Monday, June 25, 2012

Impressions From The Final The Secret World Beta

I took a break from running around low sec Saturday because I received a beta key from Funcom to play their new MMORPG, The Secret World.  Since I've stated that I think The Secret World is one of the top stories of 2012 I thought I should at least play the beta since I had the chance.  As always when I do a post about a game, I am only giving my impressions as I don't feel playing 6-7 hours really allows me to see enough of an MMORPG to do an actual review.  Hopefully those who don't play Eve Online won't mind all the Eve references since I do see a lot of similarities between the two games.

"A Thinking Man's Game."  I have read this or a variation of the phrase on the forums and in general chat and I have to agree.  At its heart I believe The Secret World is a puzzle game.  In general chat I read requests that people send answers via direct tell and not in chat.  Unlike games like  Star Wars: The Old Republic that lead players right up to people, TSW will lead players to a general area and then the player has to figure out how to get to the objective.  Sometimes that is not easy, involving climbing up and down objects or looking really carefully at the map.  At other times the quest only gives clues and the player needs to figure out the answer.  And I didn't even try to do an investigative quest which I hear requires researching facts in the real world via the Internet.  TSW contains an in-game browser and unlike the one in Eve Online can play videos.

Where are Will Smitty and Tommy Lee Jones?  The Secret World is set in a modern-day setting with a twist; every conspiracy theory and myth is true.  Instead of a group of guys in black suits running around trying to keep a lid on all the weirdness, Funcom created three player factions, the Templars, Illuminati and Dragon.  The Templars and Illunimati are modified versions of "existing" organizations while the Dragon is a composite of secret societies from eastern Asia.

Update?  But I did!  I knew I might be in trouble when I was prompted to update my video drivers.  The problem was my drivers were up to date.  The Secret World website did provide a link to check out if my computer meets the recommended requirements.  Sadly, it does not.  But by running the default settings I can gladly report I didn't notice any problems while running around the game.  Of course, I didn't do any dungeons, so I don't know how my computer would have fared.  For the record, here are the minimum and recommended system requirements.

Minimum System Requirements

  • Internet Connection: 512 KBPS or faster
  • OS: Windows XP (SP 1)/Vista (SP 1)/Windows 7 (SP 1)
  • DVD-ROM: 8X or faster DVD drive
  • Processor: 2.6 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent AMD CPU
  • Memory: At least 2GB RAM for Windows XP / 3GB RAM for Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Hard Drive: At least 30GB of free space
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA 8800 series 512 VRAM or better
  • DirectX: DirectX 9.0c Compatible
  • Input: Keyboard & Mouse

Recommended System Requirements

  • OS: Windows 7 64 bit
  • Processor: Intel Core i5 3.0Ghz or equivalent
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti 1GB
  • Memory: 6 GB
My System (for comparison)
  • OS: Windows 7 64 bit
  • Processor: AMD A4-3400 APU with Radeon HD Graphics, 2.7 GHz
  • Graphics Card:  AMD Radeon HD 6410D
  • Memory: 4 GB

Is This Clone Wars?  To say that the character creator was pretty basic is putting it kindly.  I realize that I'm used to Eve Online's amazing character creation process but TSW's was disappointing.  The only customization to appearance is the head and selecting starting clothing.  Of course, I should add that Funcom greatly added to the selection of clothing after I created my character, so that helped with the problem of everyone looking the same.  But everyone does have the same body type, so that is a bit of personalization out the window.  Of course, given the system requirements, that might help me run the game.

I'm Not Watching A Cartoon.   Given that my graphics card barely meets the minimum requirements to run The Secret World, I have to say I still liked the graphics.  I do have to preference this by stating that I always liked the realistic graphics in games like EverQuest 2 over those found in World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The one question I will have is the ability to keep the graphics updated long term like CCP has done with Eve if the game is a success.  Will the desire to have graphics that last a long time requiring higher-end graphics cards to run limit the potential player base for TSW?

Class?  What's That?  Up until now, the creation of skill-based classless games like Ultima Online, Eve Online and Darkfall was done by independent game studios.  So how does Funcom handle the challenge of creating a game in which players can know every possible skill?

Skill classes:  The Secret World has three main classes of skills, magic, melee and ranged, which are then further divided into three sub-classes.  But wait, didn't I write that TSW has no classes?  That's right, no class that a player is locked into playing.  That means no re-rolling a new character if a player wants to try something completely different.  Just start learning the new skills on an old character.

Action bar slots:  I was struck by the similarity of TSW's design of active, passive and talisman slots reflects CCP's ship design using high, mid and low slots.  In The Secret World, a player is limited to only having 7 skills in the Active skill bar and 7 skills in the Passive skill bar.  Thus a player must pay attention to the skill selection.  Combine that with the 7 talisman slots a player receives to supplement a character's skills and once I actually had purchased 8 active and 8 passive skills I began to feel like I was trying to fit my Hurricane in Eve.

Weapons slots:  Funcom keeps the entire skills system from spiraling out of control by limiting the skills in a player's action bar to those associated with the weapons the character is carrying.  A character can only carry two weapons and only one of each skill.  Funcom is actually putting together something called decks that describe how different combinations of skills work together.  The best description I can come up with are multi-class characters in D&D or hybrid characters in World of Warcraft like druids or paladins.

