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The Secret World Review

Updated Wed, Jul 04, 2012 by Shayalyn

Every now and then a game comes along that's so radically different it leaves everybody wondering whether it will sink or swim. The concepts sound strong in theory and, in fact, even seem to be just what certain types of gamers have been crying for, but because they buck tradition we're all left wondering: will it work?

Funcom's new MMOG, The Secret World, is one such game. For starters, it lacks a traditional leveling system. It also doesn't have predefined classes. It boasts unique mission types and takes a step away from the hand-holding, on-rails quest systems many MMOGs embrace to offer a more open approach. And finally, it's neither sci-fi or fantasy--it has a horror theme with a twist of conspiracy. But does it work? Our editors played for months in The Secret World's closed and press betas, through the early access event, and into launch so we would tell you early on whether this is a game you'll want to invest in.

Cautions

This is a Funcom game, folks. It's rated M for mature audiences. There will be "colorful" language, blood, gore and, of course, bare-chested females. None of it is particularly gratuitous or in-your-face--in fact, it's all quite realistic--but it's there. If games like Silent Hill make you squeamish, The Secret World may not be for you.

Gameplay

87Very GoodThe Secret World starts you off strong with story. You'll choose your faction from among three secret societies. The Templars are, of course, holy crusaders. The Illuminati are all about power and wealth, and don't care who they have to manipulate to get it. The Dragon seek to find order in the art of chaos. After you create your toon and dive into the game, you'll be treated to cut scenes that all essentially follow the same story, but with color and characters relating to the faction you've chosen. Once you've moved through the opening cut scenes, and a brief flashback experience that takes place in Tokyo, you'll head to your starting city: London for the Templars, New York for the Illuminati, and Seoul for the Dragon.

The Secret World Review

Illuminati outside the besieged sheriff's station in Kingsmouth.


After completing some missions in your starting city you'll be faced with one of the more daunting tasks The Secret World has to offer the uninitiated--choosing your weapon. While this may seem simple enough, it has long-range ramifications--the weapons you choose (you can equip two at the same time) will determine which abilities you can use. The game gives you a little guidance, but unless you're either intimately familiar with MMOG class mechanics and able to apply some informed guesswork, or you've done your homework in advance, there's a possibility that you could find yourself making some decisions you regret. More on that in a moment.

Character Development and Builds

The Secret World features an Ability Wheel--Funcom's over-achieving answer to skill trees. Essentially, the new character is faced with a dizzying array of about 500 options, each of which are accessible to any character. (In theory, you could learn every single one of those abilities given time and persistence. In practice, maxing out 2 of the 9 ability trees is probably more than comparable with a complete level-up experience in other MMOGs.)

It's entirely possible and, in fact, easy to make a bad, ineffective build in The Secret World. The game won't stop you from, for example, slotting no damage abilities as you spend Ability Points (AP) to purchase abilities and Skill Points (SP) to increase your effectiveness with your weapons and gain access to more powerful gear. Quite intentionally, there's no respec available - Funcom felt even an expensive respec would be game-breaking. Unfortunately, gameplay alone might not reveal early on that you've made some not-so-great build choices. In fact, you may not wise up to your relative ineffectiveness until you're getting thrashed in PvP or taking a beating in a dungeon.

The Secret World Review

Facing the Ability Wheel can be daunting. Premade Deck templates ease the strain a bit.


The good news is, Funcom made a wise design move with their implementation of the Deck system--a system of premade templates that let you follow a build roadmap. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the idea of creating a build from scratch, you can either follow a deck template or study it to learn how good builds are formed. Unless you've got build-making chops, this is likely the route you'll take, at least initially.

Combat

Your early experience in The Secret World will have you facing off against hordes of zombies and other undead creatures. And you'll probably have fun doing it initially. But if you're expecting combat along the lines of Funcom's Age of Conan, you're going to be disappointed. The challenge in The Secret World's combat comes with selecting the best combination of seven active and seven passive abilities to equip on your hotbar. Beyond that, it isn't particularly complicated. You'll use abilities that build resources, dodge your enemy's ground-targeted attacks, and then follow up with a big bang that consumes those resources. You'll throw utility into the mix as you're able. It can become repetitive as you churn through hundreds of mobs in Kingsmouth alone.

The Secret World does allow you to fight that repetition to some degree, though--you can (and should) eventually create multiple builds and switch them out as the situation demands. With a new build, at least you're working on spamming (albeit in a logical, purposeful way) a different set of abilities.

