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Stacking the Deck: How Pre-made Builds Function in The Secret World

Posted Mon, Jul 09, 2012 by ricoxg

Unlike most MMOs, The Secret World doesn’t have classes or levels. Instead, players use Ability Points (AP) to purchase abilities from the Ability Wheel. The Wheel is large, giving every player access to something around 500 separate abilities. With that many choices to make, how do you know which abilities to take? To make the process easier for the new player to learn, Funcom has introduced decks--pre-designed builds which help you craft a solid character by pointing out which complementary abilities to purchase.

In this article, we’ll discuss decks in detail. We’ll take a look at the basics of how they work and the successes Funcom has had with the deck system, and then we’ll point out a few things that Funcom might have done better.

The Secret World Builds and Decks

The Deck's abilities highlighted in the new Ability Wheel for easy reference.

You might be asking yourself whether you need to worry about building a deck or not. If you have yet to play The Secret World, you would be very wise to consider it, and even those who participated in the beta would likely do well to follow a deck initially. Abilities in The Secret World are a little more complicated and unique than in most other MMOs.

Players can slot seven active and seven passive abilities. Of the active combat abilities, the player starts with a builder, which builds charges for each of the weapons he uses. (You’ll almost always use two weapons with a builder for each.) Then you have the consumer abilities, which use charges to cause damage and either apply a condition, or take advantage of an applied condition. Passive abilities enhance the active ones, granting things like more damage, damage over time, reduced cool downs, etc. At this point, the process may not seem horribly complicated, but determining which abilities work with which, and in what order, quickly becomes confusing when you’re faced with the Ability Wheel. Working up even a single skill line, the bounty of available abilities can make it difficult to know which ones to slot.

Decks in The Secret World give you a guideline for pairing skills that work well together. Since the secret to taking the biggest advantage of the abilities system involves picking abilities from two separate ability groups, the decks really become a great learning tool. As you progress through the deck, you’ll learn how certain key abilities interact with others to produce a larger, more desirable effect. Also, completing the deck will unlock a faction-specific outfit for the player to wear, so for some who don’t care about the tutorial aspect, there still might be reason to pursue a deck or two--cool clothes!

The Secret World Builds and Decks

Yes, the Illuminati survives through subtlety.

Overall, the decks are good and worth pursuing; at least until one learns the system and how to read the abilities well enough to know which to spend points on. One thing Funcom did well with the decks in The Secret World is the way they integrated them into the Ability Wheel. Selecting a Deck (press N and select the “Decks” tab on the left) highlights the required abilities in the Ability Wheel, giving the player an easy reference point when working their way up through the skills. While there may be plenty of other builds that make sense and work well, following a deck will give players a build that always works, without running the risk of spending points on abilities they’ll never use.

Another advantage to the deck system may not even require using decks at all. In a game with no levels and no classes, where anyone could have any ability, the decks give players an easy way to reference specific build-types in conversation, especially on the role-playing server. You can tell someone that you’re a Fists/Chaos Impairer, or you can just say that you’re a Chaos Theorist, and other players will know what weapons you use and what you do, but additionally they’ll know that you come with several area effect attacks and impairments, and have a general idea of what qualities they would need to have to partner well with you. So Funcom may not have classes in The Secret World, but through the Decks they give players the advantages of them without the limitations.

The Secret World Builds and Decks

Teaming up to capitalize on each other's conditions multiplies the effect.

The Decks aren’t perfect however, and you’ll start learning this about the time you look to group up with other players. The deck will teach you how to build on your own abilities in The Secret World to be effective by yourself. One thing it doesn’t do a good job of is showing you how to combine abilities with other players for even better results. Before you finish the deck, you’ll likely be looking to pick up other abilities to work well in groups. Additionally, while each deck may be viable in PvE, in PvP the same build may be largely ineffective. It would have been nice if Funcom had diversified the decks a little more in order to make them better-rounded for all of the game’s sub-parts.

Another issue you may have with the Deck System in The Secret World will be how long it takes to actually complete a deck. While some decks don’t start until the second tier in the Ability Wheel, they all require a significant investment of ability points through the tiers to complete. The introduction to the game mechanic is achieved far before the reward for finishing the deck is, so it ends up being a slow grind towards the end. The deck system is a good idea, but it seems like Funcom would have been better served had they made more decks with fewer Abilities required to complete them. At the very least, some sort of tiered completion with rewards along the way would have been nice.

The Secret World Builds and Decks

Properly balanced, a pair can become a tag-reaming of death...no matter how they're dressed.

The Secret World introduces some variations on old mechanics, and some unique twists on making those mechanics more accessible. While there are other games that have tried similar approaches to a classless system, Funcom has rather successfully created a mechanic that presents it well. They’ve allowed for a complexity that should allow players more individualization, but provided the deck system to keep it from being overwhelming or unapproachable.

There could have been a bit more expansion on the deck system to make it more rewarding, but it serves its purpose well as a guide and tutorial. In the end, whether you’re new to The Secret World, or returning from the last several months of beta, you’ll probably be using a deck as the foundation of a new build.

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