Monday, 26 June 2017

Secret World Legends: First Impressions


Like a lot of people, I've had a love-hate relationship with The Secret World.  The premise is original, the attention to detail absorbing, the writing and voice-acting both about as good as I've seen and heard in any MMO. On the other hand the relentless grimdark wore me out and I literally couldn't complete the main story quest because it was too hard.

I was never a committed, long-term player. The game was never my MMO home. Still, I played a solid two months from launch and sporadically ever since, took many hundreds of screenshots, wrote a couple of dozen blog posts and generally enjoyed myself more than somewhat.

When Funcom made the surprising - shocking - announcement that the whole game was going to be rebooted as an Action RPG I tried to keep an open mind. I understand that Funcom has been in some financial difficulty for quite a while and that TSW was not bringing home the bacon the way they'd hoped it might.

I also get that the very strength of the game - its depth and detail and quality - are part of the problem. Good voice acting is expensive, quest content this good is hard to produce on a timely schedule, challenging puzzles put off more players than they attract and so on. And though I never really thought the combat was that bad, apparently many people did.

With that all in mind I was willing to give Funcom the benefit of some considerable doubt, go in with an open mind and hope for the best. After a couple of hours I think I'm going to need more than good will and crossed fingers to keep me logging in.

Here we goooooooooooooo!



Download and Set-Up

Secret World Legends is a 50GB download. Fortunately, as Boon says when you first meet him in Kingsmouth, this isn't my first rodeo. I downloaded the tiny set-up file from the official website, let the installation run up to the point where the SWL patcher took over, then I stopped it and copied my RDB files across from my TSW folder. That saved me around 48GB of downloads.

Thanks to MJ at MassivelyOP I also knew to copy my LocalConfig.xmlfile from my account page so as to allow me to go on logging in to both the old and new versions.

That all went smoothly enough but you might think those are both things that could have been automated into the installation process itself. PC developers do seem to assume a level of technical facility in their customers that would be bizarre in most other businesses.

Excuse me, Miss? I don't want a goblin head!



Character Creation

I may be in a minority in finding TSW's characters aesthetically pleasing. It's actually close to being my favorite MMO for what my character looks like. I was anticipating fun.

Fun was a long time coming. The new interface is both ugly and unintuitive. I spent longer than I would have liked just clicking on stuff to see how it worked and when I had that sorted I was underwhelmed with the options on hand.

Eventually I was able to make a character I was happy to look at but it felt all the time as if the game didn't want offer much of a choice in, well, anything. Each step came down to "pick a shape" from a hexagonal grid. It reminded me of Otherland, which is not a comparison any developer wants to hear, I'm sure.

Of course, I have only ever made two characters in The Secret World and the more recent of those was getting on for five years ago. I couldn't remember for certain what the old character creator was like, so I fired TSW up and used my one free character slot to check.

Turns out that pretty much all the actual options are the same. It's the presentation that's changed and in a way that's emblematic of the whole revamp - it's been simplified, if you approve; dumbed down if you don't. I strongly prefer the original, which, ironically, feels more intuitive and, well, obvious, than the supposedly more user-friendly version.

I'm taking it all the original cut-scene artists have left the company?



The New Tutorial

Oh. My. God. Where do I start? This is bad. This is really, really bad.

In fact, the new tutorial is bad on the level of if I didn't know this was a good game because I already played it, I think I'd be going "You know what? The hell with this crap!" and uninstalling.

All of the excellent dynamic flow of TSW's original introduction has been thrown under the bus. Funcom haven't removed it or replaced the bee-in-mouth beginning or any of what follows from it - it would actually be better if they had.

No, they have simply dropped a terrible, TERRIBLE hand-holding, "never played a video game before? It's easy!" tutorial slap-bang in the middle of the atmospheric opening. After you eat the bee and wreck your room you now get a dream sequence in which your entire bedroom is transported to a graveyard.

There, under the tutelage of a very bored voice actor,  you learn how to open your inventory, equip your weapon (just the one because you're easily confused) and click your left mouse button in the general direction of a lot of zombies, revenants and some boss mob or other whose name I was too depressed to notice.

