Posted Tue, Aug 30, 2011 by Sardu
Even at gaming industry events like PAX Prime where the focus is less on marketing wizardry and more about making your game available for fans to play, I still find myself subconsciously ranking and categorizing each title I see during the three days of sensory overload. So even if PAX isn’t the type of event known for the kind of lengthy lists of awards and accolades that typically get slathered all over official game sites like sunscreen on an albino at high noon in the desert, it’s still entirely common for me to take mental note of which titles would be the deserving recipients regardless.
If I were to slap an award nomination on Funcom’s upcoming The Secret World based on what the developer presented this weekend, it would have to be something along the lines of “It rocks, and when it’s done rocking it rocks some more.” Or, for the Neil Young fans out there maybe that should be “Keep on Rocking in The Secret World.” I’ve always considered the setting for TSW to be incredibly intriguing, but it really wasn’t until my latest demo viewing that I got a better feel for how gameplay factored into the equation.
One of the most important things to be aware of is that it was no accident that Funcom revealed the three secret societies in the game long before discussing specific game mechanics. This is due to the fact that your choice of secret society will replace the more standard class selection as the most critical decision you’ll make in the game, so the more you understand the motivations and goals of the three, the more confident you’ll be that you’re making an informed decision.
The three secret societies in The Secret World – Illuminati, Templars, and Dragon – are directly linked to just about all aspects of gameplay, and represent more of a decision than what most factional choices do in traditional MMOs. For example, earning ranks within your secret society functions as the game’s core advancement system, so the more standard character levels have been removed from the equation along with the concept of character classes.
Instead of classes, players will be able to assume different roles on the fly based on which skills they opt to use. During our demo presentation this was described somewhat like a TGC, where you can continue to round out your deck with new abilities that effectively give you more options rather than granting you more power.
Another point of reference I might toss into the mix is the skill system in Guild Wars 1 which was also partially inspired by TCG skill decks. So the system in TSW is similar, only instead of being limited to a single primary and secondary profession combo and their associated skills to draw from at any given time like you are in GW1, in TSW you’ll be able to unlock all possible skills and have access to them at any time on a single character.
To give us an idea of how this factors into combat, we were shown a group dungeon that involved increasingly difficult boss encounters as the group progressed. At the beginning of the dungeon, one of the characters was wielding a sledgehammer and using various melee attacks associated with that weapon. However, one of the bosses had the ability to charge the standing water in the area with electricity, causing damage to any players who chose to remain in the water.
To adapt to the tactics of that particular boss, the same character could then switch to a wholly new build that focused on ranged attacks, allowing them to fight from the relative safety of some metal shipping containers surrounding the boss’s lair. Of course the boss wasn’t content to let the group off that easily and began sending electric currents through the containers as well, so the players still had to remain mobile as they finished it off.
This type of instanced group content will also feature a fair amount of puzzle solving, and from the example shown, Funcom won’t be tossing just any old puzzles that can be easily solved into the mix. At one point the demo group came across a locked metal box inside of one of the shipping containers. To open it you had to enter a code, and to find that code players would have to “think outside the box” which was taken quite literally in this example.
On the outside of the shipping container you could see that it had a unique tracking number. To discover the proper code, players would need to go to the official site for TSW, search for that tracking number which would then allow them to pull up the shipping manifest for that particular crate. From there, the code could be discovered and then used in-game to reveal the contents of the box.
From the sounds of things, this type of challenge will be presented to players throughout the game, and is one of the ways Funcom is hoping to help build a strong community since players will be able to make discoveries of this type, and then work with other players to find a solution. /p>
Getting back to the level of depth to the secret societies and how they factor into the game at very detailed level, we were also shown one example of a mission that will play out differently depending on which of the three you are affiliated with. The core concept here is to create experiences that will ultimately pit the three secret societies against one another, helping to build tension between them.
On a basic level, this is an underlying factor of why you will be battling it out in the warzones. So for example, if another secret society sets up an ambush for you to walk into, it helps fuel the desire to get some payback. Or, put into simpler terms, it helps create a greater sense of rivalry and team spirit, thus encouraging players to seek victory for their team in the warzones.
Graphically, The Secret World has come a long way and is a hefty upgrade from the already stunning graphics found in Age of Conan. TSW was one of the best looking games at PAX, MMO or otherwise. In fact, after seeing The Secret World, it made just about every Xbox 360 title I saw on the show floor look like it was rendered on an Etch-a-Sketch by comparison.
Overall, The Secret World was one of the best things being shown at PAX this year, and while I wasn’t able to spend any hands-on time with the game, I left the demo presentation knowing that it’s a game that I will definitely be playing when it’s released next year.