A Fait Accom-Plea – A Not-Quite Review of The Secret World [LimboInteractive article]

Okay, right off the top, I’ll tell you, I’m not playing the game at the moment. But that’s not because I don’t want to. I do. In the worst way. I’m just broke, so I can’t afford to download and subscribe to the game. Yet.

The thing is, I’ve been waiting to play this game for years, and I did in fact get to play it a bit during open Beta a few months back, shortly before the release. And you know what? I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.

Oh sure, the big Maguffin about it being a level independent game with no classes or gear grinding wasn’t quite as special and shiny as I might have hoped, but that’s not because it’s not there; it’s just that it’s more or less an invisible quality that would take me a great deal more in-game time to truly learn to appreciate.

The starter weaponry was sufficiently cool to spark my imagination without too much effort, and I didn’t find myself yearning for newer, bigger weapons. I liked dealing with the adversaries I had using the weapons and skills my character already possessed. it’s what first appealed to me about other MMOs I learned to play, like my early months in World of Warcraft before the grinding for gear, crafting materials and reputation became the all-consuming goal.

The thing I like most about MMOs in general is the ability to explore and discover interesting locations and awe-inspiring terrain, and to do cool things while I’m there. Now, when I played the beta of TSW, there wasn’t a whole lot of that in the starter zone, Innsmouth. It’s fairly large, yes, and that satisfies my basic requirement for being able to roam and explore different terrains and such. Innsmouth is not particularly awe-inspiring, is all I’m saying. However, at the same time, what I did see in Innsmouth wasn’t the least bit of a let-down, because I knew going in that the starter zone would have to be a fairly pedestrian place, leaving room for more interesting places to shine alter on. Plus, let’s face it, you can’t expect a fishing town somewhere in Maine to be awe-inspiring, even with Cthulhean creatures and zombies milling about. It’s just not that sort of location.

That said, I didn’t get to play for very long, so it’s hard for me to say with any certainty just what the playing characteristics of the game are really like. The movement and combat mechanics were good for me. The progression, such as it is, suited my temperament just fine. The GUI and ability features were suitably transparent and encouraged me to want to delve into them a bit, even if they felt a bit more linear than I might have hoped for. The first combat zone location, as mentioned, was lacklustre, but I make allowances for starter zones being less than spectacular. Not every location can be The Parthenon or the Valley of the Kings or what have you. It’s nice to explore bustling cities and ancient ruins, but sometimes, you have to be prepared to go to a fishing village and deal with undead. It’s a common enough theme, and at least I didn’t have to farm pig poop.

Now, nothing I’ve said here sounds like a ringing endorsement of the game. For that, I apologize, because I want to make this clear: The Secret World is the coolest MMO I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a fair few of them. Not all of them, to be sure, but enough to know what I’m talking about. You see, the thing for me isn’t that it’s got the shiniest gear (it doesn’t), the toughest combat (it’s alright), the slickest graphics (it looks good, but it’s not overwhelmingly pretty), or the most awesome reward system (hey, learning skills without having to level and not having arbitrary limits placed on what gear I can use is more than enough reward for me).

But what really appeals to me is simply that TSW has the shiniest IDEAS. I like the fact that it IS a bit of a thinking man’s game. I hasten to add, it’s not impossible to figure out if you’re not a puzzle champion. I’m not a puzzle champion. Believe me. I play Adventure games with walkthroughs at the ready, in case I miss something important, which is often. I like that the quests and cutscenes really add to the sense of story. That’s the big thing. You are immersed in the story of The Secret World right off the bat, and it never lets you go. That’s something that I’ve never really had in an MMO before.

Oh sure, some of the later quest chains in WoW were pretty immersive, and Conan and Guild Wars and The Lord of the Rings and URU all had story galore, but every often in those games, the story always came a distant second to the gaming mechanics. I’ve long railed against this conventional notion that games have to be games first, and that the only good story is an emergent one, which to me always felt like a cop-out. It’s like saying that the only good relationship is the one you’re in; It means nothing if it’s not true.

So that’s my thing. Story. When I first heard about TSW, way, way back when Ragnar Tornquist first started describing it as The New Big Thing (or whatever it was he said; it’s been years, and my brain is made of mush), I was supremely intrigued by the notion of playing an MMO that was completely story-based. It’s turned into more of a conventional combat MMO than I might have liked, but it’s still steeped in story, even though the story isn’t jumping out at you and proclaiming itself at every turn. It’s an MMO, but its core is a story, and the story is woven into everything you see and do, unlike so much of what you see in your average (and even above average) MMORPG, where whatever story might be behind the locations and architecture you see are only available to you if you’ve read up the lore online somewhere or played the old standalone games or what have you. TSW gives you ways you can delve deeper into the mysteries, and there are mysteries everywhere you go, which you can unravel or choose to ignore, for a slightly different gaming experience.

That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got, and that’s why I’m writing this article. I haven’t had much opportunity to play the game, but I want to. And for that to happen as intended, I need for people to understand and investigate the game themselves, because, and this is to be perfectly frank, it seems my favourite game is suffering due to a lack of subscribers and critical acceptance. I haven’t read all of the reviews, but I gather from their Metacritic score (a metric I’m highly inclined to ignore, because professional gaming critics generally have pet projects and axes to grind, I’ve found) that they failed to be all things to all people. Whatever. The playing community gave it a higher score, and that’s all that counts for me.

I just want there to be a game when I can finally afford to buy it and play it. That goal may be further down the road than I’d like, because Dawn’s computer doesn’t handle the graphics well, so we may need to upgrade her first, which means I’ll have to wait a while. I’m missing the cool stories. I’m missing the vents. I’m getting tired of being poor. But the main thing is, I’m just hoping the gaming experience doesn’t change too radically while they start second guessing and retooling the game to make more money for the short-sighted stockholders.

I’ll probably return to this story in the near future, particularly if and when I get to start playing it again. Until then, you can find information about the game HERE and HERE. Thank you for reading.

Lee.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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