Respeculation: Does The Secret World Need a Respec?

Posted Wed, Jul 11, 2012 by Shayalyn

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.

The best compromise I thought of was to be able to "refund" the inner ability but with a AP price. Like 1 AP for a branch of an inner branch. Once you get an other wheel ability for that weapon, you can get refunded...

I would help the new player but keep the spirit of diverse build alive.

BTW: Did you know that you can use passive skill even if you don't equip the weapon? There are some GREAT passive skill!

Maybe its better that they didnt tell everyone every little detail about the game. The game from day one was advertised and marketed with lots of mystery. Puzzles and all that. If they tell folks everything, what is the point of playing? More over, if they let everyone respec, what is the point of 500 skills and the experiences of learning them and using them in different combos if people just want to run through all 500 in 3 months and quit?

I see where you're coming from in a lot of respects. I like that missions, for instance, don't hold my hand and that I actually have to figure things out for myself. The mystery, as you said, is part of what makes The Secret World unique.

But...I just don't feel that leaving out information such as, "Hey, did you know that you could try out abilities in your faction city's training area without permanently spending the AP?" is the sort of thing that should remain mysterious. It's fun to work to figure out missions or how to defeat a difficult boss; it's not fun to work to figure out standard game mechanics.

Understandable and reasonable request there.

Conversely, beta testers and players who sub day one are normally great sources of information. As you know, figuring out core systems and even tidbits are, at times, the greatest bindings of online gaming communities. Is it possible that maybe some folks didn't find and share info other players might have found crucial to time spent; somewhere in the excitement of getting into the game and playing? Over the net there has a been a fairly detailed amount of information released from the developers on the skill system. Chat is very vocal about things normally as well. The faq perhaps? Fansites? No mention there? Maybe located at the bottom of some really nice gameart on a loading screen? :) If not, well, I guess TTH is one hell of a suggestion box. Hehe

Good luck and have fun! That is what its about after all.

A plethora of information is given from the same medium, which everyone is sooo quick to hit the ESC Button upon... Cinematic Events. How do you do this, what is that, where is this quest? Watch the cinematic event, the clues are there (or sometimes more than not, it slaps you upside the head with the answers.) One main cinematic event is the Training Room. Yes, he doesnt state you can replace AP and SP, but he does say come back whenever you want, try new things, hone your skills, train... train... train... In the Training Room? Thats just crazy. And the best part of the movie, he says, 'Once you leave here, all things are permanent.' Wtf does that mean anyways? Okay, that is kinda bold, and different starting areas have different cinematic events. The premise is the same though, its a Training Room after all. Again, who has time for silly things like cinematic events, reading a user or gaming manual, or even a few annoying tutorial quests on Crafting and Runeforging? I have zombies to kill, that worthless crap impedes my progress. (Or does it?)

I believe if they had a single weapon clear that it would not be game breaking. If it was on a long timer or cost alot. For example i went swords AR in the beginning and found out it was a terrible mistake. I would gladly dump all of swords for those Skill points.

While there could be better info on how to play the game, this is true of pretty much every MMORPG and why there is a market for "Strategy Guides." I don't see that TSW having inherently deeper strategy is a bad thing.

I also don't think you can blame Funcom for newbie confusion. Most of these players have come to this game thinking every MMORPG is or should be like WoW. All the telling them it isn't won't help. They will resist, complain and eventually either come to love the differences or leave.

I don't want a respec in TSW, but I do agree that a quick tutorial would help players new to the game immensely. I love how I can eventually learn everything in the game if I put in the time but only have access to a few abilities at a time (7 active, 7 passive). While there are some issues with the game (chat, not being able to go to a new instance by yourself if a quest is broken in yours, etc.), The Secret World is the best MMO I've played in years. Will it hold once I get towards the end? I don't know, but right now my addiction is strong and I applaud Funcom for not following the typical MMO mold. I think the game is kind of a throwback to early computer games that were skill based and more open. Anyhoo, that's my two cents. No respec! :)

I think you should receive a faction mission when you are at 100 AP (or however much you need to fill out the inner wheel) earned (spent+unspent) to go back to the training facility. You'll receive a free re-spec with the explicit information that it won't be available again ever and a quick tutorial in how you can try out different skills and weapons temporarily in the training area without wasting points on skills you don't like.