How much more black could it be? None more black!
What's more, you get to do all this in lighting so dim you can't see what you're fighting or where you're going. It's the classic "start in a cave" scenario. Technically the graveyard is probably outdoors but it was so dark I couldn't tell. After the graveyard it's down some dark passageways to solve some insultingly insipid "puzzles" and dodge some traps that wouldn't trouble a tortoise in a full body cast.

This took longer than it should have done because the sound wasn't working properly. I never had the slightest issues with sound in TSW but in SWL all that wonderful voice acting sounds like people chatting in another room. Quietly. I spent more time fiddling with the audio settings than I did killing zombies and in the end I gave up. Nothing that was being said at that point was worth hearing anyway.

The godawful tutorial ends with a godawful set-piece in a city (Tokyo I guess...) in which you fight a fixed, unwinnable battle, die and wake up back in your room, after which everything proceeds just as it always did. I went Templar (of course - what other choice is there?) so after the Tokyo flashback (seemed much easier but then you never could die in it) I ended up in London.

Put Tab A into Slot A.



The New Old Tutorial

There's a much shortened version of the part where you try out weapons to see what you'd like to use later on. Basically, you don't.

Now you get a very quick run-through of the new upgrade system for gear and weapons, which seems to be not much more than a very, very simple version of the upgrade mechanics used by most Eastern F2P MMOs.

Here's how it works:

  • Open "crafting" interface 
  • Slot item you want to upgrade in main slot 
  • Slot item(s) of same archetype (weapons for weapons, amulets for amulets etc) into the other slot(s)
  • Press the upgrade button.
  • Voila! Upgraded thing.

It's hardly thrilling but then TSW's original crafting was a hot mess so it's probably an improvement. At least it should help to keep your bags empty.

The Drill Master or whatever he's called still goes on about being able to try out your weapons on bound demons but nothing prompts you to do that and I was impatient to get on so I didn't look around for them. Not sure if that's a lazy leftover that hasn't been re-voiced or an actual option you can still use.

I know a great name for this club. Sacrilege.



The Argatha

The tutorial was functionally bad. The Argatha revamp is just in bad taste.

It's true that the hollow earth did become a de facto gathering place in the original game. Players preferred to hang out there instead of the truncated streets of London or New York. By that logic it probably made sense to add the facilities that were missing and make it a full-strength service hub.

It also utterly destroys the weird, unearthly ambience the place used to have. There's a frickin' dance floor there now, for Pete's sake. Worse, the little people from Transylvania have been pressed into service as vendors. They have "cute" names. I actually found that slightly sickening.

On the plus side, there are jump pads that deliver you to the zone portals. No more endless running along random branches hoping to find your stop. There are probably other  quality of life improvements but I'd had enough.

Drowned any good kittens lately, Andy?



Kingsmouth, Combat and the U.I.

I only got as far as the makeshift police station. Quests and gameplay seemed identical except that  everything died incredibly fast.

Since I have as yet made not the slightest attempt to learn how the new combat system works and all I was doing was clicking LMB as fast as humanly possible I conclude low levels are easier than they used to be. Not that they were ever hard.

I found the "Action" U.I. to be irritating. Really quite irritating. I don't like ARPG controls but I'm very familiar with them and I can tell good from bad. These are bad.

My benchmark would be DCUO, whose controls I find straightforward and comfortable. Black Desert was good, too. Neverwinter Online is passable as is Elder Scrolls Online.

This is worse than any of those, mostly because it's inconsistent. Incoherent, even. For example, you have to use a keypress to send a Mission Report but if you get a mail back from your controller you have to hit Alt to get a cursor and open it with the mouse. Why not make it one or the other, or allow you to choose?

There were a few things like that. The controls aren't so bad I wouldn't play under any circumstances but they're awkward enough to make me not want to play.

"These trousers are bloody velvet" has been a meme chez Bhagpuss for the best part of five years. It's up there with "You've ruined your own lands..."



