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The initial London zone is somewhat linear, but Funcom has left room for players who like to run off the beaten path. You can blow through the Templar starting experience in an hour if you like, but I ran around snapping shots and soaking in the considerable old-world atmosphere for much longer.
The streets seemed pleasantly alive, with NPCs milling about, though the /say dialogue is sparser than I'd like and voiceovers are few and far between. I made my way past a barber shop called Ockham's Razor ("shaving heads since 1321!" the sign said) and over to the tube station that was my first quest objective.
Framerates in this initial zone were fantastic, and happily the world looks considerably more impressive than the cutscenes. Say what you will about Funcom, but the company knows how to make gorgeous environments. Everything is pretty realistic, from the NPC outfits to the quaint little econobox cars that look slightly familiar (but not familiar enough to merit a licensing fee). Crucially, there's a sense of dread that permeates the whole enterprise and infuses London's cobblestone streets and dark alcoves with a palpable sense of foreboding.
The Secret World deviates from the majority of MMOs by divorcing stat boosts from clothing and armour, and instead focusing those onto things like charms, rings and pendants. Again, this is both unique & interesting, but also a little unsatisfying.
What I like about it is how it means my initial clothing choices don't become invalidated by finding newer and better gear; it also neatly sidesteps how different gear can often combine very badly in an aesthetic sense (hello Clown Tank syndrome).
But at the same time, it's kinda nice to see your character change this is why MMOs always default to a third person view, so you can see all your slick gear! Instead, I get a new ring, or a new trinket... and it doesn't change my character. Only weapons or focuses are shown on the model.
MMORPG.com offers no less than thee pieces, one on the Templart starting area, one on the game's unique elements and, finally, one overview piece. Here's a snip from the latter:
Following the path given, I headed into Kingsmouth, a zone rife with the undead. Yeah, zombies. Every MMO has .m so why not The Secret World? I just find it slightly tiresome but, once again, not unexpected. TSW devs aren't quite ready to change every paradigm, and at least here they fit the setting. Again, you are tasked with working through several learning experiences and are taught how the player interacts with objects to accomplish all sorts of tasks.
Questing in Kingsmouth is interesting and quite different in some ways than most MMOs. While you still get the quest-giver/quest goals thing, you find that tasks are tiered and you have to finish one objective before you even know what the next objective is and so on until all tiers are completed. Keep in mind, too, that you can only have three active quests at a time: one main story mission, one faction quest and one side quest. While that seems like a small number, it's important to note that it's more like eighteen quests with the different tiers.
There are a metric ton of quests in The Secret World. Exploration is encouraged to help players find quests that will lead them to more quests and so on and so on. Believe me when I tell you that there is no lack of tasks to accomplish.
During my time in Kingsmouth, I came upon my next feeling of foreboding when it came to combat. Now that I was working with my assault rifle, I increasingly became dismayed by the sound of it all. Yes, the sound. I utterly and completely hate the sound of the guns in TSW. Yes, I've said it. I suppose I'm spoiled by the sheer aural genius of BioWare's Mass Effect 3 guns so that might have colored my opinion some. But.but.why does my flipping ASSAULT RIFLE sound like a repeating kid's pop gun? I finally found a sword and started using that instead because I was so offended by the sound. I know. Shallow, right? Hopefully this is another area that's polished before June's launch.
To conclude, GamesBeat offers seven reasons to play the title:
It's not high fantasy
After more than a decade of frolicking with elves, dwarves, and orcs in MMORPGs like Everquest and World of Warcraft, spending an hour in Funcom's urban fantasy world is refreshing. There are a variety of locations to explore, both real and imaginary. Players can travel to a foggy New England town to investigate a zombie outbreak, or they can discover the secrets behind a major archaeological find in the Egyptian desert. They can ride on a cursed cargo ship, visit an occult prep school, or go all Jack Torrance in an abandoned motel. You can keep Azeroth and Norrath. I want to hang out in Transylvania and New York.
The investigation missions
When was the last time a game asked you to do actual research? One of the most intriguing aspects of The Secret World is its investigation missions. Designed to be serious head scratchers, each one is a puzzle that will require you to look at images, listen to sound clips, or explore the world around you. There is even an in-game web browser for looking up real-world myths and legends that may tie into these quests. I can already picture the amount of time I'm going to waste staring at it.
The combat won't put you to sleep
Funcom already proved with its previous title, Age of Conan, that it knows how to design a fun combat system. Like AoC, The Secret World features collision detection, which is useful for strategies like bottlenecking. It places a greater emphasis on mobility as well. Mobs often have special attacks that need to be avoided, and most abilities can be activated while on the move. Only seven active abilities can be equipped at a time, forcing you to carefully pick what you'll bring on each mission. Luckily, many skills have synergistic properties that savvy players can take full advantage of, and I anticipate a flood of interesting builds on the web in the weeks following the game's launch.