Monday, May 21, 2012

Oops, I Did It Again: TSW

So it seems we'll be buying The Secret World, which comes as something of a surprise to me. I'd commented on a couple of blogs that I had no plans to get it at launch. I wasn't even going to bother with the beta. I thought I'd wait for the inevitable F2P conversion. Then on Saturday afternoon I happened to mention it to Mrs Bhagpuss.

"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.


We're buying it. Will that do? Oh, alright then...

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.
The writing in The Secret World isn't original, not in the very slightest degree. Influences float on the surface for everyone to see and I don't just mean the street names. It's not what, though, it's where. Writing as sharp and salty as this may be nothing new in other media but it is in an MMO.

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?
The voice acting is good to very good. The range of accents used goes well beyond the usual set of stereotypes.
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


  1. Thanks for sharing your impressions. I know that my tastes in MMOs is quite similar to yours. TSW has piqued my curiosity and I would like to know more about it. Please do share more if you have a chance.

  2. Call me a cynic, but after AoC I just can't by a Funcom game as a day one purchase. However, after this post consider me interested and it does seem like Funcom is putting the modern conspiracy theme to good use which is fantastic.

  3. I preordered TSW with the full expectation that I would be disappointed. If that doesn't make sense to you, don't worry – it doesn't to me, either, really. I decided to touch the game only very briefly during the beta, because I'm not a big fan of playing games too early on, lest I might get bored on "proper" launch.

    I was very underwhelmed by the graphics, which felt like they were about 5 years behind already. The setting of the game looked very interesting, though. I also glanced (not read – same reason as with not joining the beta for long) at a couple of reviews, and people seemed surprisingly positive about the game.

    I set myself up for a disappointment, and I might actually end up being satisfied. Now to ponder whether I want to pay the one-time fee. It's a load of money, but I might end up playing the game not that intensively, so it might pay. Hum hom.

  4. I agree with most of what you had to say. I wasn't really expecting to be impressed, but find that I was.

    I linked to this, and expounded a bit over at Google+

  5. I always liked the sound of The Secret World but there were three reasons I didn't plan on buying it at launch - the subscription, Funcom's record and the potential clash with GW2 launch.

    GW2 now looks very unlikely to arrive before the autumn, which leaves the whole summer open for TSW. GW2's pre-purchase plan means that money's already been spent and forgotten. GW2 will seem like a freebie when it comes. Another box purchase plus probably 2-3 months' sub is fine. I'm not expecting to carry the sub on after GW2 launches and by the time I want to go back I'm banking on TSW having gone Freemium.

    That just leaves the playability issue. On the basis of this weekend I'd say its eminently playable, if a bit rough around the edges. Of course, we've only seen a couple of zones and I can hear people saying "Tortage" already, but I hear positive noises from closed beta sneaking around the edges of the NDA.

    The clincher is that not only did Mrs Bhagpuss want to play it but she doesn't want to play any more of the beta because after a few hours she's certain she wants to buy it and doesn't want to spoil it things for when it goes live. She certainly wasn't that enthusiastic about GW2.

  6. I already posted my thoughts, but all I can say is I agree. Maybe it was the low expectations all around, but it seems TSW has impressed and surprised a fair few people, myself among them. Mr. Randomessa is also on-board as this caters to his tendency to wander off-rails in traditional MMOs: investigation and item missions that lead to common sources are exactly up his alley.


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