Conclusion

I don't like it. The overarching impression I was left with was one of disrespect. The Secret World was a unique and original creation: this is just another bash 'em slash 'em F2P MMO. What a shame.

Only the outside possibility that I might be able to get further in the storyline than where I beached might keep me logging in. That would rely on the fighting being this much easier all the way to Carpathian Fangs, though, which I'm sure it won't be.

24 comments:

  1. That is good to know so I can skip it without much regret.

    TSW was one of those games that I always "wanted to like" but could never justify the price tag because it wasn't good enough based on my beta experience, so I was interested in giving it a shot now that it's F2P. Nevermind that idea then.

    Thanks for sharing your impressions.

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    1. I tend to think that people who didn't enjoy the "feel" of TSW are the ones most likely to find SWL an improvement, although it would depend why you didn't get on with the original. I note that a lot of the people who claimed to hate either the combat or the animations or both seem happier with the revamped versions.

      In the end, it's free to play, so if you have the slightest interest you might as well give it a shot - providing you don't mind a 50GB download. On the other hand, if you've managed without it since beta I'm sure you'll do fine without this version too!

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    2. Don't skip it..... not by taking one persons word for it. I've played both now and some points made here I agree with and some not. This is the thing, as good as the orig game was, it was losing profit recently, so they came up with "Legends" and to be very honest, it's NOT SUPPOSE to be 'better' than the other one.... this is free, and we should not expect what we paid for in the other one, they need to make money, it's a business, so they have basically said... ok, here it is, play it how YOU want. Of course we'd LOVE for you to spend money, at least occasionally but we've also made it so you don't HAVE to. I've never understood why gamers dog games. I mean, what's the point? The devs and companies aren't obligated to us and we aren't obligated to play their games - so if you should choose to play one and you aren't happy with that choice, don't play it any more, but don't ACT like they've wronged you. YOU made the choice to play, YOU are the only one to blame if you're not happy with said choice. If you go to a restaurant, order a meal and eat the whole thing, are you gonna then ask for a refund based on the fact that you ate it even tho it wasn't good? No... i would hope not. So.... try the game, you've nothing to lose, it's FREE... you CAN buy things if you want to, but you're not obligated to, you CAN buy patron, but you're not obligated to. There aren't that many perks in going patron, a few, but none to write home about. Give it a try! Unimpressed? Uninstall! Make up your own mind about it. Just a thought. Happy Gaming!!! :-)

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  2. You very much add up my feelings. I was there in the beta. I wrote "a few" suggestions on how to fix things. Among them something how the introduction could be done much better. (Short version: no graveyard in the dream sequence, put the Sunken Library World simulators into the faction HQ and start the tutorial from there. )

    I wrote essays on what i dislike on the UI and the combat. Every single word and every electron for that was wasted.

    I still tried the game over this weekend. I want to love it. Old TSW ment a lot to me. I spent a lot of time there, i met my girl there, we're going to marry this year and a number of cabal members are invited to the wedding.

    But despite all of this, i just can't get myself to play that new piece of garbage. :(

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    1. I didn't bother with the SWL beta but I got the impression it was one of those "we're going to do what we're going to do and we don't want any arguments" kind of betas. Been in a few.

      As a mirror-image of what I said to Kemwer above, I think the people who are going to be most disappointed, or upset, about the revamp are those who really liked TSW. I can't see any way it's going to be any kind of improvement from the perspective of a committed fan (although Belghast did have some interesting points to make in that regard from the perspective of a high-end player).

      At least the old version is still up and running - for now.

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    2. "I didn't bother with the SWL beta but I got the impression it was one of those "we're going to do what we're going to do and we don't want any arguments" kind of betas. Been in a few."

      Very true. A few small things which were reported were corrected. Usually the most obvious bugs. But everything which went outside the scope of being a painful bug was disregarded.

      I also wrote pages of text explaining how the user interface could improved with just a few small changes. Because just like you, i also noticed a number of inconsistencies and useability problems there.

