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Getting a Little Less Secret

Jon Wood Posted:
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This past week at the Game Developers Conference, Funcom’s The Secret World got a little bit less secret.

In what is sure to be the first in a longer series of reveals about the game as it gets closer and closer to its eventual launch, the team, led by Game Director Ragnar Tornquist, took some tie out to show us some live gameplay and talk about the game’s PvP, skill system and more.

 For anyone who may not have been following this game prior to today, The Secret World is Funcom’s newest MMO and takes place on present day Earth. there is, of course, a twist. Everything supernatural you’ve ever heard of is actually real. Your character is a part of a secret society that is trying to stop the darkness that has remained hidden for so long from rising to envelop the world. The game is classless, and built on a skill system. The game’s action takes place primarily in the open world, with only a few instances cropping up. That was what we knew yesterday. Here is what we know today:

The Four Pillars

The first subject that was discussed were the four pillars of The Secret World.

First, you have the modern day setting, which has informed the team’s design choices in everything from the quests that you get to the itemization, the locations that you visit. The developers aim to have built a totally modern MMO, and not a fantasy game with modern wrapping.

Second is character progression. The game defines itself as different by letting players build their own characters from a large skill wheel, allowing players the “freedom to define themselves”.

Third is the conflict. Not only are players in the game world battling against the darkness that rises, but they’re also battling against each other by way of the three factions, or secret societies.

Finally, you have the story, which informs everything. A great world story is unfolding around the characters and the game is designed to enhance that feeling.

Live Demo

The first thing that we were shown in the presentation was the live gameplay demo. The demo took place in Kingsmouth. Anyone who has been following the game will remember this as the Stephen king inspired New England town that gets overrun by zombies which in turn are being created by strange sea creatures.

We saw the way that quests progress as the devs played through this zone. Each mission is divided into tiers, think of them like checkpoints that allow players to more easily move from quest to quest, place to place.

In a zombie setting like Kingsmouth, there are a few expected tropes, but the developers used one in particular to highlight the player’s ability to interact with the game’s environment: car alarms.

In any good zombie setting, you’re going to have abandoned cars, and some of those cars are going to have alarms that, when triggered, will summon hordes of the walkers to your location. The Secret World is no different.

Setting off a car alarm, when done accidentally can be crippling, but it can also be used strategically as, for example, a way to spawn more zombies in the open world (in case you have a  quest that requires that).

The quest that we saw provided players with waypoint markers that led players from point to point throughout the mission. We were told, however, that this won’t be the case in every mission, as they don’t want to completely handhold for the players. So, it’ll be available in high action missions, but not in others.

Skill System

There are over 500 unique skills in the game thus far. The developers were quick to point out that these actually are unique skills, you won’t find any variation of Fireball I, II, III, IV, etc. as you do in some other games. A fireball is a fireball and it will scale with your equipment meaning that players should never be left with obsolete skills.

Skills in the Secret World are split into two categories: active and passive. Active skills are those that the players trigger when desired, passive skills are those that just function in the background.

Players will be able to choose an active build for their characters, having access to only seven active skills and seven passive skills at any given time. This allows players who may feel one day like playing a DPS character, and the next day a healer, to do so effectively (provided they have the relevant skills).

Players skill up via experience points, as in a traditional level-based MMORPG. The difference with TSW is that skill points only are rewarded via XP.

There are three subsets of combat in the game: ranged, melee and magic.

Skills are presented to players in the form of a wheel and are divided into cells that contain seven different skills, which can be trained sequentially more like a standard skill tree. Skills at the bottom of the tree cost less while the top of the tree cost more.

For those players who might not want to claw their way through figuring out the best build with the skills, pre-made builds are going to be available, pointing out the best skills for the desired role.


Events seem to be similar to Public Quests in WAR or Incursions in Rift. These are the things that happen in the open world that players can and should band together to solve. The Kingsmouth example that we were given involved defending a police station where survivors have holed up. If you’re anywhere nearby, you’ll be able to hear the air raid siren marking the attack, the idea being that you’ll rush to the station’s aid.

Investigation Missions

On top of the more standard MMO quests in the game, the developers have come up with investigation missions that ask the player to use knowledge and reasoning to continue forward. The example that we were given involved a plaque that had two names on it. Putting the names together sent you to the town hall. At the town hall, you must find a painting of a poet. Choosing the wrong painting will send you down a false trail, choosing the correct painting will point you further down the trail to the next clue, and so on and so on.

The goal here is to create a community mindset.


Normally, in the PvE aspects of the game, each of the game’s three factions team up to fight that rising darkness. It should not be forgotten, however, that these factions are at odds with one another, having different goals and motivations, and that there is a constant struggle for power. That’s where PvP comes in to play.

PvP in The Secret World will take place in instances (similar to the way that it works in Warhammer) that can be entered into either locationally or from anywhere in the world. Each team is uniformed and battles move across the map with plenty of terrain advantage for those who know how to use it.

We were also told that there would likely be a PvP server associated with the game that will allow cross faction fighting in the open world as well.


Called Cabals in The Secret World, there will be lots of Cabal support in the game, though at this time we are told that a Cabal can only be made of of players from the same secret society, sort of like secret societies within secret societies.

We very much look forward to the new information that will most certainly be coming our way over the next few months as The Secret World ramps up for its closed beta test.


Jon Wood