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The Secret World Beta Review – Kingsmouth Calling
This weekend, Funcom opened the gates to The Secret World giving out tons of keys to allow players to test out a portion of their upcoming MMO. Entitled Kingsmouth Calling, this weekend we were able to create a new Templar member, get acquainted with the streets of London, and finally travel to the New England coast to investigate. Solomon Island has been invaded by an eerie fog that brought in a tide of nasty creatures. This comes just days after Tokyo had a major incident that the government is trying to keep under wraps. You learn quickly that it wasn’t just an incident and that there is a secret world that has remained hidden to the general population thanks to three covert factions. That is the basis for this game. There is a coming darkness sweeping over the world and Gaia, the world itself, is attempting to fight back. That’s where you come in.
Intro to The Secret World
When you create your character, in this case a Templar, you start the game in your apartment. The background noise of a TV plays a broadcast about the Tokyo issue. A fly enters through the window. That fly makes its way into your room and then into your mouth. However, right before it enters your mouth you can tell that the fly isn’t normal. There is a golden aura surrounding it. Quickly, your character awakens and coughs trying to dislodge something stuck in your throat. You get your bearings and go to grab your shirt. A blue flare shoots out of your hand and surrounds your shirt. Surprised and taken aback, your character slowly attempts to touch the flare. The strange flame disappears. This is just one week before the current date of the game.
A few days later, we see our character hurdled up in a ball by a wall with the apartment surrounded in a strange blue mist and all of your possessions turned about and flung across the room. You’ve been messing around with your powers. You are afraid of what this all means. However, after a couple of days you have begun to control the flame and have a better air of confidence around you. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. A woman barges in and begins talking about your powers. She explains herself telling you about a secret organization that deals with otherworldly things. She hands you an envelope containing instructions and an invitation to the Templar order.
Finally, we reach the current date. You follow the instructions and soon find yourself greeted by a fellow Templar in the guise of a detective. She tells you to head towards a station and look for a prophet. It’s time to learn just a tad bit of what we’re in for. The prophet talks about the end times and the coming darkness. With each word out of his mouth, you begin to hurt. Something is getting into your head. You black out. When you awake, you’re in a subway with three others. They call you Sarah and you see bouts of change with your character – going from your normal look to a female with a bandanna. You’ve entered someone else’s life. You hear talk about the Tokyo incident and that if you don’t contain the problem here, it will be just the same. Something is very wrong. We see a person call for aid behind a metal gate. Unable to get the gate open, she is killed by… something. The three others get ready and you try to handle a shotgun for the first time. Soon, you come face to face with your first demonic presence: a human infected by something called the Filth. You kill it. The shock of your first kill is unable to settle in, however, as more pour into the small room and you must defend yourself and the three strangers.
This is the intro to The Secret World. It shows you just really how much you don’t know about your own world. It puts you into a situation where you never thought you’d be in nor know what to do. What better way to introduce you into this game’s story then throw in you someone else’s shoes who is used to this stuff and fight for your life. You not only kill your first infected, but you also make your way out of the subway unharmed and see something incredible. What it is, I have no idea but it was enough for the vision to end. You had seen everything you needed to. You are ready to become a Templar and enter the secret world.
The Beginning and the Crucible
You get woken up by another agent and told to go to Temple square. London is a lovely place in the game. Nice little overcast and signature buildings make for a great experience and very realistic. The crowd shuffles about unknowingly and it is sort of easy to pick out the Templars in the populace now. You can just see by the way they act and do things that they know what is happening and they are at war. When you reach the Templar building, you meet up with Sonnac. He is a figurehead for the order and greets new recruits. This is another way of showing how The Secret World takes in quest orders. You normally just waltz up to someone and grab a quest from them, sure. However, for when you meet new people or have important quests you enter a cutscene. One of the greatest strengths in this game is the voice acting. Everyone just seems to be doing top notch work and I have yet to come into contact with someone who I thought was voicing terribly or just out of place. Wonderful, wonderful job by the voice cast. Sonnac alone gives a great performance. He knows you are new but he must get you ready. He tells you of the order and what they do. He tells you that they aren’t the only ones out there with knowledge of the secret world.
