The Secret World is an unusual MMO in many ways, not least in its emphasis on puzzle-solving. Someone at Funcom has thankfully remembered that while solving puzzles is fun indeed, running around aimlessly searching for puzzles to solve isn't. When you accept a Mission you can, usually, rely on a visual nudge to make sure you notice the things you should be noticing.
In the previous beta this came in the form of a dull red outline which some people found very hard to spot. This time we got a high-visibility yellow glow which I was surprised to find not just much easier to see but also more immersive. Why this should be I'm not sure. You'd think a more intrusive, brighter color would scream "game mechanics" but somehow it had precisely the opposite effect. We're all bee-eating paranormals after all. Who's to say we can't see auras?
Give It Some Thought
Recent discussions over GW2 brought some controversy over the willingness or otherwise of MMO players to accept new modes of play. If you thought GW2 required a few new tools, The Secret World sends you out to buy a whole new toolbox. Not only are you expected to read, listen and watch, you need to pay attention too. And on top of that you're expected to think. I know! They should be paying us, right?
There's a fine line between mystery and misery and TSW walks it with style. I did my best not to look up information on the web (except when I was meant to. There's an in-game browser for a reason and I don't think Funcom expects all MMO players to know Kings II by heart, just as a for instance). Even in beta the information is out there if you want it and once the game goes Live there will be ample opportunity to spoil your own fun, but I suspect that players who can't get by without looking up every step will soon lose interest and leave.
These Are The Stories You're Looking For
The blogosphere ripples with schadenfreude over the fall of the Fourth Pillar and I've already made my feelings plain on the poor fit of GW2's Personal Story. I'm not big on "story" in MMOs in the first place. Players make the story, that's the point.
If story there must be, however, TSW's way is the way to do it. One key factor makes it work: my character never speaks. Every cut scene finds her standing, looking pensive, attentive, keeping her own counsel. Sometimes the NPCs tease her for her taciturnity. "You must be a wow at parties", one said.
Most importantly, my characters thoughts and emotional reaction to what she's heard and seen remain my own. Her own. Ours. Nothing is imposed. I don't read that she "feels" this or "thinks" that. No emotional reaction is ascribed to her. This makes such an enormous difference to me it is hard to emphasize it enough. Story as well-written as this, presented as openly as this, allowing me full ownership in this way changes the whole paradigm.
I would very much like to see this approach extended even to traditional MMO quests. I have never enjoyed those canned alternative responses that offer my character two or three smart, sassy or plain rude responses that supposedly imply a personality. I'd far rather the NPC just said his piece and left me decide how my character replied.
I have an imagination and I'm not afraid to use it.