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MMORPG | Genre:Real Life | Status:Final  (rel 07/03/12)  | Pub:Funcom
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The Secret World Previews: First Ever Hands-On Preview

By Suzie Ford on November 21, 2011

Kingsmouth, Questing, and Battle

On leaving Agartha on Solomon’s Island, players are greeted by “Boon, Last of the Cowboys”. Boon offers players their first quest line on their way to Kingsmouth: Find and kill zombies. I felt sort of like Indiana Jones when I thought, “Zombies? Why did it have to be zombies.” But maybe Funcom is trying to get one of gaming’s more tiresome monster-types out of the way right at the start before introducing players to lesser-known critters. But even saying that, I was very pleased at how the team handled combat. It’s not just “run up and beat the zombies to death” type of combat scenario. I was asked to leap on cars to make the alarms sound which attracted a small horde of zombies. Then I needed to ignite a gasoline can to torch them all the while being careful not to torch myself in the process. That was simply brilliant!

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Charging in and starting swinging isn’t terribly wise either. These zombies could haul arse, that’s no lie and neither do they just hang out waiting for you to beat them to a pulp. This “training area” is alive and these zombies are hungry so watch out!

Questing is accomplished in phases as well. Players can only collect three quests at a time (one main mission, one faction quest and one side quest) but you never feel limited by that as quests are tiered with several objectives that have to be met before the quest is actually completed. This really helps eliminate the “FedEx” feel that so many MMOs have these days.

It’s autumn in Kingsmouth with falling leaves, Jack O’Lanterns, rolling fog and more. According to devs, it will always be Halloween in Kingsmouth without the fun of trick or treating. The town is, or was, once a bastion for the Illuminati and there are signs of them all over. The local minister is even an Illuminati *wink wink* who is a “member of secret forums that don’t show up on Google”. But to quote Boon, Last of the Cowboys, “We gotta stand united against the darkness.”  Townsfolk have been ‘zombified’ by the fog that surrounds the town and the citizens are holed up in a bunker-like area by the sheriff’s office, the quest hub in Kingsmouth.

But don’t think that that’s the only place that quests can be found. Funcom has lovingly scattered quests everywhere so it behooves players to explore. As Joel Bylos said, “We have crafted this world and we want you to enjoy it. We could handhold but we want you to get a feel for the town. TSW isn’t about the endgame. Finish a mission and, if you look around, within 15-20 meters, you’ll find another side quest to launch into if you wish. We have used a light touch to move players through the world.”

Speaking of Google, it’s going to be huge in the game. Because of the way the developers have crafted The Secret World, there isn’t necessarily a straight line running from the quest NPC and the place to solve that quest. There are obscure references to conspiracy theories that players will have to look up on Google. In fact, developers have plans to have an in-game capability for players to access Google for research to help them finish quests. Now how cool is that?

Another innovative twist to the quest system is the ability for players to make incorrect decisions. That’s right: You can totally blow it and have to go back to figure out what you did wrong. In one quest that my partner and I were working on, we had to examine paintings in the Kingsmouth Town Hall. Each painting gave clues to possible solutions for the quest we were working on. However, as we finally tracked down the last of the clues, we were basically told that this didn’t yield the results we needed and that we should go back and try a different painting. For those who like really linear play, this will be frustrating, I’m sure.

Let’s face it: The way Funcom has designed The Secret World, actual employment of gray matter is going to be required. Thinking, research and intelligent play are going to be requirements of TSW, that’s for sure. Interestingly, we’ll probably all learn a lot too. Now if we can just keep from becoming paranoid!

We spent over three hours in and around Kingsmouth and I know that I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the available quests there. In fact, we only experienced a small portion of Solomon’s Island. When we were told we needed to move on, a collective groan rose from the players. It’s that good. But move on we did.

Multiplayer Dungeons

After wrenching us away from Kingsmouth, a group of us was paired up with one of the dev team and sent to the Polaris dungeon. What’s really cool is that there is, as with all parts of TSW, a cinematic story that goes along with the acquisition of the dungeon quest. We boarded our helicopter and off we went.

