My wife’s not what you would probably call a “gamer”. Sure enough she’s played games over the course of her life, and she’s once sported a healthy (but passing) interest in social games. She’s also fond of the sort of more active titles you’ll find on the Wii and Xbox Kinect. But MMORPGs? She leaves that stuff to her husband, and rightly so. I’d never wish her the sort of unhealthy obsession with virtual worlds I find myself making a living with. I’m nerd enough for the both of us, thank you. But that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in my passion. She’s gone to events with me, taken notes at panels, and last year even met Ragnar and the Funcom crew working on The Secret World while we were at New York Comic Con.
To my surprise, at the Funcom panel last year, Megan’s ears perked up and her eyes grew wide when she saw that TSW would be a horror and conspiracy themed MMO. Suddenly the genre was about more than elves and orcs, and she found herself intrigued by the prospect of a game that put you in the real world, battling things with not only your weapons but your puzzle-solving skills and investigative mentality. Megan’s a crime-show addict, and the thought of a game that begs you to follow the clues and not just kill things was enough to make her want to play The Secret World, not to mention the darker more modern setting.
In short? The Secret World beta was the first time I’ve convinced my beloved non-gamer wife to sit down and play an MMORPG. How did someone who’s never played a game like this take to arguably one of the more complicated titles to come out in ages? Read on and find out. The answer might surprise you.
Character Creation and Cinematic Intro
Firstly, let it be known that Megan chose a Templar of her own volition, not through my poking and prodding. What can I say; my wife is beautiful and classy. Smart woman. Immediately after selecting her faction, Megan noticed the distinct lack of character creation options in TSW. Now, by now we’ve all heard how the team is planning on adding more choices in before launch, so I won’t belabor the point. Fact is, Megan’s been helping me make characters look good for years now and as a hair stylist and fashionista herself tends to know what works and what doesn’t. Which leads me to her first big no-no in the game: THE HAIR.
She may be predisposed to looking at the style and cuts of hair in character creation, but she’s right when she says that the choices and configuration of the dos in TSW are simply lacking. More length, more colors, and more styles in general should be there if you’re aiming to give players true freedom over how they look. Overall, while Megan was satisfied with her character’s starting looks, knowing she could change them later, she felt like the ability to adjust the body shape and size and more options were lacking. If you see a Megan “Widget” Murphy running about the beta press server wearing a dark gray tank and army pants, that’d be my lovely bride.
The intro cinematic did impress her though. What I find interesting, as a side note, is that while a curmudgeon for graphics like me finds some of the bodies in TSW oddly blocky, Megan didn’t seem to notice them. Instead, she loved the motion-capture animations and the general tone and feel of the story. In her own words, “I want to know more about the factions, I want to dig deeper into the Templars and meet more people and learn more about my powers.” There were only a couple of qualms she had with the cinematics: that they lasted a bit too long and kept her from getting to the game and that she didn’t like how her character never played an active part in them.
That last part is probably most interesting. Here’s a person who’s never played an MMORPG, and only knows about them because she made the terrible choice of marrying a geek. And yet she picked up on something that many gamers also are consistently aware of: story’s more effective when your character has a voice and a choice. Her words precisely: “Why don’t I talk and interact with people? This is a game based on emotions and roleplaying. It’s supposed to be like real life, scary and serious too. I have all these amazing powers to learn and cope with… why can’t I say something?”
Early Steps into The Secret World
There was one thing above everything else Megan said that stood out to me greatly during her brief foray into TSW. During the Tokyo Flashback tutorial I asked her how she felt as she fought through claustrophobic subways and battled back filth-infested demons. She said, and I quote: “I feel better than I do in real life. I feel more powerful. I can see why people play these games… like an escape.” She felt tense in Tokyo. Not scared, but on edge. She wondered why the filth was infesting the subway, she wondered what role her character would play in it all. She found herself wanting to play more, when just prior to the experiment she was loathing sitting down at my desk to play something she felt was too much “game” for her tastes.
She picked up the controls surprisingly quick for someone who’s never used WASD movement before. At first she had some trouble running into walls, but by the time Tokyo was over she’d mastered movement and not once did she die even though she’d just been introduced to tab targeting. I know Tokyo’s the tutorial, but this is someone who’d never played an MMO before. Apparently easing people into TSW is going to work well. And for a niche game like what Funcom is creating, I find it compelling that they’ve been able to intrigue someone like my wife into actually wanting to play.
She brought up a very good point about the tutorial period though (which lasts roughly an hour or more, to get through Tokyo and your starting area). She loves the idea of being rewarded in games. It’s why she plays any games at all (to get new swords in Fruit Ninja for example, or high scores in Just Dance). What compelled her to play more in TSW is the thought of new powers, new clothes, and unlocking more secrets about the story. But as she played the tutorial, it started to drag on and she didn’t really get “rewarded” at all. It’s an interesting question about TSW. No experience is earned towards your actual character development for upwards of 90 minutes. I didn’t think about it this way before, but it’s a valid point. Should the game reward you sooner? Probably. It would help get TSW’s hooks into you earlier. Start giving clothes, items, and AP and SP right off the bat? You’ll get people into the progression system sooner.
The Newbie’s Overall Thoughts
In the end, several things stood out to Megan about TSW. The story, intrigue, and mystery grabbed her immediately. She loved that despite her noobish nature, she was able to pick it up and get into it, even if there was a lot more to learn. She also felt that the scenery and setting were haunting and beautiful. She loved the filth-ridden people in Tokyo. But on the flip-side she disliked the character creation and especially the hair. She felt the tutorial was too long and wished it would reward you sooner while spending less time on cinematics. Lastly, she also wished her character had a voice. She felt the combat was fun, and frenetic, despite what Suzie and I have stated previously. She loved the powers she was given with the shotgun, and even imagined herself using the fire and an assault rifle if and when she plays more.
But what’s the most important part of this little experiment? I asked Megan if she would play the game. Her answer: “Yes, absolutely. I want to see Widget progress and get stronger, look cooler. And I want to learn more about the story and the factions.” That right there is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Progression and story are The Secret World’s strengths, and they’ve managed to convince an MMO-virgin that maybe these games are onto something after all.