The Secret World review

Poring over this paranormal MMO

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Incredibly lackluster combat was the sledgehammer that broke our camel's back. While you can wield a variety of supposedly deadly weapons, few offer much sense of oomph or impact. We played primarily with the blade / assault rifle combo, but we might as well have been slashing that sword at thin air for all the visual and aural feedback it offered. On-hit effects didn't even wait for their animations to connect; the very instant we triggered our stun ability enemies would freeze, well before our character actually executed the attack's visually dramatic animation.

Once you assemble a stable build, combat devolves into cycling through the same few abilities over and over, ad nauseam, until the enemies drop. Many MMOs feature skill cycling and the resultant repetition, but even eight-year-old WoW (not to mention Funcom's more recent Age of Conan) do a better job of making combat seem believably physical, with blades that feel cutty and blunt objects that go thunk. In contrast, TSW’s combat looks and feels like a weightless pantomime. Apply 2-10 button cycles until enemy drops; repeat. All RPGs are repetitive on some level, but TSW's repetitive, bloodless encounters become mind-numbing.

Between the superficially novel but ultimately familiar questing and the utterly uninvolving combat our initial wellspring of bonhomie and goodwill dried up, leaving us going through the same motions over and over just to get to the next slightly different quest giver. By the time we got to Egypt (about 80 hours logged) we were spent, leaving us in an odd position. TSW's fiction and atmosphere are so novel that we'd really like to see what happens in the rest of the game, in Transylvania and beyond. The problem is that this would require playing for another 100+ hours, and at this point that doesn't seem appealing.

The Secret World is admirable for attempting to inject much-needed originality and life into MMORPGs, but while its fiction and theme succeed, its mostly derivative questing and stale combat fail to justify the steep time investment. Funcom is committed to The Secret World and will undoubtedly make many changes and improvements over the coming months and years. But given the current shortcomings, up-front cost, and the monthly fee, a wait-and-see approach seems wise. Given time, The Secret World will only get cheaper - and better.

More info

GenreRole Playing
DescriptionTSW takes place in the modern day, only in a skewed universe in which every myth, legend, and conspiracy theory is utterly, horribly true. This heightened reality serves as the backdrop for a millennia-spanning struggle between three secret societies: the craven, amoral Illuminati, the rigid, authoritarian Templars, and the chaotic, mysterious Dragon. As a new agent of your chosen faction, you'll bring your newfound paranormal abilities to the aid of your masters' agenda.
US censor rating"Mature"
UK censor rating""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)