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

The 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 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.

Part 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 – 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 thing.
  • 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), 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 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 The Secret World are:

Stonehenge – 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.

Cimbala – This lost city in the Himilayan Mountains is 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.

EldoradoThe 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 The Secret World. No release date has been announced for the game,

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