Over the weekend I took advantage of the free weekend celebration to try out The Secret World (TSW). I had no interest in this game going into it and I’ve spent absolutely no time researching the game up to this point so be aware that I’m probably going to use some incorrect terms for things in this game and I’ll probably forget the names for just about everything as well.
I should point out that because I had no intention to play this game going into it I had nothing to be excited about beyond what actually got me excited while playing it, nor did I have anything turning me off, so this review is based entirely on the experiences I had. So don’t expect any fanboyism or anti-Funcom blather as this is nothing more than an honest review of my experiences in the game.
Character Creation: General
I found the character creation process to be sort of odd in the game because of how the game itself is handled. The first thing that seemed weird to me was that there was no option to choose a class. You find once you start playing that there basically are no classes in this game, your abilities are instead based on the weapon you wield, so you don’t pick one because there’s not one to pick.
When creating your character you start off by picking which organization you’re going to align yourself with: Illuminati, Templar, or Dragon. There is no written information for you to know about these factions, but there are videos of them that you can watch that are linked under each of the organizations’ icons. I like that they did videos, but I wish they would have done both so that you could take a few seconds to read a short description and have that prompt you to watch the videos of the ones that interested you the most. There’s nothing wrong with what they did, I would just personally prefer a bit more information that’s immediately accessible.
Since there are only three character slots that you can use and there are three different factions, it wasn’t important for me to watch the videos since I knew going into it that I was going to roll one of each. I watched the videos anyway, but knowing that I would see all three took away their importance. Instead, we used the videos to determine which order we rolled the characters in. For my wife and I, we were most drawn to the Templar, then the Illuminati, and finally the Dragon.
From there you go to the final step, which is designing your character’s physical appearance and starting outfit. There was a decent number of options for designing the character, but I must say I was disappointed that there was no way to change your body type or height so everyone looks the same. You control your skin color and the traits of your face, but that’s the extent of it. You have a fair amount of options for picking your clothes as well, though you’re forced to choose between essentially four different looks. Your choices are mostly what colors do you want to wear and in which general style.
Character Creation: Illuminati
The first choice of organizations in the game is the Illuminati. The Illuminati are TSW’s rich kids, focusing on the use of technology. Your character doesn’t have to focus on technology, but the organization itself is designed that way.
The thing that stood out to the me the most about the Illuminati, honestly, was that they like the swear. A lot. I don’t generally like swearing in my games because it breaks the immersion for me right away. It can enhance the story when it’s used for emphasis, but in TSW they decided that swearing should be part of the normal vocabulary. For me, the use of swearing in normal conversation shows a lack of intelligence and self control, and for the faction that claims the best technology and running the world from the background I felt that this was a direct contradiction. Enough so that the Illuminati became my least favorite faction.
They did have some cool things about them as well, like one of the first NPC’s you talk to mentioning that he has a D&D group. The guy was crazy, but I enjoyed talking to him after he said that to me and I like having references in the game that relate to things that I know and experience out of the game, so I thought that was a nice touch.
Their starting area had me a bit lost a couple of times when they were telling me to follow certain signs or symbols to get from one location to another. It only took me a minute or two to figure it out, but it was the only area where I was a bit lost which I’m sure contributed to my dislike of the Illuminati overall.
Anyway, the Illuminati being who they are, they snap you into your abilities and The Secret World through the use of experimental drugs. This again reinforces their higher intellectual standing which was further contradicted by more swearing.
Did I mention that the Illuminati like to swear?
I’m pretty sure I mentioned that the Illuminati like to swear.
Because if I forgot to mention that they like to swear, here’s your warning that they like to swear.
Did you notice that in every instance of their swearing there, it’s all the same word? All of those shots are in the first 10 minutes of playing an Illuminati, and for me that’s beyond ridiculous. If I did end up buying this game, I wouldn’t bother playing this faction for that element alone. Not only are they swearing just for the sake of swearing, but they’re over doing it by using the “strongest” word in the swearing vocabulary which seems like they’re trying too hard in my opinion. It felt like I was in fifth grade again.
Character Creation: Templar
The Templar were the group that we were the most drawn to when we first tried the game, so they were the first characters that we rolled. Their introduction into the world is the most tame, and the most natural and easy for a player to relate to given that this game is in a modern day setting as opposed to your typical fantasy MMO.
