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The Lure of the New & Shiny

Isabelle Parsley Posted:
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You’ll have to forgive any lack of controversy this week; I have a stinking cold, and my two remaining functional brain cells are the slacker ones that are always hiding at the back when any work needs to be done. It’s apparently doing the rounds, so if you’ve been afflicted, here’s a tissue.

I’ve been thinking about The Secret World a lot lately. Information is fairly gushing out about that game now – well, compared to the info blackouts we had previously – and everything I hear keeps whetting my appetite. It’s been several years since I’ve been as interested in any game in development, partly because I’ve been around the hype block a few times now, and partly because said hype has proven to be rather disappointing in recent years.

There’s a lot to look forward to with TSW, but to be honest the reason I’m interested is as much emotional as it is a rational look at story, gameplay or features. We’re all like that to some extent: something will catch our eye and we can’t always easily explain why. I know a lot of people are fairly frothing for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and while it hasn’t really grabbed me the way it has them, I know what it’s like to be grabbed. Enthusiasm is a good thing, especially these days; as a community, I think we may be getting rather jaded.

One of the things I’m really hoping TSW will do is bring back that feeling of breathless excitement we get when starting a new game, the feeling that everything is new, everything remains to be discovered. Even though I know one can’t go back to one’s original experiences, I still can’t help being hopeful.

It’s been a long, loooong time since a game grabbed me by the back of the neck and kept me in my chair far into the night, eyes glued to the screen and fingers glued to my keyboard. I’m not sure any game could do that now: I’m older (and theoretically more responsible), I have less time to play, and really late nights are murder the next morning. Part of the problem, ageing physiology aside, is that new isn’t quite as new as it used to be when you’ve seen the launch of several dozen games.

Fortunately, hope springs eternal and it’s springing here. I can’t wait to hear my first TSW zombie gurgle as it tries to rip my head off, even if I hear it from myself every morning before the blessed caffeine takes effect. I’m looking forward to all the conspiracies and secrets, which I’m hoping won’t all be up on a million websites within 2 days of launch. I’m a little concerned about the faction-limited guild structure, though I understand why they’re doing it that way, but I’m also oddly excited about figuring out how that will work too. If I have to bitch-slap my friends in PvP for choosing the wrong faction, so be it!

And I’m really looking forward to building my character. The last game I played that had any significant choices in character development was Star Wars: Galaxies. I know, RIFT has a pretty neat soul system, but for some reason that game never really grabbed me. What I miss, really, is what I had in Asheron’s Call: the ability to weight certain stats over others, and the ability to pump all my xp into a single skill if that was what I wanted to do.

Even TSW probably won’t give me that much freedom. Allowing that much character customization is difficult to balance, and in truth you still end up with a core set of “good” builds that most everyone follows. But what I liked most about it was that I had a constant stream of choices to make, which made me feel more involved and certainly far more tied to my character. These days, any character of Class X is almost identical to any other character of the same class, and at the very top of the pile even gear tends to be the same; it’s like that in WoW, the game I’m playing at the moment, and in many ways that’s very disappointing for me.

If we’re going to be tied to levels in games, at least give us fun and interesting stuff to do with our characters when we do level – buying one more skill or picking one more talent takes 10 seconds and isn’t really what I’d call riveting.

The Secret World won’t have levels per se, which was one of the first things that caught my attention when I started watching the game a few years ago. While every game has to mark character progression in some ways, and while saying “No levels!” doesn’t necessarily mean things will be all that different, they may still be different enough for me. For some reason I find it intriguing to be able to click on someone else’s character in game and not immediately see a level; for all I know they could have started that character that same morning… or they could be a veteran bad-ass who’s about to kick mine.

I don’t theorycraft all that much; I enjoy it when I get into it, but it’s not something I do all that often. These days I’ll usually let someone else do the theorizing for me, but I’ve already promised myself I will definitely do my own in TSW. Making bad or silly choices is part of the fun, provided you’re playing a game where that kind of experimentation isn’t too punitive. More to the point, you also need room to genuinely experiment, which simply isn’t the case in the games I’ve played over the last few years. While RIFT isn’t my cup of tea, I’ve read several blogs with interesting and occasionally hilarious write-ups of some of the combinations people have tried and tested. They may have died a lot, but they sure seemed to be having fun with it.

Ultimately, though, what I want is a game that will make me forget everything else while I do just… one… more… turn. (Civilization, anyone?) I don’t know if TSW will live up to that, and it’s not all down to the developers; all they can do is provide the framework, but the player does have a responsibility to make their own fun. I fully intend to do exactly that.

And while I may never be able to turn back the clock and experience an MMO now the way I did when I logged in for the very first time, I think it’s possible to evoke that past excitement and inject it into the present. I’ll just have to try to be less cynical.

There will be a TSW beta, and I will be in it.


Isabelle Parsley