMO norm. Funcom has set out to produce a game that strays significantly from the confines of conventional game play in modern MMOGs. The only question we've had since we first heard of the title a few years ago is, "Does it work?" That's exactly what we set to find out when we visited the Montreal Funcom studios last week and got our first hands-on taste of the augmented modern-themed MMOG.

To begin our inaugural tour of The Secret World we spent our first 45 minutes of game time in New York City, which is the starting area for new Illuminati characters. The Illuminati are one of the three playable factions in the game and they represent the ambitious corporate hand of the remaining populace in our exaggerated yet frighteningly almost-believable world.

The Secret World screenshot

Illuminati out for a stroll in NYC.

New York City itself was a somewhat small game space. This makes sense, because it serves primarily as the starting point for Illuminati characters--the introduction to the game. However, given that the Labyrinth, the main Illuminati HQ, is located in NYC and all missions in the game are to be reported back to the Labyrinth, the city felt a little too small. It didn't quite feel like a major metropolis, but more like a few blocks of a suburb just outside of Jersey. I would have liked to have seen more recognizable landmarks, even if the play space was only a few city blocks. But nonetheless, the area succeeded at its mission of getting me acquainted with the basic game mechanics so I was ready to face more of the world.

As a veteran MMO player, I didn’t find those mechanics at all hard to pick up. Expect the same style of interaction and commands that you're used to in most of today's MMOGs. The real difference in the game didn't come from the basic mechanics but rather from the style of the presentation. For instance, though you still get a form of experience from combat and missions, it comes in the form of ability and skill points. There are no levels for your character to grind through, so instead you spend your earned AP and SP on abilities and skills. You earn ability points roughly three times faster than you do skill points and thus are able to purchase abilities sooner than skills for the most part although some later abilities cost many APs to purchase.

The Secret World screenshot

The Secret World's Ability Wheel.

The cool thing here is that your character isn't restricted to the confines of a class-based system; rather you select the abilities you wish to use. You can purchase as many abilities as you like, but you can only have seven active and seven passive abilities up at any given time. There are 588 abilities in the current build of the game so there are plenty of options for customization. Almost too many. I found perusing the abilities a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, Funcom has provided 10 suggested builds for each society, known as Decks. These builds take abilities that work well together and make the selection a lot easier for beginners.

The more seasoned player, who understands how certain abilities cause states which can be exploited by other abilities, can delve right into custom builds. As such, The Secret World is also equipped with an advanced Search option right within the abilities window so the player can easily find the sort of ability they're looking for. They can sort abilities by type, so if they are looking for something with a knockdown effect they can quickly find all knockdown abilities and pick one based on their taste and needs.

The synergies between these abilities are an important part of TSW because they literally translate into how effective you are in combat and stealth. The system reminded me of the way builds work in Guild Wars, but with a lot more happening on-screen. Some abilities were power builders, while others were exploiters, and still others were situational utility. Various meters and indicators would fill up on the screen during combat and although each indicator had a distinct purpose I was still a bit overwhelmed by it all by the time we made our way over to the Scorched Desert, which is the Egyptian area of The Secret World. To be fair, though, Egypt is about 60 hours of play time deep into the game. It’s unlikely that anyone will be as green as I was by the time they reach the area in which we were playing during our hands-on demo. Funcom did assure us that there are proper tutorials within the game to educate the player about all the different displays happening on the screen during combat, so by the time a regular player starts on the missions in the Scorched Desert they should, theoretically, know what they're doing.

Might want to update this article to reflect the real release date, which is now bumped to June 19th.

Also, though I could be wrong and mistaken about anything I've heard thus far, but I think the word you are looking for when describing the skill templates are 'Decks' not thecks. Think Magic: The Gathering.

Otherwise, nice article. Can't wait until I get my hands on this beauty.

