I’ve been excited about The Secret World since I first heard about it, and now I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a key for this month’s beta weekends (though apparently you can just go get one if you sign up for GameSpot)!
I’ve never managed to stick with an MMORPG for very long. I did enjoy playing Ultima Online back in Jr. High, but I pretty much just ran around making furniture and clothes, never any quests or fighting or otherwise exploring the game. My husband, on the other hand, is a big fan of the genre. He played Everquest in its heyday and was knee-deep in World of Warcraft when I met him in college. He has dabbled in FFXI, Aion, and Rift, and has most recently traded WoW for Starcraft II, with some mumblings about Diablo III on the way. He tried getting me started on WoW and Aion, but I just never got hooked or felt like I wanted to go play. So I’m entering into The Secret World with a bit of trepidation. I want to like this game very badly, but I’m nervous that it will just become another MMORPG that I turn out to be not very into.
Only time will tell if I enjoy the game long-term, but I can tell you that I’ve been enjoying the beta! I wasn’t able to complete all of the Templar beta this weekend, but I did get to play several quests and can give you some of my first impressions. The setting and aesthetic are really the stand-out features for this game for me so far, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post.
I think part of my problem with other MMORPGs has been their aesthetic. It seems like most of them are based around the same kind of fantasy/dragons/wizards/etc. lore and world, and that’s a style that has never really appealed to me. I am a nerd with nerdy interests, for sure, but medieval-style fantasy has just never been interesting to me.
So beyond even the promise of secret societies and puzzle-centric quests, the most appealing aspect of The Secret World so far, for me, has been the modern setting, with backdrops like London, New York City, and Tokyo. Compared to the potential beauty and wonder of a fantasy environment, a cityscape might sound bland and boring. But so far, The Secret World has proved that idea completely wrong.
In last weekend’s Templar beta, you start out on the cobblestone streets of London, surrounded by meticulously detailed townhouses and businesses. Eventually you make your way to the Templar headquarters, with its red carpets, oil paintings, and rich wood details, oozing with class and elegance. At one point I found myself in a gorgeous library with spiral staircases that lead to a second level. I wondered aloud if I could actually go up the stairs to the second level. It turned out I could, and this made me very happy.
Rather than being bland or boring, The Secret World seems to be taking full advantage of all the cultural cues already established by our society to evoke feelings of mystery, intrigue, or just plain cool-ness. One of the best examples of this in the Templar beta is “the Crucible,” the Templar weapons training room. The first thing you see when you walk in is a bar. Then you step down into what I thought felt like a retro-fitted bowling alley sort of area, with training demons at the end of each lane. High ceilings, chandeliers, and what’s that playing in the background while you test out your new weaponry? Opera music. Damn classy, and it makes you feel like a badass.
The first quest of the beta takes place in the zombie-ridden rural New England town of Kingsmouth, where more beautiful settings are waiting. The forest in its autumn glory, the sleepy streets of the small town with its churches and diners, the foggy port with ships docked in the distance. Even the junkyard is beautiful in its own spooky way, the tendrils of mist and my sub-par graphics card hiding the field full of scrap metal golems lying in wait to tear me apart limb from limb.
The setting does get a small dose of fantasy in the form of Agartha, a sort of transportation system utilized by the secret societies to get around quickly, made up of huge tree branches and glowing yellow portals guarded by giant robots of sorts. And the demon world seems to always be trying to break through to the real world in this game, giving otherwise normal settings a fantastic spin.
I’m the type of person who likes to run around and look at every little thing in an open-world game like this. I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to do so in the beta, but I anticipate spending a good amount of time just exploring the gorgeous, detailed world created here when I start the game for real.
I’m not sure what other factors you readers out there are interested in about this game, but I’ll try to touch on a few other points.
Story — Kind of a tough one. I felt very impatient with the story elements of the game. Most quests seemed to come with a series of long cut-scenes attached, and I was very quick to skip through them. I think I am particularly impatient with these types of things in general though. I always want to get straight to the action, and while I appreciate narrative in theory, I hate having to wait around for it. I picked up some lore artifacts along the way but didn’t read them. It seems like you can ask every other NPC a string of questions about various topics and get a voice-acted reply, but that would take forever. The game is definitely robust, but it’s hard to say whether I’ll want to take the time to take advantage of all of that, especially when I’m playing with other people.