      It always ended up like this: i write that i see a useability problem. A number of people agree, then the fanboys rush in and loudly declare that they can handle it, they learned to work around the problem and it doesn't affect them any more, so it's all fine.

      I mean, hey, that also worked great for TSW. When some people said that combat feels "odd" for them, the rest rushed in and told them that they had no issues, so the ones reporting problems obviously were wrong. Matter of fact from my experience i can say that both sides were right, but since one side was religiously declaring that there are no problems, the relevant people never went to investigate. Would they actually have done so, they would've found what even i figured out: TSWs combat was perfectly fine and absolute fun on the right hardware. But on the wrong hardware it felt "off", due to small delays and weak responsivity. Unfortunately it took me a little to figure out the pattern, as the problem was more likely to happen on newer (and thus generally better) hardware. It's connected to the fact that TSW insists on using the first processor core and the first processor core only.

      So hey... now they again ignored all the issues people found with useability and combat feeling wrong. What was the saying with doing the same and expecting different results?


      And on the old version up and running: you have to jump through some hoops to get it running again. But as i couldn't bear the new game, i was in the old one again yesterday. And lo and behold, my cabal and my friend list had more people there yesterday than in the weeks before the Launch of SWL.

      So SWL really needs to attract new players. The old ones, who already spend a lot of time and money on TSW, seem to generally feel slapped in the face and dislike the new version.

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  3. I'm still trying to give it a shot. I want to love it because I loved TSW, but I can't say I've not been disappointed so far. There are 'more' options for somethings in the character creator but somehow they feel like less. I have not managed to recreate my characters to my satisfaction. I will give the questing more of a shot than I have. I'm determined to at least get through Kingsmouth and find out if it starts feeling any better.
    There's probably a whole post on my feelings about the rest of it. We will see if I manage to write it.

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    1. The character creation is peculiar. I couldn't recreate my character either. I like the one I've made but it's irrelevant really because I don't suppose I'll play her much. I am going to press on for a while. This was only a "first impressions" piece after all and first impressions can often be misleading. I hope that's true in this case, although I doubt it.

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    2. On this topic i thought i might've been the only one. Apparently i am not.

      I also tried to re-create my old character. Unfortunately he's older, bald and with grey beard. During all the beta, i couldn't take a look at that, as we were told that character customisation was still in work, it would come later and it would be awesome. (And the Mexicans would pay for it, i think... )

      Now i took a look there. At least bald by now is possible, but while my old characters bald head had the necessary texture, the new games bald looks like my character shaved, waxed and polished his head. On the older face, now alas, that's a matter of taste. I didn't like any of the "old" faces, but that can be seen as personal face. On the beard though... the style of my old characters beard is available, but while the old game had a color selector, the new one allows me to pick black, brown or blonde, but no grey beard.

      That being said, i guess this is really a problem only the older players see. Somebody new to the game will just pick something which is available (and looks good, so skipping the bald option) and not notice how much options were even lost at character creation.

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  4. Wow, based on that I'm more likely to try the original again sometime than fire up this new game. I made it about halfway through Egypt near launch, always been on my back burner to get back to some day. The original intro is one of my favorite things about the game, sounds like they really abused the canine.

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    1. There are concerns I've seen expressed about how the gear progression works in SWL that make me think it may end up being as unpopular as TSW in the end. It does sound as though they've tuned it to make money - which, of course, was the entire point of the revamp.

      I'd say if you did decide to come back you might indeed be better off picking up your old character in Egypt. Transylvania is good!

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  5. Interesting that your first reaction was so negative. I've never played the original Secret World but have been roped into giving the reboot a shot because it's hard to say no to "but it's free". So I have no point of comparison, but to me the tutorial seemed perfectly serviceable - though to be honest if many of the controls didn't happen to map to the same functions as in Neverwinter, I think I still would have struggled due to certain UI basics not being explained. Of course it remains to be seen where things go from here...

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    1. Oh, I do agree about the awkwardness of the character customisation screen though; never seen anything like it! The available options were fine, but those hexagons were a usability nightmare...

