At EA’s Summer Showcase, a small group of journalists were provided a demo – a dungeon walk-through in The Secret World. Since the game was announced, Funcom has been having fun with creating various websites to titillate players with bits of information as they find them. Kingsmouth.com and Monsters of Maine are two such sites, as well as Facebook pages and Twitter messages.
This all has to do with the modern day setting of The Secret World and the alternate reality that players will inhabit once the game is live. A world where modern myths and urban legends are live and real.
“The Secret World is built on four pillars,” Lead Designer Martin Bruusgaard told us. “The first is the modern day setting, secret societies, it’s classless and level-less, and fourth, the engaging, intriguing story line.”
And without further ado we were brought into the game as five other members of the team ran characters created for the demo. We were to investigate the wreck of the freighter Polaris which ran aground on Solomon Island. Previously a small island community with holiday homes and an amusement park to attract summer visitors and tourists, it’s currently suffering a zombie problem.
The party was the standard five man group and the skill make-up was also pretty standard. We had two sledge-hammer wielding tank types, a healer specializing in blood magic, and a couple more, one doing ranged DPS with a rifle, another with AE grenades and some crowd control.
Lead Content Designer Joel Bylos was happy to pan the camera around, showing the very real looking textures and lighting. “That’s another thing we’ve always been known for,” he said, “the high graphic capability of our Dream World engine.”
The graphics are impressive, not only on the grand scale but on the intimate, personal scale as they made good use of the 3-D space. Unlike the gigantic architecture and towering landscapes of many fantasy games out there, Solomon Island seemed real, with levels that player characters could jump to or climb easily and foot bridges that weren’t scaled for tanks to trundle down side by side.
The game requires players to pay attention and learn. Situational analysis is required and in between encounters, players will be able to change out their skills. The earth is being invaded and Gaia is pushing back. Players will find anima wells at some point in a dungeon where they can change their skill sets, changing the seven active and seven passive skills that they brought into the encounter.
“We make good use of our trash mobs,” said Joel, “They have some purpose besides being there to hinder players. They teach something.”
That something is what players can expect from more trash mobs or harder trash mobs, and one of the tanks switched to ranged magic firing at an anima well before continuing on. Players also have to watch the surroundings as mobs have different tricks up their sleeves. Disappearing down the waist high water to pop up at another location, releasing pods that explode, even electrifying the water, making the players jump from rock to rock to avoid the current.
We went through mini-bosses before skipping to the final boss after we found the wreck of the Polaris laying on its side in shallow water, containers strewn across the landscape, some opened, some destroyed. Knowing now that some could electrify water, we were also wary of the metal containers and what do you know? That was indeed one of the tricks the boss could deploy. The bosses are drawn from all walks of life, history and mythology, from H.P. Lovecraft to ancient Viking mythos.
After a hectic battle where the party had to counter tricks as well as direct damage, we explored the surroundings and found an open container with a locked shipping case within. This was where the link with external alternate reality sites came in. Players would have to go offline to check the shipping logs of the Polaris to check the container number and obtain the code to open the locked case.
For something as specific as this, players would have to check a Funcom crafted site such as those previously mentioned, but searching for information with Google or checking Wikipedia may also be required as players stumble across mysteries in the game.
With a skill-based game, there is what Funcom terms vertical progression by obtaining better items, and horizontal progression by getting different skills and making your character more versatile. Some items will also require specific skills to use.
“It’s like building a deck of cards,” said Martin, speaking of creating synergy with group members as well as compatibility with passive skills that you stack your skill bar with.
Combat in The Secret World is still the traditional dice-rolls and tab targeting. Players can also move and use skills at the same time. Implants may be gained which improves player attributes because clothing is just for looks, so players can run around in a bikini top and hot pants but still maintain the armor class of steel and Kevlar. There will also be some clothing for achievement and awards, to give players yet another goal in the game.
Throughout the demo, we saw blue honeycomb barriers that players went through. These, we were told, are really exploit prevention mechanisms, to prevent players from rushing one place or another, or getting through areas by exploiting the death mechanic. Yes, there will be some form of resurrection.
The Secret World consists of three factions that cooperate to save the world but which also are rivals. Your choice of faction will determine not only your starting experience but the story you encounter in the world, and PvP mini-maps will be available for the factions to strive against each other. These are all named for various wonders, real and imagined. A few were revealed, the Battle for Eldorado, Stonehenge and Shambala.
Finally, we were told that there would be a crafting system and that the business model had yet to be determined. That was it for the demo and Q&A for the day. A few jokes about the models requiring dental work plus a few reminders that the game is still in alpha and has many reveals left in store. If you ask me, there are few MMOs set in a current alternate reality world, and The Secret World is looking good.