Sonnac send you into the Crucible, a testing area where you get to practice with weaponry and find your strong suit. This is also where you are introduced to the game’s skill system. You may have heard about The Secret World’s no-level, no-class system. The skill wheel allows you to customize your character just the way you want to without the need to strictly adhere to a class. You can see examples of classes that tell you what you should get in order to be a Paladin, Executioner, and so forth but they are just guides for those who like more guidance. I love how they put that in there. Some games that try to be different make it strict and that you have to follow their way and style. The Secret World allows both the traditional class makeup and the unique openness of the skill wheel.
In the Cruicble, you meet a lovely fellow who really sets the tone for the game. You are one of many new, chosen humans to fight for Gaia. You are not the ‘Chosen One’. You are one piece of the puzzle and a soldier in an army. The Templar army. You are charged with a mission and will carry it out for the order and for the sake of the planet’s survival. You hear that? You are not the most important person in the game. The Secret World does not want you to feel that way. You are a Templar. You are not the Templar. I think that is a great thing to hear in an MMO. None of this “you are our only hope, <insert character name here>”.
Anyhow, in the Crucible you get to try out all the various weapon types in the game. There are melee weapons (hammer, knuckle blades, sword), ranged (assault rifle, shotgun, pistol), and magic trinkets (chaos, elemental, and the unplayable blood). There are grenades, sniper rifles, and other such cool things that are not able to be used nor have a place on the skill wheel. You’re allowed you try them all but the game is a little weird on how this works out. As soon as you click on a weapon and accept the “quest” to try it out, you gain an Anima Point (AP.. I’ll go over that soon) and then you raise your fists. Then what? You have to click on the weapon on the table and equip it. Then you go up to a chained demon and shoot, slash, or pelt it with magic. You do this for a bit then the quest is complete and you gain a Skill Point (SP). You’re then told by the quest window to either try other weapons or leave the Crucible with your choice. The confusing part is that if you accept another weapon’s “quest” to try it, it looks like you gain more AP and SP. However, it just reset the quest rewards. This is something that happens a lot with quests in The Secret World. Either way, once you pick whatever you want your starting weapon to be, you are free to spend or save up the AP and SP and then leave the Crucible, never able to return.
Sonnac tells you that the New England coast is having a hellish day. He sends you to Agartha so you can assist other Templar agents in the field. What is Agartha? This mystical realm is a part of the Tree of Life and houses a ton of portals to let agents of the secret world travel the world almost instantaneously. You are greeted by a “train conductor” of sorts who is another lively character. You are given a trinket that lets you travel back to Agartha easily. Think of it as your hearthstone, always attuned to the airport. Once you step into the Kingsmouth portal, you are transported there and greeted by another lovely character, Boone. This is where the game drops you off and allows you to stretch your legs and play.
This intro to the game is very well done. It sets the tone of the game, the outlook for your faction, key characters, and everything you need to know about how to play the game and kill stuff. Now that you’ve reached Kingsmouth you should be ready to do anything you need to do. You can zip through quests, follow instructions, and claim rewards. Now that we’ve gotten past the intro, I can tell you about some of the other features.
Be Who You Want to Be
I briefly mentioned the Skill Wheel and the no-level, no-class system. When you hit ‘N’ or click on Menu and pick Skill Wheel, you’ll see a circle full of sections. Each section houses skills for different weapon types. All of the types you saw in the Crucible as represented here (sadly, no sniper rifle). The more in-depth skills were locked for this beta but you can easily see that each weapon has a progression of active and passive skills. You are able to fill up two bars for skills here using those kinds of abilities. Your active skills are your attacks or supporting abilities. The passive bar houses all your self buffs and stat additions. When you click on a section for a weapon, you’ll see the list of skills you can buy. To buy a skill you need Anima Points (AP). These are awarded through quests. You must buy each skill in the order it is shown. You can’t just save up and head for the best skills.
Above the Skill Wheel is the Skill section where you can spend Skill Points (SP) to increase your effectiveness with weapons and charms. You gain SP by filling up your XP bar. Sounds like leveling but you don’t actually gain stats from filling it up. You just gain SP.
All of this goes into how you’re character fights and how well you are at what you do. Every weapon has two sections and two skill bars. For instance, the knuckle blades focus on killing things and supporting the group. For skill points, the knuckle weapon has effectiveness bars for combat and healing. Each weapon has two different skill bars and anima sections. This may sound a little confusing but when you actually see it in action you’ll understand a lot better. There’s only so much words can do without the use of visual aid.