Quests — From what I’ve seen so far, the quests seem interesting and relevant. I remember getting started with WoW and having to kill 10 wild boars or something so somebody could use their tusks or something. Boring! In The Secret World, you start off having to kill 10 zombies or something to help out the cowboy keeping watch over the area or something. Still the same basic tutorial premise, but killing zombies is a lot more exciting (especially since they’ll kill you first if they see you). From there, it was quests like gathering supplies and bringing them back to the police headquarters turned refugee camp, investigating a series of complaints to the PD and finding that the complainer himself is dead, and helping a teenager retrieve his home-made spy planes that he’s been sending to spy on a nearby secretive military base. I guess I managed to pick up a little story along the way after all if I can remember all that. Anyway, the quests seemed fun enough, though I’d like to spend more time investing myself in them in the future (again, we were pretty much blowing through everything).
Puzzles — I know there are supposed to be some puzzle elements somewhere in this game, and that is part of what really appealed to me in the beginning, but I don’t think I’ve played enough of the beta to have seen this yet. There was one part about a number code that was a little different/unexpected (you had to actually write down a number and use it later), but it wasn’t really a puzzle. Need to play more for this one I think!
Monsters — So far we’ve seen standard zombies, zombified firefighters, spooky forest beasts, some kind of sea monsters, scrapyard golems, and a bunch of other stuff we just ran right by on our way to a quest. I think a lot of the monsters are supposed to be based on lore and urban legends and such. I’m not really into monsters, but so far they have seemed interesting I guess.
Controls — Can’t speak much to these since this is pretty much my first MMO! Nick says everything is basically the same as every other MMO, which is a good thing. I am hilariously bad at controlling my character so far, but I hope to improve.
Weapons/Skills — You get to pick one from a group of about 10 weapons to start with. I picked dual pistols, and Nick picked sledgehammer. I feel pretty cool I guess, though I’m excited to see what the more advanced weapons are like. I did pick up a new set of pistols called Salt and Pepper that I was really excited about, but unfortunately I had screwed something up in the very beginning of the game and didn’t have enough skill to use them yet! D’oh! You also learn weapon-specific abilities as you gain experience and they are pretty awesome! I learned a skill that lets me put a big green target on the ground that slows and hurts any enemies within its range. I want to learn more cool skills! Maybe I’m starting to see the appeal of the MMORPG… Though I still have to say: I think I feel 300% cooler doing these skills as a normally-dressed, non-fantasy human being than as a scantily-clad, blue-skinned night elf or something. I can relate to my character, and everything I do feels cool and special.
Interface — Ah, The Secret World has a beautiful, slick user interface and I love it! Clean lines, gradients, blacks and grays. No medieval wood/brass borders and flowery fonts here!
Music — Remarkably beautiful music so far. They use this cool piano quip as sort of an alert sound, I like it. Music has been used very well so far to enhance the game’s aesthetic.
Character Design — Hard to say since it’s the beta. So far you get to choose from a number of preset face shapes, then you can change eyes, nose, chin, eyebrows, makeup, hair style, hair color, and eye color. Hope there are some more hairstyles in the real version. Wanted to make an Anderson Cooper character (we made one in Aion, spitting image!!), but there is no option for silver/white/gray hair, or any unusual hair colors at all. You can choose from a small number of clothing items. Some of them are ridiculous, and it’s hard to find anything that matches. I’m dying for some money to buy new clothes! Can’t a girl have a simple, black, FBI agent suit to match her Dana Scully hair? Maybe an over-sized trench coat?
Graphics — The people look a little funny (hello uncanny valley), but the settings are so gorgeous. Makes me wish I had a computer that could handle them properly! There are some beautiful sun-dappled forests in Kingsmouth, but my shadows are all big pixel squares. The beta version has also had some very entertaining glitches so far. I tried to leave Kingsmouth and go back to London last night, and found that myself and all the players around me had been defaulted to male characters with no clothes, no hair, no items, no skills, no nothing:
In general, I’m pretty pleased and excited about this game after playing some of the beta. It was a lot more fun than I was expecting based on my past MMO experiences, and I think I can really sink my teeth into the lore and world if I take my time.
This weekend is part 2 of the Templar/Kingsmouth story. I’ll be travelling most of the weekend, but if I get a chance to play I’ll check back in on Monday with any new insights. Let me know if you have any questions about The Secret World!