The Secret World Previews and Interview

We have rounded up another batch of hands-on previews based on the press beta of Funcom's latest, the modern-day conspiracy-laden MMO The Secret World, which seem to paint an overall cautiously optimistic image of the title.

PC Gamer also includes some game footage:
Honestly, I'm torn about The Secret World. As a fan of urban fantasy, I'm squarely in Funcom's sights and for the most part the setting is executed well. There's lots of lovely environmental detail and knowing references for fans of weird fiction to dig up. That said, what I've actually done in the opening hours of the game has been pure MMO: action-bar combat and objective-based quests with little sign of the secrets and puzzles that the game promises.

Of course, they wouldn't be secrets if they were placed front and centre but so far, The Secret World hasn't done much to place me on the breadcrumb trail. It's less willing to lead you by the nose than other MMOs, which is a good thing but a difficult fetch quest is still a fetch quest. The presence of lots of mobs with wide aggro areas makes exploration tricky: I want to uncover Kingsmouth's dark corners, but I'm less interested in fighting the same three zombies over and over.

GameSpy talks about pros and cons, so a quote from each:
Pros: Engrossing Story Removes the Grind

From Bigfoot to the Grassy Knoll sniper to vampires to the Pyramids and everything in between, The Secret World casts players into a storyline that combines every conspiracy theory, myth, legend, and bit of folklore you've ever heard -- and many, many more you haven't. Even early on you get a sense of its massive story, and Funcom does a great job weaving various threads of it throughout Kingsmouth in quests big and small.

The depth of the story shines in Investigation Missions. We've talked about these at length in the past, but it wasn't until I had the chance to spend a good chunk of time in Kingsmouth that I recognized just how much Investigation Missions bring The Secret World's storyline to life.

While searching for clues for the "sleeping priest" all over town, I discovered interesting places (like a strange, rune-covered rock formation on Priest Island) and characters galore. If I was on a standard, "go to point A, kill X number of Ys" quest, I would have glazed over just about every one of these people and locations. But I was on a challenging search for answers, and that search compelled me to dig into every nook and cranny in Kingsmouth. It opened my eyes to how deep TSW's story runs, and quite frankly, it's staggering. The amount of research that's gone into this, and the way in which it has all been adeptly tied together to create a cohesive, compelling story is amazing.

Cons: Not Everyone Will Find the Clues

I could play The Secret World for its Investigation Missions alone, but I'm fairly certain I'm in the minority. These are tough, old-school quests that feature puzzles wrapped in riddles wrapped in word games that require time, research (as in actual reading), and thought. They're fantastic, but they're definitely not for everyone.

Without the Investigation Missions in Kingsmouth, I never would have dug beneath the initial "OMG our town has been overrun with zombies!" storyline layer to discover the deep ties to history, literature, art, fiction, and folklore. The basic, bread-and-butter MMO missions simply don't do enough to draw me in. And without that crazy-deep storyline, those quests end up feeling like your garden-variety grind. Because of the difficulty and requirements of Investigation Missions, I fear a sizable portion of players will miss out on what, in my opinion, is The Secret World's greatest strength.

Kotaku learned eight lessons from the title:
If You Nail the Atmosphere I Can Forgive Floaty Combat

Running through the woods of Kingsmouth, moonlight filtering through the trees and fog as guttural growls sing my doom from somewhere just out of sight; this is exactly the experience I was hoping for.

I can forgive a great deal in a massively multiplayer game if it actually manages to frighten me, something The Secret World seems to have no problem with at all. It's a combination of lighting, setting, sound design and musical cues. It's also a matter of game design. Many of today's more casual-friendly MMO games like to group like-leveled creatures into a certain area, giving the player a defined space where they can handle anything thrown at them.

That's not something you can rely on in The Secret World. Take a wrong turn, and it could become an extremely wrong turn. It's doing a number on my nerves. That's a good thing.

Atomic Gamer:
You'll get quests in both the old-fashioned way - by talking to NPCs - and by investigating the world around you. Completion of quests is done via a remote interface, so Funcom has finally done what I wanted ever since I saw City of Heroes do it (but only rarely) so many years ago: if we're in a modern world, why can't we use a phone to dial in the completion of a quest instead of having to hoof it all the way back to the person who gave it to us? Admittedly, I haven't played every single MMO ever made in the last decade, so someone else may have made this standard operating procedure first, but either way I really like being able to turn in quests and get rewards remotely, and the modern-day setting makes it totally appropriate.

Now, let's get into some of the negatives. Unfortunately, I really don't much like the combat in The Secret World, and while I do appreciate that most abilities can be activated while you're on the move, the way combat plays out is just so rudimentary. In some ways, it reminds me of the very first generation of 3D MMOs, like EverQuest or Funcom's own Anarchy Online back from over a decade ago. Sure, everything surrounding the combat feels fresh and original, but once you press those buttons to shoot your guns, fire out magical powers or swing a melee weapon, things look decidedly bland. Non-sensical things will happen in combat, like a mindless zombie somehow "block"-ing a bullet once in a while. But of course that's just what you see in the floating combat text that shows damage over characters' heads, because the animations really don't make any of the fights look or feel remotely realistic. For all of the effort Funcom has put in, you might as well be playing a decade-old RPG once you get your eyes on how the game's combat looks.

Player Attack:
In The Secret World you're going to have to pay attention to everything you're told about a quest, in case some detail is particularly important. It might be a number you need for a security keypad or directions to a location that isn't marked on your map or even knowing which compass points require a reagent and which do not.

This is fine. Intriguing even. A lot of people will appreciate the attention to detail required and the lack of a leash dragging you to where you need to go.

Where it becomes a problem is in some of the more obscure investigations. One of the particular lowlights of my weekend in the game was being required to crack the password on a computer. The only hints you receive come from the computer's security system, the first being "Music of the seasons" and the second being "1723".

I'm sure there's some of you nodding your head and thinking "Vivaldi!" right now and, well, good for you. It sure didn't spring to mind for me, so I needed a quick trip to Google to try and ferret out the meaning behind these cryptic clues.

Finally, Metro has a preview and an interview. I'll quote a snippet from the latter:
GC: Where you ever tempted to have real-time combat in The Secret World? Why is the combat in MMOs this odd mix of real-time and turn-based?

EE: For us, we originally had a more real-time combat system than we do have now. It was more based on actually aiming somewhere, shooting, and hitting the target that way. It was much more real-time and much more direct. What we basically saw when we were testing it, on both externals and internals, is that for a game like The Secret World that has such an intricate system and abilities system, people are expecting combat to be more tactical. And if you do it real-time, we at least have found it more difficult making a game that focuses more on the synergy between the different abilities.

But if you do it less real-time, more of a standard MMO direction, it's easier to create that layer of tactics and strategy to combat. And I think a lot of people are expecting that if they're playing an MMO. So to us we feel that it makes the combat system more interesting.

Yes, it's fun when you're playing shooters - and I love Planetside for instance, which is a great MMO that uses shooter-like combat - but for a game like The Secret World where the whole point is building a character, choosing a synergy between abilities... that type of game just lends itself much more to this type of combat system.