A few weeks ago, I wrote my first impressions of briefly playing The Secret World open beta. I specifically mentioned that I hadn’t yet encountered any of the puzzle elements that I knew were supposed to be in the game. After that, I ended up with some more time to dig in and enjoy two puzzling adventures, which come in the form of Investigation Missions.
Like most MMORPGs, much of the core gameplay of TSW is based around quests, in this case called “missions” in line with the modern setting. The missions are split into the following categories:
- Story — Missions that teach the player the lore and plot of the game. Usually very cut-scene-heavy.
- Action — Missions where you have to kill x number of zombies, or defend an area from an attacking horde.
- Sabotage — Missions where the primary goal is to get in and get out without getting caught. This can involve avoiding enemy line of sight, navigating through security laser beams secret agent-style, and lifting pass codes from dead guards.
- Ranking — Faction-specific missions. (I don’t think I’ve played one of these, and I’m not sure if they’re in the beta at all.)
- Item — Get this, take it here, investigate, etc.
- Investigation — Missions where the player must follow a sort of wild goose hunt of clues to investigate something mysterious. These missions may require Google searching and brainpower.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the Investigation Missions, as I had been trying to avoid any spoilers in the press reviews. These missions turned out to be even more complicated and engaging than I could have imagined. Let me walk you through the two missions I’ve gotten to play so far. Of course, this will involve some heavy spoilers! If you’re pretty sure you’re going to play TSW, I don’t recommend reading these parts. But if you’re currently on the fence, or aren’t interested at all in playing, this might show you how the game is a little different than most MMORPGs out there. Even though I’d personally prefer if there were no spoilers online for games like this, I think it’s worth revealing just the first two missions if it manages to pique the interest of someone who might not otherwise try the game.
The Kingsmouth Code
I believe this was the first Investigation Mission open to the press and was written about pretty extensively. All I knew going in was that it had something to do with a code hidden on the manhole covers in town.
The priest at the local church starts you on this mission, hardly able to contain himself from revealing to you that he is actually an undercover Illuminati (though his Eye of Providence-covered church building is a bit of a tip-off). The first step of the mission is to go investigate the manhole covers I mentioned before. Upon doing so, you find that they feature a unique design — again, the Eye of Providence, and some latin reading: “Lux Omnia Vincit.” Since I thought I was supposed to be cracking a code here, I opened my in-game browser and started searching. “Lux Omnia Vincit” just meant “Light conquers all,” and most of the search results just referred to The Secret World forums and wikis. That was starting to seem like a dead-end. Then I noticed the objective of the mission now said “Follow the Illuminati symbols.” I looked around for more manhole covers, thinking they might say something different, but I couldn’t interact with any of them. That’s when I noticed that the design on the covers seemed to have an “up” orientation, with the Eye of Providence pyramid pointing in a certain direction. I started to follow them, and they lead me down a street, around a corner and out onto a pier. I have to say, I did feel quite clever.
Once I reached my destination, I found a memorial plaque that said something about a navigator in the seat of power, a sleeping priest and fletcher, and Frans Hals. The plaque also had some symbols in the corners (spyglass, ink and feather, and a globe), with a lighthouse image in the middle. At this point I got really, really stuck. The mission just told me to find the location it was referring to, that’s it. No map markers, no nothing. I tried to use my puzzle brain and started dissecting the text and looking for clues. I noticed that there were streets and islands on the map named “Priest” and “Fletcher”, so I looked all around there, including the intersection of Priest and Fletcher. Nothing. I searched out in the ocean for a lighthouse. Nope. I finally found myself in the right location quite on accident. I wandered into the correct building and found that the paintings on the walls could be observed. Some of them had clues which would send me to investigate another area, most of them turning out to be dead ends. It wasn’t until I actually found the correct painting that I realized this was the next step of the mission! Those dead-end investigations were meant to be my punishment for not having found the correct painting (obvious because items in the painting correlated to the symbols on the plaque). The way I was supposed to get there in the first place was realizing that a certain building in town was a seat of power. Also, the town logo featured on a small sign on the front of the building had the lighthouse image. Then if I had bothered to Google Frans Hals, maybe I would have recognized that the paintings were important.
No matter how I had gotten there, I had my next clue, another riddle. The message on the back of the painting said something about time being the province of kings and gods, and the hands of time pointing to truths written by kings. I noticed that the hands of the clock in the room read a certain time, but I couldn’t deduce anything else from that. Again, references to Kings and Gods had me searching the church and the Priest House and everything else with no results. It was time for my first spoiler! I searched online and found that I was supposed to realize that I needed to look up a certain Bible verse based on that clue and the time on the clock! The verse itself was supposed to be enough to get me to find the right location and enter a passcode in a keypad. Holy crap!