The Templar are a church based organization, but there’s no churchy feel to them beyond the look of the starting area and their stance against demons and undead. Not that I found, at least.
The Templar method of introducing you into The Secret World is apparently hypnotism. You get to meet an odd fellow near a park who tells you a story with the help of his little friend. I think the Templars did a good job of establishing the setting of the game and giving you an introduction into things. All three factions made sense within their own little worlds, but the Templars did the best job of it overall for us.
Character Creation: Dragon
The Dragon were the last group that we experienced, and the one that I enjoyed the most but was interested in the least starting out.
As I said, I wasn’t interested in the Dragon much to begin with, but after getting into their story more they were actually interesting to me. I liked that they didn’t have the strict structure and rules and such that the other two groups did, which made it more of a relaxing character to play. You know they’re using you to accomplish the goals of some spoiled little kid, but at the same time you’re more free.
The Dragon’s method of snapping you into The Secret World was via oral sex. Since my wife and I were both doing this at the same time, it was interesting to see that the woman in red here was the provider of said sexual triggering for both genders. Other instances of same-sex events or NPC’s and such exist in this world as well, so if you’ve been looking for some LGBT gaming action then this game might be worth looking into.
I’m not sure who Mr. Loincloth is in the corner, but he was kind of freaking me out…
TSW aims for more real-world style graphics than cartoon. I think they did a decent job of accomplishing it overall, but they weren’t great. Cinematics were slightly better than the other graphics, but not by much. This is a style of graphics that I don’t care to play in very much. It didn’t bother me in combat which is where bad graphics can really make me dislike the game, so it certainly could have been worse.
Did I like the graphics? No.
Did I dislike the graphics? Sort of, but not too much.
I didn’t care much for the areas that I was in, but I did like that there was actually a day/night cycle and that the sun being up had an effect on the shadows that you could see. They did a fair job of creating the world, I just didn’t love the look of most of it.
The UI wasn’t too bad, with sort of a mix of things that you could customize and things that you couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out how to move the things that I wanted to move the most, which were target frames or health bars, but most of the windows and things could be moved wherever you wanted them.
I liked that they had the ability to rebind your keys, but I did not like that certain keys would not work for keybindings. The largest example of this is the Print Screen button which is typically used for capturing screen shots. In TSW the keybind for taking screen shots is F11 and trying to change it to Print Screen just turns off the feature. The Print Screen button is the default screen capture key for the Windows operating system itself, it’s not just a standard for MMO’s in general, it’s the standard the world over with the dominance of the Windows OS.
When my wife and I mentioned the stupidity of changing the screen shot key in TSW we had a lot of people respond in a similar fashion and many people who were pissed that they had lost so many of their screenshots because of something so ridiculous as moving the default keybinding for no apparent reason other than trying to be “different” than other games.
One feature that’s sort of UI related and sort of not, was splitting item quantities in your inventory. You do this by shift+clicking which is pretty common for MMO’s, but it defaulted the number of 1/2 of the total quantity. So if you have a stack of 10 then shift+clicking it would default to 5. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, but the main reason you need to actually need to split stacks in TSW is for crafting which requires you to put stacks of 1 in a 5×5 grid in certain shapes. So crafting meant you had to shict+click to split the stack, drag the quantity bar down to 1, click OK, and then drop it into the correct grid space. After getting annoyed at that for a while I started to just split the stacks in half over and over and shift+clicking each of the partial stacks to break them down which saved a little time but was still annoying.
Questing in TSW is pretty much the same as any other MMO out there. You still gather items and kill certain numbers of creatures, so don’t expect anything new in terms of questing.
The quest system has a really annoying feature in that you can only have six active quests at one time, and there are four types of quests. Three of those types of quests you can only have one active quest at a time, and the fourth type you can have three at a time. When you want to pick up a new quest you have to either abandon a quest or put a quest on hold in order to pick up the new one. When you’re questing in a group you can get your quests screwed up if you don’t all pick them up in the same order because of the abandon/hold aspect of quests. Being restricted to six quests at a time makes no sense to me.
