Field Report: The Secret World

Age of Conan developer Funcom has jumped back into the MMO space with The Secret World, a story of underground cabals exploring a cavalcade of urban legends and mythical creatures. With a near-endless well of supernatural lore to draw inspiration from, this MMO is filled with a variety of story-based content, most of which I enjoyed. However, I have reservations as to whether this game can sustain a monthly subscription model. The Secret World's story has three underground factions vying for global domination: the Illuminati, the Templars, and the Dragon. Their goal is to explore legendary parts of the world and find the source of a rising evil. These three secret societies are immensely powerful and decidedly sinister with no traditional "white hat" do-gooders to be found. Any good deeds performed in this game are purely a means to an end. focalbox There's a variety of weapons to choose from. The introductory sequence allows players to train with all of these weapons to find the one what best suits their style of play. Each weapon caters to either magic users, melee fighters, or weapon-carrying soldiers. Players can carry up to two weapons at a time and each can be upgraded over the course of the game. I love the weapon selections, as I can't think of any other game that lets me wield blood magic alongside Wolverine-style fist claws. However, they don't pack much of a punch at the game's outset and upgrading them to a point of effectiveness quickly becomes time-consuming. Side missions offer a large sense of variety, each one devoted to different elements like action, stealth, and item-collection. There are some uninspired fetch quests to be found here, but many of the side missions are enjoyable diversions that focus on puzzle-solving, exploration, and combat. These tasks take you to each corner of the game's worlds and create grand opportunities for exploration. Some of the missions can be completed in the open world alongside other players that happen to be passing by. For example, a Department of Homeland Security agent instructed me to investigate an outbreak of hulking mutants on a nearby island. The mission's final tier had me face a colossal-sized hulk roughly five times my size. It would have overwhelmed me, but a pair of other players graciously offered their assistance with their assault rifles and helped me put it down. Random instances of Good Samaritan players offering a helping hand made these missions a lot more fun.

Bring friends to face these giant monsters

Friends (and strangers) can also band together to create groups of up to five to complete side missions and also to play through five-player dungeons that house some of The Secret World's biggest challenges. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a merry band of brothers to help me tackle the larger-than-life bosses lurking within these dungeons. Those wanting to jump back into the game's narrative may find themselves disappointed with how many of these side missions they'll have to complete before their character is ready to go back to the story. The main story-based mission hits a major difficulty spike about halfway through, so expect to play through a lot of side missions to get your weaponry and abilities up to par with these souped-up baddies. By far, my biggest complaint about The Secret World is the lack of a fast travel option. The worlds in this game are vast and a lot of fun to explore, but the only way to travel is on foot. I ran into several instances where I'd complete a side mission, only to find that the next mission marker was quite a distance away. This, sadly, took up a large chunk of my time with the game, as I spent precious hours simply walking from one destination to the next. In a time when RPGs are constructing larger and larger landscapes, it's unthinkable to have a game with such massive settings not allowing a faster way to travel.

Zombies fill the early part of the game

For a game that places such an emphasis on player freedom, I don't feel like The Secret World offers that much of it, especially at the start of the game. While it does away with the traditional character level system, I still found myself needing to do a lot of grinding in order to upgrade my weapons and attacks. And while I was technically free to explore areas like Egypt and Transylvania, I quickly found their enemies to be overwhelmingly powerful. My attacks didn't make a dent and they sliced through me like butter, sending me feebly crawling back to Kingsmouth to kill more zombies in an endless effort to play catch-up. Teaming up with friends was a good idea until I ran into the next solo-instance dungeon filled with higher-tiered foes. I'm sure the sense of freedom increases once my abilities are maxed out, but the beginning of the game feels awfully confined. With the single-player narrative starting to become tedious, I jumped into The Secret World's PvP. This offers a fun and chaotic change of pace from the story, as all three of the game's factions are competing against each other. El Dorado features a skirmish battle with players competing over power-enhancing relics while Stonehenge is a domination game. However, I really enjoyed the Fusang Projects, a perpetual blend of the two game types. While I occasionally ran off on my own to try and ambush other players, the most fun came from all-out three-way cataclysmic clashes between the three factions that would often center around one area. Despite some of the issues I had with it, I found myself having a good time with The Secret World. The mission variety is better than I expected and it builds itself atop a solid foundation of mythical folklore. I'd be more than happy to champion it if it was a full-priced retail game. Unfortunately, in a bloated MMO landscape, I can't imagine sticking with this game in its current subscription-based state. As much as I want to see the story through to its next phase, grinding becomes a chore and the combat can become repetitive. I'll stick with the 30-day trial to play through a few more side missions and some PvP, but likely won't stay in The Secret World beyond that.
Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games, but should not be considered a review. This report is based on digital version of the game provided by the publisher.