joined the Illuminati in The Secret World

TSW_Final_Poster_RGB-378x600The 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.

Secret-world-factions-839x600When 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.

 

 

Played The Walking Dead Episodes 3 and 4

An episodic horror adventure that’s really more of an interactive story than it is a video game, and that’s a good thing.

I was a big fan of the graphic adventure games of the 80’s and 90’s. I must have played every Quest game Sierra Online ever produced and have always been kind of sad that the genre died out. Part of the attraction was the puzzles to be figured out, but most what was fun in those games were the stories and humor. Telltale Games The Walking Dead brings new life to the adventure game, and puts more of an emphasis on story and character than on the point and click gameplay.

Fans of Robert Kirkmans graphic novels and the TV show on HBO don’t need to worry about seeing the same story retold in a new medium. The game takes place in the same world, but features all new characters with their own stories. I won’t give too much away, but one of the things I really liked was that instead of making the protagonist a clone of Rick Grimes, he’s almost his complete opposite. Rick was a Sheriff, while Lee Everett is a convicted murderer on his way to prison when the Zombie outbreak occurs.

The look and feel of the game is fairly unique. It’s done in a 3D cell shading style that borrows heavily from the graphic novel, and instead of the static camera point of view that is most common to these games, much of the story is presented in a handheld “shaky cam” style often used in dramas today. Combined with changing camera edits, you really get the feeling of directing a story, not playing it. You decide how to respond to people’s questions, how to distribute food when low on rations, and who lives or dies when the walkers are swarming your group of survivors. The game is delivered in an episodic format (except the iOS version apparently), each ending with a cliff hanger, much like both the comic book and show do. 5 episodes are planned for season 1.

I love this game, it gets my heart pounding like few games do, and has only a couple of negative points, which aren’t big enough to stop me from recommending it to everyone I know. The first is the controls. They are a little finicky. You have to have your cursor on exactly the right spot to work, and I got stuck at one point in episode three where I knew what I neede to do, but just could not figure out how to make the controls do what was required. I re-played the same scene about 10 times before getting it to work, which was frustrating, but fortunately one of the few times it was that difficult to play.

My second complaint about the game is more of a disappointment. One of the key features advertised was that the story of the game would change based on the decisions and choices you make. It even says it right at the start of each episode, “This game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored by how you play.” Which sounds AWESOME! Except it is misleading. Dialog changes, and people’s attitude towards you changes, but the story will always unfold in the same way, no matter whos side you choose in an argument, or what you say to anyone. Even when you choose to save character and another dies, it ultimately doesn’t matter as they both play the same role in subsequent episodes. So the re-play value was nowhere near as high as I thought it would be. What is cool about it is that at the end of the each episode the game shows how your choices compared to those of others who played the game, and when each new episode starts, the “Previously on The Walking Dead” clips reflect your decisions.

Overall, it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a while, simply because of the emotional impact the story and characters deliver. I can’t wait for the climax in episode 5.