Podzilla 1985

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Secret World - The Revolution MMORPG Fans are Ignoring

With all of the promotion that Guild Wars 2 has gotten since its release, it would be easy to overlook some of the other titles available. After all, the prospect of a top quality MMO with no monthly fee is hard to pass up. In fact, Guild Wars 2 is a must have title and a bit of an odd duck in a bloated market. It's not quite a free to play title, not a pay to play title, but some kind of strange hybrid the likes of which we haven't seen since the "Macho Warrior" Ric Hogan.

Thankfully, Guild Wars 2 stands the test of time a little better than he does. Despite what some may think by reading my previous article about GW2, not to mention the chaos it left in the community, I appreciate the game for what it is and think it is a must purchase for any MMO lover. It is a quality title that can stand up against the best pay to play titles, and the one time purchase fee means that you'll have an MMORPG to play even if you can't afford a monthly fee.
I decided to play Guild Wars 2 years ago when it was first announced, and in the months leading up to its release I had decided to give up MMO's altogether and make it my last buy. I was tired of all the launches, the trial months, excitement turning to boredom, and spending money on something I knew I wasn't going to stick with.

Maybe I've become bitter after spending half of my life in this genre, or maybe I had just grown tired of similar games with a fresh new skin.

However, just before it was released I was talked into trying out the beta test for The Secret World. My friend Rob was more interested in the game than I was, and actually followed it pretty closely while it wasn't even a blip on my radar. Don't get me wrong, I had a general interest in it and wasn't opposed to trying it out. The previews showed me it had a great horror feel to it, and I loved the fact it was a modern setting. It sounded like it could be a fun diversion, so I decided to try the beta out with the specific intent of sticking to my guns and never purchasing it. I had done the same thing with Tera a few months before, and although I enjoyed that game I regret buying it.

I logged into Secret World for the first time and was quite impressed with the character creation. The graphics were great, and the cut scenes were often times humorous and well written. The fact that you had no character dialogue or choices within the scenes made me feel less attached to my avatar than in a game like Star Wars, but it was light years ahead of the majority of MMO's that still used text based questing. The combat was solid but unexciting, and the animations were often stiff and poor in certain areas. The zone I played in beta was a great nod to my favorite horror movies and I was impressed with the intricacies of the town.

After playing through a majority of the beta I gave TSW a friendly nod and decided to go on my merry way. It was a decent enough diversion like I expected, but I was positive I had my fill of it.

Imagine my surprise when I kept thinking about the game randomly throughout the days. It kept popping into my mind at work, at home, and even during Call of Duty Sundays with the guys. I couldn't concentrate on Nuketown when all I could think about was getting just a little bit more EXP so I could get closer and closer to unlocking that sweet Puritan deck.

I ended up buying the game at launch, and unlike GW2 I was the only one amongst my circle to buy it. They had their roots in traditional swords and sorcery persistent worlds, while I had always been a horror nut and big time Lovecraft fan. Seeing the Cthulhu-esque monster in one of the videos on Youtube caused my heart to race like the first time I saw Kate Upton. Well, maybe not that much, but still...

Picture courtesy of PC Gamer
Obviously not the REAL Cthulhu - Notice no one going completely insane at the mere sight of him.

I enjoyed the game for the month I played it but tossed it aside when Guild Wars 2 came out. Here was the revolution I had wanted with multi-massive online role playing games and I devoted myself to it wholeheartedly. If you read my last article you know that, despite its success, i didn't feel the connection with it that I assumed I would.

My thoughts began to drift back to The Secret World and recently the thought struck me - I was waiting for Guild Wars 2 to show me something new and incredible, when something new and incredible was already staring me right in the face.

The Secret World has components to it that I have never seen before, and I didn't appreciate them at the time. The artwork was top notch, and the storyline was compelling and well written. Sure, the combat still left a lot to be desired, but the world was flipping amazing. Just the starting town of Kingsmouth felt like a real living place, that is, before all of the undead took away the living part. It was designed for horror fans and for the first time in maybe forever I felt like I was in a real place and not just a zone to level up in.

Speaking of the L word - gone were levels by which you lived and breathed for. Every bar you filled gave you points to put into a huge wheel filled with choices to customize your character however you saw fit. If that wheel seemed a little overwhelming, and you can bet your elitist ass it was, you could always worked towards predetermined decks that were basically classes built for you. It wasn't quite Ultima's skill system, but it was a hell of a lot better than starting out as a linear class and being stuck that way for your entire virtual life.

