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The Secret World Column: The Modern Setting

By William Murphy on March 24, 2011

There’s bound to be a lot of talk about The Secret World’s Lovecraft-ian story, it’s classless system and so forth.  That’s as it should be, really.  But something I feel deserves a little more discussion is the notion that TSW is going to be set in our own modern-day Earth.  Can you think of a single AAA MMO release where the setting hasn’t been either in a medieval (or quasi-thereof) setting or a far-flung futuristic one?  Tabula Rasa, Fallen Earth, and Auto Assault I suppose came kind of close to a modern-setting as the basis of their lore, but the gameplay in each was set on either other planets or in the post-apocalyptic future.  The Secret World is aiming to do something unique: make the game set today, but in a today where all the myths and legends we’ve grown up with really are true.

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But as we did last week, let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives of hitching your game to this idea.  I personally think it’s a stroke of genius to set an MMO in this space, but until I see how it plays there are some concerns.

The Worries

  • Will escapism be hampered?  I play MMOs in part because I love the fantastic vistas and locales.  My favorite parts of CoH were those in which I wasn’t just in some city.  It’ll be cool to see real world locations in TSW, but I worry that the “city” aspects of the game will be drab.  Thankfully, we’ll also be visiting places like Stonehenge, El Dorado, and the like.  Maybe I’m just being a worry-wort though.  I loved the hell-ravaged London of Hellgate, and I know Funcom has the chops to make a pretty world.
  • Will it make sense?  I know, it’s a little silly to ask that an MMO about werewolves, vampires, the Illuminati and so forth to make sense.  But in other games, I can believe the setting because like any work of fiction it’s presented to me in a way and with an art-style that makes it so.  In TSW, the developer has to be able to make the game’s locales and lore engrossing enough to the point where I believe this stuff could happen.   Now being predisposed to flights of fancy as I am, I’m pretty sure this is doable.
  • How will all the MMO tropes tie in?  How will you explain +5 to stamina on my trench-coat?  Actually, I’m pretty sure gear is not dependent on looks and vice versa so this may be a non-issue specifically, but you get my point.

The Un-worries

  • I’ve wanted this for a while now.  I’ve been hoping for some developer to either make a recent historical MMO (Western anyone?) or a modern-day one.  I’m also a huge fan of the macabre and HP Lovecraft.  This setting is something that, if nailed, can make me want to play a game for a very long time.  It may not be as accessible as good ol’ swords and boards, but I don’t care. 
  • Though they’re not the only ones doing it, I love that we’re delving into myths and legends like werewolves, vampires, and the like.  It could work in a Victorian set game (hell, that would be awesome) but I’ll just as well play around in modern New York City as ravaged by zombies and stalked by the blood-sucking soulless.
  • I suppose it’s true of most any game, but just think of the expansion possibilities here.  How about killing ghouls on Mount Rushmore or pushing opposing players off of the Eiffel Tower?  I want to delve into the Mayan Ruins and see what Roswell holds.  It’s like that saying about vacations: sometimes the best places to visit are in your own back yard. 

This is all just theory-crafting and discussion on a game that we really have so much more to learn about.  But what do you think?  Do you long to play in a modern-set world with a fantasy twist such as TSW or are you turned off by the idea as a whole?  What do you hope gets included in the game, and what do you think Funcom should avoid?

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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