Hi Starkr,

I scanned the article to try and find the issues your comments referred to, but couldn't. The opening paragraph in the article reflects a June launch:

Come June the MMO space will have a new player in the field: Funcom's The Secret World, built from the ground up to stretch the limits of not only our imaginations, but also the extremities of the MMO norm.

I couldn't find any typos with the word "theck" or "thecks," either. Could you point out where you see these things? A quick global search of the article HTML didn't turn up any glitches.

Features Editor | Ten Ton Hammer

"Thex", fifth paragraph, second to last line. Probably just the devs' nordic accents seeping through. :D

Anyway, great article. I do hope the game is a success, but fear it will be overshadowed by the competition.

The line the above poster is talking about is paragraph 5, just below the image of the skill wheel.

"...I found perusing the abilities a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, Funcom has provided 10 suggested builds for each society, known as Thex...."

The proper term is "Decks", not "Thex".

Aha! I searched for "Thecks," which explains why I didn't find it. Thanks for the catch! I've fixed the error.

looks like total crap to be honest. Sure a niche group will play it but it'll never get the attention of the big boys. I don't even think 200k people will sub to this game. not even trolling. honest opinion.

Yeah, well that's, like, just your opinion, man.

Looks like it could be pretty good... It just a rough market this year to release a game. Whether they will be good or not you have TERA, GW2, WoW wxpansion, and I am sure I am missing some. Not to mention SWTOR just released not to long ago.

2011 and 2012 are very competative years, especially after 2009 and 2010 saw almost no action.

We had mental puzzles way back in Dark Sun Online. The biggest problem we rant into is that the first person to solve it would post it on the internet. Thus all our interesting and thought provoking puzzles devolved into the same answer-- "google it."

How does Secret World address this?

Probably doesn't. It's up to each and every individual if they want to screw up the game for themselves.

Other than that, I heard some elements of the puzzles can change from time to time.

The problem is that its NOT just a choice for the individual player.

The meemes escape into the community and you hear them passed over general chat. Plus, if the players are racing through the content then they end up sitting bored waiting for the new content, and bored players are destructive to the community.

The result is a massive pressure on the developer to try to race new content out. Usually, its just impossible to meet the demand. if it IS possible then the bug count goes way up because things are beibng released before they should be.

You can argue against this all you like, but I've already been down this road and that is what really happens.

Honestly, if spoilers to puzzles abound in general, I will not be in the general chat. Global chat is bad enough on its own, I won't really miss anything by leaving it.

Common sense, If you enjoy puzzles why would you go and find a spoiler and ruin the fun for yourself....

Common sense seldom is. I already answered your question. See above.

The fact of the matter is that most of the hump of the bell curve will take the easy way out every time.

Then you'd know that the "hump of the bell" will more then likely not even start a puzzle, they'd go for the "action" missions. Which are plain and simple, just like the kids like it.

that is a stupid thing to say .......i have to google the answer(duh) please someone stop me i cant stop myself

I'm one of those who will be posting spoilers on a fansite.

There is nothing I hate more than a puzzle that really isn't complete requiring some knowledge that you don't have. I'm sure we have all experienced previous puzzles that were so obscure that they were unsolvable.

Now, a game that gives me decent clues to solving it, I am all for, but no puzzle should ever require prerequisite knowledge to solve it. If I need to go look up a poem... you had better give me clues to that (many games fail in providing decent clues).

The more time you spend with it, it should also be able to provide more and more clues till it eventually smacks you in the face with the solution, so even if you don't get it, it progressively narrows down where you need to go no matter what and not be a 'if you can't see it, you are screwed'.

I don't want it to be easy, but I also don't want it to be impossible if I miss a clue. eg: don't show me a picture of the mona lisa a clue and the lynchpin clue. I may need more. If you provide such a visual clue, you also need other clues like the painter who at least I can google and narrow that down if I happen to not be familiar with it... too many puzzle games fail at this.

But yay for puzzles. It looks fun and like the mmo i've always wanted to play... not the go kill 10 rats.


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