The Secret World Beta Hands-on Preview Part 1 -- Progression, Chakras, and British MummiesBy Sophie Prell - Posted Feb 24, 2012
Funcom's The Secret World is a bold, daring MMO. Not only is it taking everything you know about the world – our world, the real world – and turning it on its ear, it's also taking everything you thought you knew about MMO gameplay and spinning it just as hard, creating a fresh, new experience.
I recently played The Secret World beta up at Funcom's Montreal studio, my first time with the game. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I can tell you I wasn't expecting to be cheering and screaming in excitement with my fellow gaming journalists. And yet, that's exactly what happened as we dove headlong into a battle with a demon-possessed Nazi doctor and his thirty-foot tall mummy monster.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start from the beginning, shall we?
The Secret World, for those not familiar with the title, is an MMO set in the modern day which blends traditional myth, religion, and urban legends into one massive, interweaving conspiracy. Three secret societies seek out and quell any uprising of the supernatural that threatens the balance of the Earth, while happily picking up whatever profit and other goodies they can. During the press event in Montreal, we were given characters belonging to the Illuminati. The other two are the Templars and Dragon.
Each faction will have its own unique, scripted, and voice-acted storyline, and this was one of my biggest, happiest surprises in my time with the game. The writing is top-notch, filled with surreal irony, with more cinematic cutscenes than Star Wars: The Old Republic. While the character model graphics currently leave something to be desired, the bright, vibrant personalities shine through. Because, I'm sorry, but in what other game does a 2,000 year old mummy with a posh British accent give you quests while dressed in a white tux?
You may have heard by now that The Secret World utilizes a class-less, level-less system of character progression. How this works is that the game breaks your character's progression into three brackets on a wheel. One bracket is melee weapons, such as hammers and katanas. Another bracket is magic, such as lightning bolts and blood magic. The final bracket is firearms, such as assault rifles, shotguns, and pistols. As you defeat enemies, you'll earn Skill Points and Ability Points. You'll use these points at your discretion.
There are no pre-determined paths, no end-all be-all route for ultimate progression. If you want to throw a fireball as you reload your assault rifle, mix firearms and elementalism. If you want to leech your enemies' lifeforce while bashing in skulls with a sledgehammer, mix hammers and blood magic. The game automatically switches weapons for you based on whichever ability you use at the time, so you don't need to worry about biting off more than you can chew. Or, alternatively, forget the hybrid route and progress in just one area like I did.
In either case, you'll have to choose seven abilities to serve as your hotbar and seven passive abilities to give you boosts in combat. If seven sounds like too few a number, keep in mind that your inventory is absolutely massive, with no need to upgrade carrying capacity in any way, and it can be re-sized and dragged along the screen to be placed wherever you like. You can even create your own “bags” and lock them into place, creating an easy-to-use and organic UI that suits your individual needs.
“But Sophie,” you must be thinking. “What is this madness?! No classes? No levels? Only one hotbar with just seven abilities? Blasphemy!” But hold on there, cowboys and girls, I'm about to blow your minds again: There's no gear or vendors (meaning no vendor trash), either.
If you've just flipped over your table in protest of The Secret World spurning every MMO convention, I'll wait for you to pick up the pieces so we can continue. Good? All set? Awesome.
While in-game currency, vendors and loot drops may come into play later, they weren’t present in our demo. As for the gear, that's a definite no. No beefy shoulder pauldrons, no earrings of +4 Dex. Instead, your character will absorb and utilize various Chakras. This isn't to say your character is stuck looking however you made them at character creation, however. Specialized uniforms are worn in PvP to help differentiate the factions, and Funcom showed us a glimpse of another outfit; something that may be unlocked by completing a tier of the ability wheel. But what bonuses these will provide (if any) was unclear.
So here's the question lurking in the shadows: Why quest? Why bring a group together and face down the challenges of a dungeon if you can't show off your ultra-rare pants?
I'll tell you why. Because it's just plain fun. The locations and enemies I saw during our time with the game were some of the most varied, interesting, and visually arresting I’ve seen in a long time. While other MMOs are content to send players up against green goblins, followed by red goblins, followed by blue goblins, The Secret World's maps I encountered and enemies felt unique, which was doubly true for the dungeons.
And speaking of dungeons…well, you’ll have to check back tomorrow for our epic and treacherous runs through the particularly gnarly Black Ankh. (Spoiler: we managed to pull off something that even the game’s playtesters hadn’t yet done.)