Peeking at the Secret (World)

My planned return to EQ2 will not happen properly until I’m back from a work trip in October so for the weeks left in between my partner and I have decided to give Secret World a spin. We’ve played one session so far but by happy coincidence our SWTOR friend was available as well so we ran around as a trio for part of the time.

The TL:DR; summary is that the game offers a lot of tantalizing hints of deep story, complex mechanics (without levels!) and what appears to be lots of flexibility to the grouping experience.

First impressions
Having created a character each in the character creator we were ready to jump into our chosen faction’s (Templar) tutorial zone. The only issue with the creator that we encountered was the problems finding a nickname that isn’t already taken. This is the shorthand name for your character and has to be unique on the server – even some of my very obscure celtic names were already gone. It also posed a slight creativity challenge as we’re so used to making fantasy characters that finding something more appropriate to near-future London was quite challenging!

The tutorial zone is shared but some of the instanced mini-missions are solo only. Not a big problem and to be expected I suppose but the confusing ‘play as other character’ sequence was reminiscent of the baffling tutorial for Tera – throwing players in at the deep end with a set of unfamiliar abilities and tough fights may not be the best first impression to give…

New beginnings...

New beginnings…

We completed the tutorial missions quickly enough and moved on to the first proper zone of Kingsmouth. By the time our leveling-trio friend had come online we’d also done all the initial missions from the guy by the Agartha gate (loving this lore-appropriate excuse for rapid travel!). So we joined up as a trio at the police station and carried on exploring from there. It soon became clear that this MMORPG has a somewhat unique and very positive take on group play. The lack of levels means you can play together without artificial restriction – the only mechanical issue I noticed was that as a newly minted tank I had trouble keeping aggro from our friend’s similar tank/dps hybrid because his character has more APs spent to upgrade abilities. I doubt this will be an issue longer-term.

The cut-scenes so far do an excellent job of introducing the plot and specific missions and NPCs. The solo-together nature of them does lead to some confusion if you’re not very coordinated via party chat or voice comms though (e.g. lots of “have you taken this mission yet”?) – we have been spoiled by SWTOR’s strict synchronisation of such cut scenes as it’s makes for a more seamless group experience. That said I really like that the game has cut-scenes at all and certainly the quality is way above Neverwinter’s ‘talking zombie’ dialogues.

Finally an MMO that lets you take screenshots during cut-scenes!

Finally an MMO that lets you take screenshots during cut-scenes!

Missions come in different types and you can only have one ‘main mission’ active at a time, if you take a second one the other becomes inactive. That’s an interesting structure – it appears at first glance to encourage you to slow down and spend more time in a given zone. I’ll definitely come back to this topic with more thoughts after playing some more. There are other reasons to explore the zones properly as you find side-missions out in the field (max of three active at a time) and you can find lore objects to add to a growing story-narrative. At least some of the missions can be repeated and that’s actually a genius decision by the devs. It means our friend’s character can rerun missions with us despite having completed them and still earn money and XP rewards. This meant a seamless grouping experience and also means we don’t have to keep separate characters for trio leveling – we can just play these characters as a duo or trio ad hoc with the only important consideration being the progress through the zone storyline which we’ll probably want to keep roughly in-sync.

I was a bit concerned about the combat going into this as I’ve read some criticisms of the responsiveness of abilities and the feel of combat in general. So far, playing only with sword and pistol abilities, I’m liking the feel of combat and the pacing of fights. We’ve fought a goodly amount of zombie-trash that as a trio we can annihilate very quickly. There are also some tougher fights that benefit from some coordination and proper ‘trinity’ gameplay. Combat seems to be responsive enough and the ability animations are nice and distinctive.


