Much was made of BioWare’s decision to approach the ‘fourth pillar’ of story with Star Wars: The Old Republic by undertaking the massive task to create BioWare style cinematics (complete with dialogue wheel) and full voiceover for the entirety of the game’s quests. Funcom is also putting a significant focus on story in The Secret World and today we’ll be comparing the story experience from both games based on our recent time playing in the The Secret World beta.
In Star Wars: The Old Republic, each class has their own distinct storyline where your decisions are your own and only impact your storyline. The game worlds themselves are mostly comprised of your typical themepark quest hubs filled with the typical lot of quest givers with their own problems for you to deal with. Additionally, there are world story arcs on each planet that follow you through the various hubs and give you a cohesive local tale to follow. The various quests outside of your main story can be completed in groups and the aforementioned BioWare dialogue wheel takes groups into account by allowing each member to select their response and rolling to see which line is spoken (and which decision is ultimately made) though players receive Dark Side and Light Side points for their intended decisions, regardless of the outcome.
The Secret World does things a bit differently, even from Funcom’s previous game, Age of Conan, which also featured dialogue choices. In The Secret World, quests are broken down into seven types: story, action, item, investigation, sabotage, group/dungeon, and PvP. Your story is based on your faction (Illuminati, Templar, or Dragon) and will guide you through the world Funcom has created. The other mission types are mostly self-explanatory, though sabotage missions are notable in that they are generally geared towards stealthily completing objectives (such as avoiding surveillance cameras). Each mission is broken up into several tiers (sets of objectives) that must be completed in sequential order and you can only have a limited amount of each type of mission. If you attempt to take another action mission while you’re currently on one, for example, you’ll be asked if you want to pause your progress and pick up the new mission.
Most of the missions you pick up will feature fully voiced cinematics, though your own character is the Dragon Age-style silent protagonist who just tends to make faces. There are no dialogue decisions to be made. The story is basically linear. With that said, the writing is actually pretty snappy and often funny, and the voice actors I’ve had to listen to so far have done a pretty admirable job conveying their lines with believability. That last bit is important because the basic premise of the game, while set in modern times, is a bit contrived to say the least.
While The Secret World doesn’t offer dialogue choices or a fully voiced player character, the story plays out in a way that is probably more befitting of an MMO game. Many players complained that BioWare’s method of delivering story in SWTOR really bogged down the MMO experience, with the long drawn out conversations (especially when multiple players are involved) eventually forcing players to ‘spacebar’ through and skip the dialogue. The Secret World’s cinematics are generally shorter (outside of your main story) and story is often delivered in many other ways than just your straightforward cinematic, which brings me to my next point…
The game’s HUD features a unique almost augmented reality style visual style where objects or characters that can grant quests or other information are highlighted with small thumbnails. Popping out the thumbnail by clicking on it will expose the quest to you so you can accept it. While this is mostly just visually different from the standard exclamation point denotation for quest givers or quest objects, you’ll also be able to peek ahead at other quests the character offers even though you haven’t completed the pre-requisite quests in the chain just yet.
Mission givers will give you the context and goals for your quest through cinematics, but you can also pop out a dialogue interface with them using the thumbnail element that allows you to click different subjects to ask the NPC about. Doing so will get the NPC to spout off some voiced lines on the selected subject, but doesn’t lock you into an actual conversation with them. If you get bored at any time you can simply wander away or select another subject.
The responses to each subject are often bite-sized bits of audio, but if you feel so inclined you can click on the same topic multiple times to get the NPC to continue. Eventually, they’ll run out of stuff to say on a particular topic and the game will let you know by marking that topic with a green checkmark. This isn’t some mind-blowing innovation for RPGs or anything, but the dialogue system combined with the cinematics make for a more flexible way of delivering enough story for players who aren’t as invested to get an idea of what’s going on while also allowing those who want a bit more meat to dig deeper if desired.
If you found yourself frustrated or bored with SWTOR’s way of doing story and are a bit apprehensive about yet another MMO bringing story to the forefront, I think you can rest assured that The Secret World probably hits more of a middle ground. If you’re looking for more information on the game, be sure to check out our blow-out of preview coverage from today and check back next week for even more The Secret World goodness!