WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
All storyline and most main quests will involve cut scenes and voice acting. The quests are tiered, taking you one step at a time and although technically linear, did not feel that way as each part was an integral part of the other. We went out into the sands and along the way killed a few giant scorpions to start, testing out the builds, the strength of our characters and mainly, learning how to play the game. We were all experienced MMO players but this game still made us think. Hints and clues are given, and if locating the NPC wasn’t part of the quest, a handy indicator showed direction and distance of the next step in your active quest.
According to Joel, Egypt will be experienced about 60 hours into the game. Regular Mobs here were all rated about 3 skull icons on up to 4. This is about the hardest general and quest mobs we could expect to encounter outside of dungeons.
One of the quests had us observing and investigating villagers that might be cultists. As good little MMO players, what did we do, but go out and whack every Mob that had “cultist” in their names before we looked at each other and discussed what we were doing wrong when we did not get a quest update. Our handler, Brent grinned and hinted that we needed to go “around the village” as the quest text mentioned. Lo and behold, we found a number of “Suspicious Villagers” walking in a general direction. We followed them and were stopped at a gateway with the message to the effect of “Uhhh… we wouldn’t suggest you went in there dressed THAT way! What’s wrong with you?”
Okay… now was the time to start whacking cultists. Once properly equipped, we snuck in with the rest.
In another quest, we got complacent after the last “follow that Mob” quest and got too close to the NPC we were tailing, and he took off at a run. After brief panic, backing off, and then having to find him again, we learned our lesson. The named guys have much better AI.
The quests are varied. Some steps are incredibly straight forward, like delivering a note, some steps required you to follow, observe or solve a puzzle. Most do not lead you out there by the hand. We had to find a particular shipping trunk in a warehouse and open it when presented with a 9-digit keypad. How? Well, one of our group members found the security cameras and we accessed the tapes. We saw our pigeon approach a certain trunk and we heard four tones as he depressed keys on the keypad.
“Your tone-deaf players are going to hate you, you know?” I mentioned as I hung on to the tone intervals in my head. It took me two tries as I had to return to the tapes to get the starting tone right, and passed the number to my group mates.
The investigative quest was a doozy. We went through several steps and finally, all wound up at the same place, trying to access a computer. Clicking the password hint, we figured it had to do with the dead guy we found and his name tag with his security level, ‘Gold-Bug.’ “The Gold-Bug is written by Poe, guys,” one of the group said, as we fired up the in-game browser and all ended up on the Wikipedia page trying to figure it out. “Classic Literature.” “Common name.” lots of mutterings were heard from the group until I stumbled upon the answer, and with the help of the cryptogram, figured out the password. I could spoil it completely here, but won’t.
Combat & Dungeons
We tried a few more quests, learning to work together as a group and trying out different abilities and builds. I tried out a Blades and Elementalist combination and liked it as a solo build. As a group, the Warrior and Elementalist worked very well with multiple mobs. He would pull with an AE snare, I laid down an AE dot and the rest cleaned them up while he tanked the boss of the group. Finally we went to the dungeons, with Brent cackling merrily away. The Ankh and Hell 2 were the two group dungeons we would attempt today.
In general group play, we did not actually require a dedicated healer, but in a dungeon, we would. We switched out our group make up to a tank, a healer and 3 DPS. One with a rifle, and the other two of us were finger-waggly types. After a harrowing first attempt where we died like rats, we realized that our healer’s build wasn’t maxed out (no healing chakras were equipped) we also spent the time examining our own builds, with our rifle guy deciding to spend some of his ability points on blood magic for back up healing, and switched out abilities. I went full Elementalist except for a close range AE stun with my blade, depending on my elite skill to dish out the damage.
The dungeons in The Secret World are progressive, each stage introducing the players to the mobs that will be encountered in harder versions at the next, with the boss likely to display all characteristics and then some. At each stage are also anima wells which allow players to switch out abilities.
Without spoiling the dungeons completely, I will say that we enjoyed them thoroughly. We also beat them as we checked loot and called out to other group members if there were weapons and Chakras suited to their build. Our ranged DPS giggled insanely over the rifle he picked up. Cuss words were tossed about as bosses called upon minions or laid moving traps that you had to avoid. Big red shiny patterns that meant a bomb was incoming and the things chased after you (or seemed to), rolling balls of destructive horror, minions that buffed (and buffs were permanent), thank goodness for the ability to cast on the run. You just need line of sight. No casting or firing behind your head.
“I need two of you to run up and tag Dr. Klein. Oops, one of you fell? Never mind, one will do. Okay. Come back down. We need to clean this up.”
Yes! We actually did it! Then the ground began to shake. Furiously.
“Okay, we have to go kill Dr. Klein now.”
Group communication is going to be key in these dungeon boss fights. We were constantly communicating the status of our skills with cool downs. The tank telling the boss tricks to come as he was closest to the action and could better see the tells, the mezzed players calling for a break, spotting buffing minions, etc. We came out of there complimenting each other’s playing skills as we truly rocked as a group.
The Secret World will challenge players and that is what Funcom intends, and not only in building the better character and who’s the better twitch combat player, it will challenge players intellectually. It felt to me a hearkening back to the RPGs of early PC gaming which sent you to the library to seek answers to a puzzle. Games like Myst and The Dagger of Amon Ra. Indeed, Joel mentioned Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines as a touchstone.
There is little doubt that once the game launches, there will be spoilers aplenty for the investigative quests and “best” builds will also abound. For the MMO player that enjoys adventure RPGs and being challenged by a game, The Secret World should be tops on your list of games to play in 2012.