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The Secret World Column: The Best and Worst of TSW

By William Murphy on May 14, 2012

With the first full beta weekend of The Secret World behind us, we thought it’s time to list out the best possible aspects of Funcom’s latest game, and the parts that we feel need work before the game launches in June.  Now we're not trying to start fires in the forums or anything.  So please try to keep the resulting discussions below civil.  This is just our honest feelings on what works grandly in The Secret World and what falls a little flat.

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THE GOOD STUFF

1.) The Setting - Funcom has always been Class-A when it comes to nailing the aesthetic and settings of their worlds.  From Anarchy Online to Dreamworld and Age of Conan, very few developers can compete with Funcom when it comes to capturing atmosphere of their source material or the creative vision of their writers.  The Secret World is no different.  Though we've only thus far seen bits and pieces, everything from Agartha to Kingsmouth has been gorgeously rendered and detailed.  The sense of foreboding in the latter is something we don't see much of in MMORPGs.

2.) The Skill Wheel - Whoever decided early on in TSW's design process to go with the skill system over the traditional leveling mechanics of modern theme-park MMOs deserves a round of applause.  Sure the skill points and anima points are essentially the same as levels from an "I earned experience and was rewarded with this" standpoint.  But the real kicker comes when you realize that statistical progression is tied only to gear (and not that important) and that someone who has been playing for a week could conceivably compete against someone who has been playing for a year... just so long as their deck is well-thought and their strategy is sound.

3.) The Story - Is it a bit contrived? I mean sure... but isn't just about any story in any game lately? The sheer notion that Ragnar and Dag and the folks at Funcom have been plotting out this game's story for a decade is mind-boggling, and the background, myths tied in, and mysteries laid before you are enough to keep you playing the game even if there as nothing else worthwhile (but there certainly is).  If you like a good yarn in your MMO, The Secret World is looking to deliver.

4.) The Questing - Do you still sometimes get told to kill stuff? Yep. But the story and cinematic presentation give it a boost in the arm.  As does the tiered approach, which has one mission first  tasking you with merely killing a mob, then tracing its trail of blood, and later decoding some mystery scrawled on a napkin in a diner (just an example).  Throw in the missions that have you sneaking through camera-infested security depots, and getting blown up by triggered explosives... and you have a recipe for lots of fun adventuring in The Secret World.

THE BAD STUFF

1.) The Floaty Combat - The skill system is great, its versatility amazing... but there's something missing from the combat.  A real feeling of "oomph" when we hit enemies maybe? Out of all the weapons I personally tried over the past week, the one that felt the best was most definitely the hammer.  But even it had a certain something missing that's hard to put a finger on.  Maybe it's the sound, maybe it's the placeholder animations. But a feeling of impact or visceral connection between the character and its foes. Graphical queues might help, or maybe I'm just too used to TERA.  But the main problem most of us had with TSW this week was the combat.  It works.  It just left us feeling a little flat.

2.) Awkward Animations - The dev team tells us that part of the problem that comes with allowing the characters to run freely while using any skill in the game is that the upper body cannot be tied to the lower body.  This means sometimes the animations will look a little stilted.  But we feel this might actually be part of the problem with the combat feeling somehow off.  Anyway, we're told that the animations will receive a lot of improvement in later builds so we're anxious to see as much.

3.) Character Creation - Another thing that reportedly has a lot more options in later betas, but we have to mention it here.  On the press server, everyone pretty much looked the same.  And in a game that emphasizes players being able to look however they want separately from their stats, we were hoping for a few more options to say the least.  I want to make a real Ron Swanson, darn it. 

One thing that should be mentioned: the core of our problems with The Secret World result to a simple matter of polish.  The crux of the game is absolutely stellar. It's unique and enthralling, and we cannot wait to see how PVP works out later too.  If Funcom can tweak and alter the animations and combat, as well as give us more depth in character creation, I'll be a happy camper.  I can say this, though: despite our misgivings, I can't stop wanting to play The Secret World. And that's what matters. It still hooks you.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.

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