The Secret World First Look ImpressionsBy Eric Eckstein - Posted Mar 24, 2010
Whatever's happening in The Secret World is bad. How bad? Allow me to quote Run DMC: "Something strange is going on. Something's wrong. Gloom in the room. Outside is the storm!" Translation: People have gone missing in the small seaside town of Kingsmouth and those left behind have found themselves imbued with new power for some mystical reason. Worse, there are now monsters afoot in town; creatures from the sea that seem hellbent on taking you and what's left of your fellow townsfolk to who-knows-where. On paper, this is not your typical MMO scenario, and it’s why Funcom’s The Secret World has reinvigorated my excitement for massively multiplayer games.
As some background, the first MMO to grab me was Star Wars: Galaxies, for the obvious dorky reasons. Awful game, but it was Star Wars so I was willing to suffer through crafting macros to build my droids. Eventually I shifted to World of Warcraft, which was too addicting for me to stick with if I wanted to play other games, and then D&D Online and a bit of Star Trek Online. Of them all, WOW was my favorite because of its ease of use, but I never enjoyed the way it told a story.
What impresses me most about The Secret World is the world itself. While the game will include starting areas for New York, London and Seoul, the first revealed area for The Secret World is Kingsmouth, a New England town inspired by the likes of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. A fog has rolled in, sealing off the town and claiming the locals which have been replaced by demonic creatures. Adventures take place in the streets and shores of Kingsmouth, in the backyards of small town homes and in the wreckage of playgrounds. Monsters include golems cobbled together by junkyard refuse and aquatic beasts with tentacles and claws. It’s eerie and something more akin to Silent Hill than a MMO, and I absolutely love it.
Equally exciting is the way The Secret World plans to handle story, where NPCs become more than just an interchangeable quest giver. Funcom hopes to create characters that players care about and whom also develop relationships between other NPCs. Personality is key to developing these characters, and as part of my demo, I saw spoken dialog from a priest, a cowboy and a crazy old lady, among others which all make the game feel even more like a narrative. There’s a reason for everything, and along the way, players will be charged with not only solving the mysteries of The Secret World, but attempting to understand why they have been chosen to stop this new evil and the nature of heroism itself.
The goal of The Secret World is to avoid classes and levels. Players can mix and match roles, respecing to their hearts content based on their interests. One day, you can act as a healer; the next, you can opt to be the tank. Your earned achievements are instead points that you can use towards your powers, of which you can currently take 14 into battle with you. Powers are either Active or Passive abilities, and can be chained together for lethal combos. For example, one can tailor their power set to generate an area-of-effect attack whenever killing a burning target and then work in tandem with another player who uses burning as an offensive spell. It’s these powers that will also affect your visual appearance, along with tattoos and jewelry one can acquire in-game to augment stats. There’s a lot more to come as we get a peek under the hood of this system, but it all sounds ambitious for a more action-oriented MMO.
One other aspect of The Secret World is its take on the faction system. Secret societies are the basis for the three factions players can join and include the power-hungry Illuminati, the idealistic Templars and the Dragons who seek balance in the world at any cost. More than just determining your starting city, factions will affect the motives behind how the player encounters elements of the story, creating a more customized experience between the three. There will also be a larger role that factions take in the global leaderboards as well.
These events aren’t limited to Kingsmouth though. Places of power around the world are affected, including an already announced Egyptian adventure zone, so expect to hear a lot more as the game continues down its development path. With all this globe-trotting, it's no wonder Funcom named the gam, The Secret World, and, right now, it's one mystery I can't wait to solve.