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    2. You're the third or fourth person I've seen mention that they might have tried TSW if it had been free (ok, you didn't exactly say that but I'm inferring it). I thought TSW had been F2P for a couple of years now. Was it still B2P up to the end?

      Too late now, sadly, since they aren't selling it any more. That's an odd decision, too. Why not leave the TSW client up as a download for a lowish fee - say $10 - so as to benefit from the additional publicity and interest. There might even be new SWL players who'd pick it up out of curiosity. Seems like turning down free money to me, at least as long as they keep the TSW servers up.

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    3. As far as I'm aware it remained B2P until the end. It was ridiculously cheap at times, but just having to pay at all remained a barrier if you were feeling reluctant about it in any way (which I was).

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  6. I'm still too embittered by the loss of my characters and the handling of this whole mess to play myself, but the overall impression as a secondhand observer has not been encouraging. It seems like pretty much what I expected: Exactly the same game, except heavily dumbed down and with much more aggressive monetization.

    That said, I do think the tutorial changes may be for the better. As frustrating as it may have been to veterans, an obnoxiously simple, hand-holding tutorial is what the first game desperately needed. TSW was not a game that was hard to play so much as it was a game that was hard to learn. There were countless ways to screw up and no clear way to know that you were screwing up. I've met intelligent, competent people who had spent significant time in the game and nonetheless had abjectly terrible builds because they simply didn't know any better.

    Really, the tutorial is the only thing they should have changed.

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    1. Well, if they'd added a tutorial that explained builds - or the new mechanics that have replaced them - maybe that would be true. That, sadly, is not what they've done.

      What they have added is a tutorial for people who have never played an MMO before - "press I to open your inventory", "right-click the weapon you were given to equip it" - that level of "help". Also, the instructions are on a timer - if you don't respond (because, for example, you're fiddling with the Options to try and get the audio to work) an obnoxious pop-up opens, reminding you in even simpler terms to do whatever it was you were supposed to be doing, in case you were too dim to understand the first set of instructions.

      Honestly, it's near the top of the worst tutorials I've ever seen and I've seen some very bad tutorials. As far as the actual new mechanics of how to use the weapons or develop whatever passes for builds these days, if there's any in-game help on that I must have missed it. I'm in Kingsmouth and I have absolutely no clue how the new stuff works - I'm going to have to go read the wiki if I plan on playing any more.

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    2. There were a few tiny things in the new tutorial which could be seen as an improvement, wouldn't they fail while doing that!

      A good example is that for the first time ever, they explain the dodge mechanics. In TSW that was not explained at all.

      Unfortunately the new tutorial fails by design. All telegraphed attacks in old TSW use the very same format, a white outline with an animation which clearly shows when the effect impacts. Not so in the new tutorial. This telegraphed attack is the very only one in the game which does not follow this principle. Instead it places the outline on the ground but the timer is an arbitrary animation on the NPC.

      Once you are outside of the tutorial, you find that all other NPCs still use their default telegraphed attacks. Even the new monster (completely new model, never seen before) in the Tokyo subway uses the old format. So from all i saw, the only time the games default way of telegraphing attacks was not displayed properly is: in the tutorial about them.

      This is just the most obvious example, there were some other things which actually were explained in a way which is more likely to lead the player on the wrong path, than to help them, and that's before taking a look at the many things (abilities and passives) which yet once again are not explained but left for the player to stumble over and figure out himself.

      Sure the list of passives is shorter and all passives you can choose are weapon or ablility specific. There's no synergies left to find and use. Only the passive-passives (those which you buy and they give permanent advantages) improve your character no matter which weapon and ability you use, but considering that you can't select anything, can't modify them in your builds, etc. they have no meaning at all and would better be hidden in your character level. They add nothing to the game but only clutter the skilltree.

      So my sarcastic voice even says: probably that's why they don't instruct people about that stuff. They know very well how worthless that part is, so why bother teaching people about it?


