MMOs are one of the most polarising genres in gaming. Players either can’t get enough of them or don’t want anything to do with them. Up until now I was firmly in the “can’t stand them” camp. The thought of grinding through fetch quests and low level monsters made me cringe. This dislike basically made me discount all MMOs without a second thought, but that all changed with The Secret World (TSW). There was something about the game that caught my eye, something that made me eager to enter the world it was offering. So enter I did and what I found was more than a little surprising.
The first thing that struck me was the present day setting. Real world locations such as New York, London, Seoul and Egypt all featured and there wasn’t an orc or spaceship in sight. Weapons were real word weapons. Assault rifles, shotguns, swords and pistols all made appearances. That is not to say I didn’t find any magic. TSW had a strong focus on the supernatural, meaning that sorcery was also a part of my arsenal. In fact the occult was the basis for game’s entire story. The world was gradually being overrun by monsters of mythology, zombies, vampires, werewolves and the like, and it was up me and my chosen faction to stop it.
Speaking of factions, I loved the choices I was offered. Every conspiracy theorist’s two favourite groups were there, the Illuminati and the Templars, as well as an eastern faction called The Dragon. The Illuminati were about controlling the world while The Templars were about saving it. The Dragon? Well let me just say their motives weren’t so clear cut. I ended up joining the ranks of the Illuminati and was charged with journeying to a small New England town to investigate a strange fog and the creatures that came along with it. Upon arrival I was immediately struck by the level of detail. The town looked as if it was lifted straight from Alan Wake, the inhabitants would have been right at home in a Stephen King novel and even the street names brought a smile to my face (Elm and Lovecraft Streets especially). It was a rich and graphically stunning locale that made simply taking in the sights a pleasure. This was carried throughout the game. I was constantly impressed with how good everything looked and even dingy environments such as the slums of New York or the sewers of London were bursting with artistic finesse.
Another thing that impressed me was the level of customisation available. There was the usual character builder common to most RPGs and it allowed me to make my monster slayer “Bob Mutt” appropriately suave and sophisticated (he was a member of the Illuminati after all). Customisation and advancement were where things got really exciting. Gone were the traditional levelling frameworks found in most games of this ilk and in its place was a system which allowed me to play the game the way I wanted. Ability and skill points came thick and fast, so when I grew bored with my Assault Rifle/Elemental Magic combination, I just started to pump some points into another weapon. In no time at all I was a proficient katana wielding assassin, no longer fighting from afar but slicing and dicing through the zombie horde. Being able to change things up with very little penalty offered me a freedom I hadn’t encountered before. In fact with the game offering generous rewards for redoing quests, it was clear that the developers wanted me to play with as many weapons and skills as possible. Experimentation was encouraged and greatly appreciated.
It wasn’t until I reached about 20 hours of play that the shine started to rub off. By this time, it had finally become clear that I needed to either grind to a higher level or join with a group to get through the quests. This began to put a downer on my time and while playing with a mate was top notch, grinding on my own became boring fast. I should mention though that the game’s “one server” technology made playing with friends much easier than I had come to expect with most MMOs. It didn’t matter which server they were playing on as TSW would simply transport me to their location.
There were a few more problems. The combat quite often became a little “lost”. Targets would bug out occasionally and large amounts of enemies on screen caused things to become confusing quickly. Another problem (one that seems to be the bane of so many MMOs) was the fetch quest. Go here, get that, come back. It seemed to be the basis of the majority of side missions and while they were quite often in context for the situation (for example scavenging for supplies) it didn’t hide the fact that I was doing the same thing many many times. Some of the challenges involved puzzles and stealth and it was with these quests that I had the most fun. Unfortunately, they seemed to be few and far between.
Currently I am sitting at about 40 hours of gameplay and I am still having a good time. The question is whether it is a good enough time to pay $15 for another month. The customisation, story, setting and solid if uninspiring PvP all make me want to play on but the grinding and fetch quests are keeping my credit card in my wallet. Fans of MMOs should certainly give TSW a go as it brings a bucket load of innovation to the genre, but for the rest of us, it is a case of so close and yet so far.