The major drawback to the questing system in TSW is that it sends you back and forth all over the map. There’s no direction at all to questing in TSW, so you end up going all over the map seeing the same things over and over and over. While you do get to see that stories progressed, the sporadic movement all over the map made it feel like I was never getting anywhere.
Despite there being three factions of sorts in this game, and each of them having their own starting area, the actual gameplay for everyone takes place in the same zones. After the first 15 minutes of creating your character you end up in the exact same place as everyone else, doing exactly the same things. As an altoholic, this makes me very concerned about the game’s replayability. SWTOR has a similar issue because every character ends up following the same leveling path, so maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive about this issue, but since nothing really happens in the starting zones of TSW it’s an even bigger issue as the whole process seems exactly the same for every character.
Leveling Without Levels
This was an interesting concept going in, and one that had me worried because leveling and progressing are key to my level of enjoyment in an MMO. In practice though, TSW might not have a number that represents your character’s level but the game works as though there were. You can’t equip gear unless you’ve earned enough experience points to earn enough skill points that you’ve raised certain stats high enough to equip them.
The good thing about not having a level, supposedly, is that you have the ability to literal go to see any content at any time because there’s no level requirement, but at the same time there’s going to be restrictions on gear and you won’t have been able to earn/spend skill points that make you powerful enough to compete with that harder content. So this is like a feature that’s there but totally not at the same time. There’s not a number on your screen, but there’s still a level.
The lack of level also serves to make you completely clueless about how hard an opponent might be. I played TSW for a few hours on Friday night and for several hours on Saturday morning, and in all honesty I died more times in those two days on TSW than I have for the last eight months in SWTOR. Without any way of knowing how strong the NPC’s are in relation to myself, I had no idea that rushing into this pack of zombies over here would leave me with almost no hit points and the quest that I’m on spawns more mobs that would come over and finish me off before I had a chance to restore my health from the first group of zombies.
Since this game 99% uses levels and simply doesn’t have a number to represent it, I think this whole concept of the game was a complete failure. The idea was a good one, but I think they failed to implement it and in my experience it harms the game without helping it whatsoever.
I did have some amount of fun with TSW’s PvE, particularly some of the stories that we got to see. I liked that NPC’s actually had a personality, and I liked that there were so many quests that had a cinematic tied to them once you triggered the quest.
I did not care much for how all of the quests just send you back and forth all over the stinking map with no particular progression from one to another so you couldn’t just pick up the quests that send you to the graveyard and then finish those and get quests that send you to the dock, then finish those and go to the chapel. Instead you just get all sorts of quests that send you all over the place time and time again.
The biggest problem I had with the PvE was that across all three of the characters that I rolled and the three that my wife rolled, we never found a way to heal ourselves. I did find some skills while using a sword that would let me add a health regenerating effect to myself every couple of minutes, but otherwise the only way we could heal was to let it regenerate on its own after combat. While questing there were frequently times that I was fighting a large group of enemies that would almost kill me and then I would get into combat with more monsters that would come and finish me because I couldn’t heal and I had no way to slow mobs down while I ran away beyond abusing terrain.
I did like that they put animated notifications on the ground to show you when there were effects that you needed to move out of and things, but the lack of healing combined with the number of mobs in the area and the quests that cause additional mobs to spawn meant that I died a lot.
I enjoyed a lot of the PvE content from a story perspective. That being said, I don’t think they did a very good job of actually telling you what the story is. Everyone gets to see a clip of “what happened in Tokyo last week” where you fight some undead and you see some odd exchange between two people who are supposedly representatives of good and evil in space or something, but the overall story felt fragmented and incomplete to me. I liked the small stories in the questing areas, but I just didn’t care much for the big picture.
On a scale of 1-10, I give TSW PvE an 8 for story, and a 6 for playing through it.
If you’ve been a reader of mine for a year or more, then you probably know that I’m a big fan of PvP. I was really looking forward to trying out PvP in TSW because of the whole lack of levels thing, so I was expecting the experience to be similar to SWTOR or Guild Wars 2 where the teams were balanced out. When I finally got a PvP queue to pop and let me in, I saw that I had a buff that mentioned that my skills had been raised to make me comparable to my opponents and I thought I was in for a great game.
