The Secret World – first impressions
So this weekend is the first “beta” weekend for The Secret World – I put beta in quotes, since I think the beta weekend as opposed to the ongoing real beta is more of a promotional event.
So did it work then, the promotion? For me I would say – yes, absolutely. There are many really nice things in this game. It is not perfect and has some glitches and issues, but for the most part it is a quite nice game.
The gameplay for the this weekend beta is restricted to play as a templar and only to London and part of one of the open world zones – Solomon Island. On Solomon Island it is also restricted to one of three areas, Kingsmouth. Also, the higher tiers for the abilities were also locked out for this weekend play.
First of all, I must say that I must give top scores to Funcom for the user interface. It is slick, clean, functional and minimalistic. Bravo! I would have liked to see more tooltips, since I did not get it for everything and for some items only sometimes, but other than that I was quite happy with the interface.
My general feeling when playing the game was one of mystery rather than spooky and scary – what happened in Kingsmouth, what caused this and what are those others really? There are some spooky & scary moments, but one gets used to see zombies etc all over the place, so mystery is the main feeling that gets stuck.
The environments are well made and there is a logic to enemy placement – probably. Because of the mystery elements one is not quite sure of why certaincreatures are there (not only zombies around), but it does not seem random. Character models are a bit so and so, some look a bit weird and stiff.
Character creation is fairly ok, but not that many options to choose from in terms of outfits etc. Presumably more options will be made available later, since the user interface provide an option to manage a long list of different outfits.
The starting cutscene will set up your character as someone who just gained some magic ability and get “recruited” by the templars – not much argument and there is certainly a bit of a feeling that the character (or you) do not quite know what is going on.
Eventually one ends up at Templar HQ in London and the character gets some explanations and to train in a weapon of choice. After that the big world awaits and in particular a disturbance in Kingsmouth on Solomon Island.
Before heading off to Kingsmouth I did some exploring of London though, or rather the small part of London that was accessible. It looks quite nice and have a number of nooks and crannies to explore – there are also lore items to pick up that you can find during the exploration.
As Kingsmouth is surrounded by a fog which turns out to be quite deadly, how to get there when the citizens of that town cannot get out? The answer to that is Hollow Earth. It is kind of a secret fast transport system, which allows for instant travel a number of places in the world – in this case Kingsmouth.
It is in Kingsmouth most of the gameplay for this weekend is taking place. Right out from the Hollow Earth portal one will run into a local as well as the zombie infestation that is haunting the city.
There is a main story line which is indicated by a movie reel in the mission tracker. In addition to that one can get various side missions, although only a few at a time can be active and the mission tracker only shows one mission at a time. I like that, fewer concurrent missions provide a better focus for each mission. The mission tracker also shows how many stages the mission consists of as well as the type of mission, you you will know if it will involve lots of killing, investigation & puzzles, delivery or search for items etc.
Most (all?) missions are repeatable also, although it seems they can only be done once every 24 hours. While the main story mission does provide step-by-step insight what is going on, a number of the other missions also provide additional clues and insight into what is going on in Kingsmouth – or perhaps in some cases raises more questions.
Missions do include a few puzzles, including puzzles that may need to search through Google. Fortunately there is an in-game browser, which just happens to start up with the Google search home page.
A number of missions NPCs, although not all, have cutscenes with voice-over when you talk to them, The dialogue is quite good, although I should perhaps rather say monologue – my character has not uttered a single word, neigher through mission dialogue nor voice-over. The strong silent type, I guess… It does feel a bit weird that never says anything at all, especially with recent playtime in The Old Republic. It would have been nice to express some kind of reaction, even if it does not affect gameplay as such.
The combat mechanics are fairly ok and one can move around during combat – does not stop the usage of abilities. Although for abilities with a specific target one must face the enemy and the game does not provide any facilities to adjust your direction a bit. Thus at least in the beginning I got many message about that my character was not facing the enemy.
One can use the abilities while moving around, which is a nice difference to many other MMOs, where your character gets rooted or is not allowed to move when using an ability. In this came , moving around is encouraged. In fact, some enemies might definitely kill you unless you start to move around a bit. It is easy to see their big attacks coming though, so one can move away from the target area. For AoE/Cone abilities there are no need to have one enemy in line of sight, which makes them useful to use when moving around also.
Enemies are a bit similar to what one may run into in City of Heroes and The Old Republic, in that the minion type enemies (indicated by 3 dots) one can handle a bunch of, while other enemies may be stronger and more difficult – one dot should be ok to handle 1 or 2 at a time, while one with a skull will be a challenge. Yellow coloured dots seems a bit tougher than white colour. Enemies with a flag instead of a dot seems to be named enemies.
There are 9 different weapons, divided into three areas – melee, ranged and magic – with three weapons in each area. To use weapons of a certain type one need to spend skill points in that weapon. For each weapon there are two features/roles that skill points could boost – damage, survivability, support and healing. All weapons have the damage role and it depends on the weapon type which one of the other three is assigned to that weapon.
Ability points on the other hand allow for gaining more abilities to choose from and equip. While one can pick any combination one wants, there are also a couple (eleven) template decks defined which players can choose to help them make up something interesting.
Besides the missions and exploring the Kingsmouth area, I also had a look at the crafting part of the game. It is a neat system which seems to be inspired by Minecraft, in that you have an area where one can form shapes in order to make an item. The game does not tell you which shapes that work, so you have to figure them out yourself (or posibley search/google for such info). One can disassemble/break down existing items into resource components and through that way figure out various shapes to use.
Overall I quite like the experience and it has convinced me that the game certainly is worth playing. I might try out a bit more in coming beta weekends, but probably not so much – I want really to save much of the experience for the real characters from launch instead. It looks quite promising I think and hope to enjoy it more after June 19th.