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MMORPG | Genre:Real Life | Status:Final  (rel 07/03/12)  | Pub:Funcom
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The Secret World Previews: GDC 2012 Preview

By Som Pourfarzaneh on March 15, 2012

I've made it no secret that Funcom's upcoming MMORPG is my GDC game of the show.  Garrett, Mike and I each had it on our GDC Top 3 and chatted up a storm about it on this week's Game On.  Last week, we were treated to a preview and hands-on for The Secret World, and make no mistake about it, Funcom's game looks and feels like a modern fantasy enthusiast's dream.

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Over the course of our preview, we were given an overview of several different game regions and systems by notable designers Ragnar Tørnquist, Joel Bylos, Martin Bruusgaard, and Steven Lumpkin.  We first looked at the flexibility and variety of options for character model customization, size, and clothing sets in character creation, and then headed into the Dragon startup experience in the faction's Seoul headquarters.  Hubs like these will be based on real locations, and will act as story beginning and convergence points and social centers, offering places like fight clubs, banks, auction houses, and night clubs.  Unlike the intro sequences for the other two factions, who will wine and dine you in some way, the Dragons basically knock you out and kidnap you, reminding you that "everything comes out of chaos."  As you wake up, you're led into a hotel following the trail of a mysterious (and not a little creepy) child, to be welcomed by a steamy cinematic story sequence in your hotel room.  The intro then leads into the same kind of Tokyo flashback that converges with the Templar and Illuminati intro storylines.

We then shifted to a higher-level character in the game's Egypt region, where we learned more about some of TSW's game systems.  You may already know about TSW's "classless" system, where you can choose from and unlock 500 abilities across 9 different ability types.  We learned a bit more about how this works, as you gain XP while you play, but don’t "level up" in the way that MMOs have come to use the term.  Instead, there are 3 segments to your XP bar, and as you fill each segment, you can unlock a new "skill point," whereas when you complete the entire bar, you get an "ability point."  You'll be able to choose from passive and active abilities, which are sequential and can be used to create synergies between different abilities.  You can also wield two different weapons, which can also be synergetic, and each weapon will be able to do damage and have a secondary function, like a health leeching ability.  The character in Egypt that we were shown was wielding an assault rifle and shotgun (not at the same time, although that would be epic), and it was apparent that the pacing of the game will be heavily dependent on the capability to move and fight at the same time.  Furthermore, as there are no classes and levels per se, you won't be tied to a specific play style, but can use the game's gear manager to switch between pre-defined builds.  The character we saw was able to fluidly change from a ranged damage dealer to a tank in prepping for a boss battle.

"Filth" is a kind of creeping corruption that will serve as a plot mechanism in The Secret World, which we got to see in the Blue Mountain area on Solomon Island.  We were shown a fully-voiced cinematic dialogue sequence with a CDC representative, followed by the hacking of a computer with TSW's hacking program, called "Ghost," to obtain more info on the CDC's secret documents.  Funcom considers every part of the game to be a "jigsaw puzzle" for players to put together, and while there will be lore items to unlock in the world, there won't be a traditional codex with encyclopedic entries.  Instead, there will be a narrative that you can uncover and encourages you to learn more about the game's story and put together the puzzle.  There will also be tons of achievements to unlock, and it was interesting to see in our preview how not all NPCs are quest-givers in the conventional sense, telling you to "go here and do this."  In fact, the CDC representative told the PC in the demo to stay away from the filth-ridden swamp.  But who listens to NPCs, anyway?!

Our preview marked the first time that Funcom was showing the Transylvania area, which is a post-Cold War era-type region riddled with vampires and crumbling buildings connected by ziplines.  Yes, ZIPLINES CONFIRMED FOR TSW.  We were given a short overview of the crafting system, called "transcribing," where you can break down items, learn how they're built, and then construct them yourself.  My first impression of the crafting system from the brief demo was that it looks pretty flexible but not drastically different from that which you'd find in other MMOs, but we really haven't seen enough of it yet to say much.

We then took a look at one form of time travel in TSW, which was entering a "vision of the past" in the form of the "Darkness War" in historic New England.  In this dungeon-type scenario, there was an invasion of Mayans and Vikings.  I'm tempted to leave the description at that, because it pretty much sums up the eclectic awesomeness that TSW brings to the table in a nutshell.  Suffice it to say that the PCs were teleported to a boss battle with a huge winged boar-ish demon beast, where the previewers were fighting a bunch of Mayan warriors, and at which point a Viking leader named "The Varangian" showed up with the sword Excalibur and gave the players a combat buff.  Seriously.

After the preview, we were given some hands-on time with the Templar starting experience, which takes place in London and has been shown previously.  I tinkered around with some of the game systems and immediately took off in the opposite direction of my starter quest, finally making it back to enter the Tokyo flashback sequence from the Templar perspective.  Fighting through the Filth and avoiding tentacles everywhere with an NPC party in an underground metro station, I picked up a shotgun which unlocked two abilities, basic and ranged attacks.  After following the quest some more and taking out waves of Filthy zombies, I received three more abilities, including a snare to slow an enemy's movement speed, a finisher to deal a lot of damage from spending built up combo points, and a healing ability.  We made our way through waves of different zombie types in the train station to stare out at a cosmic void, then ported back to London out of the flashback.  Somewhere along the way - it could have been at character creation - I gained a pretty sweet looking track jacket.

My initial impressions of The Secret World are of a love child between the Dresden Files, Left 4 Dead, and maybe some Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Alan Wake thrown in there for good measure.  Funcom's MMORPG has a fun, refreshing modern world with a clean, minimalist user interface and cinematic story dialogue sequences.  It also has a dark and cryptic feel to it, with great lighting effects and some scripted survival/horror type events in the Templar area that I got to play with.  Fighting monsters in TSW feels pretty comfortably like MMO combat, but a little more action-oriented with the ability to run-and-gun, and I liked that my NPC party members were chatting away through combat, providing a context and tone for what we were up against.  The demo build that I played looked polished and ran well, with a few framerate issues and rough edges here and there.

I also appreciated the highly secret society feel to the Templar starting area, which has whet my appetite for the other two factions' storylines.  Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with our preview of The Secret World, and am excited to see what Funcom has in store for us at launch!

Be sure to check out our companion interview with The Secret World's Lead Content Designer Joel Bylos on this week's Game On!

Som Pourfarzaneh / Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.

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