Perhaps the game’s greatest strength and biggest potential issue for newcomers is the ability wheel system – character customisation is extensive and complicated from this new player’s perspective. I’m undecided how Funcom could handle this better, I don’t think players should have to go to websites for ‘build’ guides right at the start of a new game. There is that concern we’ll waste AP or skill points if we want to drastically change our characters in the future but then apparently it’s possible to eventually get all skills on a character so that shouldn’t matter much. I think the ‘choose your weapon’ tutorial mission needs a lot of work as it does a pretty poor job of introducing this complex system to a newbie…

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8 Responses to Peeking at the Secret (World)

  1. Mehster says:

    A good read, thanks for the review! I’ve been considering The Secret World for a while, it certainly looks fresh and interesting! 🙂

  2. Aywren says:

    I’ve played TSW on and off since launch (I’m also sword/pistols), and still enjoy the game as much now as I did back then. Granted, I’ve moved through the content very slowly. I had friends join me later into my explorations, which caused me to go back to Kingsmouth to help them level through Solomon’s Island. So, I’ve actually played this game 2-3 times over, with the same character, as far as the SI area is concerned. It’s all good, though, because I’m still using those points to fill out my skill wheel, and I love the stories and characters there!

    This game has some amazing lore… in that so many things are tied into actual history. I find myself going to Wikipedia to look things up after quests and getting lost in the immensity that is our own world’s stories and histories. The way TSW writers take real world legends and slip them into the game is masterful. There’s so much going on under the surface of this game.

    It’s one I always love coming back to explore when I get the itch (we’ve been playing it lately). And when you do beat those puzzle quests, you feel like a boss! Having friends to help you through, though makes it so much easier in the later areas. 🙂

  3. Sylow says:

    A small comment on having to look online for a good build (called “deck” in the game), there is a number of starter decks predefined in the game. Check the left side of your skill wheel, you can open the decks tab and take a look at the starter decks.

    The starter decks give you a good setup for a low investment of AP, which is no big surprise as they were created abd provided by players a while after release with certain limitations given. So for anybody new to the game, they can provide a reasonable start.

    The higher up decks, on the other hand, are best only acquired to get the outfits associated with them, they were in game since before release and are actually rather bad. You have to invest a lot of AP to get those and they can’t complete with setups with similar AP costs but a selection of passives from more weapons. (Taking a look at them to get an inspiration on how you can connect different effects might still be a good idea, but actually running them is not. )

    That being said, i also agree, the training sequence where you pick your first weapons is lacking. You can learn more by watching the video you get when opening the skill wheel, but truth to be told, how many players do that? Unfortunately i also don’t have the great idea on how to do that better. Of course TSW could go for the forcefeeding method of other games, but once you do that, you’ve taken your first step on the way towards one of those games who guide a player along rails all through.

    I personally appreciate it a lot that TSW treats you as a grown up person who is able to gather information and use it. And the game goes really far here, as you will see when running into your first investigation missions. Btw, for better enjoyment of investigation missions i advise:

    – Don’t use guides or spoilers of the net unless stuck for quite a while. (No investigation mission blocks your progress, so you don’t -need- to do them. But having solved them on your own is a very rewarding experience. )
    – When stuck in an investigation mission, put it on the backburner. Pick up other missions and do those.
    – I personally “solved” several investigation missions on way to work or home, when i was not even at the computer but had time to think about them. Sometimes it took me several days before it clicked, but giving them this time and then suddenly having the right idea is so much fun, you should not take that away from yourself.

    I am very much looking forward to reading more of your experience in TSW. 🙂

  4. Meznir says:

    Some great comments from the people above. 🙂

    My first thoughts as a newb to TSW are:

    – I hope that the solo instances aren’t so prevalent later on. I’d like to be going through these things together rather than separately in tandem. Though you can see why they’ve done it in some / most cases and it does mean you can solve things yourself.

    – My main issue with the weapon quest (and possibly due to being more focused on the Trinty than the game needs) is that it would be REALLY useful if they simply marked which weapons are healer / tank / dps / support etc. We had to find this info out online or deduce from the skill wheel, making it more fiddly than it needed to be. I don’t need hand-holding, but some indication of the roles if the nine weapons would be helpful.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how the flexibility pans out – that I can play around with skill points, trying different weapons and coming up with combos that suit my playstyle and preferences. I’m also very much looking forward to solving puzzles!

  5. Sylow says:

    The lesson about solo instances the developers have learned. The later areas have very few of them, the DLCs are completely made without them (even places which by all logic probably would be solo can be done in group) and some of the solo instances on Solomon island also were changed some time after launch. Unfortunately Solomon island and especially Kingsmouth was the area with the highest number of solo instances and a good number of them still exist.

