And now, the rare videogaming blog entry...
I have recently begun playing Funcom's new(ish) massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG, or just MMO), The Secret World. It is, in a word, amazing.
Set in our modern day, in The Secret World, you play a member of one of three secret societies: the Illuminati, the Dragon, or the Templars. These three groups have been manipulating the world around us for hundreds of years, and have also kept us blissfully unaware of the world's true evils. Monsters, dark magic, and sinister cults rule the shadows. These organizations keep them in check...but they are also constantly facing off against each other for true control of the world.
I have played many MMOs. Few other than World of Warcraft have held my attention for long, and I'll even admit that a lot of World of Warcraft's appeal to me might be more emotional than anything else. The thing of it is, I am pretty fickle with my gaming tastes, particularly when it comes to videogames. I am like a woman of ill repute, fluttering from game to game, never settling down with just one. So it is a pretty big deal when I fall so hard for one game. That's why Cortex Plus has been such a big deal for me on the tabletop end of things. And that's why The Secret World is such a big deal now. I implore you, Dear Reader, if you have a PC with even modest gaming capabilities, to make the small investment in picking up The Secret World and giving it a try. Here are some reasons why you should do so:
1. The story is actually really good. Writing/story development for most MMOs is pretty awful. And understandably so; few stories can be told skillfully over hundreds of hours, featuring unpredictable human players as their protagonists. The resources that could be spent on making believable dialogue and decent quest writing could also be better spent on squashing bugs and gameplay imbalances. So the fact that The Secret World can deliver quality storytelling so effortlessly is quite amazing. The NPCs in The Secret World are not just quest-spewing robots; they're real characters, with personalities and backstories. There are several stories hidden in chunks throughout the world that you'll uncover as you explore, piecing these fragments together to get an entire narrative on one of the three factions, or the backstory behind the zone you're exploring. Quests have cutscenes that you actually won't want to skip through because you'll want to see the story unfold! And although the writing is good, part of the reason you'll not want to skip through those cutscenes is because...
2. Quests are more than errands. Quests in The Secret World will frequently have you solving puzzles or answering riddles to progress. To accomodate the more cerebral atmosphere, The Secret World brilliantly has its own web browser so you don't even have to leave the game for hints (although this browser isn't all that great, and a decent smartphone or tablet is probably a better bet). Don't think you'll just spoiler your way to victory, though; the community, in some kind of unspoken agreement, are often cryptic with clues. That's not to say you can't find the solutions out there; but on the more direct sites like the game's forums or wiki page, you can safely visit them and have a reasonable chance of not having too much spoiled for you.
3. Quests are also convenient and smartly-designed. You never have to run back to the NPC quest-giver to finish a quest in The Secret World (unless doing so makes sense in the story of the quest, such as bringing supplies to a safehouse being besieged by zombies). Typically, a simple click of the "send" button on your in-game cellphone finishes the quest. Quests in The Secret World also don't follow the annoying "series" pattern of many other MMOs. You know; do this quest, now do this quest, then do that quest. Quests in The Secret World are complete stories, and each connected task is broken into what are called "tiers." For example, in a lesser MMO, you might have to go to Point A and get item X, then return to the quest-giver, turn it in, then get a new quest connected to the old one that has you going to Point B to get item Y. In The Secret World, you'll receive just the first quest, usually with a cutscene by the giver explaining the whole situation. Then going to Point A might be "tier 1", getting item X when you're there is "tier 2", going to Point B is "tier 3", and so on. This, combined with the sharp writing that gets you invested in the story, combined with the ability to simply finish the quest rather than running back to where the quest originated from, makes questing one of the most fun aspects of The Secret World, rather than the weak single-player filler that bridges the gap between PvP, raids, and dungeons that it often feels like in other MMOs.
4. Advancement is constant, and addicting. There are no classes in The Secret World. Instead, like Guild Wars 2 and the more recent Elder Scrolls Online, skills and abilities are tied almost exclusively to the weapons your character uses. As you gain experience points, you earn "ability" points that you spend to unlock new weapon abilities. Where things start getting wild is here: you can only have seven abilities and seven passive skills equipped on your character at a time. AND, you earn ability points at a constant rate, not at an exponentially sliding scale like levels in other MMOs. The more powerful abilities simply cost more points to unlock. So when you start playing you'll immediately dive into this crack-like experience of acquiring points to unlock new abilities to mix and match with other abilities to create the ultimate shadow world badass! The resemblance to a collectible card game is clear; in fact, loadouts of abilities are collectively referred to in-game as "decks."
I could go on and on, but every word I write is one more second I could be playing this game. So I'll see you in The Secret World!