Monday, 30 July 2012

Smile! You're In Transylvania! : TSW

11:20 AM British Summer Time. Monday morning. The west coast of America is sleeping, the east just beginning to stir. I log onto the Arcadia server. It's Full. It was full all day yesterday and felt it. As we approach the end of the first, free month, the population appears to be doing better than holding steady.

Oi! You'll have that tree alight!
I will be re-subbing for at least a month. Were Guild Wars 2 not looming I'd probably take a longer option. I may yet. I'm far from sure I'll be done with TSW in just another four weeks, particularly if the monthly content updates appear as promised. Mrs Bhagpuss, I think, will not re-sub. Despite it being her interest that got us into the game in the first place, she finds it too depressing a world to want to spend much time in.

Vampire Fast Food
Depressing wouldn't be my choice of words. I'd go for grim. Also disturbing. I'm not a fan of the horror genre, never have been, but as a long-term consumer of science fiction and fantasy, in books, movies, comics and video-games a certain exposure to its tropes has been unavoidable. Little that I've seen in The Secret World has been unfamiliar but quite a lot of it has been mildly uncomfortable. A handful of images (like the one on the right) I'd probably rather not have seen at all.

The real-world setting sharpens up the emotional response as does the relative realism of the graphics. I've yet to see anything in The Secret World in essence more viscerally vile than the disjointed, dismembered dwarves hanging on meat-hooks in the Troll city of Grobb, nor a game concept more repulsive than the casual use of body parts of player races in the craft of Baking, but the difference is that the 1990s graphics and fantasy setting of Everquest dilute the force of the horror, rendering it whimsical and fey whereas in The Secret World it comes at you raw and undiluted.

Gnomes on a roundabout! This is what we want!
Which is not to say that The Secret World doesn't have a whimsy all its own. The whole game soaks in it. Every other character seems to raise an arched eyebrow or adopt an ironic tone. The clutter in every house and street could be an art installation satirizing How We Live Now. Even the ambient soundscape quirks the corners of my mouth. But it's a dark humor. Laughing into the night. Whistling to keep your spirits up.

For me, far from being depressing traveling through this world has largely been a joy. The New England zones were fascinating. The towns and hamlets were charming and attractive, the sunlight through the trees and over the water beautiful, the coastline begging to be explored. It made me feel that Maine, on which I believe it's based, would be a very good place for a holiday. The endless dimming Fog and the constant zombie attacks were wearing, though, and those bloody moths really put a damper on the whole holiday vibe. I think it's my least favorite region.

A CRT? When will these fey-folk join the modern world?

About Egypt I have only good things to say. The sun shines all day and the stars come out at night. The gold of the sands and the blue of the sky lift the spirits. The ruins are fascinating, the locals and the visitors all have compelling stories to tell and the monsters have the grace to die quickly when you shoot them. I'm not done there and I'll be happy to go back.

And then we come to Transylvania. What must the Romanian Tourist Board be thinking? If we take it (and I think we must) that Funcom have done a lot of research and made a great effort to portray their locations as close analogs of their counterparts in our not-so-secret world, Transylvania does not look like much of a holiday destination.

Visit Traditional Village!
People do go there on vacation. I sometimes sell them the guide books. Somehow I don't imagine Harbaburesti figuring in anyone's itinerary. Even without the ghouls using uprooted roadsigns to dig up the dead and half the cars overturned and set on fire, it wouldn't look very appealing, what with the litter and trash in the untended gardens, everything looking used and worn out and the factories pouring pollution into the streams.

Further on the prospects improve a little. The Shadowy Forest looks, well, shadowy and forested. The Carpathian Teeth are snowy and open. I plan to explore those a little over the next couple of days, now that I'm strong enough to do more than just jog along the main roads. I have high hopes for Transylvania.

A grim world it may be, but it's an enthralling and compelling one, too. I want to see as much of it as I'm able.

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