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A Sit Down with The Secret World

General Article By Adam Tingle on October 25, 2011

For some reason I’d imagined that unveiling an upcoming MMORPG to the assembled press at EA’s London event would involve some form of spinning chair, a desk, and perhaps a shiny looking computer. Not so. The guys over at Funcom had a different approach to showing off their next eagerly awaited online game, and in the absence of any sort of LED ridden PC, lead designer Martin Bruusgaard stood by a screen, headset  and microphone perched firmly on head, poised like a Norwegian pop-sensation about to burst into song.

Sat comfortably upon a bright red sofa and also with a set of headphones strapped to my ears, the mystery of it all was soon revealed. “The Secret World is the next step in MMORPG storytelling” Bruusgaard tells us while the screen flickers into life. A young woman sits in a room alone, when suddenly her hand erupts with electricity. Moments later time moves forward, the woman is now sat upright, aware of her new power and begins to focus and funnel her efforts, reveling in the new found power. This is how your journey in Secret World will start – strap yourself in, find yourself a comfy seat, because this is one game that will have you remembering with haze the days when quest logs where simply clicked by the way side.

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Ssh! Its a Secret!

The Secret World is an intriguing, exciting, and confusing MMO proposition. The game is primarily story focused, whilst also massively multiplayer, but players can also opt for a purely solo experience. To add to this there are no levels, or classes, just supernatural powers, and the ability to pick and choose whatever skills you wish. For someone who has spent the majority of their online life in traditional experience systems, and with rigid progression, these new fangled ideas all seem a little “hippy”.

But genuinely, The Secret World in concept is looking to be one of the most anticipated titles of recent years. The idea of a truly immersive and plot driven title was seen sparingly in Age of Conan, but Funcom have taken the baton and run even further with the idea, the result remains to be seen, but who said innovation was dead?

Continuing his presentation Bruusgaard tells us “The Secret World is a game based upon every conspiracy, myth, legend, folk, and horror story ever told. Nothing is impossible, and everything is real”. While little on the main story of the game has yet to be unveiled, the setting of game takes place in modern society, the location being dependent on the faction that is chosen by the player.

The three groups of the game are the Templars (pious zealots), the Illuminati (rich philosophers), and the Dragon (neutral nellies). The experience of the player will largely depend on what faction is chosen. On-screen, the female avatar had taken to the path of Templar, as seen in the setting of London. Just how these three will influence the story remains to be seen, but once chosen a player cannot leave or default to another.

On-screen, a virtual representation of London pops with color and vibrancy. “We really made an effort in trying to create authentic looking locations for our various zones – our artists for instance are from London, and we like to think we captured the feeling” Bruusgaard tells us – and he’s not wrong. The small portion of the map that the on-screen character jogs through looks remarkably similar to an East-End borough of London, even the pub on the corner creaks of Georgian design and post war reform.

While the presentation only shows so much, the portions that are on show look impressive. The aforementioned pub is a place for players to socialize and share experiences, while just a short walk away is a quest giver that holds the attentions of a small group as he delivers information. In what could be a fairly linear adventure, Funcom have seemingly crafting a world which is as expansive as it is deep. There is a difficulty in bringing real-life locations to an MMO, but the Norwegian developer is seemingly pulling it off with flair. In-game London is foreboding, mysterious, and eerie with tension, which for a place that normally smells of sewage and depression, is quite an achievement.

Dice Rolls and Cone Templates

After a few minutes of above-ground sightseeing, Bruusgaard moves his presentation underground. “The primary objective of the three factions is to keep the “secret world” from leaking into reality. We also have flashback stories, in which we explain more their goals, and some of the back-story to the events in-game”. The screen is immediately filled by four casually dressed characters – our plucky female protagonist is now totting a pump-action shotgun.

“One of the main enemies in the game is the Filth – a zombie-inspired creature, and you will fight a lot of these”. Paying closure attention the screen, after a few lines of dialogue the four split up into the dark of a subway system. The Secret World manages to conjure an atmosphere of fear from the word “go”. The flashlight of the avatar fills the darkness, and the crumbling echoes illuminate the senses with trepidation.

After moments of spine-tingling gameplay, finally the “Filth” shows itself. A sort of zombie, come servant of the darkness, the creatures jump and scream towards the players, while our female protagonist wheels around scattering shotgun fire like confetti. Largely in MMOs, gun combat can feel a little stilted, and with the many dice rolls can also feel underpowered, but Funcom have managed to create a sense of power to the weapons. The shotgun fires in a cone path, and with just a handful of shots the filth are dispersed with, sometimes a single blast taking out multiple enemies. It doesn’t look perfect, but it definitely steps in the right direction.

There is also a greater degree of interaction within the combat that you might come to expect with gunplay; from the aiming of your shotgun, to shooting at enemies, there also the traditional hotbar abilities, which range from the weapon-specific “buckshot” to the powers that every character will posses. Battles are techni-colored arrays of electric explosions, and lead slugs scattering around the environment; it certainly is busy, and definitely looks hands-on, whether it is as fun as it looks however remains to be seen.

“As you can see, we are using different abilities throughout the battle, these are purchased throughout play, and owning one skill will not block you from earning others as you might see in another game” the Secret World doesn’t believe in classes, and neither does it in levels. What replaces these are the skills which are selectable from a huge list, each offering perks and advantages, whilst also giving the ability to choose your own role within the game.

After a few more instances of blood curdling screams, and felled enemies, the gameplay presentation ends, with Bruusgaard telling an expectant crowd “that is all we can show you so far folks” the groans of the audience are audible. Funcom have managed to create a truly audience friendly MMO that with the combination of engrossing storyline and interesting combat, proves to be a potent combination.

“With The Secret World, we hope to create a mesmerizing story-driven game, as well as also catering to those familiar with the MMORPG genre – while we do things different, we still aim on having high-end content, as well as PvP”  Bruusgaard tells the crowd. Player versus Player within the game takes place in the mythical city Agartha. Essentially the inter-player violence will take place within persistent flashpoints that will garner group’s control of various resource points.

The Secret World is easily my most anticipated MMORPG release in 2012. The concept sounds so intriguing, and the idea of having a truly interesting story within such a game is surely something revolutionary. Set for launch in April 2012, I know what powers and factions that I am going to pick – do you?

Adam Tingle / Freelancer for MMORPG.com, 360 Gamer Magazine, and Play Magazine.

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