Updated Thu, May 24, 2012 by ricoxg
Sun Tzu Wu points out in his treatise on war that every general and soldier should seek first to know themselves before they attempt to comprehend the enemy. That sentiment is distinctly expressed in The Secret World. Of course, Sun Tzu didn’t have to deal with the infamous Ability Wheel and associated skill menu. If so, his advice probably would have been something more along the lines of, “Screw it, attack. They’re probably as confused as you are.”
But then, the old sport never had the benefit of this article either. What Sun Tzu never knew and what you’re about to learn about, is what the Ability Wheel is, what skills are, and then we’ll be talking a little bit about what conditions are, why they matter, and how to use them.
The Secret World’s Ability Wheel is where you start to define your character, what powers he’ll have and, in broad strokes, define how you’ll play.
As you play through your faction’s introduction quest, you’ll get a very brief and generic introduction to the Ability Wheel and the general categories that make it up:
In the tutorial area you’ll get to try each of these categories if you like, and then you’ll select one to start with. Don’t worry overly much about getting stuck with your starting choice; you can easily switch it later. Then again, don’t just grab a skill and go, because you’ll have to live with your choice for a while as you earn new abilities.
Explore the Deck System as a Learning Tool
Here’s something that’ll make your life a lot easier. In the Ability Wheel menu (N is the default key), the far left side has a vertical tab labeled “Decks.” You’ve probably heard them mentioned in various articles. I’d strongly suggest you actually open them up and take a look. Abilities in The Secret World are complicated, and the decks will give you a generic guide to follow when building your character.
In decks, Funcom tied a really handy system into the Ability Wheel. When you select a deck, the required abilities will be marked in the Ability Wheel for easy reference. I’m one of those guys who has played a lot of these games over the years, and I expected to be able to figure out the Ability Wheel on the fly. I was wrong. So take this advice, either use a Deck until you get a feel for the system, or do a lot of reading and make sure you fully understand how the system works before dismissing them.
Abilities in the Wheel are divided into clusters within clusters. For example, the Magic Cluster is composed of Chaos, Blood, and Elemental, as I mentioned above. Digging deeper, Elemental Magic is composed of React and Spark at the first tier, and six other clusters at the second tier. Each cluster at tier 1 and tier 2 has six abilities and an elite ability. In order to get to tier two, you have to get all the abilities in the two first tier clusters. So in the Elemental example, you would have to pick up all seven abilities (six + one elite) in both React and Spark, for a total of fourteen abilities before you gain access to clusters like Tempest, Disturbance, Resonance and so on. Each ability has a cost associated with it, and you buy them with Ability Points (AP), which you gain from killing monsters, completing missions, etc.
AP seems to come relatively quickly and, as Funcom has mentioned in some of their interviews, early abilities are cheap and easily picked up. Later they become much more expensive. This system allows for a lot of experimentation with the generic abilities, but makes it so that the more powerful and specific ones require a much heavier time investment.
Though there is something that looks a little like leveling in The Secret World, it’s more of a status report until you unlock your next set of Skill Points and Ability Points. With no level cap, it appears to be theoretically possible to eventually have a character with every available skill. Of course, Funcom promises to release more content and additional skills periodically, so it could end up with an EVE-style system of older players having more flexibility and power without ever reaching any sort of cap.
Combining Passive and Active Abilities
Abilities are divided into active and passive, and you can have seven of each equipped at any given time. Active Abilities are just what they sound like--these are the things your character can do in combat that directly affect some change on your target. The passive abilities have a few different functions. Some passives are straight forward buffs to the character or the party, but others are a little more unique by either changing the effects of specific abilities, or creating some additional effect when certain conditions (“states”) are applied to a target. Funcom calls the interplay between these abilities and active states “synergies.”
Let’s stick with the old Elemental example for a short demonstration:
The React Cluster of Elemental Magic has four passive abilities: Mind Over Matter, Elemental Force, High Voltage, and Toxic Earth. With Mind Over Matter, a critical hit causes the target to become Afflicted, which causes damage over time. Thus, we have here a passive ability that creates a condition on the target when something specific happens. Elemental Force is a passive that allows you to build a counter on yourself: any time you hit, the counter increments by one, up to a point where the next hit is an automatic critical, which of course then kicks off Mind Over Matter. You can start to see how abilities key on each other and build on what other abilities do here.
Next is High Voltage, which makes it so that when you use a specified ability, the next one you use automatically critically hits. Again, we see it’s pointing back to Mind Over Matter. Last, we have Toxic Earth, which says that any time you apply the condition of Hindered to a target, the condition Afflicted will also be applied. There you see a case of a Passive Ability creating a new condition when another condition is applied to a target.
Hopefully, this gives you some idea of how inter-related skills are. The Secret World’s Ability Wheel is not like most MMOs where you just pick a tree and go. Working the Ability Wheel requires a lot of thought, because abilities from totally unrelated trees can apply conditions to targets that your own passives may key on, or perhaps the passives of someone in your group.