    So indeed, things will get better there.

    On the weapons, yes, i understand. I even consider it more “fail” that they give you a shotgun in the first tutorial and then give you a healing ability there. There were some people around who picked a shotgun in the training area and expected it to be a healing weapon, while it’s actually a DD tool with some support abilities.

    That being said, on the matter of your future setup i advise to complete the inner wheel (all weapons) on time, before investing a lot into the outer wheel. (Some cherry-picking on the outer wheel might be useful, too. ) A lot of deck building is in the passives, after all, and it’s good to know that most passives are independent of the weapons you are actually using. (I write “most” as some passives only support one specific active ability, which is bound to a specific weapon, effectively also binding the passive to this weapon. )

  6. pkudude99 says:

    There is a single ability without which you are not a tank: Agitator. It’s in the green “turbulence” tree in the lower left of your skill wheel. It’s your hate booster. Without that, you won’t ever hold aggro. Even with it, you can’t expect to equip 7 “tank” talismans and be able to hold aggro either. You gotta balance Attack Power vs your Health, and then beyond that your hit and penetration stats (offense) with your block stat (defense) in order to be an effective tank.

    Most people (including me) suggest wearing tank talismans in your head and 2 major and 1 minor slots, then attack ratting in the other major and the remaining 2 minors. Hit isn’t *too* terribly important a stat until you get to Elite and Nightmare level dungeons, so I wouldn’t worry about it for a while. For your offense stats you also have your weapon to add in also — usually full penetration on the weapon while leveling up, though some people like to put hit on the weapon and leave Pen and Block in their talismans.

    Anyway, at any given QL, try to stat yourself to be about half penetration, and half block, slot Agitator passive, use one of the “bonus hate” builders (Escalation from Chaos Magic or Blade Torrent from Blades. Grand Slam from Hammer has a hate component, but it’s a little odd, so it’s not generally suggested), slot an impair (2 is better. . . ), a survival skill or 2, and you’re pretty much good to go as tank. has some decent beginner builds.

    FWIW, while “out in the world” I’ve found it’s usually best to go mostly dps with a single major health talisman, but the other 6 all as attack rating, then glyph in as much penetration as possible Slot a couple of heal on strike passives (Lick Your Wounds from Fist, and Immortal Spirit from Blade), and that will pretty much do ya for just about anything you ever run into. As you get more skills you can play with it too. My current solo build is an AE dps-focused Rifle/Shotgun thing and it’s a lot of fun for me, but it’s of limited use in many situations too.

  7. Telwyn says:

    Thanks for all the comments! Some great tips to work towards. We’ll only be playing as a duo or group of friends anyway, not in any hurry to be pugging so I think the tanking thing is a lower priority than getting used to and enjoying the early game.

    • pkudude99 says:

      Let me amend my final paragraph in my comment:

      When “out in the world” using Green talismans, go with all 7 being Attack Rating focused. Or you might possibly go 1 Heal Rating and 6 Attack. Never anything other than this though. Green tali’s include a crapton of Health on them already, so when not tanking, there’s no need to ever wear an actual tanking talisman. IIRC, at QL10 in green I had over 4000 HP, so your health pool in greens is never an issue.

      I also suggest crafting your own glyphs. Green glyph toolkits are extremely cheap and they drop often anyway, so you’d probably never even really need to buy one. Just make sure to disassemble any gear you run across and you’ll soon have so many rune mats that you’ll stop disassembling the gear and selling it for cash after all. Another fun fact: Glyph QL doesn’t affect your ability to wear your gear, so a “higher level” friend or guildie can craft QL10 glyphs for you to use on your QL1 talismans if you want. Gives a slight boost to you in the lower levels, if you care to take advantage of it.

      Anyway… crafting your own glyphs means you can custom tailor your talismans to your build rather than searching the market for that 1 perfect talisman that’s glyphed how you want it. I never worried about it — just bought the cheapest talisman of the type that I wanted and then dropped my own glyph on it. Worked very well.

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