Hello everyone! I'm Graeme Lennon, the designer in charge of putting together The Secret World's upcoming first raid, the Manhattan Exclusion Zone. Before this I designed Hell Fallen and The Facility, which I hope you've been enjoying!
Like so many things in TSW, this raid was conceptualized a very long time ago, in early pre-production, as a part of the grand vision of the story arc. Imagery based on the events you'll soon be playing through were probably some of the first things you ever saw about the game. My intention was to give players the feeling they were actually playing through some of our early teaser videos, that they had truly become the heroes we were showing in those clips. After “fun” and “awesome”, of course. Those always come first!
All the classic TSW themes are here. A modern, familiar location gone horribly wrong. A nightmarish creature of madness and myth. The world as we know it on the verge of apocalyptic destruction, and a few heroes standing against the dark days (armed with magic bullets, flaming swords and kung fu)!
ESCAPE TO NEW YORK
The great threats to our planet, no longer contained in deniable, out-of-the-way locations, are now going to start bursting up in the great centres of the world. The raid takes place in New York City, and as you know that we're also working on a full-scale Tokyo location. Shit, as they say, is getting real, and the Council of Venice can no longer pretend that these problems exist only in small communities, deep deserts and hidden valleys.
This story begins in Brooklyn, where Dave Screed's contacts are frantically telling him that something amazing is happening in Midtown. The bridges and tunnels have been closed off (“emergency structural repairs”) and the major news outlets (all, of course, owned by You-Know-Who) have nothing to report, but the columns of black smoke visible across the East River are harder to suppress. Your first task will be trying to find a way into the Manhattan Exclusion Zone and figure out what's going on (Screed's Urban Exploration hobby may be able to help with that).
That's probably enough detail to set you on the path without giving too much away. Of course, more surprises await...
CHALLENGE AND REWARDS
Since this is our first raid, and because it relates to the central story and lore, we decided to try and find a way to provide the level of challenge people expect from raid content while keeping the content accessible to a large proportion of players.
As a result, the statistical difficulty has not been balanced around full end-game gear. There's a high degree of mechanical complexity involved (believe me, it's not easy), but the numbers, pacing and systems requirements have been pitched to the around same level as the Tier-1 Nightmares (Polaris, Hell Raised, Darkness War).
And, because it's a 10-player instance, as long as a few people know the encounters and tactics, even players with Elite gear should be able to get through it, with some help from their friends.
Don't worry though, there are achievements and rewards for completing it in ways that will absolutely require perfect coordination and the best equipment available in the game, so you hardcore Master Planners should have something to keep you busy as well!
The rewards are distributed in the same way as in dungeons. You'll personally receive a special reward from the mission the first time you complete the raid, and then a repeatable reward every time after that. The final boss drops loot (of course!), and we have something special planned for that, which I won't spoil now!
There will be a 32 hour cooldown on accessing the raid. However, unlike in Nightmare dungeons this is only applied when you actually succeed in downing the final boss. This means you're not restricted on your number of attempts and there's never an excuse not to help out your cabalmates!
SPEAKING OF CHALLENGES
TSW’s open skill system and unusually horizontal progression make designing a raid extremely challenging. How do you provide meaningful tank challenges when potentially everyone could be taunting? How can healing be kept meaningful over a long fight with renewable resources? We faced some of these when designing the launch dungeons, of course, but more players and higher expectations make everything harder.
I started doing the initial design work before launch, to make sure we had time to get it right. While we kept a close eye on players' progress through the Nightmare dungeons, I spent a lot of time talking with the group content teams on Age of Conan and Anarchy Online, making sure I was absorbing the lessons they had learned over years of creating this type of experience. And then lots and lots of iteration! The entire team has been helping me test over the last two months, and I'm extremely grateful for all the feedback and testing provided by our volunteers on the TestLive server.
So, I think we've hit a good balance of requiring specific roles, and challenging all roles in various different ways through the encounters. Get ready to flex your build-making muscles, and be prepared for a long, varied, challenging, truly epic fight.
THE JAPANESE CONNECTION
It's no accident that I mentioned Tokyo above. It's all connected, you see. All of it. And the pieces are starting to come together. Remember your vision? Sarah and her companions fighting for their lives in the subways beneath the city? The seeds planted in that event are beginning to sprout, and warriors from all factions will have to come together and fight if we are to be saved.
Dark days are coming.
Vaslav on the forums, @graeme on Twitter.