On the prospect of gear and stats, you will be filling up your character with charms and trinkets. The clothes you wear mean absolutely nothing. It is purely for show. Funcom will even be selling clothes on their cash shop to give players a choice in earning new looks or buying them. This is a pretty interesting way of doing things. Basically you could look however you want and not care about stats. You don’t even need “wardrobes” or whatever some games call it as there is no need for armor at all. The emphasis is on charms and trinkets. These hold all the stats. Charms need to have SP invested into them in order to wear stronger ones. You have head, major, and minor charms. Then you have a few other slots for trinkets but you don’t have invest anything for those. You can even create your own charms and trinkets but I am completely unsure of how crafting works at this point. Just know that it is in there.
Kingsmouth Calling and Issues about the Game
The actual adventure through Kingsmouth has you heading all over town assisting survivors and beating the crap out of the living dead and risen creatures. Actually playing the game is a blast. It is a traditional style MMO with tab targeting but the skills and weapons keep you interested. I mentioned in my Tera review that I was happy to get away from tab targeting and standard combat but I didn’t find any grievances here. The combat has a nice flow to it and you can move and attack just like in Guild Wars 2 so it isn’t necessarily stationary. Some of the animations seem wonky including some battle movements, attacks, and strafing. You see some bright spots here and there but the model animations need to be smoothed out. Strafing makes you seem like your not turning at all and just moving in an impossible diagonal way while your feet remain pointed straight.
When you start to really get ahead in Kingsmouth and you start seeing new enemies like the Druagr and their many named cousins, you start to see one glaring issue that the progression system in The Secret World has: how can I tell if I can beat this enemy or not? There are no levels or explained markers to tell if something is tough or not. The way I did it was tell by how much health the monster had. If the enemy had 1500 or less health, I could take on a group of them. If something had 2000 or more health, I tried to separate the pack and fight one-on-one. I don’t believe that is a great way to have players measure difficulty. I ran into a group of enemies once. It had a Druagr Graverobber and about four zombies. The zombies were nothing but when you mix them up with a Druagr, the fight was intense and I nearly died. I had no time to let loose with attacking as I was circling around and constantly tapping my healing skill. Luckily, the healing skill is attached to the weapon type I had and each time I healed I added to my combo bar. Once I had 5 out of 5 combo points, I unleashed an area of effect attack. After about four minutes of fighting, I killed the group and felt so satisfied by it. Still, if I had known that the Graverobber was that tough, I wouldn’t have charged in.
Another issue I faced was subtle quest instructions and an actual need to go out of the game and find out some information. I shouldn’t have to alt+tab out and Google something just to play. Keep me in the action or I’ll get bored and either skip the quest or take a break. One of the things I praised Tera for was how the game constantly kept me moving and going. If I’m playing and paying for your MMO, I want to play. I don’t want slow downs like that.
Subtitles during conversation would randomly disappear and wait for one or two lines before coming back. I can hear just fine but I enjoy reading subtitles in games. Honestly though, that is a very minor issue and I’m sure it will get fixed. Another thing I take issue with is the inability to log out and head to the character select screen. The only way to log out of your character is to completely exit the game. Also, the client’s full screen and windowed modes are a pain. Some times while alt+tabbing my full screen mode will revert to windows and I won’t be able to see my tool bars since I can’t resize the window. The game asks you to wait patiently while change game options since the client might become unresponsive while changing things. More than once I had to go into task manager to exit the process and relaunch the game after ten minutes of waiting. Beta woes, for sure. I’m sure these things will find their way to the bug machine and get fixes.
Still, aside from those issues, I had a great time playing The Secret World. I’m a World of Darkness player and seeing a horror MMO with an emphasis on myths, legends, and other such terrors is just very appealing to me. The excellent UI and game menus give a sense of a simplified way of things but with a slick look. The skill wheel, while a little confusing at first, makes for a great customization aspect in the game. The quests, at least a majority of them, felt really in tune with the Kingsmouth problem and the characters really sold me for why I should do the quest. I’d say The Secret World is shaping up to be a pretty awesome experience. I just hope that the other two factions have the same level of detail and excitement about them. Also, coming from an old Age of Conan player, I hope the game isn’t all opening level and no substance after it. I like Funcom. They make gritty and cool games. I enjoyed the hell out of Age of Conan’s Tortage. I just want a full MMO experience at launch from The Secret World.
Horror fan? World of Darkness fan? Looking for something along the lines of traditional but a bit different? Check out The Secret World and you won’t have a bad time. It is an enjoyable experience so far and I look forward to more betas and actual release. The game is schedule for a June 19th launch and you can check out the main site here.