"I want to play that", she said.
Well, there was a beta weekend going on so why wait? I briefly considered pre-ordering just to get a beta key, but a quick google turned up some German gaming sites with keys left. The 13GB download took a lot longer but in the end we had the thing up and running on both machines and we managed to get about sixteen hours in over Saturday night and Sunday.
There's a lot to talk about. I took notes.
Based on my experiences in the three zones available in beta - London, Kingsmouth and the Argartha - The Secret World is a world that begs to be explored. The setting is deeply atmospheric - immersive, intriguing and mysterious. Also fresh. Art direction and writing are as good as I have ever seen in an MMO. The UI is idiosyncratic and a tad shambolic but it works well enough. Animations are average at best. Visual effects are no better. Combat involves hotbars and tab targeting. Gameplay revolves around Missions. It's a traditional MMO.
Only it isn't. It's an MMO set slightly askew and it's the off-kilter lurch that works so well. Let's break it down.
Look and Feel
There were some arguments in general chat over the "graphics" of The Secret World. Some said the game looked amazing, others questioned their sanity and asked whether they'd actually seen a game made in the last five years. Both views have merit. Compared to the ultra-slick surface sheen of MMOs like Tera or even Rift or the hyper-designed painterly aesthetic of GW2, The Secret World looks plain. There's a distinct lack of sparkle.
|Hopper goes Holborn|
What TSW does have is art direction of the highest quality. The detailing is superb. Funcom are making a big deal out of the real world setting and their art team have brought to life a marvelous, magical heightened version of reality that perfectly suits the content. It's our world seen out of the corner of your eye.
I spent a long time poking into every corner, playing with camera angles, zooming in, trying to absorb every particle of information. So much going on all over. So much to think about. Will most of it amount to anything? I doubt it. It's texture and the success of the effect is in the accretion.
This is a game that was always going to live or die by how well it put its case: "Everything is true". Here, you feel, it just might be.
I'm not big on story in MMOs. I'm far more interested in my own characters and their stories than I'm ever likely to be in any tale a developer wants to tell me. This is different.
|Watch yer car fer a dollar, Mister.|
My overriding impression throughout my time in London was "This is like being inside a Grant Morrison comic". Specifically, it's like being inside The Doom Patrol. The subject matter, the way the characters speak, the vibe. In Kingsmouth it felt more like being inside Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. The spirit of modern comics writing is very strong in TSW. It makes a wonderfully refreshing change from the dead hand of mass market fantasy that chokes the life out of most MMOs.
If The Secret World reads like a comic it sounds like an indie movie. NPCs talk a lot. To you, to each other, to themselves. I am not at all a fan of voiceovers in MMOs so you'd think this wouldn't be a selling point. Once again, this is different.
|Say what Bro?|
All the way to a whole new set of stereotypes. When did you last hear a Scouser in an MMO? Or a Welshman? The lines are often pretty good and the delivery drips with irony, sarcasm, subtext. Most conversations left me thinking there were things going on that I wasn't being told.
The highest praise I can give to the dialogs and cut scenes is that far from wanting to skip past them I spent much time actively hunting down all the NPCs with something to say and making sure I heard every word.
Coming next: UI, Skills, Combat, Missions