      That being said, i also dislike how they implemented the tutorial. They rip you out of the intro video and removed the part where you are in the dreamworld and both Anima and Filth in parallel give you information. Yes, for a new player that sequence is very cryptic, but it adds a lot to the atmosphere to the game and matters a lot in the later story. Nevertheless, they removed it. All that remains are the voicelines of the video sequence, played in the background while you are in the graveyard. Of course, most of it gets muted out as your weapon sounds are louder than those voices and they get played while you are just killing stuff, but hey, they are there.

      Also it just doesn't add up. Why does the dream send you just yet another "kill zombies" tutorial, which comes cheaper in the dozen? Anybody who likes to is free to make a list of games where the tutorial is "kill zombies and be done for", but that list will be long.

      All of this could've been solved with a few tiny changes. Just don't put that tutorial into the dream sequence. Let the dream sequence play out as normal. Instead you place the combat simulator from the sunken library into each factions training area. For such a training unit the generic "kill zombies" tutorial suddenly makes perfect sense.

      A small change, but it would leave the story intact. But apparently keeping the story together was not a priority in the development of this iteration. :(

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    3. I agree with all of that. If a developer really feels they need to include a "how to use WASD, Press I for Inventory, equip your weapon" level tutorial I would suggest they a) make it optional and b) completely separate it from the rest of the game. Then they can build the necessary tutorial that's specific to the game itself and integrate it meaningfully and seamlessly into the narrative.

      What Funcom did was plonk a stonking great "NEW TO MMOs?" tutorial half-way into the existing "Weird stuff happened to your character last week" narrative intro. And then they included information in it that was actively misleading, while omitting almost everything that a player new to this specific game might need to know.

      It does not work and it was never going to work. The disturbing part is that anyone at Funcom ever thought it *would* work. It says everything about how the people currently in charge feel about the game itself.

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    4. Yea. I remember something from the lifestream on SWL on the MMOGrinder yesterday. It was along the lines that TSW had several good game directors. But as soon as one of them started to be really good, started to shine, he immediately was moved over to one of the Conan projects.

      Thinking back, there's some truth to that. And that's nothing against the current team by itself. Tilty was an awesome community manager. Among the best community managers i saw throughout many MMOs i played. But he was moved to the position of game director instead, and apparently then had to hurry on SWL. And it shows. :(

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  7. I liked pretty much everything you hated about the reboot. I mean, a complete 180. The only thing I don't like about the new tutorial is that it's not skippable.

    The only things I dislike so far is the lack of convenience perks for Subs/Patrons and TSW GMs. As a lifetime sub I expected a larger inventory, cheaper sprint upgrades and a small tipend of Aurum to make life a little easier. So basically the game elements themselves seem absolutely fine, but the business plan could use a little work. I'm guessing that they don't want to end up with a playerbase that is almost exclusively on a Lifetime membership that has no need to ever spend a penny ever again.

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    1. I think you're the first longtime player I've seen to be that clearly positive about the reboot. There was a two-hour rolling discussion in General Chat while I was playing today with a good mix of newcomers and Vets and the general opinion of all of them seemed to be mixed.

      It all does hang on how well Funcom can monetize the players they do get, though, as you say. It's certainly strong enough to attract and hold an audience but then so was TSW - they just couldn't get anyone to pay for it!

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  8. I couldn't get my character quite the way I wanted her either. She's ok though.
    One thing you mention I forgot about, the npc voices were terribly muffled, I had to read the text to see what they were saying. I'm always very attuned to how tutorials present information, and I liked what they did here. Tutorials are always written with the utter newbie in mind. I'm ok with them covering the basics, because even something like opening your inventory varies game to game. I agree with another commenter that skipping the tutorial should be an option once you've done it. I personally never skip them because there's xp to be gained before you hit the larger world, and in the case of ESO, lots of lockpicks and other loot to be had.

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    1. That sound thing is really annoying. It's at it's worst in the tutorial and it doesn't improve much all the way through to The Argartha. Once in Kingsmouth it settles down but it's still sporadically muffled, and that even after i've fiddled with all the settings and given voiceovers a much higher setting than anything else.

      The Secret World never had any of these problems so I have no idea what they've done.

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