World of Warcraft meets The X-Files. That’s the best way to describe The Secret World, the latest MMO contender from Funcom and EA that trades in medieval fantasy for a more contemporary, albeit creepier, setting. In TSW, conspiracies are the norm, secret societies offer assistance, and each enemy looks like they’d be right at home in any horror movie. Plus, we can’t think of any other MMO that let us blast shotgun shells into a zombies face before swapping to an industrial sledgehammer to bloody it just a bit further.
The events that transpire in TSW all take place in modern day: unbeknownst to the public at large, secret societies have been pulling the strings of fate by beating back unseen forces of evil and claiming whatever’s left over. They may appear to be fighting for the greater good, but each syndicate has their own ulterior motives – they’re all at odds with each other in the race for power, serving as the game’s three factions.
The New York-based Illuminati vie for corporate domination and the wealth that come with it. The Templar hail from London, and operate with a militaristic zeal to control anything related to the occult. The Dragon (who aren’t yet available in the beta) of Seoul base their actions on the butterfly effect, fostering chance occurrences to create chaos that will end in their favor. As fans of underworld fame and fortune, we sided with the Illuminati, with the hopes that we could one day don their trademark high-tech gas masks.
TSW’s skill progression is unlike any other major MMO to date: instead of restricting players to choosing a class and a talent tree, any character can specialize in any weapon of their choosing, and it’s up to the player to decide which skills would best suit them. By investing your ability points into specific quadrants of the ability wheel, you’ll gain access to the better skills for your weapons of choice.
You won’t find bows, arrows, or wands here – the current weapon list includes dual pistols, black magic, and the aforementioned sledgehammers, just to name a few. Our hammer-shotty combo felt just right: we drew enemies closer with some charged shotgun blasts – then once they came in range, we pulverized them with AoE swings of our cranium-bashing buddy. Combat feels like a mix between the fast-paced action of TERA and the (slightly clashing) targeting system from WoW. With plenty of spells to cast, there’s never a dull moment, but it can be jarring having to switch targets mid-fight when all we want to do is smash faces by spamming the “1” key.
TSW also sets itself apart by doing away with levels completely – instead of grinding to get from level 39 to level 40, killing monsters and completing quests will net you additional ability and skill points so you can branch out further into the ability wheel’s outer rings. It’s almost disorienting playing an MMO without character levels – we love that our character feels more like a specialist than a number, but it can be confusing trying to decipher if attacking a particular zone or enemy group is viable, given our current loadout.
Questing marks yet another departure from other MMOs: instead of fetch quests doled out by NPCs devoid of personality, you’re sent on multi-tiered missions by a crazy cast of characters. Given that conspiracy theorists are some of your only contacts outside your company of choice, you’ll run into quite a few nutjobs, each fully voiced to get their insane points across.
Funcom also made nice use of camera angles during cutscenes, and we didn’t see the same canned animations over and over – characters moved like you’d think they would, with mad scientists gesticulating wildly and corporate seductresses slinking around. We’d say it’s at the same level as the outstanding storytelling in Star Wars: The Old Republic, but there’s one problem – your character never speaks, so each quest feels like a Grand Theft Auto III scene, where your mute protagonist blinks and nods at their highly entertaining company.
Visually, TSW is on point, with some utterly beautiful outer-dimensional zones and areas; the hub zone of Agartha looks like a fairytale dream filled with rusty mechs, and the zombie-infested Kingsmouth resembles New England’s version of The Walking Dead. The game’s monsters are equally excellent, blending typical horror tropes with some truly original design. It’s definitely the first time we’ve seen a topside jellyfish-elephant-zombie hybrid.
We’ve just started to scratch the surface of TSW, and already, we’re awfully impressed. The game’s is supremely refreshing in a market filled with space or sorcery MMOs, and the plot and NPC dialogue is so well done that it could bring over adventure game fans who haven’t set foot in an MMO lately. Be sure to check back for additional updates on our monster mashing adventures – our sledgehammering skills can only get better.