Monday, December 17, 2012

The Secret World Is Not SW:TOR

Except for running a couple of radar complexes in low-sec this weekend I spent all of my gaming time in The Secret World.  I was a bit quick buying the game on Steam for $30 because Amazon sold it the next day for $15.  Oh well.

I'm often amazed at the reactions to the game and wonder what would have happened if the game launched with the same buy-to-play model as Guild Wars 2.  I work with a DUST bunny who's never played a subscription MMO but now that TSW has dropped the sub he's ready to go.  Even the prospect of buying monthly DLCs doesn't phase him.  That's because the game harkens back to the days of puzzle solving.

When I first heard of the game I thought the intellectual challenges might appeal to Eve players.  I found out on Twitter that Seismic Stan loves the game and Sugar Kyle was persuaded to try it out.  Yes, Sugar started a second blog for her non-Eve writings.  So I do have some other opinions about the game to let me know I'm not completely crazy.

First is that I really think that The Secret World was really influenced by the design philosophy at EA, especially Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The two biggest similarities between SW:TOR and TSW is the single-player feel of playing the game, at least so far, and the vast use of cut scenes.  I would say that the developers in Norway looked at SW:TOR, figured story, the famed "fourth pillar" of game design, was the next big thing and decided they needed to make the game similar in order to ride the wave.  Instead the wave is a tide going out to sea.

Next, I think that The Secret World is in a better position to recover from a rough start than SW:TOR.  The EA/Bioware free-to-play formula more resembles a trial pushing people to subscribe while Funcom is emulating ArenaNet's business model with Guild Wars 2.  I also wonder if EA and Funcom had any conflicts over the business model.  I only think that because when The Secret World launched Xfire listed EA as the game's publisher and now Xfire lists Funcom as the publisher.  Did something occur I don't know about?

Apart from the payment model, I also think that The Secret World is a higher quality game.  On the graphics scale, TSW is closer to Eve Online while SW:TOR is closer to World of Warcraft.  The Secret World is just pretty.  At this point I also have to mention the cut scenes.  In SW:TOR the voice acting for some gender/class combinations just led me not to play them.  In TSW Funcom created "Hello Kitty" cut scenes; your avatar's lips don't move.  While cut scenes can break immersion, at least I don't have an annoying voice representing me.  That's a plus!

I also prefer the combat in TSW to SW:TOR.  The 7 active and 7 passive attacks and abilities based on the two weapons equipped is similar to that found in Guild Wars 2.  I should add that I'm equipping blade/assault rifle in TSW and I was playing smuggler/imperial agent in SW:TOR so perhaps the different combat styles account for part of this.  But I've never had a mob stay standing for 2-3 seconds after I killed it in TSW like I did in SW:TOR.

The biggest draw for me is the puzzles.  Star Wars: The Old Republic has jumping puzzles to get datacrons but that's really about all I saw.  I'm only on Solomon Island in TSW but in addition to all the jumping puzzles to get to the honeycomb lore icons I've negotiated a booby-trapped laser maze, cracked a password on a smart phone and hacked into a computer.  I currently have a mission to investigate a series of murders that requires using the Internet.  Now I just need to avoid all the spoiler sites.

Amazing what you find when you hack a computer

I should add one additional difference that is rather important.  While Star Wars: The Old Republic is pretty family friendly The Secret World has an ESRB rating of M due to "Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs, Violence." 

With the puzzles, rating and genre (modern day horror) The Secret World has all the characteristics of a niche game that will never pose a threat to the likes of World of Warcraft.  But I've played Eve Online for over three years so I know that niche does not mean bad.  The question now is what is Funcom's expectations for the game.  Before launch I thought they expected a niche game to put up Guild Wars 2 numbers.  Hopefully the change to the business model will allow TSW to last a long, long time.


  1. I would say that the designers in Norwegian checked out SW:TOR, realized tale, the popular "fourth pillar" of activity style, was the next big factor and made the decision they required to make the experience identical to be able to drive the trend. Instead the trend is a trend going out to sea.

  2. I'm a EVE player/blogger that also plays TSW and has played TSW since Launch. I've just never blogged much about it. I've actually enjoyed the game since launch for its story and more intelligent game play that actually require some thought. I"ve made it past Solomon Island long ago during the Summer and Solomon Island does have a really Epic ending.

    Have passed that point and explored the Mysteries of the Sands and Tombs of Egypt which was quite an experience and fun. Moved on to the Farmlands of Romania investigating occult mysteries in the countryside while being hunted by Vampires and more. As well traveling to the heart of Transylvania and investigated the mysteries of Dracula in his homeland. I've reached Faction level 14+ and GL 10 level gear. I've seem and experienced more of the game since launch than most who just tried it and gave up. That was all mostly completed back in September.

    I can say I really did enjoy the Secret World and it is a niche game just like EVE. You either like the game or you don't and it's not for everyone. I guess you can say that about EVE as well. I more believe the vast majority of players who casually tried TSW never made it off of Solomon Island which is quite sad as the game gets even more exciting beyond that period. You don't fully appreciate the complex story of TSW until you have progressed much beyond the starter island of Solomon Island. Much fewer are those players who actually made it to the end zones of TSW into the complex mysteries that lay deep in the Transylvania farm and highlands.

    I guess one of the reasons I liked the game as an EVE player is because the game is challenging in thought, mystery solving and has a complex story investigation and mystery. Much different to all the other mindless MMO's where using your brains don't require all that much effort. It's also much different a game as well.

    Hopefully you reach the end of Solomon Island and unlock the mystery of it as the mission reaches it climax. Because it's really so cool to get to the bottom of that mystery. Yet there is so much more to get to see beyond that. Hopefully you make it pass that point.

    Playing TSW is and can be much a Solo game. I'm much a Solo player i'll admit as well. But i can surely tell you when you play TSW with a friend or a group of friends TSW feels like a very different game. And that is much different feeling than playing TSW Solo as well.

  3. I got two very solid months' play out of TSW. I think it looks great, is the best-written and voice-acted MMO I've ever played (I realize that's damning with faint praise) and the combat/RPG elements are certainly no worse than standard.

    I'm not sure it has more than three or four months' content. I was perhaps three-quarters of the way through the main storyline and almost at the end of Transylvania in exploration after my two months. That's still great value - well worth the "box" cost without the sub.

    If TSW is going to be a real MMO it needs to add quite a lot more the world. Four open world zones (albeit subdivided) and a scatter of instanced dungeons don't make a virtual world. On balance, though, it has a huge amount going for it and I recommend it to anyone looking for an intelligent, provocative, unusual online RPG.

    If Funcom survive the upcoming MMO retrenchment, and I believe they will, TSW can only grow in depth and complexity. Five years from now it could be something quite wonderful.