Dungeons in TSW are a lot of fun. Like player quests, dungeons have multiple objectives and multiple bosses to beat. Even the “normal” monsters are no walk in the park. Everything inside was tough! Funcom has created the dungeons with an emphasis on teamwork and on strategy. In our first foray into Polaris, we were obliterated pretty fast by the first mini boss when the water became electrified.

Oh…that’s what all those small islands were for, huh? Luckily, dying in to a mini boss doesn’t knock you out of the dungeon for good. Players are re-spawned and can rejoin the fight. There is a caveat to that, however, in that players dying to the final boss are then out of the fight for good, or at least until the entire party is wiped out. Luckily, dead players aren’t kicked out of the dungeon but are held in an area nearby until the entire party is wiped or the final boss is defeated. If the party wipes, everyone can regroup and try again.

The final boss in Polaris was MONSTROUS! Not only was he gigantic, but he packed a wallop to end all wallops. We could bang away at him for a time before he unleashed his sentries. If we were spotted by either the sentries or the boss during this phase, it was pretty much insta-death for everyone. The hard part was taking out the sentries before they could alert the boss. This had to be done by ranged fighters as we found out to our detriment.

Smaller dungeons are also being crafted for individual players. One we got a small peek at is called Blue Ridge Mine and is a sabotage mission. Interestingly, it all takes place in the dark with players having to find and wear a miner’s helmet for light. Additionally, while it’s considered a side mission, it helps fill in a part of the overarching storyline. The mine was the site of a terrible catastrophe in the 70s and that catastrophe directly affects what’s happening in today’s world in Kingsmouth.

We also got a brief look at the Akhenaten Pyramid where players will be able to fight the Black Pharaoh. It’s a journey downward through an ankh shaped hole, with each downward level representing a phase of the dungeon.

Sadly my team wasn’t able to take down the final boss in the Polaris dungeon though other teams managed to do so. The reward is pretty awesome. On finishing, rather than just being auto-magically transported back to Kingsmouth, the team re-enters the helicopter for a celebratory flight back….or not? Guess you’ll have to play it to find out.

Player vs. Player

PvP in The Secret World will happen. With three factions battling for control of the world, how could it not happen? One way that players will be able to take part in massive PvP factional confrontation is through areas like the location we were teased with. Up to 50 players per faction will battle for control of locations within this ancient citadel and fight to gain control of graveyards and other strategic locations. In addition, the zone features four temples that factions will battle for control over. The faction with control over the most temples will receive some nice buffs. But what makes this compelling is the fact that these zones are persistent. It’s not a map that is played over and over in single-match combat but is rather something that needs to be guarded jealously from the other two factions.

We were given the opportunity to play in the Eldorado PvP arena (a more traditional match-made PvP game). Teams from each faction were present and the objective is for teams to capture and hold relics. It’s a variation on capture the flag but with three factions in the mix, it’s a battle royal!

The Eldorado map features the ruins of ancient temples with above ground locations, collapsed stairways, partial rooms to hide relics in and more. The key here is to split the team correctly and leave enough members to guard the relics your team has in its possession. There is a lot of strategy required and it’s guaranteed that it will take avid PvPers a long time to figure out the best strategies and locations for each map.

Interestingly, while waiting in the queue for matches to begin, there is an open PvP area in the lobby. Players can head into the arena for free for all matches against any and all takers. The only objective here is to kill, kill, and kill!

Final Thoughts

To say that I’m impressed with The Secret World is an understatement. I not only liked the mechanics of combat, those things that make any MMO an MMO, but I adored character progression and am beyond amazed at the way that Funcom has created a “thinking player’s game”. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn, so much to discover, it’s almost (but not quite!) too much altogether.  The Secret World is something new and different on the MMO scene today. With launch less than six months away, my guess is that TSW is going to take the world by storm and set new standards for excellence in gameplay and engagement in an increasingly tired industry.

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