| Deep skill system
Tiered and unique questing
| Lack of initial character customization
Repetitive trash mobs
Polish – 8.5
Before TSW’s release, a lot of people were predicting gloom and doom. Many pointed gleefully at Age of Conan’s rocky start and prognosticated that Funcom would botch The Secret World’s release as well. Let me say this plainly:
They were wrong.
The Secret World’s launch was one of the smoothest I’ve experienced. Sure there were some glitches and bugs but, overall? Not bad at all. That speaks to the intensity with which Funcom concentrated to squash bugs and make sure that server was up to snuff to handle the flood of players incoming both on head start days and on the official launch date. TSW is very highly polished from my perspective. I encountered a few graphical bugs and there were some pretty big quest bugs as well though since I had heard about a few of them, I just opted to skip those quests until such time as they were fixed. Most errors I or other staffers here ran into were of the "annoying" variety, and not game-breaking. Most could also be worked around.
I have read of players experiencing memory leaks and crashes to desktops after a certain amount of time in game. Again, my suspicion is that this is individually based as neither I nor anyone I know of who plays TSW encountered this particular issue. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it doesn’t exist but I did not experience it.
The team has deployed a few hotfixes as well as the first major content update that came with a host of fixes and enhancements. These amply show Funcom’s dedication to continuing to polish TSW. And it's already lightyears ahead of where AOC and AO were at similar ages.
Social – 8.0
Both the in-game and forum communities are very dedicated to The Secret World and there are a lot of friendly players to be found. This is especially handy when you get stuck on a quest and ask for help. Generally speaking, you’ll get more assistance than you probably need but it speaks well to the kindness that’s found in The Secret World.
But building a great social environment is more than just the players in the game. People need to efficiently and easily be able to connect with one another. The Secret World is lacking some of the more interesting tools that other MMOs utilize in order to accomplish this. For instance, a dungeon finder tool would make finding groups that much easier. I say this, of course, fully aware that this is already in the works and will arrive soon. Still, it’s made the first month a bit awkward as far as finding partners for dungeon romps and left a lot of spam in channels that is hard to sort through at times. And it wouldn't hurt to have more than a simple LFG chat channel... again, a UI tool like what you find in City of Heroes or even the recently launched TERA would work wonders. The game can largely be solo'd through the questing, but given the right means to group I'm sure many would.
Additionally, cabal (guild) tools need some improvement to make groups more efficient. I’d love to see a guild calendar and some way for cabals to have a Chronicle page that gives officers and leaders the ability to manage the group there. Heck, I’d even like to see cabal forums embedded inside the Chronicle site as well.
My guess is that over time, Funcom will improve cabal management and improve the in-game chat system as well to give The Secret World an even more cohesive social environment. Plus we know they're already working on a dungeon finder tool. It's been mentioned in the state of the game already.
Innovation – 8.5
There is a LOT to like in The Secret World as far as innovation goes. Sure, there are some things that are much like other MMOs but somehow they don’t come across as just another tired convention. For instance, MMO players often complain about “kill 10 rats” quests. TSW certainly has those too but they are couched in such a way as to not feel like that’s all that’s being done. Part of that feeling comes from the way that questing is handled in tiers. Generally, there are multiple objectives to complete a quest and within those objectives are the “kill 10 whatevers”. It certainly makes it a less singular pursuit anyway. The bottom line here, however, is that the things that players are pretty tired of are still there to one degree or another.
Questing also isn’t simply defined by what I lovingly refer to as “kill quests”. Players are also given investigations, basically puzzles, to solve. Most involve research on the internet about the subject at hand (MORSE CODE ANYONE!?) if not actually finding a walkthrough of the quest itself. Let’s also not forget faction quests, crafting quests, normal quests and, most importantly story quests. Even though players are limited in the number of active quests, there is more than enough to do. Finish a quest? Press SEND and it’s done. Now how cool is that?
The Skill Wheel and ‘classless’ progression systems are also something unique to The Secret World. There is no set path or set of skills a player needs to take when journeying through the game. It’s wide open though it’s worth noting that synergies are created by combining skills to make something new and powerful. The two caveats I have to simply loving this system is the fact that mistakes made are mistakes players are stuck with and the somewhat overwhelming number of skills players have to choose from. As to the first point, there is no respec option in TSW, something that some dislike but others shrug their shoulders at since all skills are open to all players. As to the second point, Funcom has wisely included premade ‘decks’ that ensure an adequate, if not exciting, build. Still, I find that, as much as I love the innovation, the system seems a bit unfriendly to casuals and n00bs. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's refreshing not to have one's hand held so much from the get-go.
Finally, I find it refreshingly innovative that Funcom is promising monthly content updates that rival the one recently deployed which included seven brand new quests and a marketplace and a ton of bug fixes. If they can maintain a monthly schedule as promised, that shows true innovation! But I'll believe it when I see it for a longer period.
There is little that I’ve mentioned in a critical way that Funcom has not already been addressed in one way or another. Not only do developers have an aggressive update plan in force for The Secret World but they are also aware of the most common criticisms that have been mentioned, most notably character customization, general bug fixes, a more robust PvP system and combat animations. These issues (and others) have been addressed in a way that shows clear willingness to ‘own’ and improve the game.
The bottom line is that TSW is a very good game right now and is a great game in the making. It’s got one of the most compelling storylines of any MMO I have ever played which is enough to bring in even the most jaded MMO fan. Add in a dedicated team of developers anxious to make it the go-to MMO for players and you have a surefire recipe for success. I am convinced that Funcom will deliver on the promises given and am anxious to see what’s next. I firmly believe that The Secret World, like a fine wine, is one of those rare MMOs that will only improve with time and attention, something that Funcom is clearly prepared to do.