Fortunately, enemy encounters with all but the most run-of-the-mill trash mobs will throw challenges into the mix to keep you busy. Unless you're actively getting out of the way, monsters will inflict various states designed to afflict or even just knock you down and steal your lunch money. You can do the same to your enemies. It's a fun dance, if one more harrowing than complex, and you only really see it play out in dungeon encounters and world boss fights.

Missions and Story

The Secret World Review

If you love a good tale, The Secret World spins them brilliantly.


If there's one thing The Secret World does not lack it's a great story. Three secret societies with opposing purposes are forced to stand united against the encroaching darkness in a world where every myth, nightmare, and conspiracy is true. A good horror-themed MMOG has been a long time coming, and The Secret World delivers in spades. The story has depth and purpose, and missions range from the simple "kill off some zombies" type to complex investigation missions where players will have to put their real world puzzple-solving, clue-finding, truth-seeking abilities to the test. There's a mission type for every play style, and none of them disappoint.

All in all, gameplay is rich and complex--if you understand what you're doing, or take the time to learn, you're likely to play well and enjoy the hell out of your time in The Secret World. For every drawback, there's a counterbalance that mitigates it somewhat. The pain of being unable to respec can be avoided by using the premade Decks as a template and modifying your abilities as needed. The whack-a-mole combat is kept from being stale by employing interesting enemy mechanics, as well as the ability to create multiple builds and change things up a bit. And the story is capable of rendering the whole thing fun, even for those with unanswered gripes.

Graphics

90Great

Overall, The Secret World offers fantastic, state-of-the-art graphics, particularly if you're running a high end box and a DX11 enabled video card. Textures are incredibly realistic, sometimes disturbingly so (those moldering dead corpses are none too pretty.) The settings you find yourself in provide vivid atmosphere and texture. Kingsmouth really does feel like a sleepy New England island hamlet...that just happens to be beset by zombies. Lighting is superb, but unfortunately native support for TXAA (a super-efficient anti-aliasing algorithm that offers quality comparable to 16x AA at a fraction of the hardware and performance cost) didn't make it into the game for launch - the Nvidia drivers simply weren't ready.

The Secret World Review

It's a detailed, richly rendered, scary-as-hell world.


The Secret World serves up realistic and pleasant-looking character models. Although you'll be offered a few different facial and hairstyle options there are none of the sliders or fine tweaking elements that gamers have gotten used to. Funcom did add more options just before the pre-launch early access event kicked off, but they're still rather limited by modern standards.

The one thing that has dogged The Secret World from the moment people saw their first glimpse of actual in-game combat is character animations; they looked stiff, stilted and, in a word, retro. Although they have improved, they're still not on par with modern games and aren't even as fluid is I remember them being in the carefully mo-capped Age of Conan. In an otherwise fantastically rendered game world, stiff, unnatural animations stand out as a serious detractor. Can you get used to them? Sure. Overlook them? Probably. But you shouldn't have to. Fluid animations are the one thing that keep The Secret World's great graphics from being truly outstanding.

Sound

95Outstanding

From the moment you load up The Secret World and begin to play you're treated to music and sounds that fit the game and its mood and setting to a tee. From the chilling and mysterious opening refrain to the icily semi-randomized slow piano arpeggios on loading screens to the combat music, everything just rings true and adds to the game experience.

Not only that, but atmospheric sounds are crisp and realistic. From the sound of crows taking flight to the death rattle of a dying zombie, it all makes sense. The only thing that doesn't quite seem on the same quality level as everything else is the combat sounds, which aren't bad, necessarily, just...unimpressive.

And finally, the game contains a number of voiceovers. I liked how the voice actors delivered their lines, and I generally loved their scripts. When the town sheriff says, in her New England deadpan, "I'm not saying that Kingsmouth was a little slice of heaven in a snow globe, but it was ours...and now it ain't," I feel her bitterness and resolve. And overall, the voiceovers are on par with that. Occasionally, if you pay attention, it's obvious that the same actor covered different NPCs (which isn't unusual in the industry), but it's far less obvious than in, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I really enjoyed reading your post and learning about what you had to offer here. You're a pretty skilled blog writer. Keep up the great work mate.

