I’ve been playing The Secret World for some six months now casually. More recently I bought a digital copy of Elder Scrolls Online ahead of the removal of the mandatory subscription; originally thinking it might be a good modern MMO for my roster. We’d tried it in beta but the excessive phasing used in quest design put paid to any ideas of playing it as a coop game. That plan has gone out the window since I realised that the games are too similar for me to want to play them both at the same time (and since I got hooked on FFXIV again).
Both games do have similar elements:
- Action combat with a limited active skill bar
- A story-rich world to explore with voiced dialogue/cut-scenes
- Skill-point character progression – you earn skill points and then assign them with few restrictions to improve specialisations
- The choices of skill points spent can lead to certain play styles or builds including the trinity roles of tank, healer, dps or hybrids of the same
From a tone and story point of view the games are ages apart although ESO does have some pretty dark quests it’s nothing compared to the occult-horror of the Secret World. TSW wins in terms of the excellently expressive cut-scenes that are used to introduce missions – NPCs often have memorable characters and the dialogues are well scripted.
From what I’ve seen so far ESO has some nice quests but the characters are not as well-realised or as closely tied into the stories you are playing trough.
For me Secret World’s combat is very ‘spammy’, you hit builders and then consumers in an endless cycle with the odd utility or defensive cooldown ability. So far this is the same basic mechanic for all skill builds. It’s a balanced and flexible system but not that exciting to play.
ESO seems to have a very flexible system that offers more variety of pacing. My dragonknight feels very tanky and you have the parry, interrupt and knockdown reactive actions as part of basic combat. I do wonder whether I’d grow tired of the combat, as I did with Tera, if I were playing the game intensively however.
Secret World has a beautifully realised set of zones, although they are naturally spread far and wide across Earth so they’re disjointed for a reason. Within the zones you generally only interact with things that are relevant to the current mission so the wider world is just a background for whatever mission you have active. There’s no gathering from nodes in the world, crafting generally is fueled by deconstructing items or buying materials from the broker.
In ESO, somewhat like the single-player Elder Scrolls games, you can interact with items much more than the MMORPG average. Barrels, boxes and such may contain items to pilfer. I haven’t seen it yet but I guess with the newly implemented Justice system – taking someone’s household goods will now be considered stealing! Beyond picking up items there’s also gathering out in the wilds – the usual options of mining ore, harvesting wood, gathering herbs and the Tamriel-specific rune stones. Also like the solo games, ESO has a lot of books on shelves in the world so that’s a collection mini-game for those interested in the lore or achievements.
Secret World is a very unusual game. It’s horror setting is more niche than either the fantasy or sci-fi genres and it’s very dark in many of the featured stories. The game has possibly the heaviest story focus I’ve seen in an online game, yet it also has action combat and the platform-style sabotage category of missions.
Elder Scrolls also seems to be a bit of a weird hybrid in terms of target audience: it has action combat and more of a PVP emphasis given the three factions setup and the entire zone dedicated to large-scale faction combat. Yet the world is well realised and full of stories to explore for PVE fans.
How do you view these two modern action-combat MMOs side by side?