When a new MMO launches, sometimes it seems like the “new player experience” wasn’t very high on the priority list for some developers. Which, in the grand scheme of things, makes sense to a certain degree. While every player starts at the bottom and has to go through the new player experience at least once, the reality is that the vast majority of gameplay takes place once a character has reached max-level, otherwise known as the “end game.”
In the case of The Secret World, it didn’t really have any fundamental problems at launch, it’s just not a super mainstream title. The setting is ultra-modern, the content isn’t fantasy or sci-fi, it has a heavy focus on atmosphere, and employs a lot of unconventional techniques. This is a recipe not for a bad game, but a recipe for a game that unsurprisingly had to drop its subscription fee. As a result, it has seen a surge in popularity, which has also meant as a result, a surge of new players. Revamping the overall player experience, specifically that of new players, is a big initiative for the team at Funcom. As someone that is brand new to the game as a whole, I took it for a spin and here’s what I thought about playing The Secret World as a new character for the very first time.
The beginning portion of any game is, by nature, the first encounter players have with it. If those opening hours aren’t engaging or fun, chances are that players will uninstall and never look back. This is even more true for free-to-play games – since there is no cost to try it out, if a player doesn’t enjoy it right away, then they might as well just stop playing. The nature of a buy-to-play game like The Secret World is a bit different – players have already invested a little bit of cash. While this makes them more willing to “tough it out” until the fun parts, a bad intro can still leave a sour taste in someone’s mouth.
While I may not be able to compare the new player experience in TSW of today to the new player experience in TSW at launch, I can say that as someone that has played a lot of MMOs, Funcom is definitely on the right track. All too often MMOs struggle to strike that precarious balance between making you feel special in the world, while also not ignoring the fact that there are thousands of other players around you at all times. The Secret World does a great job selling the illusion to me.
After picking a faction and designing what I’ll look like in this new World of Secrets, I was treated to an extremely cinematic-heavy opening hour. After learning about my newfound abilities and the world I was being called to, the training mission tossed me directly into a lot of heavy action. I picked up a trusty shotgun and proceeded to blast away dozens of zombie-like enemies. The game did a wonderful job of slowly introducing new enemies to me and new abilities to compliment the new situations that I found myself in. It’s a great balance.
My biggest gripe with this dream-like mission that teaches you the basics of gameplay, is that it forces you to use a shotgun. I mistakenly assumed that this must have been a default weapon for everyone, but that was not the case. I found out much later on that there are actually 9 different weapons total. One of the biggest changes made to the game with this latest update is that you actually get to play around with and choose two starting weapons as soon as your reach your faction’s base. There are training dummies and extensive tutorials that explain not only the intended role of each weapon, but also a preview of the types of abilities you’ll be using. It easily ranks among the best “choose your weapon” scenes I have seen in an MMO.
There are also comprehensive details about the difference between “builder” and “consumer” abilities and how they function together. Although, when it comes to leveling up, it was a bit much to digest all at once. The radial skill menu is incredibly detailed and dense and can be overwhelming to just dive in with nothing but a few text walls to guide me. I eventually figured it out, but it was a little jarring after the incredibly elegant weapon introduction.
The last note I will touch on is something that could be on the list for improvements the next go-around. Everything I’ve mentioned so far are areas of improvement of course, but above all else, is the introduction to factions. Simply playing a short video to explain a faction just didn’t feel adequate to me. I would much rather have gone through the tutorial missions and selected my weapons, then met each faction and made my choice based on things that actually happened in the game, rather than just from a menu – which is something Guild Wars 2 did very well, even if those factions you pick in your Personal Story end up being mostly meaningless.
From what I’ve heard from people, seen in videos, and read in articles, these and all of the other changes are big improvements for player’s overall quality of life. Combat animation enhancements, better map markers, rebalanced combat difficulty, better rewards, and more are a few of the ways Funcom is continuing to improve the experience in The Secret World. Rather than feeling like “just another MMO,” The Secret World did a stellar job of making me feel like I was really becoming part of this secret and undiscovered society. It definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but there’s also no game like it and a better introductory experience will go a long way towards roping in more new players in the long-run.