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It just does not work in this environment. I'm sorry to say that: but this demand for respec is NOTHING but stupid. Dianda

alone might not reveal early on that you've made some not-so-great build choices. In fact, you may not wise up to your relative ineffectiveness until you're getting thrashed in PvP or taking a beating in a dungeon. Dionna

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This game is an mmo that is fun for those who like to use their brains.

There are plenty of "Wtf did that just happen? Can they do that?" moments in this game.

If you've read horror/thriller novels, especially Stephen King, you're gonna love the first island you go to.

The writing is top notch and delivered with excellent skill by the voice actors, although sometimes you might want to ensure v-sync is on (in your video card settings, no in-game toggle *Grumble*). Some of the cut scenes are chilling not because of some cheap scare but because of the words that come out of the characters mouth.

Essentially a great game for ADULTS not wow kiddies. You need to have world experience and have read quite a number of books to really appreciate the references and the amount of detail they've put into this game.

With regards to the review. Respec is arbitrary as it doesn't really take that long to level. By the time you realize the amount of ways you can mix and match abilities you already know that it doesn't really take that long to fix an error or tweak a build. Switching both weapons might be a challenge but the game emphasizes trying out the different weapon types before you set out into the first zone. No handholding, you really should have been paying attention sorry.

No resurrection in a boss fight in a horror game means you're gonna die if people aren't awake. It's rough but not impossible and you're probably not gonna be too interested in instances for the first while anyways because you have other stuff to do.

The lack of LFG is DEFINITELY missed. There is a lot of LFG spam in general chat because of it and it makes the game feel clunky in this regard.

The reviewer neglected to mention that some of the quests are broken/buggy. GM's are pretty fast to help, but with a puzzle intensive game where you may refuse to google until you're absolutely perplexed as to what to do (I cheated a couple of times yes. I have a job ;p), you may not even know that your quest is broken until you (cheat) check online and find this out. Can be frustrating.

The game can and will murder your video card if it's outdated or has reached the planned obsolescence date, especially during the heat of summer. Just a warning. (Google thermal paste replacement)

With regards to pvp. I haven't pvp'd yet. Too busy playing the actual content in the game. That being said, this same problem was the one i had with Guild Wars 1 and probably will have with Guild Wars 2. Abilities synergize as you open up more of the abilities.

All in all this review was more fair to the game then a lot of the major game critic sites have been (due to the fact they weren't paid off I imagine. Star Wars Old Republic anyone?) However if you're looking for something new that is a challenge and doesn't underestimate your intelligence, you might not want to miss Secret World.

this game had a great idea and poor poor planning and implementation

the idea of ALWAYS being able to move it just wrong though moving at times was right (just feels wrong to be focusing on spell casting a long powerful spell or taking a careful aim while running around too)

the missions are CONSTANTLY being broken and impossible to finish due to the game problems (one was fixed today according to patch BUT is in reality still broken)

the game is a theme park BUT you need to repeat repeat repeat dailies to get geared up and powered up with the same repeating going on regardless of faction

finally the "daily repeatable missions" actually have longer and long cool downs as you move a long the storyline so you are forced to make a new character or to the instances to get more XP (by the time you get to the area after maine you have what appears to be a 48 hour wait for CD) i tried playing a new character to just get caught in the savage coast by constantly broken mission syndrome.

it is really a sad thing that they didn't sell this game idea to someone who knew how to do it right.

I believe this review is fair... the game isn't for everyone obviously.

2 main points I don't agree on would be res and respec both not needed... though I did play AO for 8yrs without a res so I am use to this :P

" takes a huge benefit of social play out of the mix."
Socil, social, social... the new magic word of the millennium.
Do you feel more "socially acceptable" if your playing party is composed by an Italian, an Australian and a Japanese, all chatting together while everyone is sitting in his own basement in his own corner of the world?
Me myself, two or three evening a week play Skyrim for one or two hours. My character walks around, interact with NPCs and fight for the Greater Good, all totally immersed in that world with coherent lore and ambientation. No "Hy wazzup plz pssword for quest 35" or "Need good fighter gun combo and sheez".
Then, the rest of the week I have drum school, photographic workshops, beer with friends (THAT is socializing) and house chores...
I don't know if I'm casual or not...

"Die in a dungeon, and things are even worse--you'll be sent to an anima well where you'll be able to watch your fellow groupmates fight it out until they either defeat the boss encounter or wipe, but you won't be able to rejoin the fight until it's effectively over."