I was pretty disappointed in myself for not figuring out two of the riddles so far in the game. I felt kind of dumb and impatient. No matter, there was another Investigation Mission waiting for me later on.
This mission dealt with a mysterious series of deaths a few years ago, as recounted by local woman Norma Creed. She told me the story, and then my mission objective said to investigate the murders. Hm. Investigate. Just go investigate! This is a pretty prime example of the way these missions just shove you right out into the thick of things and say “You’re a smart kid, you figure it out.” Luckily, I was a smart kid this time and had a good lead. In the previous mission, I had noticed a records room where there were a bunch of clickable filing cabinets. They were organized by year and quarter. I took the logical next step based on what Norma had told me about the murders, and I found a newspaper clipping about the capture of the suspected killer. The clipping mentioned the sheriff I had met earlier in the game, so I went back to her and she let me use the PD computer system to check out this guy’s file. The file said he killed himself in his cell, and that his last words were that his ghost would tell the truth. My mission said to go investigate the cell. Sure! Just one problem — the cell was locked.
This time I was determined to use my smarts to advance. I tried to think logically. If the cell is locked, what do I need to do? I need to get someone to unlock it for me. But that proved to be completely fruitless. I gave up pretty quickly and turned back to the internet. Someone said to remember his last words. I went to the cemetery, searching for his ghost but found nothing. Back to the internet. Someone suggested I might need to do something drastic to get inside that cell. I don’t want to give it away, but just imagine the most drastic thing you might do in order to speak with a ghost, and something you would never do on purpose in an MMORPG!
I won’t go into detail on the ending of this one. I did get stuck again, but it was partially due to a problem where I was supposed to be able to see something, but it was obscured. The end turned out to be pretty cool and spooky!
If you read the two stories above, you can see how these missions are quite a bit different from traditional MMORPGs (or at least what I’ve seen Nick play). They really do want you to deduce how to move forward! When I first read about these types of missions, I assumed I would just find a Caesar cipher or something and need to decode it and that would be about it. Instead, these missions really demand that you understand the area really well and can use observation and context clues to move forward without much assistance. This is really something fresh and exciting. I’m pretty disappointed in myself that I ended up cheating on so much of it. I think it was all just a lot more complex than I was anticipating! Now I’m looking forward to really trying my best on future Investigation Missions.
One aspect of the Investigation Missions I’m not sure about is web searching. The game encourages you to do web searches, and even includes an in-game browser window, but if you Google search for something you’ve found in the game there is a good chance you’re going to get a page full of results directly related to the game, full of spoilers. That being said, so far everything I’ve needed to search for (that wasn’t a direct quote of an in-game riddle) could have been found on Wikipedia, Google Translate, or another specific site (like a Bible verse reference website, or just a real Bible for that matter!). I think this is the route I’ll try to take from now on to avoid spoilers and also keep myself immersed in the game.
The MMO setting of these missions does bring up an unusual set of problems as well. I remember one concern early on was that the in-game chat would just be full of people asking for the answers to the codes and riddles, and that has turned out to be fairly accurate. I’ve seen some people respond to these requests in the public chat with a hint or just the answer, some people have sent private tells, and at least one person requested that players avoid posting spoilers in public chat. Hopefully the community will develop in a way that posting answers in public is considered a faux pas. The in-game web browser makes it so easy to find the answers that it’s hard to justify just blatant answer sharing. And if somebody just wants a hint toward the next step without accidentally reading everything on a forum (an understandable request), then they should just ask for a private hint. One can always switch off of the public chat to avoid spoilers, but then it feels a little bit like you’re disconnected from the community.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed these Investigation Missions so far despite my poor performance. I think I was just caught off-guard by how independent and autonomous the game expects me to be. It wants me to use the other missions to explore and learn the area well enough that I can function on my own and make educated guesses and follow leads. I’m also finding that this no-hand-holding policy extends into other missions as well. Just last night I played an Action Mission where I had to kill 5 different types of zombies. The mission info gave me a few clues about where to find some of the zombie types (for example, wet zombies might be near the sea, and dry zombies are very old, which points me to the graveyard), but I got totally stuck looking for the zombies with cultist roots. I finally found them after exploring the area around the quest extensively, and realized I had actually seen them before but hadn’t paid much attention to them.
More and more, The Secret World is feeling like the perfect MMORPG for a person like me who enjoys exploring the open world and seeing all the detailed, spooky sights that the game has to offer. The Investigation Missions are almost like a reward for being that type of player, which is definitely something new and nice. Someday I might get good and interested enough to learn about all the other important aspects of the traditional MMO (PvP, crafting, raids, etc.), but for now I’m content to just try and build my brainpower and enjoy the scenery.
The Secret World comes out July 3rd.