Respeculation: Does The Secret World Need a Respec?

There are fewer topics more contentious than whether or not The Secret World should have a respec mechanic to let players reallocate misspent Ability and Skill Points. In this editorial, our editor examines the argument from both sides...and just maybe has a change of heart.

Last week, Ten Ton Hammer published our review of The Secret World. In that review, we claimed that Funcom’s newly launched title, a game without traditional classes sporting over 500 abilities from which to build a character, could benefit from a respec option. Almost immediately, The Secret World faithful stormed our page to call us out for suggesting a mechanic they felt the game was clearly better off without.

It's a big Ability Wheel. Choose wisely.

Is a respec necessary in a game like The Secret World, or does it amount to dumbing down the mechanics of an otherwise challenging and refreshingly different MMO? Several months before launch, Ten Ton Hammer was invited to Funcom’s TSW press beta. Our editors and writers played frequently, got together for groups and dungeon runs, and generally enjoyed ourselves right through early access and launch. And we talked. A lot. We discussed the game in detail, as gamers do, and one thing we (almost) unanimously agreed upon was that a respec option would make The Secret World a lot less painful for the new or casual player.

Many TSW players vehemently disagree. I’ve spent time going over some massive threads (like this one) on The Secret World’s forums as well as reading the comments on our TSW review to better understand the community’s stance and, with a few get-back-to-WoW exceptions, the community's argument was so well presented that they may have changed my mind.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular reasons for and against adding a respec mechanic to The Secret World.


I want a respec because...

You don't need one because...

With a character development system as complex as the Ability Wheel and Skill Point panel, it’s easy to make regrettable build mistakes. Fixing those mistakes can take time that the casual player might not want to invest.

 It’s not difficult to gain Ability Points and Skill Points. In most cases, even if you don’t like your current build, all you have to do is keep playing and rebuild as you go. Many quests are repeatable, making earning AP and SP quickly that much easier.

I might not like the build I’ve created. Or I might find that it doesn't work well for PvP or dungeons. Why should I be punished by having to replay content or soldier on with a play style I don’t like in order to get where I want to be? That’s tedious and not a lot of fun.

In a traditional MMOG, if you started out playing a warrior and decided you wanted to play a mage, you’d have to make an alt and replay content. In TSW, instead of making an alt, your character branches off on a different path. Not only do you not have to reroll, your character is now more diverse.

Okay, but what if I just made a couple of bad decisions as I was allotting Ability and Skill Points. It’s ridiculous to expect me to waste precious time undoing what I did with one mouse click when I could be out having fun instead. It makes the game a grind.

You’re probably unaware of a cool mechanic in The Secret World. You can save your AP and SP and then return to the training instance in your faction’s city. There, you can experiment with different abilities. Until you leave the instance, your AP is refundable. In other words, you can try before you buy! As Skill Points go, you should  be prepared to diversify. You won't get back any SP you spend, but that's the price you pay for being able to take on any role you want in this classless game.

But seriously, would a respec mechanic really harm the game all that much? It’s a convenience. Developers shouldn’t punish their players while they're learning how the basics of a game work.

Yes, it would hurt the game. Think of the Ability Wheel as a trading card game. You may collect all the cards  and decks eventually, but you're not meant to be able to experiment with them all at once--collecting is part of the fun and challenge. TSW lead designer Martin Bruusgaard said it best: “... we don't want everybody to be able to do everything at the same time. The player should focus his build to do a few tasks well, and preferably work together with other players in order to maximize [his] efficiency.”  [Source]  


After spending some time looking at what the TSW community had to say, I've begun to see where the "no respec" camp is coming from. Most (though certainly not all) of the arguments both for and against a respec mechanic are well-reasoned. That said, I can still understand why new players can, and probably will, find the lack of a respec a harsh penalty for not understanding how the game works. After all, there's still no way to refund misspent Skill Points, and those take longer to earn than Ability Points, which tend to roll in pretty quickly.

The biggest lesson I learned is that Ability Points spent in your faction city's training area are refundable until you leave the training area. I tested this by going to the Dojang in Seoul. I had 2 SP and 4 AP to spend at that particular moment, and I wanted to see what I could do with it. I thought I'd experiment with blades and pistols, so I picked up the weapons, spent the necessary Skill Points, and purchased some skills. For the first weapon I tested I was able to pick up a Builder and a Consumer--enough to get me started and give me a feel for what the weapon did against the training dummies. When I decided that I wasn't really feeling pistols, I refunded my points and tested blades.

It's true that testing out abilities on lifeless dummies in the training area isn't the same as using them against angry monsters in the open world, but you really don't lose anything by adding another weapon to your repertoire. In fact, you gain some versatility.

The Secret World abyss

You're not really thrown into the endless abyss if you make poor build choices;
it only feels that way sometimes.

The Final Analysis

Funcom didn't make a mistake by leaving out a respec option--it was, and always has been, a calculated and carefully-made decision on their part. The Ten Ton Hammer team rolled into the press beta knowing this full well--we've spent plenty of time talking to the devs at Funcom and learning about the decisions they've made in the development of The Secret World. Still, most of our team felt the lack of a respec was too punishing for players just learning the game.

I still believe that the lack of a respec is punishing, but not for the same reasons I once did. I've come to realize that the system isn't as harsh as I thought...but only because the TSW community brought this to light for me.

Where Funcom fell short is in not making new players--those who haven't followed the development of The Secret World as closely as the faithful--fully aware of not only how to play but how to perceive their game. The issue isn't about a missing respec, it's about a missing tutorial. I wish I'd been more aware of the fact that I could go back to my faction city's training area and experiment with different weapons and abilities without spending my precious AP permanently. I wish that the game had told me that I might not want to specialize early on but instead diversify, and store up my Skill Points so that I could spend them wisely when the time came. (I would still argue that making SP, and not just AP, refundable inside the training areas would be a good mechanic to add, however.)

Does The Secret World really need a respec? I once thought it did. Some of my colleagues still think it does, at least in some limited fashion, such as adding a long reuse timer, a cap after which respec is not possible, or a cost of huge amounts of pax or perhaps even real world cash. I've since come to believe that what The Secret World really needs is a more thorough tutorial to help new players understand its intricate character development system before they quit in frustration.

What are your thoughts on the lack of a respec mechanic in The Secret World? Does the game need one in some capacity, or would even a limited respec break the game you know and love? I’ve shared my opinion, now share yours in the comments below.

About the Author

Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.
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