And on the topic of virtual lives, The Secret World did something that seemed cool at the time, but I later realized it may have been inadvertently brilliant. One of my biggest pet peeves with the MMO world is the inability to feel like you're absorbed in the world they're giving you. Ultima Online was new and fresh to a world full of hardcore gamers, so it was easier to role play back then and feel like you were living a second life. The transition to mainstream, and all of the casual gamers that come with it, made current titles feel like they were just action games you played with other people. It's hard to feel like a loyal and brave knight when people in town are talking about how much they hate Justin Beiber. The Secret World implemented a modern setting, which makes real life people and events part of the world itself. Hate Justin Beiber? Of course you do! Making a reference to it during a mission doesn't make you a mood killer now, it makes you quirky and topical, like Dennis Miller. Hopefully, you're a lot funnier about it than Dennis Miller.

The same concept applies to the character visuals too. A hot chick in a cutoff shirt seems more practical than a warrior wearing a metal bikini.

Of course bells and whistles matter little if the game play isn't solid, and while I still think the animation is rough I found myself more invested into the combat here. It had a strange action/mmo style to it where you would still tab onto your target, but you had to be facing its general direction to actually do anything to it. The enemies were interesting and at times downright frightening, and that combat system made fighting all but the most basic of mobs a real treat. It reminded me in a way of Tera with its dodging and ability to avoid attacks if you were fast enough and paid attention.

And of course, there was my favorite part of the game - the puzzles. Sure, questing in TSW had its fair share of standard kill/retrieve missions, but every once in a while you came across something so brilliant it really made me stand up and applaud. An easy early mission has you finding a code hidden in a church, while not long after you're actually researching history to find a clue to take you to the next step in the mission. There is no hand holding or much guidance, but the in game web browser is a life saver. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable guy, but one or two missions had me completely stumped. It is this kind of difficulty that I give the developer an insane amount of respect for. They knew it would be a controversial game mechanic, and they put it in anyway because it's fresh and really does breathe life into a stale genre.

So after all this, you're probably wondering what I'm getting at here. I've been accused of rambling a bit, but I wanted to stress to you how incredibly refreshing The Secret World is. I find it disheartening that Guild Wars 2 has been given the distinction of ushering in a new era of gaming, when TSW was out first and tried things that have shaken up what we define as an MMORPG.

It's funny cause it's true...
Listen to Memes, they tell no lies.
You might say - "Hey, jackass! TSW got rave reviews when it came out. People noticed." You would be correct in saying that, but there have been lots of games that got a great deal of attention when they were released and were quickly turned upon by a very unforgiving community. Think of these titles - Age of Conan, Warhammer Online, Darkfall, The Old Republic, Aion, etc etc. All of these, from well known IP's to indie darlings, were released with a cry of change and before long they were reevaluated as disappointments and almost all of them became free to play titles just to stay in business.

I bring this to your attention because The Secret World didn't have the sales power of a game like The Old Republic. It never started out with blockbuster sales that slowly slid towards a F2P model. In fact, no matter how you look at it, TSW's sales were a huge disappointment.


Is it because it had did things differently? The community has been begging for something different for years! We've all begged for a WoW killer because we're tired of the same experience over and over and over again. A horror themed MMO set in modern times with guns and monsters is an awesome alternative to elves and dragons for the nine millionth time!

Is it because it's rough around the edges? All games have problems. Even current community darling GW2 had its share of issues, especially at launch. I couldn't get in the same overflow as my friends, my fiance got hacked and lost her account for weeks, I had horrible frame rate dips, and that's just to name a few.

Funcom is already working on rolling out a combat/animation revamp that I'm excited about, and they're even adding optional reticule based game play to make guns even more realistic. They were dealt a major blow when it came out that sales for the game were so lackluster, but they're doing what they can with what they have. It's baffling to me how a game that is so well received, that tries something different for once, can be so ignored by such a vocal community that has begged for something new.

Stormtrooper seen here guarding a mall now that Galaxies is dead
Photo of Stormtrooper at his new security job in the mall
I beg of you, don't let this one slip through your fingers. I didn't appreciate Tabula Rasa when I had the chance and it's gone. Star Wars Galaxies shed it's unique roots to sell better in the wake of Hurricane Warcraft and ended up going under. City of Heroes is about to jump off the ledge. Ultima Online is on its deathbed and it's only a matter of time before they take it off life support. Don't let the same thing happen to a game like The Secret World. It is an experience unlike any other, and the community has covered its eyes and ears to its pleas as they march back towards complacency. This doesn't just concern Funcom and TSW, this could change the course of history for every developer out there that looks at how something different is basically a profit loss, and they will instead continue to force feed us the same bitter medicine with a fresh new label wrapped around it.

You want change? Open your eyes before there is nothing left to see.

As always, you can read all of my MMORPG related opinions first at MMOSite.
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