That's A Mighty Small Journal.  The quest, or I should say mission, system in The Secret World is unusual in that only six missions are allowed in the quest journal at any one time.  And those six missions are broken down further into categories.  As TSW is a theme park game, one of the missions is called the story mission.  I've never played Lord of the Rings Online, but I wonder if LOTRO does the same thing with its chapters.  Another mission slot is reserved for dungeon missions, a third for main missions and the other three for side missions.  No carrying around 75 quests like I could do in EverQuest 2.

One nice thing about the quest givers is that they display all of the possible missions they will hand out.  That helps when deciding whether to accept a quest from another source when wandering around.  Also, some quests are repeatable and by clicking on the quest icon the cool down for the quest is visible.  I think the repeatable quests would really come into play when attempting to level up some secondary skills on a character.

Did I Fall Into A Rift?   I have to say that the combat system reminded me a lot of RIFT's.  Some skills generate resources that are then consumed by more powerful skills.  Also, moving around is good, standing still is bad.  The one nice feature is that using a skill that generates resources generates for both weapons if a character has two equipped.  Since the weapons (at least the ones I played with) use different resources a player can use damage dealing skills and still have the resources needed to cast powerful heals.  That type of ability is what I think will make TSW's combat system stand out.

Do All EA MMOs Do This?  The Secret World and Star Wars: The Old Republic have more in common than the fact that Electronic Arts is the publisher for both games.  Moving between areas in both games just takes so long to do because waiting to load the assets for the new zone takes so long.  In TSW perhaps the reason is that my computer only has 4 GB of RAM instead of the recommended 6.  I will have to say that unlike what I used to experience with the excessive instancing when moving around the old Qeynos in EQ2, at least the reason for the instancing makes sense travel-wise.  And I do have to admit that I like how the screen that is displayed while the new zone loads starts out in black-and-white and slowly fades into color.  But be warned.

She's Wearing What?  Given the discussion about sexism, especially women's clothing, in gaming, I almost think that anyone planning on writing their thoughts on a game needs to create a female character.  How female characters are dressed can tell something about the mindset of the developers.  In The Secret World, the developers didn't go out of their ways to make women into sex objects.  Sure, female characters can wear bikini tops and hot pants, but they also get the option to wear turtle neck sweaters and jeans.  And no shoes with 5-inch heels like in Tera in sight.  If any controversy about sexism is generated by TSW, I don't think the game design will be the cause.

One thing I do like about the clothing in TSW is that I did not see any stats on it.  That means no mis-matching of clothes unless done intentionally.

Would You Like Fries With That?  Looking at the menu brought me to a mockup of a cash shop for TSW using the Funcom currency.  As of right now the impression I get is the plan is to only sell vanity items like clothing.  But remember that TSW is a subscription game that will charge $14.99 / €14.99 incl. VAT / £12.99 incl. VAT.

Will I play?  From what I saw, my having a lower-end computer would not stop me from playing The Secret World.  In addition to a mission system that actually requires paying attention to the fine cut scenes, I liked the puzzles I was presented, even if I did do some cursing when I was temporarily stumped.  Completing those missions actually made me feel like I had accomplished something.  I also liked the exploring I did.  I enjoyed my time wandering around Seoul looking for little pieces of lore.  So I intend to play The Secret World ... eventually.

Why won't I play at launch?  Two reasons.  The developer is Funcom and the publisher is Electronic Arts.  Funcom does not have a stellar history with MMORPG launches, with the launches of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan arguably amongst the worst of all time.  Will TSW break the trend?  I'm hopeful, but I'm afraid the game is not ready for prime time just from a couple of things I saw and heard.  The launch was delayed once already and I'm afraid the publisher EA won't let Funcom get everything in order. 

EA itself is in a bit of a mess right now because of the problems concerning Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I think that EA needs a new revenue source to help make up for disappointing news with SW:TOR and they see TSW as a quick fix to make the books look better.  Ironically, one could argue that EA pushed Bioware to publish SW:TOR before Christmas when it wasn't ready, thus helping to cause SW:TOR's problems.

So while I want to play TSW, Funcom's and EA's reputations have led me to the decision to wait until August or September to purchase the game and play.  I really hope I'm wrong because I really want to see The Secret World be the surprise hit of 2012.  But for now I'm going to stay in Eve and fly around low sec.  I think I'm safer there.


  1. I was weighing up whether or not to buy now or wait a few months as I liked the questing but thought the game was too buggy at this stage in the development cycle and isn't really ready for release yet. I can live with a limited CC but broken quests and freezes, not so much.

    The UK sub price is the final nail in the coffin though. It's a promising game if they sort out some of their issues, but it's totally not worth that sub right now. I don't see one good reason why I should pay 4 pounds a month when I can get more polished games that are 8.99 sub or, when GW2 comes out, sub-free.

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    2. I didn't bring that up as I live in the U.S., but for those in the U.K., the sub price is £3 more for TSW than Eve. The price in U.S. dollars and euros is the same.

  2. I'm interested in playing it as I need something interesting to play and something very different to all that's already out there in MMO land other than just EVE all the time. I'll probably wait a month maybe after it's already launched and see how the launch is handled over that time till then.

  3. I'm really looking forward to the game but also tend to agree that they haven't pitched the sub level right, particularly given that there was a lack of polish in the betas (although they are, oc, betas, even if quite late in dev cycle). Like any MMO's though, the game is part of the issue and what's done with it by the players is another large aspect. Rift was great in beta, lots of players joining together in the rifting and that was one of the reasons I subbed. When we actually got onto it, however, that player co-op really wasn't there, so I didn't even bother getting to the end-game raiding (I can do that in wow).