With the TSW beta registration process finally open, after an interesting couple of days last weekend of technical issues, internet drama and conspiracy theories, I’ve started giving more thought to factions. Specifically: which one I’ll play – in beta if I get in, but definitely at launch – and which one my friends will choose.
TSW will have three factions instead of two, not counting a number of (as far as we know) NPC-only factions, and as I’ve written before I’m a firm fan of anything more than two factions, especially when it comes to world PvP. But even looking at the dynamics of the discussions on various TSW forums, not to mention on the forums of my own guild, it’s obvious that the factions set up for The Secret World are already resonating for people on more than just a PvP level. People are taking sides, espousing ideologies, and making arguments for or against what their side and the others may or may not be up to; it’s not quite role-playing (or doesn’t have to be), but it’s fascinating to see people immerse themselves in their faction’s culture and plots, in some cases for years already.
For one thing all the factions are shades of grey. Depending on your viewpoint the Templars are either dangerous zealots or soldiers of the light; Illuminati are selfish bastards or enlightened Randians, or just plain aware of the harsh realities of a world in which squamous monsters are starting to come out of the sewers; and the Dragon are either immature anarchists or long-sighted proponents of overall balance as the only true means of long-term survival.
The design of each faction leaves room for characters of both extremes and for the full spectrum of people who are somewhere in the middle; and, interestingly, the pseudo-real world setting seems to encourage people to bring far more of themselves into their faction choices – or to make a conscious role-playing choice to be something quite different. There’s more to it than simply choosing a white hat or a black hat, which ends up being rather meaningless in play anyway in most games (most notably WoW). I think the faction dynamics and faction secrets are going to prove both entertaining and enlightening, and should keep players busy with each other as well as with the game world around them.
But there is one small problem: cabals (guilds in TSW) are tied to a given faction and thus all the members of a cabal have to be of the same faction. I’ve already read arguments along the lines of “Well, make your friends choose your faction” or “Drop those friends that don’t want to do what you do” – but it’s not that simple, especially when it comes to guilds. Most especially when it comes to large guilds.
Many of my MMO-friends will pick other factions than I do, and we’ll work it out if we really want to play together on the same side; that’s not a problem. It apparently won’t matter for PvE, since the factions nominally work together against the meta-threats, but it will be an issue for PvP because that pits the factions against each other. But guilds, as opposed to just gaming acquaintances, are composed of members who consciously decide they want to play a game together, and that generally means in the same faction. It’s very difficult to split a guild across factions in a game, even when there are only two main sides; I’ve seen it happen in a number of games with the guild I’ve been in since my earliest MMO days in Asheron’s Call. We don’t play AC anymore, but we’ve played a whole bunch of games as a guild since then and keeping people together when there are sides to pick isn’t easy. When those sides are mutually exclusive in guild terms, as TSW will be, it becomes a major headache. And when those sides have very clear personality, RP and storyline draws that actually matter to the player, it makes me wonder how we’ll manage the transition to TSW without jamming square pegs into round holes.
Because we’re going to have to decide: do we force everyone to be in a single faction? If so, which one? That’s going to be one hell of a debate, and our guild isn’t even as huge as some of the ones I could name out there. But if even 20 of us decide to play TSW full-time, you can bet your ass we’ll be more or less evenly split as to which faction we should pick. It makes me uncomfortable, because I don’t want to force a bunch of people to play a faction that’s less appealing to them or be forced to do it myself.
Some people have already breezily told me to just make an alt or two, but making alts isn’t really an answer. TSW’s character design means it probably won’t be necessary to make alts in order to experience most of what’s available to characters. I’m an altoholic, but I still plan to resist the lure of alts in TSW for as long as I can, because I think they’d only divide my focus and this is one game in which I truly don’t want my focus to be muddied up. I don’t even think I’ll really need alts, and that’s saying something from someone who tends to make her first alt on Day 2 of playing a game.
Besides, non-guild alts make guild life difficult in most cases. Anything that splits a player’s focus away from their guild tends to weaken said guild – and if I can say this as a rather individualistic, self-sufficient player (sociable though I am), you can be sure it’s a concern for those who really do feel more comfortable with a guild structure and guild friends around them. The more alts there are – in TSW, the more people are playing alts in other cabals/factions – the weaker the guild bonds become; it’s pretty much inevitable, and while the out-of-game guild may not suffer much (most of us have been members for 5 or 10 years), the in-game cabal most certainly will suffer and might wither and die.
Splitting the guild among the factions is basically the same as making a bunch of alts; not quite, because we can still communicate on Vent and we have our forums and site, but almost. Three cabals will be a lot weaker in terms of guild bonds than just the one, but it may have to be the way we end up rolling because the only alternative is to force our members to join a faction they might not be drawn to.
It’s going to be interesting to say the least, and I’m sure it’s an issue most of the non-tiny guilds are already thinking about. The real effects of any choice made prior to launch won’t even be obvious until some weeks after launch: a number of people will almost certainly decide that the char/faction choice they made at the beginning wasn’t a good fit and will want to reroll, but if they change factions that’s going to entail losing cabal membership.
We’re not entirely without options. There are plenty of ways to communicate out of game (notably voice chat), and we may be able to create cross-faction chat channels of our own within the game itself. It may even be an interesting experience to see how various guilds adapt to the requirements of this new game. But it’s not going to be without arguments and I suspect it won’t be without some drama.
Which is probably exactly what those damned Illuminati were after in the first place.
(Editor’s Note: The Illuminati will shape the world. Down with the Dragon, and fie on the Templars. PS – Don’t tell Isabelle I wrote this. Oh… crap.)