[I've played approximately 30 hours of The Secret World, which is about the entirety of the first major act of the game. More detailed impressions will follow as more content is explored/completed.]
The best way to succinctly describe The Secret World is that it’s a non-conventional, yet conventional modern day setting MMO that features zombies, and other demons/creatures of the night.
It does things many MMOs have done before, and it also does a few unique things that I hope MMOs learn from. But the real question is, is it worth your hard-earned cash right now?
The cool thing about The Secret World is that you can feasibly choose any role with any character — there are no “classes” that you’re locked into upon creation. So far, my character is an Illuminati who wields Chaos talismans (DPS) and pistols (Support). If I wanted, I could choose any number of other ranged, magic, or melee options, and mix and match as I see fit.
But, there is a downside. While you can choose unique options at any point, the community (and the game) mostly adheres to the holy trinity of tanking, damage, and healing. In typical MMO fashion you’ll see the typical “LFM DPS/Tank/Heals” for certain quests/instances within the in-game chat. While it gives you the illusion of choice, TSW ultimately doesn’t deviate that far from the norm.
For example, there are instances. There are kill/gather/fetch quests. The game features pretty standard MMO combat. There is predictable corpse-walking after death just like World of Warcraft, and a number of other MMOs. You know what though? The way the game frames these tropes, while not absolutely groundbreaking, is interesting.
The quests themselves, while mostly fairly standard fare, have the added bonus of containing dialogue you actually care about. Much more importantly, they present it in a manner that’s interesting.
Instead of a droll quest log, you’ll be getting scrawled hidden notes written in blood. You also might find some old diary entries from someone who was succumbing to a mysterious plague, a la Resident Evil.
But in between these cool moments, some rather odd design choices help curb your enjoyment from time to time. Most notably, the quest helper will randomly decide whether or not to show you quest objectives or not.
In fact, the quest helper mechanic is so hardcore that it will not only show you the location on the map, but it’ll bring up a marker on your regular screen. This would be fine it didn’t show up for 3/4 of the game’s quests, and be completely absent for the other fourth.
I think today people are so used to hand-holding in games that it’s taken out a lot of the fun of exploration, but again, if you’re going to include a quest helper mechanic, do it right.
Also, there is no way to drop quests at the time of this writing unless you pick up another quest in the same slot. None of this is particularly dealbreaking, but the aforementioned issues can pop up from time to time and cause more than a minor annoyance.
Another issue is the in-game web browser, which can be used to solve some mysteries/quests you pick up along the way. On paper this seems like a cool idea, but the proprietary browser itself is very limited. In fact, it’s much easier to just run the game windowed, and alt+tab out to a more potent browser.
I think it would have been a lot cooler (although ultimately hard to program, no doubt) if the browser was completely in-game only (as in, a BBS network solely within the game, and not just a sub-par real world browser) — it would have added to the lore, and if even a small number of people were willing to role play, the browser would have been infinitely more interesting.
But despite these odd choices, there are a few good ones that augment the mostly serviceable gameplay. Like the fact that the mini-map can be completely zoomed out to view the entire area, which is a nice, if subtle touch. The UI, by default, shows your cooldowns down to the half second.
Also, don’t be concerned if you’re what many people call a “lone wolf” — this is nothing like MMOs of old. TSW makes concessions for solo players, and allows you to pretty much access the entireity of the game (sans instances) without grouping. I had no trouble at all utilizing my talents to solo anything; quests or enemies.
Funcom has many updates planned in the future, with content drops ready on a semi-monthly basis. In fact, it already has a micro-transaction store available now (which kind of puts a sour taste in my mouth), which means it could basically flip a switch any day and go Free to Play. While monthly updates sound great, the fact that it could go Free to Play is something to keep in mind for the future.
If you’re yearning for another different yet no that different MMO, The Secret World may scratch that itch. There are seldom any MMOs out today that take place in the modern world, so that selling point alone may be worth an initial glance.