I have tried The Secret World during the last two beta weekend events. This post is not a review. It is about my first impressions of the game and thus, much too incomplete for a review. But just fine as a “first impressions” piece. :)
For once, I had not read up on every available detail before playing the game for the first time. I have also not looked up that much. However, I did use Google a few times to try and figure out a few riddles in the game, including one quest where the quest text told me to do A while I actually had to do B. It happens during a beta, I guess.
The character creation process was quite nice. While I would have liked a few more choices in the way the actual character looks (you know, noses, eyebrows, hair styles, chin size and all that), there was an abundance of clothing to choose from. This is especially important as I haven’t seen a single other piece of clothing drop while playing the game. But as I said, there was lots of stuff to choose from and I spent lots of time in that character creation screen. I assume other clothing options will be available later on and you’ll probably be able to buy more outfits in their store (the game has a monthly sub and a cash shop).
You can choose one of three factions: Dragon, Templar or Illuminati. I had wanted to choose Dragon first but when the time came to make a decision, I decided for Illuminati instead. It’s very nice that when you decide for the faction, you can watch all three “faction trailers” that tell you who they are. I later made another character and chose Dragon this time. They all appear in the same starting area, so if that’s what you’re worried about, then this shouldn’t be your deciding factor. I still liked the atmosphere of Dragons more, though. There is a little starter tutorial zone where you’re introduced to your faction and the characters in there were far more memorable. By the way, I deliberately leave out any story details. ;)
So without talking about the story, let’s move on to the next topic: The sounds. I enjoyed the soundtrack a lot and it was just so fitting to the atmosphere they want to create with their game. If you want to learn more about the atmosphere, watch this trailer about Kingsmouth (which, yes, includes parts about the game’s story), the town you start in. And here you can listen to the game’s main theme. I fell in love with the game right there. Right when I heard this song before even getting into the game. I knew I was intrigued, interested and fascinated. A game that has such a sound… there has to be something about it!
The voice overs in the game are just as brilliant as the music. The voice actors do not sound like they’re reading a script without knowing what it’s all about. It sounded natural and just like people talk to each other (“I looked it up on Google”). However, there is one bad thing and this is one of my main critiques: The graphics and the animations aren’t on par. Instead, they feel dull and a bit stiff. But more about that later.
While the voice overs were great, my own character wasn’t just a bit too quiet – not a single word was spoken by her during any of the cut scenes. No utterance at all. But what’s worse is that I also didn’t hear any sounds coming from her during combat (you know, those sounds you get to hear when your character is hit… “oompf” or whatever – or when he/she hits somebody). Your own character is 100% silent, at all times. Not a single muscle moved in her face while people told her about the bad happenings in the town. Your character is without any expression. While I loved the voice overs and liked the facial expressions of the NPCs during cut scenes, I sat here in front of the PC wondering if my character was just brainless (zombies!) or didn’t care at all. One NPC even made fun of her asking if she’s the “quiet type” because she isn’t speaking.
On to the actual gameplay. I mentioned the stiff animations. I mean, they’re not really bad but they certainly didn’t impress me. The animations during combat/while executing skills didn’t bother me too much, but the lack of facial expressions were a lot worse. All in all, my character really did feel emotin- and lifeless. And what’s with the stiff neck? My character and all of the others around me kept stretching and rubbing their necks. Weird. On top of that, while I liked the lack of levels and the skill-wheel, the combat itself was rather bland. It’s the same old hitting-numbers game that you know from other games. In this case, it seemed to be a choice between ranged physical combat, melee combat and magic combat. Once again, I realized how theoretically, I love magic but when it comes to the actual “fun factor”, I just really love melee (in this case, my Dragon-faction character fought with a katana while my Illuminati-character fought with blood magic which just didn’t excite me much).
What I liked was the lack of “tagging mobs”, at least when it came to boss monters. I didn’t pay attention to regular mobs. For instance, there was a quest that had you follow ravens. They appeared and when you got close, they flew away and you had to follow again. I did it with another player and while we weren’t in a group, we always both got credit for each stage, including the boss at the end. The same happened with another boss at the end of a quest chain where I came to the fight after another player had started. I joined and finished the quest as well in the end. This is something really important for me because it just helps players playing together instead of against each other. I’m surprised how many MMOs haven’t gotten that until today.
The quests were refreshingly different. There were “kill ten rats” quests – who were, in this case, zombies, of course – but there were also riddle quests where you actually had to think. In one case, I found something on the floor… well, to be honest, it belonged to a dead woman. I forgot what it actually was. In the end, it led me to having a device (was it a mobile phone? I really should take notes!) where I had to enter a PIN. I was given a clue and then went to search for it. Again, I’m being deliberately vague here… ooooh, I should have said that earlier! Would have saved me the embarrassment of admitting that I have no idea what device it was… ;) Anyway, I was about to give up, because I’m being impatient, when I saw that the answer had been right in front of me the whole time and I just hadn’t noticed it. Also, it didn’t take me long to see Illuminati-signs everywhere.
I do want to find out what’s happening in Kingsmouth and I want to find out what lays beyond the fog. On the other hand, I grew tired of zombies pretty quickly. I’m not such a big fan of them and the whole horror genre. I enjoy it once in a while, but in small doses, please.
Another thing is that this game could have been a single player game and I doubt I would have noticed a difference. Now I actually really enjoy playing on my own while being able to communicate with others or just randomly bump into them. So it’s not really that much of a deal for me, but it might be for you. On the other hand, I guess we’re not at the point anymore where “MMO” means you are required to group all of the time in order to get anywhere.
TL;DR (or “conclusion” if you prefer that):
I’m not saying it’s a good game. I’m not saying it’s a bad game. But for me, right now, it’s not the game I want to play. Sounds, ambience, voice overs and riddle-quests are things that I really enjoyed. The monthly sub and cash shop on top of it, the lack of animations and the rather dull combat were boring to me. Additionally, while I liked the change of scenery, I’m just not a big enough fan of zombies to justify the monthly sub.