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The Secret World Interviews: The Same But Different

By William Murphy on July 21, 2011

I’ve been watching those videos IGN posted from the recent EA Showcase event in California.  In them, Funcom’s The Secret World showed a nice revealing look at the game’s dungeon content and how players can expect those sorts of adventures to go.  We got a lot of detail on the class-system, and a lot of detail on the story-presentation.  But what’s intriguing me more and more as I look at this footage is the seeming step back towards more standardized MMO combat than Age of Conan.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing.  On the contrary, I’m beginning to think that with their skill system, slant towards the ARG in an MMO, and the modern setting keeping the combat familiar may be the best bet. 

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But familiar doesn’t have to mean drab.

In the walkthrough of the Savage Coast, we met a female Draugh in the middle of some shallow waters.  Electric current ran through the water, and you have to manage to direct yourself, your teammates and the enemies in a way that makes sure you’re not going to be toasted to a crisp while trying to defeat the bad guys.  I know this isn’t exactly something new.  Situational damage pools are something players have been dealing with for a long time in their MMOs.  But seeing a bunch of hip-dressed people wielding machine guns, sledgehammers and magic spells while in an abandoned and destroyed coastal town just sends tingles of anticipation down my spine.  It’s familiar but different.

Players are also allowed to cast spells as they move.  And while it wasn’t expressly focused on whether this is for all skills, let’s for now assume this is the case.  Every spell or skill that you cast can be queued up while moving.  Normally a developer wouldn’t make this feature part of their combat system unless they expected you to move, and something tells me that electrical current is just one of many reasons you won’t be merely standing around while you play whack-a-mole. 

On top of the movement, there seems to be real sense of strategic “skill-deck” building in TSW.  You can equip seven active and seven passive skills at any time, from a list of over 500 unique skills in total.  Think about that for a minute.  While I know there will undoubtedly be a bevy of skills just about everyone uses, a system like this really allows you to build something different from the norm.  You can essentially create brand new classes all by your lonesome, share them with the community, and watch it become “the flavor of the month”.  Additionally, this kind of strategy is one of the reasons the Guild Wars games had such a devoted following.  By giving players a ton of options, even class roles can become something altogether more interesting.  One tank-type player’s loudout will not likely be the same as the next. 

The Savage Coast is The Secret World’s first dungeon.  As such, the combat we saw was largely similar to those battles you might find in any other game. The boss was a large ancient Viking Beserker creature who would randomly clear his agro at points during the fight and charge an unsuspecting player.  He’d also summon zombies during the fight, which would become the primary targets due to their high damage and swarming abilities.  Again, while it wasn’t anything particularly new in terms of mechanics, I came away from these videos with a few positive thoughts.

The first is that the game looks and runs incredibly smooth, which is a whole lot more than we could saw of Age of Conan at the same time during its development.  Also, the skill system, the combat, and the presentation of TSW seem remarkably far along.  I also think that this showcase really gave us a clear expectation for TSW’s action.  It’s not going to break the mold; it’s just going to tweak it and fine-tune it.  And while there’s a part of me that wants nothing more than for every game to come out and completely change the way everything’s done, I know that’s not realistic.  The Secret World has enough bold approaches in the setting, the story, the progression system, and (possibly) the PvP.  I’m glad that at least one part of the game will feel familiar to me.  That means it’ll be all the easier to get lost in the world they’ve created.

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