We go on a tour of Issue #7 with Funcom game director Joel Bylos.
As I stepped back into The Secret World, I realized I’ve missed Funcom’s weave of supernatural storytelling. I’m not sure if it’s the familiar streets of London under my feet, or the peculiar blend of magic and modern-day, but I’ve always found the mirror-world intriguing.
But just like the world it portrays, The Secret World has been through turbulent times. Undaunted, Funcom stuck to its guns, removing the mandatory subscription and releasing regular updates as DLC. For game director Joel Bylos it’s a strategy that seems to be working, with players celebrating the game’s first anniversary this week.
Coinciding with the frivolities is Funcom’s latest content pack. Issue #7: A Dream to Kill is a discordant interpretation of the modern-day spy thriller, like a Grimm fairy tale with bullets and explosions. And, as I went on a guided tour through the new update with Bylos, what started out as a familiar tale descended into the disturbing.
I started out in Transylvania, outside a village named Harbaburesti. The tale started with Carmen Preda, a field agent for the Council of Venice, describing a sinister new creature lurking in the nearby woods. But as her thickly accented English explained the situation, I noticed something quite striking – the cutscene animation had improved dramatically. It was the first in a number of improvements that have crept into the game, with Bylos confessing that “we’ve been working on the engine on the quiet.”
Indeed, Bylos isn’t a fan of bundling random features and content together. “We’ve been organizing our issues into single long storylines. We want to make them feel like a continuous story.” It’s an approach that works, with roughly seven meaty new missions making up the main thread, with another seven or so scattered throughout the game, adding up to about 8 hours of new content.
This isn’t just story for the sake of it. “We like to theme this issues around where the story was when we first launched, and taking it to the next level.” In the case of Issue 7, that means finding the cause of this disturbance in the woods and discovering where it leads.
Of course, if I was going to play the spy then I’d need to look the part. I’m told that the sharp tuxedo my character was wearing will be available in white or black in the item store, along with cocktail dresses for female secret agents. Either way, I was dressed to kill.
Our search in the Dark Woods led us to a mutated horror – a human that had been warped into a hulking monstrosity by the Filth. His bloated body seemed to absorb most of our attacks, the health bar creeping down incredibly slowly. But it was only once he lay defeated in the dirt that I noticed another body nearby. The black and greys were unmistakable as an Orochi uniform. How were they involved?
It’s at this point that I caught sight of the Flamethrower, a new auxiliary weapon that’s being added with Issue #7. Besides the usual cone of fire, it can also be used to lay down a firewall, or even root someone on the spot while you bathe them in flame. While the abilities come with a long cooldown, they definitely earn a smile when used.
The trail led to a Soviet-era installation that had been repurposed by the Orochi, complete with a femme fatale from the Council of Venice. In true James Bond style, it would take overcoming a few puzzles and sabotaging some equipment to unearth what had been going on. As Bylos explained, “We’re still keeping with the tradition in TSW of having puzzles mixed with typical MMO combat and gameplay. It’s really important to us to make sure we keep our core audience happy.”
It was there that I first learned about The Nursery: a Soviet programme for gifted children that had become home for terrifying experiments under the watch of the Orochi Corporation. That mutated hulk had somehow managed to escape from the facility, indicating that something had gone catastrophically wrong.
But how would I get there? Simple: snowmobile! Leaping on one of these new mounts kicked off a chase sequence that felt straight out of an action movie, with bullets and rockets flying in all directions as I desperately raced across Transylvania. “What’s interesting about this is that it’s all out in the open playfield. Anybody could be running around doing other missions and see you zooming through on a snowmobile.”
“We’ve been working on this one [Issue #7] for about four months now. Unfortunately it’s not what we’d normally manage to deliver in four months – we’ve had a few delays due to the move”. With the whole development team now working out of North Carolina, fans can look forward to more regular updates.
It’s also an update that gamers can play with friends. Bylos assures me that “All these areas are multiplayer compatible,” as evident by being grouped for most of the tour. If your cabal is planning to form a team of spies to steam through Issue 7, you shouldn’t have any problem.
Bylos then showed me the end of the update, bringing me to The Nursery. The complex itself was deathly silent, the children’s dormitories oddly empty. The only thing left standing guard were nanny drones, which Bylos explained were a pointer to future updates. “These are actually a precursor to Tokyo. In Tokyo there are a lot of these mechanical men; drones, as we call them.”
And yet, beyond that, deep in the complex? Well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself. Shh. Spoilers.
I will say this though: even after a year, it’s refreshing to see that Funcom hasn’t lost its touch at telling great stories.
Issue #7: A Dream to Kill goes live on July 8th, and is available direct from the in-game item store. The base game can be bought direct from Funcom for $29.99, £24.99 or €29.99. Other retailers may vary.