The Secret World Revealed: PvP, Missions, and Character Advancement

Secret World
is slowly
becoming less and less of a secret. Ten Ton
Hammer got a closer look at the story surrounding the New England port
of Kingsmouth at GDC 2011, but this tribute to the legendary
novelist’s ruminations on dysfunctional small town Maine was
just the tip of Funcom’s offerings at GDC 2011. Senior
Producer Ragnar Tørnquist
and Lead Designers Martin
Bruusgaard and Joel Bylos lead us further past the veil, showing us
character progression and the skill wheel (for the first time ever) and
an exclusive glimpse at three storied locations that will be used for
PvP matches.

Better yet, we caught it all on video – about 25 minutes
worth spread over three videos (missions: 15 min., progression: 5 min.,
PvP: 5 min) - interleaved with plenty of great developer commentary. If
you’re fairly up to date on style="font-style: italic;">The Secret World,
you might want
to skip to Part 2 (but come back for the visuals!). If you’re
at work or not one to sit through the footage, we’ve provided
an executive summary of sorts on the next three pages that should give
you all the talking points.

1: Intro, Kingsmouth, and the Missions System


Senior Producer Ragnar Tørnquist made it clear
he’s out to produce a true MMO at GDC 2011. Eschewing what we
might call “Massively Asynchronous” games as
opposed to “Massively Multiplayer” games
style="font-style: italic;">The Secret World
seeks to create an active, sociable tale in every sense of the word.

Ragnar summarized his goals in describing the “four
pillars” of The Secret World:

  • A true MMORPG experience
    – “This is an MMO story in every sense of the
    word.”  Though soloing is viable, the
    game’s story will be primarily told through gameplay and
    world events.
  • Freeform character
    progression – Templates – equivalent to a TCG
    starter deck or the “auto level up” in an RPG, will
    be available, but players can mix and match their magic, ranged, and
    melee skills with absolute freedom, should they wish to.
  • The Secret War –
    Faction battles will heat up in predetermined settings and rulesets as
    determined by the fictional Council of Venice, but indirect PvP
    – society tasks, including diplomatic maneuvers, espionage,
    backstabbing, and  sabotage – will be an ongoing
  • A modern day setting where
    everything is true – Seoul, London, New York, Transylvania,
    the Himalayas… every setting in-game roughly mirrors its
    modern day counterpart, and the mythos and conspiracy theory used in
    the game are culled from real-world history.

Lead Content Designer Joel Bylos took us into Kingsmouth for a look at
some early missions and bosses. First, he pointed out the Tier system,
which saves your progress in an area (not just on a mission basis)
should you wish to leave and come back. Leaping atop a car, he noted
that The
Secret World
has the
obligatory car alarm attracts zombies reference, explaining this also
serves to repopulate area. Tipping over a gas can to start a fire, Joel
noted that states such as fire can be used and exploited by players.
Leading zombies through the fire killed them off far more quickly.

Several cutscenes told the story of Kingsmouth, one through Andy
– a policeman with “daddy issues.”
Venturing onward, Joel told us of Kingsmouth’s
“zombie ecology” – Zombie females create
pods, males incubate them, the pods hatch, and zombie invasions happen.
Interrupting any part of this chain allows the few humans left inside
Kingsmouth a breather.

Next up was another bossfight – this one was actually
controlling zombies so it went a little rougher. Off camera, Joel
hinted at investigation missions – open world puzzlers that
require players to use their brains (and Google saavy) to work their
way through short mysteries. Finally, Joel gave us a glimpse behind the
link between ravens and revenants leading up to last year’s
“playground” trailer.

Part 2: Character Progression


Martin Bruusgaard offered us a prototype of the skill wheel, an
interestingly circular take on the notion of a talent or skill tree.
Nothing that there are over 500 skills in the game (none, he said, are
derivatives or ranks of other skills), style="font-style: italic;">The Secret World
needed a method to organize these skills for freeform progression
system users.

Thus, players can pick 7 active skills (weapon attacks, magic casts,
etc.) and 7 passive skills (personal stat increases and skill
buffs).  Skills are purchased sequentially within
“cells,” and these cells increase in power and
specificity the higher into these cells players progress.

For those who wish for a more traditional class scheme, the skill wheel
interface will offer “suggested paths” for warrior,
healer, melee DPS, etc. Martin equated these to TCG starter decks,
meaning that players can pick them up or put them down at will.

Part 3: PvP


Ragnar explained that while style="font-style: italic;">The Secret
World’s three
factions – the Dragons, the Templars, and the Illuminati
– can fight alongside each other in the game world (Funcom
wants to support grouping whenever and wherever it makes sense), the
three factions also have their own secret war brewing. In three
locations around the world, the factions wage war to control ancient
relics of great power. The Council of Venics, a neutral party, sets the
scope and rules for these conflicts., and all factions abide by this
“gentleman’s agreement.”

The three PvP scenarios just announced for style="font-style: italic;">The Secret World

– Perhaps the eeriest looking of the maps, this one is also
the most straightforward. The team with the most players inside
Stonehenge gains points. Points tick upward toward victory, though
players also gain points for pulling players out . Martin promised
extremely fast-paced combat, and I predict loads of AoEs.

– This lost city in the Himilayan Mountains is style="font-style: italic;">The Secret
World’s ranked
arena. Players will join in premade teams and are matched against other
teams.  Thunderdome rules are in effect: last man standing
wins – no resurrections allowed.

style="font-style: italic;">The Secret
World’s large scale
PvP and easily the most gorgeously goldeny jungliest one, this map
hosts 30 people total (15 a side). On this map are four moveable idols
to control – the longer you hold an idol (and the more of
them you control), the faster your team gains points. Martin pointed
out that this is an asymmetrical map favoring defense –
it’s designed to force players to grab those idols quickly
and choose a spot to defend.

Ragnar ended the presentation with a look at the latest demo. The
filmed-off-screen version is just a placeholder –
we’ll be posting the source video as soon as Funcom passes it
our way.  Thanks to the Funcom crew for making the trek to GDC
2011 and unveiling a little bit more of style="font-style: italic;">The Secret World.
No release date has been announced for the game,

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