Secret World: Beta Review
Secret World is a Mature MMORPG developed by Funcom soon to be released. The past four weekends they have had preorder customers and testers alike trying out their newest title, step by step, to allow their dedicated fans to absorb all that Secret World has to offer. This weekend they finally opened up player vs. player combat upon the leveled up gamers, and the game showed its true colors.
The main plot behind Secret World is that an unnatural disaster occurred in Tokyo (that city can’t catch a break in the fantasy world), causing a plague like substance to kill thousands and put the rest in a zombie like state to feed off of what few survivors remained. During this event, mystic bees appear and enter the bodies of certain humans to unlock the power within called Anima. The games three factions, The Illuminati, who crave power, the Templar, who rule with divine right, and the Dragon, who control chaos though hidden acts, go around recruiting these special people to gain power for the upcoming Dark Days. You start the game off with your completely customizable character waking up a week in the past on the day the disaster occurred and gain untold power after swallowing one of those bees. As the week progresses, you appear on the radar of whatever faction you chose when you created your character and begin being molded by them. They train you, they equip you, and then they call on you to act on their behalf in exchange for power and wealth and whatever else it is your faction believes in.
Every NPC who speaks has some pretty good voice acting, and every quest and task you are given has its own cutscenes to help you feel like you are truly following an epic tale. In general, the game emphasizes it’s fantasy elements and it’s story more so than even some RPGs, let alone MMOs, giving the game a unique feel to it and a fun play. Steve Blum is even the first person to give you a quest in the first area of the game. Unfortunately the cut-scene animations are a bit sloppy, with the characters mouths often moving in unnatural ways that make it look like bad puppet work. Though it hinders one of the games strongest points, it is still nice to have that element to a fantasy game, since the scripting truly helps set the scene. Scenes can be skipped, but it is not recommended, since the game doesn’t always hold your hand though every quest and you actually need to listen to what they say occasionally, which is a wonderful improvement to how passive MMO quests can be.
Combat in the game is a bit more vanilla than it’s story telling, but the game offers a few twists to MMO standards that help keep the game going. When you enter the training stage in the introduction to your secret society, the first thing you notice is that there is no mana bar, regardless of what weapon you chose to fight with. All the weapons work on a stack system, building stacks with basic attacks, and spending them all with more advanced attacks. The three types of “mage” weapons in the game do require a more conscious effort on your part to manage your stacks however, with varying costs of stacks rather than spending them all at once like the ranged fire arms and the melee weapons. Instead skills are managed with your stack counts with the spending skills doing more damage the more stacks you have and all skills having set cooldowns, that at the moment there is no way to reduce. This makes the gameplay different but not quite unique. There is also no basic attack, so in order use any of the games nine weapon styles, you must have a skill purchased for it. Personally I enjoyed fighting like this. It makes the early levels easy to manage and intuitive to understanding the rest of the games mechanic. The end game combat all relies on your equipment, your two weapons of choice, and your deck.
Skill progression and Decks
Another unique function of the game is the way it balances power. There are no levels, and no classes. Instead you have 14 skill slots (7 active and 7 passive) that are managed at the Skill Wheel menu. Skills are purchased with SP, which is gained from experience. This way, as you gain experience, you gain superior skills rather that base stat changes to upgrade your character. The game has a ton of skills that are manageable to customize how your character fights and plays to create your own role from scratch. If that’s seems too advanced or potentially dangerous if you waste you skill points (SP), have no fear. The game offers a deck system for each society which is completely (and one of the only) things that are unique for each one. Decks are recommended skill load-outs that fulfill 10 different (per society) roles and play styles that give you a guide on how to build your character. They range from over 30 possible weapon combinations and some of the better endgame skills. Completing a recommended deck layout not only is an accomplishment in itself, but each recommended deck has its own uniform that you unlock and can wear into battle. There are also unannounced rewards along with that, so it is suggested that it may also come with its own title and possibly gear.
Gameplay and Dungeons.
To coincide with the games wonderful theme of mystery and fantasy, the game also offers quite a few puzzles both in and out of combat. Out of combat, there are tons of riddles and clues hidden to unlock doors and to find missing people. During combat, it is very early that your character faces enemies with area of effect attacks that enemies charge and display on the ground. At early levels, it is as simple as double tapping a direction to roll and dive out of the way. At later levels there are entire areas, turrets, and patterns that must be solved and avoided to survive. This early introduction to doge helps players master the ability come the first dungeon, and also adds to the action and adrenaline. As a Templar training to become a master of sword and dual pistol combat, it meant shooting foes until they got close enough to slash, spending my stacks and diving out of the way, shooting bullets in the air mid dive before they could attack with a charged attack and keep the assault going until the boss was downed. Combat looked flashy and fun, but became much more practical in the game’s insanely difficult first dungeon.
The game’s PVP was a new addition this weekend, and it’s clear to see that the game is going to have a lot of competitive play already. However, the game also showed its flaws and where it needs to improve come launch and on. The biggest concern was that, though there is a team based mode of combat and you can party up with players you meet before hand, the game has no real matchmaking system or dungeon buddy guide. It puts the task of finding partners entirely up to the chat box’s “looking for group” command. Even with the small number of people playing this weekend, it was flooding the chat past being very readable. Still, once in combat, PVP was absolutely fantastic. PVP in the game is not open world and therefore has its own menu where you can warp to legendary places on the earth and duel it out. There were three areas open this weekend, each with its own style of PvP and each involving all three factions at a time. El Dorado features team death match style of play and has announced future leader boards. Stone hedge offers king of the hill style mayhem as groups of warriors from each faction battle towards a central command point to hold. My personal favorite is endless PVP combat at Funsang temple, where players have tons of command points to hold that also act as spawn beacons, and control over complete areas offers actual in game bonuses for factions like increased exp.
Overall, I felt the game was a new and refreshing take on how an MMO should feel. Due to the stories perceived notion and announcements that this world is a place where every myth and legend is real, there is some serious potential set up for tons of expansions, patches, and a long future without much stretch to the base story line. The game needs improvement to incorporate players with each other so it feels a little bit more MMO than just an RPG with online capabilities, but that’s not a bad thing either. The game also will need to include some more elements within each faction to make the choice more significant. The economy within the game and introduction of a shop system, along with a monthly fee, could be dangerous and cause outrage if the items offered in the shop are anything more than just cosmetic. Time will tell where the game is going, but for now it is a completely solid title and one of the best solo experiences inside of an MMO with a nice array of PVP options.