It’s time for The Secret World to wave goodbye to Tokyo. Due out today, Issue 14: Call of the Nameless brings us back to the scorched, shimmering sands of Egypt. Don’t expect a Pharaoh’s welcome this time around though, as Funcom’s latest update has a distinctly Persian feel.
Unlike the last couple of patches, Issue 14 aims to focus on what I found most alluring about The Secret World back at launch: deep storytelling, based on a fractured mirror-world where all the myths and legends had a root of truth to them. That said, there’s nothing quite like seeing it in action, which is why Game Director Romain Amiel and Community Manager Andy Benditt took me through this latest chapter.
Before I get started though, let me share a minor warning – this preview does contain minor spoilers. If you want to get straight into the action, head over to Steam or Funcom’s Item Store to pick up Issue 14 as soon as it unlocks. And yes, there will also be a Collector’s Edition version that comes bundled with a snazzy Persian outfit and a Tamed Scarab pet.
Straight Outta Cairo
For story watchers, the main arc of Season One wrapped up in Issue 11, with the subsequent releases focused on tying up some loose ends. Before Season Two starts up, Amiel wanted to revisit a couple of the old locations and tell new stories, reuniting us with much-loved NPCs in the process. Calling it a pause or an interlude feels somehow inappropriate, but it is a break. Of sorts.
What does this mean, exactly? As we began the tour, Amiel described how he felt that Egypt wasn’t explored enough, and how it didn’t play out that Indiana Jones-style fantasy of solving puzzles, raiding tombs, and discovering treasure buried deep beneath the sands. There’s also a heavy Persian influence, drawing on the time when Egypt was part of the Persian Empire, and inspired by the collected Arabian stories of One Thousand and One Nights. Although, considering the game, I’m not expecting this to be a family-friendly tale.
All said, if you’re familiar with Issues 5, 6 and 7 (Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn, Last Train to Cairo, and A Dream to Kill), this latest instalment is likely to be a sweet buzzing in your ear.
Our journey begins in Agartha, just next to the portal to the Scorched Desert, with an unusual visit from the Station Master. In his erudite, clipped English, the uniformed chap explained how seismic events – earthquakes of some sort – were originating from the sun-bleached lands, and resonating all the way to the Hollow Earth. With that, we were charged to investigate if the events were some natural geological phenomenon, or something darker.
Our first port of call is one of the finest scientific minds in the region: Professor Montgomery de la Roche. It seems that the good professor is already in the case, rigging up a seismometer to analyse the disturbances. There’s also mention of a Third Age device, left at an abandoned campsite, that seems to be capable of absorbing geological activity. Riddles from five thousand years ago, deciphered by de la Roche, might even indicate places amongst the dunes and ruins where the device could work.
Unfortunately, there are too many gaps in the picture, which leads us to pursue an alternative – the late Doctor Klein. Not only did the Filth-infested Orochi scientist have a lead on the tremors, he also appears to have discovered a rudimentary reanimation process. After a challenging – and unique – investigation-led boss fight, we discover the source of the seismic emanations: the forbidden City of the Sun God.
Which, in turn, leads us to the Cultists. This industrious collective has been busy, blowing their way into new caves and uncovering new tombs to loot. And with everything they pull out of the ground, the Black oil is said to seep in behind it. With events taking a turn for the supernatural, it was time to seek some more mystical, and yet familiar, help of our own. Enter Mountemouia, Ptahmose, and possibly even a Jinn.
Corridors of Power
There is a tale of the Signet Ring of King Solomon. A ring with the power to bend Jinn to his will. To enslave demons. To talk with animals. But King Solomon’s greatest trick was that it wasn’t one ring, but many. Building on the idea of puzzle rings – several rings bound together, there’s rumour of one that may appease a Jinn. The result is a tale for another time, but it’s also possible to unlock the ring as a costume bracelet – if you know how.
Eventually, the trail leads to the Black Pyramid, where the first puzzle is discovering and opening the secret entrance. Once inside, the geological events grow even more powerful, developing a disturbing, unearthly undertone. Our tour guides led us through a series of dark corridors and ornate rooms, each one containing a puzzle more complex than the last. Pressure pads, jumping points and even a maze lie on the way to whatever lurks in the centre, complete with moving walls and mummified guardians.
At this point, Amiel mentioned that the puzzles had been specifically designed to be less-prone to brute-forcing. Instead, they had been built in layers, with simpler ones at the beginning acting as training for the more complex ones later on. That’s not to say it’s a cinch, as it’ll probably take an hour to dig through the temple on first playthrough.
What lies at the end of this labyrinth of corridors and puzzles? Without giving too much away, there is a final mission, which culminates in a boss fight. Interestingly though, the challenge isn’t gear-dependent, so anyone completing the main story arc and collecting the purple gear at the end should be fine. We’re told the difficulty has been pitched to be in-line with issues 5, 6 and 7, with more of a reliance on skill, and there’s a lore-based reason as to why. While there’s no group challenge, the boss fight can also be done as a group.
Breaking down Issue 14 by the numbers, Call of the Nameless contains 6 missions in total, including two investigation missions. There are also five side-missions to find, and six achievements to hunt down – two of which award costume pieces. The new Teleport interface is also included with Issue 14, replacing those teleport items clogging up your inventory.
As we wrapped up the tour, Amiel teased that there’s another story that he’s eager to tell before moving on with Season Two, but he’s keeping it under his hat for now. He continued, adding that there’s a few opportunities he missed in the past that he wants to dig into and make happen. The main story of the Dreamers, of Gaia, and of Lilith will continue; he just hopes we can have a little fun in-between.