As part of an ongoing series of articles called our “Review in Progress”, we are taking The Secret World and putting it through its paces over the course of time. All of these are to build to our final scored review of the game in a few weeks. So far, we’ve taken a look at Character Creation & Ambiance as well as Questing. In the latest addition to the series, I want to take a look at Combat, Social Play and Community.
Combat & Animation
Combat has been a sticky subject for Funcom and fans of The Secret World. Many beta testers complained long and loud about the “clunky” animations as well as finding two or three great synergistic skills and spending too much time mashing buttons. I’ll admit that I was one of the naysayers on the issue of combat based on my experiences on the press server.
I have to take a step back, however, and admit that while still not my favorite look in combat, The Secret World’s developers made some big changes between my initial experiences on the test server and what is currently in the game now. To me, the combat still seems as if it doesn’t flow quite right but much of that is due to the untethering of the player character’s upper body with its lower half. The way a character moves in combat is just…well, strange sometimes. Funcom continues to promise that animations will be dealt with but also say that some of the awkwardness that players see will simply remain. It’s a different way of animating character models to give the player more freedom to move and cast or perform skills. No other MMO does it the same way. It’s possible that this style of character animation will become the norm in the future and that we’ll all get used to it that way. Time will tell.
Honestly, I just don’t give a damn for the most part. I find myself much less bothered by combat animations than I used to be. Perhaps I’ve simply gotten used to it or maybe it’s just that combat in many instances is secondary to the overall story. I am enjoying the storytelling in The Secret World so much that I simply don’t care about the animations any more. I’m more interested in getting on with the tale that is being told.
The one troubling aspect about combat that I have discovered, however, is the unforgiving nature that the Ability Wheel embodies. We are encouraged to discover new ways to combine skills to make the most effective use in combat. We are encouraged to create new and unique builds to use interchangeably depending on a given situation. Believe me, I want to experiment and discover new ways of putting my skills together to make my character more useful or a more brutal killer. Yet I hesitate. Players are penalized in a way, for making poor or less-than-optimal decisions when it comes to point allocations. If a player makes a poor choice when spending points, there is no way to go back and fix it. There is no respec in The Secret World. To get more points, you simply have to keep playing. That may not bother some folks, and I know with Funcom decided on the system, but it still bothers me.
I realize that TSW ultimately isn’t a game for casual players, an argument that many make in defense of the design decision not to include the ability for players to reassign skills point. But why not allow for respec? Make it expensive. Make it punitive in some way but make an allowance for reallocation of skill points. Maybe even make it only doable once per month on any character.
Ultimately, combat is going to make or break the game for some people. For me, it’s perfectly fine, if a bit ugly at times. I have other things I’m much more interested in.
Social Play & Community
I have found the community in The Secret World to be engaging and helpful. I can’t tell you how many requests for assistance I’ve seen for help solving a particularly difficult investigation (or even an easy one!) or requests for help in fighting a quest-ending boss in general chat. Players asking are never called n00bs or belittled in any way for asking. Most who respond to requests for help are polite and truly helpful.
Additionally, players are willing to come to one another’s aid even if not partied. I often have found myself in the midst of a pitched battle when another player will come along and lend a hand simply because they’re nearby. Often too I have found myself working on a quest when another player comes in to do the same. Partying up is simple and it’s not long before you’re off together getting the job done. Finish the quest and break up the party or simply continue on.
The only caveat I have to the social play aspect is the lack of a resurrection option for players who are partied up on a quest. If one player dies, they must respawn at an anima well which could be a vast distance away from where the party was working. There is no way to quick travel to one’s party either. Funcom has defended this decision by saying that the ultimate goal is for players to learn to fight in the most effective way possible rather than just concentrating on keeping players alive long enough, or by keeping resurrecting them enough times, to finish the quest (or dungeon). While I can understand the decision to a certain degree, I find that stripping players of the ability to resurrect party members to be a poor one. Again, make it punitive. Make it expensive. Make each “wait to resurrect” time longer. But make it so players can continue to quest with friends. Barring resurrection, at least make getting back to your party faster.
So that wraps up Part 3 of our Review in Progress for The Secret World. What do you think of the topics we’ve brought up? Let us know in the comments below!