Would be very casual/new-player friendly which is something they will have to do eventually in order to sustain player gain.
I don't think a re-spec ability beyond that is needed or should be added but I'm afraid they might add something like that to the store at some point to make some money, which I could live with (I wouldn't use it anyway)

I really think this is a fair compromise. I'm squarely in the no respec camp as I feel it would defeat the whole purpose of unlocking the ability wheel, however, it would ultimately be good for the health of the game to allow new players a chance to correct their early mistakes. Especially since once you leave Kingsmouth the content becomes noticeably more challenging. While it is possible for players to change their path given a little more time investment (the SP and AP starts to flow even faster as you go), I believe that it becomes an issue of player perception. Casual players or those new to the genre aren't going to see it this way, and could easily become discouraged with the game. The 1 time early respec would be a gesture of goodwill that would encourage them to find a path they enjoy, and in time learn to embrace the system completely.

TSW is a great game, and while I understand why players want the game to be kept difficult, and no respec, Funcom has to realize they are cutting out a group of players who are having great difficulty in advancing their characters. And yes, that includes me. I was in the beta and pointed this out then.

I'm sick of grinding the first two areas for experience. I don't get the QL weapons, talismans and SP I need for advancing to the next area, Blue Mountain. I'm stuck. And this isn't even mentioning the broken missions needed for advancing. Trying to get from one dimension to another is a pain, to get to one that doesn't have broken missions.

Fortunately, because of beta, I did have a good idea of what weapons had synergy with other weapons. You can find this out with some research and lots of reading; good luck with your memory, though.

As for crafting, my inventory is full of resources, etc. of all kinds, but nothing useful. By the time you get what you need to build better weapons or talismans, you have advanced to where you continue to need better. There is no auction house to take advantage of stuff other players can offer.

Grouping is a pain, too. It's hard to get one for a variety of reasons I won't go into. You need a good guild, but even there, good luck in finding someone doing the mission you are doing.

I know Funcom is addressing all these issues and will someday have a viable game for ALL of us, not just those who consider themselves elite. Therefore, I'm putting the game on hold for now. I plan on going on to GW2 anyway. I know there are a good number of TSW players who feel as I do, and will not be continuing the game after the free month, or have already quit. We aren't all WoW players. Many of us have been playing online games long before WoW, so don't insult us with that.

They should allow you to respec any points you spend so long as they are kept with in the same weapon skill. i.e If I have 75 points in melee, I can configure any melee skill set those 75 points will allow.

It's no mystery why they don't want respecs - it's to keep people in the game longer. There is only about two months of content available. If you waste too much time with crappy builds you may stay in the game an extra month or two.

And seriously, this isn't the type of game where repeating content over and over is very much fun.

Also, for two weeks now, missions have been bugged. I'm told they are working as intended. It's too much frustration for me. I will play something else while I wait for GW2.

A few comments:

(1) Im comfortably into the blue mountains after working the lower levels a bit. It is possible to solo, but ti take some time and you need to really tune your skills which takes some patience.

(2) I have not run into a single bugged quest to date. i There were a few legitimate quest bugs ay launch but I think Funcom is doing a good job of addressing them and they never effected the entire population but onyl individual dimensions that got "stuck".

think what many players think are "bugs" is really them not understanding what they have to do. This is a thinking mans game. You cant just burn through it butting flailing. This is intentional and I personally love it. I also suspect however that this is going to make it somewhat of a niche game as the hump of the bell curve really doesn't want to have to think about their recreation.

Now what bugs iHAVE seen are in combat targeting, and they can be frustrating but I hope Funcom will have them fixed relatively soon.

All of this however is rather off topic to the article.

By the way, the fastest way to "respec" is just to adventure with at least one other person.

I have made 40+ AP in a few hours this way.

Cantor,as My old Crew Chief used to say Has a face You can't punch just once .If I'm ever president(unlikely)I'm going to itisntute a mandatory post-high two yearprogram either in the peace corp. or a branch of the military before citizenship is considered.A civic's test will have a rather steep curve to pass before any candidate can be considered eligible to recieve campaign moneys from the government election fund.Campaign donations and gifts shall be considered bribery and will be punishable by prison or deportation to any of the U.S. colonies such as Guam,Mariannas,Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands.that should help put a stop to the nitwit values pukes who run on The Book and reap about 99% of the corporate corruption out of the political system as it stands today.If a test is necessary to gain a civil servant job then it should be vital so that the village idiot's do not end up in office just because their piety andunctuousness appeals to the simpletons all around this country.God may watch over this Country but he sure as hellisn't going to lift a fingerto help it if it is run by sheep shaggers and tosser's.Fuck Cantor,He wouldn't last a week as a fry cook at Mickey Dee's!


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