There has been a lot of press lately about Funcom's The Secret World. Many writers are impressed with the modern world setting and at least the theory that all is mysterious and unknown. I must admit that I've been having a great time playing The Secret World. The fact that it truly is a "thinking man's" game is one of TSW's greatest strengths and that's all well and fine since it brings something entirely new to the MMO table.
But there is a part of me that is slightly uneasy with things as they currently stand in The Secret World. It's not the questing. It's not the environments. By all that's holy, it's the combat and the sound. I know. The development team has categorically stated that what we are currently seeing in the closed beta events is not what we will see at launch. I hope that that’s the truth because if it stays as it is, people will not be impressed. In today’s world of short attention spans and throw away gaming, companies have one chance to make an impression on players. It is definitely in Funcom’s best interest to make sure that that first impression is pure win.
So let’s look at a couple of aspects that I believe are must haves for the successful launch of The Secret World: Combat and Sound.
The Sound & the Fury
As I anticipated playing The Secret World this month, I was left all quivery feeling inside just at the thought of getting into an MMO that actually was going to make me think for a change. Knowing how awesome the quest system was purported to be only made me gleefully excited about every aspect of TSW.
But something happened along the way to Nirvana: My character actually had to fight monsters and zombies.
As my bad ass gun-toting Keds-wearing Kalia approached the first zombies in Kingsmouth pulled forth her assault rifle she was met with….the sound of a pea shooter? WTF? Her gun rat-a-tatted and killed said zombies but I was left scratching my head in utter amazement. If I had the ability to make her hold the gun in front of her and stare at it with her mouth hanging open, I certainly would have done just that. And it never improved. She just kept shooting a friggin’ pea shooter assault rifle. Sure, it did the job but…but…but…
“OOMPH matters,” as Bill Murphy told me and I cannot agree more.
Luckily, I can admit that the shotgun was a big relief. I pulled that sucker out when I couldn’t stand the sound of my AR anymore and it’s *BOOM* made me feel much better all in all.
I know what you’re thinking: “Suzie, how damned shallow of you.” You’re probably right. It feels shallow to even write it but a game’s sound does matter. It’s a part of that whole visceral experience thing and aural attraction is, for me at least, huge. If my big ass gun doesn’t sound like a big ass gun, I’m not a happy player.
Luckily there are places in The Secret World where the sound excels, in its soundtrack for instance. Some of the monster sounds that players encounter along the road are eerie and scary. I know that Funcom is up to the task, that’s for sure.
The other place that TSW made me scratch my head was in the combat animations. Luckily, we spoke with Funcom developers about that and they had this to say:
As for animations, our Funcom source explained two things. One is that there are many animations which are not yet final in this build. The second part is that because of the team's decision to allow characters to move while casting skills, they had to untie the upper body from the lower body in the animations. This means there will be times when swinging a sword or using your fist weapons will look odd, but it's the price they've had to pay for allowing players the ability to move while attacking at any time.
All I can say here is THANK YOU to the gods of MMO developers. The way that TSW presents itself in combat is nothing short of…weird. And I’m not the only one to think so. We’ve had a lot of back room discussions here at MMORPG.com about just that and it’s something that we all noticed. That Funcom has a bead on fixing it already is a huge relief.
Going back to that whole “you have one chance to impress your customer” thing, it is hugely critical that Funcom deliver on this. With the untying of characters’ upper bodies, combat will probably still seem a bit odd but if the animations improve overall, we’ll all get used to it, I’m sure.
The other attendant piece of good news is that the first five hours of TSW seem to be expressly for laying the groundwork skills-wise. As you progress through the skill wheel, perhaps concentrating on a single focus arc, you find that combat improves measurably and that it ceases to be, as Bill put it, “builder, builder, builder... finisher”. The Secret World really begins to shine as skill-points are built up.
What’s really refreshing to know is that Funcom is listening and that they have plans to deliver. Let’s hope we start seeing some of the things they've described before the game’s launch. After all, everyone is out there writing and streaming and it will be in everyone’s best interest to see the best that Funcom can offer for The Secret World.