What I found instead was that there were several builds that were able to CC me once and then kill me before it ever wore off, and literally all but two of the people I faced were able to kill me in less than three seconds. I had no way to heal my character and my damage was significantly less than everyone else that I saw. Some of my experience I’m sure could be chalked up to my being fairly unfamiliar with the game, but I did not enjoy PvP at all. The only time I was able to capture any of the points was when there was nobody there to defend it, I couldn’t kill enemy turrets even with a dedicated healer backing me up, and my damage was a fraction of my opponents’ damage in every battle I participated in.
On a scale of 1-10, I give TSW’s PvP a 3.
From my experience in PvP up to this point, I have no desire to ever try TSW PvP again.
Specific Things I Disliked
The thing I disliked the most about this game was the language. I knew going into it that the language was going to be there thanks to people giving me the heads up on twitter, but I’m not overly sensitive to it so I figured I could handle it. The problem wasn’t that it existed in the game in the first place, but rather that it was over done and handled in such a way that it completely nullified the story rather than adding anything to it. I disliked it enough that I actually escaped out of almost every other cinematic in the game after rolling my Illuminati.
I also really disliked the lack of healing or the lack of direction/instructions for how to heal. Of all of the times that I died in PvE, the vast majority of them were caused not by me doing something wrong but by there being no way for me to heal and too many mobs near me for me to always allow my natural regeneration to kick in.
Another feature that I didn’t like was that while you could sprint, you had to turn sprint back on manually every time you exited combat or came out of a cinematic, and things like drawing your weapon for a screenshot. I would really like to see them take a hint from SWTOR and turn sprinting on by default and have it deactivate only during combat and then turn itself right back on. Leave the ability for players to toggle it back and forth for when such a thing would be needed, but otherwise have it keep the on/off setting and automatically reapply it as other things in the game demand.
Specific Things I Liked
There were some things that I actually liked about this game. I’m a fan of having well-done pop culture references in a game that make me smile when I see them. The first example I had of this in TSW was when I rolled my Illuminati character as found that the first quest that you have is called “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”. There weren’t a ton of these from the small amounts of time that I had to play the game, but if you see them in the first quest then I’m sure you’ll see them later on as well. You can see a screenshot of that at the top of this post.
I also thought that they did a good job developing a lot of the NPC’s in the game. One of my favorite NPC’s is the first one you come across when you get out of your starting zone, which is the fellow in the screen shot below.
Another minor annoyance was that several quests would have you interact with something to pick up the quest, then you would have to interact with another item in the exact same place to participate in the quest, then you’d have to do something with it or go somewhere with it and use another item to accomplish the thing, then interact with another item to complete the quest, and then interact with yet another item to trigger your reward. It was a ridiculous mixture of object interactions that might have made sense from the perspective of telling the story of what you’re doing in the quest, but really it was just a waste of time and effort on the player’s part.
I liked seeing an old lady with a shotgun blasting the crap out of some zombies, and I liked seeing a nice variety of different looks among the various NPC’s.
Overall, I did have fun with the time that I put into the game. I did not like every aspect of it and there were times that I really hated the game like when I was doing PvP.
I did not like enough about this game that I would consider paying a subscription fee to play it. Would I play it if it were F2P? Ehh…maybe, but I think I have plenty of other games that could keep me occupied that I wouldn’t bother with it. With some aspects of the game that I actively dislike, like the PvP, I don’t know that even a free option would entice me to play it. If it were F2P and there was no cost for the game itself, then I would probably install it just for the sake of being able to hang out with some of my friends now and then, but I wouldn’t subscribe to it and I wouldn’t be willing to spend more than about $10 to purchase the game itself.
I don’t want you to take all of my negative comments here as me hating on the game, because this just isn’t the game for me on a personal level. I wasn’t interested in the game prior to the free weekend and I’m still not interested; not because it’s a bad game, but because it’s a style and a setting that I don’t personally enjoy. If some changes were made to it, I think there’s a chance that I would be willing to play it as a F2P game (which it isn’t…yet), but even if they made every change that I could possibly suggest for it I don’t think they could get me to subscribe because it’s just not my kind of MMO.
You can read my wife’s review of the game on her blog: Fynralyl’s Pen.
You can also read my guildmate Rowanblaze’s counter-post at his blog: I Have Touched the Sky