We ask staff writer Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer for his impression of Funcom's haunting MMO, one month after full launch.
Hell Is Other People
Chris touched on a problem with the character creator in his own review – there’s no option to vary height or build when forming a new avatar. It’s only a minor detail, but seeing everyone wander through the world with identical physique is a little unsettling. In a game so closely linked to the real world, it sticks out like a silly face in a family photo.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to create your own look, with a range of clothing available for in-game currency or Funcom’s micro-transaction store. A neat twist is that all character clothing is free from stat modifiers, making it purely a matter of taste (or lack thereof) to decide what your character should wear.
Ability potency and health pools are largely derived from a collection of talismans and weapons that can be gathered as loot or crafted from materials. These raw materials are obtained from disassembling unused weapons and talismans, and then combined with a toolkit to make something new. The problem is the entire crafting mechanism feels superfluous, due to a combination of two factors. The first is that toolkits are so rare it’s often easier to grind an appropriate level dungeon for new gear rather than build upgrades yourself. The second is that with everyone able to make any item, I found little incentive to trade. This might improve with the recently introduced marketplace, but there’s still an underlying weakness.
Luckily, the dungeons available in The Secret World feel like they’ve been created by those who know exactly what we tend to love and hate in our instances. There’s usually very little trash – possibly a token handful for flavor – and they usually take around 30 minutes to chew through half a dozen bosses. The boss fights feel different and interesting, but on normal difficulty aren’t a huge challenge. There’s often a story accompanying the dungeon, sometimes delivered by a disembodied voice that you’ll want to silence permanently after the first few runs.
I’d complain about the lack of a group finder tool for dungeons, except the unique Dreamworld server architecture used in The Secret World makes it ridiculously easy to form them. By splitting the game into separate dimensions that are all linked together through common chat channels, it’s easy to find others to hook up with for a dungeon. It’s also been a powerful social tool, helping to build a community around a single game rather than isolated servers.
I sometimes feel that The Secret World is a meta-puzzle of itself. On the one hand, the rich story and superb questing experiences are ideal for an MMO without the traditional concept of levels. Some great dungeons and neat social quirks really add to the atmosphere of the game. On the other, if you play MMOs to collect piles of currency, this is probably one game to put on hold.
I’m also still not feeling the combat. Although they’ve been tweaked and tightened in places, animations are still lacking a visceral macabre texture that the huge smears of claret seem to promise. Your surroundings might be liberally painted in blood, yet the signs of your own carnage are positively neat by comparison.
That said, The Secret World isn’t a game we’re checking out of in a hurry. Monthly updates promise to keep pulling us back, and the recent rumors of a debut raid in New York have me drooling with anticipation. While fans of cerebral challenges are catered to already, it seems lovers of large-scale combat won’t have long to wait.
Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer, Staff Writer
How about you? Did you pick up The Secret World at launch, or did you dive in after the free weekend? Are you still subscribing? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments.