The Secret World is an urban fantasy MMO that Funcom, the makers of Age of Conan and Anarchy Online, released out two years ago. When it first came out, it had a subscription fee which has since been removed. The game is now pay once and play forever, the mandatory subscription has been replaced with an optional “membership” that gives you extras you can read about here. Also, they periodically release new downloadable content to buy. I got it off Steam when they had a deal on for the basic game and first five DLC for only $20.
I love urban fantasy. Jim Butcher is currently my favorite author, and I still tune in to watch Supernatural every week. I signed up to be in the beta and took the personality test they e-mailed me four years ago, but for some reason I didn’t get the game when it was released. It may have been because I was playing Star Wars: The Old Republic and don’t play more than one MMO at a time, but I think it may have been more because I just didn’t know it had been released. Maybe I was asleep or just too pre-occupied at the time, but I don’t remember seeing anyone talking about this game at all and I probably still wouldn’t know it was out, had I not seen the special price pop up on Steam. Which is too bad, because I really like this game, and I hope more people discover it.
A lot of the MMOs I’ve played in the past have been very similar. They looked different, some had a Fantasy base, some were Sci-fi and a couple were all about super heroes but, at their core, you pick a class, you do missions to gain experience for leveling and unlocking new abilities specific to your class. The Secret World does away with classes and levels. As you gain experience you earn skill points and ability points which are spent improving your chosen weapon and picking the abilities you want to use. You pick the weapon combinations you wish to use and what skills you want. There is a progression, you need to pick lower ranked skills to get to the next ones up, but you are not locked into a weapon once you pick it, if you find you don’t like fist weapons anymore and want to try blood magic, just start adding points there. The only caveat is that you can only use active abilities from a weapon you currently have equipped, but you can equip two weapons at once and swap weapons any time you are out of combat. Passive abilities can be used from any weapon without needing that weapon to be equipped. There are over 500 skills to choose, giving you an amazing range of choice with which to customize your character. Often have been the times I was playing a game as one class and wished I could use a skill or two from anothers tree. That isn’t a problem here.
When you create your character you choose your name, appearance and faction. There used to be a quiz you could do which would suggest the best faction for you, but I can’t find it anywhere (edit: found it!), just these videos that show the philosophies of each group. Your faction will be your team for PvP, but there are no benefits to joining one over the other. The style of dialog for the quest givers is different and so are the story missions, but that’s about the only real difference, so take a look at the videos and pick the team that fits your personality, or try ’em all. There are only three, and you get three character slots, so give each a shot and see what you think.
Speaking of quests, The Secret World doesn’t really break the mold, but they add some improvements and polish it up real nice. Most MMOs have the typical “Go kill X quantity of monster type Y” or the fetch and carry quests, and this game is no exception, but they add some new quest types that are a refreshing change. There are covert missions, where the goal is not to be seen and my favorite, the Investigation missions. We’re all used to going to the NPC with the exclamation mark on their head, getting the quest and following the marker on our mini-map to where we are supposed to be. The action missions are like that, but the investigation missions give a cryptic clue, and that’s it. It’s up to you to decode the meaning and figure out where you are to go and what to do. Sometimes you need to reference things in the real world to solve the puzzle. They can be maddeningly tough, but oh so satisfying when you figure them out. They also did a good job of making obtaining the quests a little more interesting. All the big quests are delivered via animated cutscenes, which isn’t new but sure beats a window full of text, the dialog is well written and the voice acting better than what you usually get in a video game, but even on the little ones, your objectives are often received through a picture of a note, a flyer on the ground or a plaque on the wall. It’s not a big thing, but it breaks up the monotony of boxes of text.
I’m still in the first big zone, I haven’t tried PvP or any of the missions that require a party, but I am REALLY enjoying The Secret World. The character customizability and quests that make you think are things I’ve wanted in a game for a long time and am kicking myself for not getting into this one sooner.