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MMORPG | Genre:Real Life | Status:Final  (rel 07/03/12)  | Pub:Funcom
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The Secret World Column: Make or Break Features

By Suzie Ford on June 28, 2012

The popular gamer notion is that developers have about a half hour to make the case for their games before players will either love or hate it. That’s not to say that this is a fair assumption, just that it simply is what many of us are like in these days of instant gratification. So taking this notion and applying it to next week’s release of Funcom’s The Secret World, there are several key areas that players will be looking at right from the start that will either make or break the game.

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Character Creation

Character creation is the first thing that any player gets to do when entering a game. For many, me included, it’s a definite “make or break” moment as I generally have a character look that I like to see when playing MMOs. It’s terribly frustrating to me if choices in creation are limited in such a way to thwart that ability.

I will admit that when playing earlier versions of TSW, I was sorely disappointed in character creation. Since then, however, there have been some improvements and Funcom has promised to deliver even more. Let’s hope they keep that promise. Last week I was on a journalist’s tour of the Transylvania area and was very pleasantly surprised by the premade character I was given. If it’s an indication of the changes in store for launch in this area, I will be very happy.

I consider this neutral for Funcom. They must deliver here.

Navigation

Navigation in any MMO is an important aspect of the “make or break” notion. If players can’t find their way in the world, it will become a frustrating place and many will quit. That said, most of us do not want to be led around “by the nose” with auto-pathing, etc. Still, it’s important that players be able to get around, if not with ease, at least with competence.

One of the more interesting things I discovered during my tour last week is that each zone’s map will be different and “applicable” to the region. For instance, the map of Transylvania was made to look like a very old map complete with archaic Romanian wording on it. The map of Kingsmouth, however, is more like a tourist’s map. Honestly, I think this is a stroke of genius and will give players even more to think about in The Secret World, so-called the thinking man’s MMO.

I consider this a win for Funcom.

The Skill Wheel

I have to admit that the vaunted skill wheel with its myriad skill combinations has been troubling to me simply due to its complexity.  Many MMO players simply don’t have the time to adequately work the wheel in all its minutia to make effective combinations. MMO players who have not done their homework may become easily frustrated by the inability to make the “right” choices in order to be an effective player. Trial and error may or may not appeal to many.

That said Funcom has tried to help out by creating decks, basically premade character archetypes that guide players in making characters that can survive in the harsh world. They’ve also added a nifty side bonus with the special outfit that players receive on completing the deck according to its plan. As long as new players are aware of the decks and can easily access them, Funcom should score a win in this one.

Some will say that this is catering to casuals and perhaps they’re right to a degree. But even so saying, there’s nothing holding back experimenters and it will be fascinating to see what things crop up on the ‘Net with regard to custom builds.

Grouping

Players like to play together. They like to be able to find their friends and find them easily. Players like to quest together. Funcom has made The Secret World accessible to players of all stripes in that it can be played by a single player but I found it to be infinitely more fun when playing in a group. In the Transylvania area, we were in a group of six and no battle we fought was a walk in the park. And there are compelling reasons to want to group: Dungeons, lairs, investigations, etc.

Some have expressed dismay that a group finder tool will not be implemented at launch. Funcom has promised a post launch add so we can only hope. Even given the ‘classless’ nature of The Secret World, players will probably still fall into archetypical roles when entering dungeons.

I consider this a win with the caveat that it must be added to stay in the plus column.

Questing

Questing is the meat and potatoes of any game and The Secret World is poised to set the MMO-niverse on its collective ear. Not only is Funcom fundamentally changing the way quests are accepted and play out, they are including never-before-seen ways of completing quests.

Players will only be able to take on five quests at a time: three area quests, one daily quest, and one story mission. In many ways, Funcom is striking at the heart of MMO questing by eliminating ‘quest hubs’ and a player’s natural desire to gather all quests and run out to complete them. But even limiting players to five quests isn’t a bad thing as most quests are tiered to contain a whole bunch of “sub objectives”. Additionally, players won’t have to run back to the quest giver to get the reward. This is a game set in the modern era and players will receive quest rewards via PDA, a really nice touch.

If that’s not enough, questing in The Secret World is interesting and informative. Players will actually want to read/hear quest text as many times its critical to gathering the right intel for completion.

I consider this a definite win for Funcom. Simply put, this is the shining star of the entire game.

Combat Animations

Combat animations have been haunting The Secret World since journalists were finally given the go-ahead to write about the game. Let’s face it: Animations have been downright clumsy though Funcom says that much of it is due to the “untethering” of a player’s upper body which sometimes causes strange looks when in combat.

Funcom has again promised to deliver better than what’s been seen up to now. My visit to Transylvania last week seemed to have a lot of improvement from the earlier versions I’d played. Let’s hope that devs deliver.

I consider this neutral pending specific information about how animations can be / are being improved.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, Funcom has a lot going for it with The Secret World. The game will appeal to gamers looking for something very much outside the norm. Funcom has promised that the game will deliver and I, for one, think they will do so. How quickly they respond to player concerns will be the breaking point between a wild runaway success or a niche game. The earliest moments in a game are going to be critical but it looks like, at least on virtual paper, Funcom will be able to bring it home at launch. We’ll keep you posted!

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