It sounds like you're talking about a lack of battle res, which is very different than one used out of combat in other MMOs. Granted not having the OOC res is annoying, but battle res is a tricky mechanic and implemented quite sparingly in other games, if at all.

Having played the beta through a friend's buddy key, I can say that TSW is a genuine breath of real fresh air to the MMO market as opposed to claiming to be in manifesto videos while turning around and making an entirely different game.

You know who I'm talking about.

But for better or worse, this game revels in its almost hipster-like glare at you. Over and over, the devs have said, in effect, they're building a niche game and not The Next Big Thing. This has proven an effective strategy for a few games (EvE comes to mind), but the concern is the mindset of today's MMO player may not be on par with the game Funcom have crafted. The entry curve is not quite so steep, but it is also enough to frustrate the new mutation of MMO gamer who only think that WoW was the single game of it's kind, while those of a certain vintage will not be bothered by the lack of guided arrows, hand-holding and blinking beacons. There's enough to aim your head, but you are wholly responsible for actually looking.

Additionally, changing your build is not only possible, but out-and-out essential. The ability wheel video itself states "No build is perfect". And there will be points, sooner or later, where you'll have a character build that has done spectacularly well up to a certain point where you meet a baddie that resists all you mete out. Whether this sort of mechanic is tactically intriguing or desk-chewingly frustrating is a matter of personal taste.

If ever there was an MMO that squealed for a 15 day trial period to see if it's to one's taste, it's this one. For the Nu Kidz who feast on content in a matter of two months, can't be asked to listen or pay attention, or fail to focus, you will absolutely get stomped harder than an XBox player trying their hand at NES Contra. But for those who can slow down and think, for those who can work around mechanics and those who genuinely want to try something utterly unique...then don't let those hipster glasses repel you. It's worth a swing.

You're not afraid, are you?

Personally I don't think respec in needed for TSW. MMO's like WoW it is needed, because you can only have so many points to spend for a character and thats that, but the TSW doesn't limit you like that. As for the rez, if people really want it that bad than I think it should be a rare potion drop with a large cooldown time, this would prevent it from being over-used. I really enjoy the game, and I'm interested in seeing what kind of expansions will come out for it. It's far from perfect, but I still find it fun. In my own opinion I don't think MMO's should follow the same guidelines as other MMO's, whether they fail or not they should be different, and I know this is hard to do. That why I still like FF XI compared to FF XIV. That is also why I'm disappioted about Elder Scroll online, I was so hoping for a fantasy first person MMO, but what can you do right. TSW will hold me til Planetside 2 comes out, that game looks awesome, and yes I loved Planetside even with all it's flaws because it at least tried to do something different by being a real FPS MMO.

All the people saying things like "it's not supposed to be for everyone" and "it's not meant for everyone" etc, are wannabe elitist artards with no clue.
You can bet the developers of ANY game, including this one, want EVERYONE to play.
They want their game to appeal to as many players as possible, because that equals profit.
They aren't sitting around going "Hey, lets make a game only handful of people will play!"

You can bet your ass that if enough people complain about respecs and rez's, they will patch them in at some point, just like any other MMO would. Because that's how you make money, by appealing to MORE players, not by ignoring the majority and coddling the few.
Games that use that approach fail (Warhammer, SWtoR, AoC, too many others to list).

If NOTHING else, I expect that FunCom has learned a valuable lesson from their AoC experience, and that's "listen to the player-base, and change it NOW."

"You can bet your ass that if enough people complain about respecs and rez's, they will patch them in at some point, just like any other MMO would."

"If NOTHING else, I expect that FunCom has learned a valuable lesson from their AoC experience, and that's "listen to the player-base, and change it NOW."

Whaaaa! Cry me a river!

The thing that makes this game good is that it's not like every other MMO. And if they start adding crap to appeal to the WoW crowd then I'm done with this game. It's just fine the way it is. The only reason I play it is because it's brought back the difficulty of games like EverQuest. You know, where you actually were PENALIZED for bad play! Where you're not lead by the nose to the solution of every quest. Where you actually have to use your brains to finish quests and actual teamwork to finish hard quests and dungeons! OMG!!1!1! I have to actually be GOOD and USE MY BRAIN to play this game!! Oh, the HORROR!!

If you want Wow type game play then by all means go play WoW, and leave TSW to the big boys and girls. We'll all be fine without you.

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Joel Bylos returns from his hiatus with an update on The Secret World’s development and release of Tokyo.

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