The Secret World Review

Players of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are used to a
certain amount of consistency. There are core components to MMOs that
span most titles, and The Secret World tries to retain the most
important of those things. In every other area however, the makers of
The Secret World aren’t afraid to try to innovate and bring something

The World
The idea behind The Secret World is simple:
our modern-day world has a shadow world behind it where the paranormal
and the supernatural exist. Three organizations vie for dominance in
this behind-the-scenes reality: The Dragon, the Illuminati, and the
Templar. Players can choose which faction to support, but it does not
substantially change the gameplay overall so much as it changes the flow
of individual missions and storylines.

As you create your
character, you are introduced to the world through a series of
cutscenes, each of which features your character in them. Your
character never speaks, others simply talk to you as if you are there to
listen. The game is cutscene-heavy in the beginning to try to get you
into the story clearly. A few core events have to take place for you
before you’re let loose in the world and once you clear these hurdles,
you’re free to wander. Because there are a lot of places to travel to
(more open up as you grow your skills, and as Funcom adds new content),
you are introduced to a supernatural travel hub that will allow you to
hop from one part of the world to another. This seemingly simple
feature is actually the jumping-off point that gives the creators of The
Secret World the freedom to create any possible kind of place they can

Character Creation
The Secret World is a place where
anything is possible, so character creation is also fairly open to your
imagination too. You can be a master of martial arts, good with guns,
or supernaturally adept at spells. Each category breaks down a bit
more: for example, “Guns” can mean “Assault Rifles”, “Pistols”,
“Sniping”, etc. From there you can tweak it a bit further–for
instance, my character uses Elemental magic and over time the skills
shifted from just Fire and Electricity to more and different versions,
plus an Air-based technique or two.

When it comes to looks, you
don’t start off with a wide variety of faces, hair, or clothes. The
plus is that more clothes can be bought and you can always change your
costume any time you like, but the downside is that the smaller
selection of bodies and faces means you may regularly see other players
who look a lot like you. Just the same, I have seen some really
creative characters wandering around, and I suspect many have an
interesting story to tell.

Bye Bye Levels – Hello Skills and Actions
your character grows, you won’t see the typical system of “leveling”.
Instead, you earn Action Points (AP) and Skill Points (SP). Skill
Points are spent to enhance particular sets of skills, such as “Assault
Rifles”, “Elemental Magic”, etc. You choose specific sub-sets, such as
“Assault Rifles–>Damage” and plug points into those categories to
make the skill better. The downside is that some of your Skill Points
need to be spent on equipment–being able to equip talismans that boost
your skills or stats may require you to have your Talisman Skill at the
right level. The upside is that as your skills grow, they grow in a
direction that you control.

Action Points are then used to buy
specific things you can do within a skill set (e.g., “Fireball”,
“Inferno”, etc.). They climb a skill tree that branches off as it grows
into separate tiers. In other words, after you get all of the skills
in the bottom tier, you can now choose one of three tiers above it and
travel up that tier’s skill ladder. This allows for a lot more
creativity in your skill picking, and while Action Points are
represented as a wheel-like interface, the way it works reminds me more
of the skill trees in The Matrix Online.

Things you buy with
Action Points are split into Active, such as “you have to press a key to
throw a fireball,” and Passive, such as “you take less damage from
melee attacks” or “fire-based attacks do an additional 15 points of
damage per second for 10 seconds”. While this micromanagement of your
skills may sound complicated it’s all fairly well organized: Action
Points are laid out in a wheel and Skill Points are a left-to-right
chart of your progress.

If it’s still too complicated, they’ve
made things even easier for you by letting you select from ‘decks’ of
skills: pre-arranged basic sets of skills common to a particular
character type that will pre-load your character’s configuration for

As you move through the world, you will find
that actions run on the same kinds of turn-based and timer-led
operations that any other MMO does: one action might take you 4 seconds
to do, another takes only 2, and your opponent is doing their thing at
the same time. Where it gets different is a more action-oriented
approach to the world: if you stand still, a monster can run right up
to you and hit you. If you keep dodging out of their way, they won’t be
able to hit you without a ranged attack of some sort. Special attacks
the enemies aim at you might take a few seconds to achieve. Their
target path (or radius) will light up the area around you highlighting
where the incoming attack is going to land. An inner circle starts to
grow to the outer edge of the radius–it represents the time it’s taking
for the bad guy to wind up the attack. If you can get outside of the
area of effect before the inner circle fills, you’ve just dodged the
attack. All your actions are in a hotbar at the bottom of the screen
and can be launched at the tap of a key. When you defeat an enemy, they
may drop loot that you can collect.

