Published on July 11th, 2011 | by G. Bargas, Managing Editor
Preview: EA and FunCom’s ‘The Secret World’
FunCom is looking to expand your mind and the universe you know in the MMO genre. What is an MMO without a class system? Does this leave everyone in ambiguous roles, forever wandering to find just ‘who’ they are? In a world where myth is reality, it is almost necessary. While it is not particularly a new idea, it may leave some to steer clear of a game that would propose such a style of gameplay, but to others like me, who are intrigued by this openness of the entire game, it may be the MMO that we’ve wanted to play but never knew it could exist.
The three main “roles” to choose from in The Secret World are that of the Illuminati, Templar and the Dragons. These mysterious societies have been whispers in the wind throughout history, but now, you have the opportunity to become part of the family and its existence. While their views about world domination or how the world should be run vary by troop, these factors do not necessarily inhibit the way in which you play, or as we saw in the extensive demo. Sticking it to histories mysteries, we saw the way in which you slay the creatures known as the Draug, in which history explains that they are believed to be the spirits of drowned Viking warriors.
Martin Bruusgaard, Lead Designer on TSW said it best: “…[the societies] are united against the fight, but divided by each having their home base in different cities by their factions.” This also resides in the clothing in which the characters are dressed in, which is solely cosmetic and does not dictate the characteristics of your player. (Follow the link to find out which faction you may belong to)
While the game showcases many aspects to the societies themselves, not to mention various other creatures of myth, the storyline itself is set in modern times. While this might not jump out of the page at you, there is reasoning behind this. For example, in one of the first demo scenes we see, our friends entered one of the dungeons with inlets of water and withholding mysterious creatures around every turn. As we continue to explore, the noticeable ship parts and half-ton shipping freights scattered throughout the scenery began to take shape of what exactly happened on this desolate landscape.
Lead Content Designer Joel Bylos made this a point when he was describing supernatural boss battles or spiritual encounters with the environment. It does not limit the players from playing cooperatively or with a group in order to defeat mythical ghastly creatures in New England, New York or any of the other real life environments that players can venture to. Join up with a Templar, playing as Illuminati, and unite to defeat swarms of the Draug.
During the demo, we were introduced to one of the missions, which was to adventure to the real life location of Soloman Island and explore the wreck of the Polaris.
The task begins to unfold as we discover why the Orachi Corporation has been playing such a large role, why they want to contract with your player, but also to discover what is behind the persistent efforts of the Draug are clawing at your every move. The group was investigating a ship known as the Polaris, which in real life was swept and lost at sea in 2007. This is one example as to how the game can be immersive with real life examples, but also allow players to still jump into another world and fight like a BA Templar, Dragon or Illuminati.
While the game promises a free roaming experience, it does offer some guidance into how it is played. Players can journey to such places as England, or Transylvania to take on missions of all sorts of oddities. Joel ensured us those players will right-off-the-bat be able to travel to other dungeon missions without being scared off by the constrictions of class, or not being able to defeat a powerful enemy because their XP far exceeds your own.
This brings us to something that players will want clarification on. The classic tale of ‘roles vs. classes’ will either bring players into the realm of TSW, or drive them away for a more rigid design. The roles players take on are very transactional, and can be swapped out as needed. Attributes can be accessed on the skill wheel, formerly known to the developers as the ‘skill hive.’ This allows players to start “as a generalist and move to a specialist.” The inner ring showcases the base of which that you will use to build your character and the outer abilities that you will become more specific as you choose which to purchase to refine your skills.
Some of the players that were represented in the demo were a healer type, range/crowd control, elementalist, and our hero-who was a high damage character. These were present in the group dynamics for that specific situation we were in. In a drop of a menu and click of a few buttons, our hero could change roles and move to someone sporting fire blasts or evil blood magic. These were all accessed in the skill wheel and swapped as tiles.
The other example given was someone who was using gun abilities. While you may assign general gun use at first, in order to level up your use of the weapon with more ferocity, you must gain the other skills, something similar to ‘gun expert #1, or #2.’ Although these can become your set of skills, they can be swapped and manipulated based on the experience or battle that is taking place on screen. This is thoroughly important when traveling to dungeons with varying landscapes and enemies.
The progression of the dungeon takes a different approach. In most cases, you enter into the dungeon well prepared, saving most of your powerful items and fire power knowing that it will grow increasingly more difficult as you journey deeper in a lateral sense. In TSW, there is a horizontal progression, bringing players to climb and scurry in order to find the right path that they are looking for. The scale in which we saw our group of players move was highly impressive, particularly because of the noticeable detail in level design.
Graphically, the game looks amazing. From the crisp and noticeable textures used in the landscape and buildings, the world itself is looking pretty damn impressive. This includes some of the environmental elements that were seen in the playthrough demo. As the players on screen waded through the waters, multiple ripples were made based on the traversing movements. Even as players made their way to open areas with large scale views, details like the lighthouse that was shining and swaying in the distance showcased the care and quality that was monitored to produce authenticity.
Also, when there were larger enemies on screen, the frame rate in this early version seemed to be cranking right on. It is also hard not to notice things like fire effects, which is a minute detail, but gives the player a sense of believability when it is shown on screen. This was extremely exciting to see as our player was dealing menacing fire attacks with very life like bursts of flame. Players will not have to worry about class limitations. There are over 100 guns, items, and power ups to ensure elasticity in your experience.
Someone had posed the question if TSW will be ‘making its way to console any time soon.’ The response did not give us much hope, but still hope nonetheless. Both Martin and Joel commented that they would “leave the door open” internally, and that they didn’t want to shun the “possibility down the road.” It would be great to see this MMO make its way to Xbox LIVE or PSN experience, but the GUI would have to accommodate the lack of pause and play as well as players dropping in and out. Also, the question of graphics would come highly into play.
The Secret World is shaping up to be graphically, mechanically, and mythically impressive. The demo that was shown at the EA Showcase was still an early build, it assured us of the graphical fidelity of the game. While there doesn’t look like a console release any time soon, the developers did want to leave the door open for its possibility. The Secret World is looking to take on the MMO genre with fresh ideas and give players a deep 3rd person MMO experience. Looks like you are going to have to set WoW or EVE down for more than a few clicks and check out what FunCom has in store for you.