The Secret World Review

By Jonathan Deesing - Posted Jul 19, 2012

With The Secret World, Funcom has proven that years of work and a fistful of new ideas can still result in a miserable game.

The Pros
  • Huge assortment of quest missions
  • Brings a new way of thinking to MMOs
  • There are zombies in one world
The Cons
  • Offputtingly bad graphics, animations and gameplay
  • Lack of classes/leveling system is a good idea with poor execution
  • Weak story and dialogue

The Secret World Review:

The larger a game is, the higher the chance is for mistakes. Tetris had none. Skyrim had quite a few. The Secret World has too many.

The Secret World misses the mark in almost every way. From graphical and animation hitches to buggy quests and piss-poor voice acting, the game features almost no redeeming qualities. Perhaps worst of all is how badly I wanted the game to be good. I’m a huge fan of the Supernatural TV series and really anything that needs to be killed with fire or a silver bullet, so The Secret World sounded like the perfect game for me. Unfortunately, even my love of the unknown wasn’t enough to make the game even moderately tolerable.



A Weak Foundation

The first thing I noticed when I started The Secret World was just how weak it looked. The graphics consistently fail to impress, even on the highest setting. There are also a number of animation issues, even this late into the beta (every time my character jumped down more than a single story, her knee would clip through her face). All of these visual problems cast a pall over the rest of the game, making it even less palatable.

Not only is it an ugly game, it’s also a game that at its core isn’t fun to play. Movement feels sluggish and platforming feels like it’s a generation behind. Combat is fairly standard, with one small addition. Certain attacks build resources for certain weapons, while other attacks will require/drain these resources. However, no matter what weapon you choose to use, you’ll feel like you’re using a melee weapon, as ranged weapons are fairly useless. Even attacks designed to slow down mobs fail to keep them at bay for long.

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Notice I said “weapon” and not “class.” This is due to the game’s largest failure: a lack of classes or a leveling system. I love when games try new things to break from the norm, and this idea had potential. Unfortunately, Funcom turned this potential into a mismanaged mess.

The story is so weak and tortuous it hardly merits mention. You take the role of a magical agent of one of three factions—the Dragon, the Illuminati or the Templars. The overall story and mission is unclear, which would seriously not be a big deal if the rest of the game wasn’t so terrible. Your character is silent, which can actually work, but does not work here. (I found myself baffled at the thought of my character simply standing there stonefaced while NPCs tell her their life story for no reason.) The writing is among the worst I have heard in a game and even the voice acting is hard to stomach.

The Secret World

Like A High School Dropout: No Class

It’s surprisingly discouraging to play a game with no leveling. There is still experience granted, and even an experience bar on the bottom of the screen. However, when the bar is filled, you don’t become stronger or even better in any way. Instead, you are granted points used to purchase new abilities or skills. Because you choose weapons instead of classes, you can put these points toward becoming more proficient with a certain weapon.

Ideally when you start out with a limited amount of points, you choose two weapons or magical abilities that complement one another; however, this isn’t explained whatsoever and with scarce points trial and error isn’t really an option. So, essentially you are forced to choose one or two weapons and stick with them—praying you chose correctly—which feels a lot like choosing a class without the added benefits. Eventually, after gaining enough points to max out multiple weapons and abilities, it would be possible to experiment and find the best one. But starting out, if you’re picking up different abilities that might resemble -- say, a tank -- without extensive forum research you could very well waste dozens of hours plugging points into the wrong abilities.

It is as ugly as it sounds.

Funcom made The Secret World without leveling or classes in an effort to lower the bar for entry. The idea was that if all gamers are always on the same plane, new gamers will flock to the game. Instead, the game is just too difficult to enjoy across the board. Mobs never really become easier to kill because you never really level above them. Your health only increases if you’re using certain gear, which is frustrating if you don’t obsessively loot everything you can find.

The Secret World

On A Quest To Find A Better Game

The quests in the game are another serious weak point. If you can find a quest that doesn’t have at least one bug in it, it still won’t be very much fun. Most quests feel like time sinks without the comforting thought that at least you’re gaining experience and leveling. One quest I watched a number of people struggle with incorporated following flying ravens that would either clip into buildings or simply disappear. Only by sheer guesswork was I able to find out where the ravens went. Some quests require outside knowledge to solve, like say an obscure bible passage. But who in their right mind wants to exit a game, visit Google and look up a passage? It interrupts gameplay and just feels like lazy design.

With this many bad missions, it would be nice to simply ignore some and get others. However, the game forbids this, as you’re only able to have one story quest and three auxiliary quests at any given time. More than once I figured out a convoluted quest, only to realize it wasn’t in my list and I had to trek all the way back to whoever gave me the mission. Stupider still, all quests are repeatable, which means you may find yourself accidentally accepting quests you’ve completed in lieu of quests you are working on.

Even travel—something extremely important in MMORPGs—is bungled. The Secret World simply does not feel like an open world game. In order to travel from one city to the next, you must use an underground network of portals connected by extremely long paths that, once again, feel like a meaningless time sink.

The Secret World

No One Likes Secrets

The Secret World has too many problems to function. When describing my experience to one of my friends, she asked me, “is it free-to-play?” I replied that even if it were, the cost would still be too high. Even simple things like the inability to hotkey health potions made me raise an eyebrow. And don’t get me started on the pathetic excuse for a crafting system. I actually enjoy crafting weapons, but even after reading myriad forums and watching tutorial videos, it was still an utter waste of time.

After playing the game for over a month I haven’t seen any serious signs of improvement. Quests remain buggy, graphics suffer and the core of the game is still as obnoxious as ever. MMORPGs occupy a crowded market of obsessive and dedicated gamers, and I don’t see any of them leaving a variety of much better games for the pathetic softball Funcom has lobbed our way.