Published on August 8th, 2012 | by Sam Desatoff, Editor
Review: The Secret World
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Review Notes: A code for the game was received for review purposes.
The Secret World starts when your character swallows a magical fly and awakens with mysterious powers. Funcom’s entry into the MMO fold doesn’t waste any time in piling on the questions. Set in an alternate Earth where information and conspiracy have sent our civilization spiraling into dystopia, The Secret World manages to separate itself from the fantasy-filled norm. But an intriguing setting and a mystery-driven story are not enough to polish the rough edges and prevent it from falling victim to tired MMO tropes.
To its credit, The Secret World’s setting is the most interesting I’ve ever played in an MMO before. By placing the game in recognizable, real world locations such as New England and Egypt, the chaos feels more impactful. There is a sense of despair hanging in the environments, and the characters and non-playable characters (NPC) go a long way in maintaining that feeling. An impressive amount of voice acting has gone into The Secret World, much of it convincing.
However, many characters feel flat and lack depth. I suppose it can be hard to maintain character depth in a game with hundreds of NPCs, but I feel like writing dialogue is not Funcom’s strong suit.
Main story quests often involve scanning the environment for clues. These clues can be difficult to find at times, but the entire mechanic comes off as an environmental puzzle. Finishing these quests is rewarding and a refreshing change of pace from the typical “go here and kill seven of these” quests present in most other MMOs. Funcom has included stealth sections as well, but these are more frustrating than anything. Detection is spotty at best, lending a tacked-on feeling to these areas.
The Skill Wheel is The Secret World’s take on skill allocation. The wheel contains every skill in the game. Rather than leveling-up in a traditional, numerical manner, your character earns skill points which are used on the Skill Wheel. The wheel is divided into thirds, with each third representing a ranged, melee and magic skills. Each third is subsequently divided further into sub-skills.
For example, the ranged skills include pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. Once unlocked, you are free to change between any combinations of skills at any time. Thanks to the class-less format The Secret World opts for; there are no limitations as to who can use which skills. In theory, the wheel offers an impressive amount of freedom, but the time investment required to unlock all the skills still imposes a feeling of restriction until late in the game.
In combat, The Secret World starts to rely heavily on the MMO mainstay of hitting hotkey after hotkey to activate abilities while watching the enemy health bar slowly dwindle. There’s nothing particularly broken about the system, but it’s the same one we’ve seen dozens of times before.
Several noticeable glitches popped up during my time with The Secret World. Enemies tend to clip through environments and their pathing leaves much to be desired. With The Secret World going out of its way to buck MMO norms, it’s disappointing to see some of the basics executed so poorly.
Content-wise, Funcom has included enough to keep you busy for quite some time. There are many group and solo instances, and watching the Skill Wheel fill out is rewarding. But when the framework is as shaky as The Secret World’s, it can be tough to justify a return trip. I can definitely see the game carving out a niche following of loyal fans, and perhaps that’s just what Funcom is aiming for.
Games like League of Legends have proved that devoted followers, even in small groups, can lengthen a game’s lifespan significantly. If Funcom ever chooses to go free-to-play with The Secret World I expect subscriptions levels to increase significantly. As it stands, however, the game fails to keep my attention.
+ Skill wheel
– Stagnant combat
– Poor AI
– Subscription based