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The Secret World Column: Shedding the Secrets

By William Murphy on March 10, 2011

With DCUO and Rift launched, I found myself once again tasked with shifting my weekly game-specific coverage.  Jon and I wracked our brains, pounded our noggins against some very hard objects, and ultimately decided that it was time to see what kinds of details and intrigue we could squeeze out of Funcom’s next (and possibly most ambitious) MMO.  The Secret World is still awhile away from launch, and in fact we don’t even really know all that much about the game just yet.  But at this year’s GDC, Funcom began to pull back the curtain on their upcoming title a little bit more in some live demos of content that’s already running out in Oslo.  So for this first week, let’s do an intro on just what the title’s about, and what we might expect as more is revealed throughout the year and leading into The Secret World’s closed beta period.

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For those unfamiliar, The Secret World is unique in setting in that it takes place during the present day and on our beloved planet Earth.  The key difference is that in this version of Earth, everything we ever thought was just myth or legend is true.  Werewolves, vampires, zombies, dragons… you name it, it exists and everyone knows it.  Real world locations across the globe from urban sprawls to roving countrysides, London pubs and American suburbia are all part of the game world.  There’s a massive and terrifying evil preparing to invade and corrupt the world, and it will be the players’ job to drive it back… all while fighting each other as part of one of the game’s three factions.

So that’s the basics.  Intrigued?  Yeah, well we all are.

It sure sounds like a fantastic setting, and a novel one at that, but it won’t matter a hill of beans if TSW ends up as little more than every other game with a fresh skin, will it?  In something with such a divergent IP, one would hope the developers are aiming to try and break the mold a little bit where it counts too.  Luckily from what we can glean so far, Funcom has some very specific aims to make The Secret World stand out from the pack. 

How does a classless freeform system for character advancement sound?  That’s right, TSW will be ditching the tried and true class system to allow players total control over what skills they use and delve into.  Now don’t think that means there won’t be healers or things of that nature.  Of the over 500 skills that will be in the game, many will help flesh out roles as needed.  You’ll just have total control over what build you’re using from those 500 skills.  As Jon’s recent preview states, the system allows seven active skills and seven passive skills to be equipped on any character at any given time.  So players will be able to effectively switch roles at will.  Need someone who can heal?  Switch.  Need someone to take a beating from the horde of undead?  Switch.  You won’t have to have 900 different characters to flesh out the needs of your guild or group… you’ll just need one with the right skill load-outs.  The only thing that’s unclear at this point is how many of said 500+ skills each of us will be able to learn.  One has to expect there to be a cap at some point. 

On top of all that, there’s the little blurb that I glazed over: three-faction combat.  Thank the gods, someone is listening!  Now all we know so far about the PvP is that it will be three-faction, it will take place largely inside of instances (with PvP servers being a goal as well) and that it involves the gathering of a resource called anima, which is apparently priceless in Funcom’s new take on Earth.  Now, I’d love to see some persistent world PvP a la DAoC, but we’ll save that discussion for another column.

Lastly, let’s briefly touch on the combat.  What we’ve seen in videos thus far is that TSW is aiming to blend the action and the tradition much like Age of Conan did.  Only AoC eventually found itself too complicated and the system was streamlined down a bit to where it stands today.  In The Secret World, with a high emphasis on guns, melee weapons, and magic, one hopes that the combat will be a little more action-RPG oriented, but that’s all up to opinion.  Until we get our hands on the game (E3 maybe?), it’s all just speculation.  I highly doubt however that Funcom will be sticking with the ol’ hotbar model. 

Well that’s it for this week’s overview of The Secret World.  There’s really a lot more to be said and hypothesized about, and as the months march on I’m sure we’ll have plenty of things to go over.  Still, don’t be surprised if the well runs dry on me every so often.  I can only write about what I know about, and until Funcom opens the floodgates, we may have to entertain ourselves a little bit.  And hey, with a game that’s largely about conspiracy theories, I’m sure we can have some fun.

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