Probably the biggest way The
Secret World departs from the norm is that it really does try to be
story-driven. A lot of MMOs offer quests that are so generic that most
people don’t even read the dialogue: they click through the
instructions, sprint off to do the job, then run back to the contact to
collect their reward–rinse & repeat. The Secret World makes its
quests more unique: each really does benefit from you reading the
instructions or watching the cutscenes. If you have to pick up a map
and give it to somebody, you’ll see the map pop up on your screen, a
piece of artwork rendered as if you were holding the real thing in your
hands. Your missions have icons on the right side of the screen that
not only let you quickly flip from one mission to another (some can be
‘paused’, others will be discarded and replaced with the mission you
chose), each icon lets you go back to the steps of the mission and look
them over again, even popping that map back up on the screen for another

The storytelling branches out a bit further: there are
‘lore items’ everywhere that you can retrieve, and as you pick them up
they fill in details of backstory. Collect them all and you have a nice
little bit of reading you can do to add depth to the story. The game
has an integrated browser not because it’s too hard to play without
looking up a cheat, but because if you get stuck, you might need a quick
look at the details to see where you took a mis-step. The browser is
also there for deliberate real-world interaction. For example, I found
an ID card on a body. A nearby laptop had their user plugged into a
command-line-based OS, but in order to login I needed to figure out
their password. Their password hint told me the password was their
wife’s name. Taking another look at the ID card, I noticed a company
website address. I opened the ingame browser, went to the company
website, and with a bit of digging I came up with the wife’s name and
voila, I was in. Some of the quests are impossible without following
clues out into the real world, where The Secret World have set up
websites, YouTube channels, and other artifacts to broaden the gameplay.
Don’t be shy about using the in-game browser.

This is where The
Secret World demands a lot of the MMO player: you have to cool down
the urge to level-grind to the top. You need to be willing to slow the
pace and enjoy the story. Reading and paying attention rewards you.
The blessing is that there is rich solid writing behind your adventures.
The curse is that at times the cutscenes are just plain bad. The
worst example: a Texas-style cowboy, camping out in a forest filled with
zombies…outside of a New England town. This fish-out-of-water feels
the need to throw in a line about how he’s cooked up some baked beans on
the fire, just in case the corny accent wasn’t enough to make you roll
your eyes. But for every baked-bean-bad cutscene, or halting-dialogue
boring one, there are some interesting ones, too: who are these two
strangers you’re spying on? They appear to have a dangerously
dysfunctional relationship. What is going through this guy’s mind, as
he tells you what it’s like to feel his body overrun by Lovecraftian
deep-sea horrors, knowing that when he dies he’ll be reanimated into a
shuffling, gurgling monstrosity?

Playing missions with friends is
easy: no matter what server your friends exist on, you can play
together wherever you like with a simple “/meetup” command. Some
servers are pre-flagged as being Roleplaying servers so people who
prefer to talk in character can be in a world that’s more like what
they’re looking for, while non-Roleplayer folk can get together without
having to interact with the RPers. The only awkward part about
missioning with groups is that some missions have instanced sections
that mean each player completes that section individually, then everyone
gets back together after the instanced part (many MMOs do this).

Can it Survive?
a time when every MMO except World of Warcraft seems to be closing its
doors or converting to a free-to-play scheme, The Secret World still
insists on having a paid subscription model. The promise is that Funcom
will earn your money: they intend to release new content every month
and always keep adding to the game. How long they can sustain that
remains to be seen, because right now you are also going to have to
forgive bugged missions and the occasional large patch. However, the
graphics and sound quality are excellent, and if Funcom can fix the bugs
as they grow the world, there are those who will find The Secret World
to be worth the price. I’ve uploaded a couple of screenshots here so
you can see graphics quality straight off a player’s machine.

you like MMOs and are looking for something new, I highly recommend
giving The Secret World a try. You may find just the right balance of
the familiar and the new. If you’re new to MMOs, this might be more
accessible to you because Funcom really do try to make the environment
easier to understand and to navigate. Just be patient with your
progression and enjoy the storylines underneath.

Verdict: 75/100



Persistent World Online RPG

Release Date

July 3, 2012


Electronic Arts

Keyboard, Mouse

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