The Secret World

Unlike their last effort, Age of Conan, Funcom is using an original setting for this online game: the real world. But don’t worry: this isn’t a game that has you washing +1 dishes before travelling to the supermarket to purchase increasingly nutritious vegetables. Like the classic shooter/RPG Deus Ex, The Secret World is grounded in our most intriguing urban legends, myths and secret societies. This gives Funcom the chance to create lore that’s accessible to everyone, but lets them apply their own interpretations.

Funcom’s focus is on the hidden orders popularised by the likes of Dan Brown, National Treasure, and the tinfoil-hat-wearing lunatics who fuel conspiracy theories. The factions – the Illuminati, Templar, and the Dragon – give players the chance to explore material that’s ripe for development.

Each faction will have home cities – New York, London, and Seoul respectively – based in reality, so don’t expect to see much strange architecture to begin with. Although, that’s not saying it’s going to be an everyday experience. Vampires, Atlantis, and the end of the Mayan calendar (2012) will all play a role in the game.

The factions themselves are full of character. The Templar is a modern take on the traditional crusaders, while the Illuminati are far more corporate with order and money driving their gains. The Dragon is the most mysterious, preferring to spread chaos from behind the scenes like a clandestine puppet master.

Funcom is staying coy about The Secret World’s narrative specifics, bar that its history tracks back 100 million years. There’s also the fantasy realm Agartha which will come later, although details are still sketchy on what it’ll entail. So we’ll just have to wait for the announcement of the inevitable expansion pack.

What it issure of is the game’s combat. Your powers are identical across the factions. Swords, shotguns, and sub-machine guns all lend themselves to responsive, quick combat. Those thinking of Age of Conan’s problems with scraps will have their views quickly quashed. The combat has been built from the ground up to provide a fluid experience never really seen in MMOs before. Expect plenty of leaping, slicing, shooting and everything else that resides in between.

As your choice of faction is purely cosmetic, it means you can focus on bettering your skills rather than worrying if you’ve selected the weaker faction. Even more interesting is Funcom’s choice to do away with traditional levels and classes. Your avatar is defined by his abilities. The way you play is reflected in your skills. It leads to organic gaming where you are no longer restricted by a poor choice in the beginning. The developers are also hoping it’ll narrow the gap between new players and veterans.

Chuck in player-made organisations called cabals (i.e. guilds) and it’s obvious that Funcom is aiming to reward cooperative players. Age of Conan struggled with social interaction and it’s good to see that Funcom isattempting to rectify the mistake. That’s not saying that you’ll be forced to interact - the game has plenty for the solo player. It’s just as playable alone, but team-based quests and other community-based bonuses mean you’ll be better off if you’re social. Leaderboards and the implementation of social networks are planned – another way to let you keep track of your character’s progress.

But perhaps the best thing about The Secret World is it links to our reality. While there are plenty of mythical beasts and supernatural attacks, you’ll be fighting through the streets of recognisable cities. Abandoned cars, decrepit gas stations, and rusting scrap yards give the impression that this is a world in decay. On top of that, the scope for expansion is unfathomable. Our world alone is huge, and that’s before Funcom starts being all creative.

Nov 16, 2009