Monday, June 24, 2019

Party On! : Secret World Legends

Anniversary celebrations in MMORPGs often fill a dual role. For current players they fit into the game's calendar as one of the major holidays but there's also an opportunity for the company to remind the world in general - and ex-players in particular - that their game still exists.

As every MMORPG developer from Daybreak to Jagex seems to have discovered, the most fruitful route to increased login activity is nostalgia and nothing brings on a burst of the old rose-tinted like a birthday rolling round. On the other hand, sometimes there are things in your past you don't want to be reminded about.

Two years after an apparently successful launch, Secret World Legends looks very much like an also-ran, languishing in the slipstream of another, more profitable, higher-profile franchise, Conan, which saw its own successful revamp in Conan Exiles. Many Secret World veterans have never forgiven the company for mothballing the original game in favor of the supposedly more mainstream revamp and even players who were willing to go along with the change have run out of patience with the glacial pace of new content.

I just noticed how thick the soles on my boots are...
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Funcom's announcement of the Second Anniversary celebrations for SWL was received in certain quarters with a considerable degree of cynicism. Still, it offers a rare opportunity for the game to make an appearance on news sites, potentially bringing in some fresh (or more likely already-used) blood.

Talking about player retention in EVE Online yesterday, Wilhelm linked to a Superdata report that claims most new players beyond the two-year mark arrive as a result of recommendations from people already playing. A big bash like an Anniversary at least gets people talking. It's a start. I haven't heard anyone as much as mention SWL for months but over the last few days a few passing comments and mentions have cropped up in blogs I read. I doubt the game would have pinged my radar this summer had it not been for the publicity generated by the sophomore anniversary.

Two years may not seem much but it's probably a decade in MMO dog years. And let's not forget, The Secret World itself will be seven years old next month. Getting players to try an elderly game - or come back to give it a second chance - is hard enough. Getting them to hang around long enough to spend some money is a lot harder. SuperData estimate that just 2% of late registrants go on to play for more than thirty days.

You lookin' at my shem?

As far as inducements to stay go, there's nothing much new in this anniversary offer as far as I can tell, although I'm far from being an expert on SWL. TSW Database has an exhaustive breakdown of all the options, activities and rewards but I can't really tell what carries over from last year. I can't see much that would hold the casual player's attention beyond the duration of the event itself, no new storylines or explorable areas for example, while the official highlight, "brand new agents", involves a game system that's entirely unknown to me.

And yet, thanks to the Second Anniversary bash, it looks very much as though Secret Worlds Legends is back in my rotation. That's the rotation I don't actually have, of course: the random, whim-based, eeny-meeny choice I make most days, when I decide what I'm going to play.

I patched up and logged in a couple of days ago just to take a few screenshots and get some material for a post. I woke up conveniently close to the Argatha entrance in Savage Coast so I went to the hub to orient myself and sort my bags.

I guess this is where it all happens. Whatever "it" is...
There seemed to be a large crowd gathering next to a portal there so I hung around to see what was happening. When they all surged forward and vanished I followed them and in a few seconds I was unloading my pistols into the looming bulk of one of the PQ Raid mobs, a Talos of Gaia.

I used to love TSW's all-come, all-served hit point sponge open world holiday bosses. The only drawback was having to race all over the world while following chat and swapping channels (servers) to find one that was up.

SWL has done away with all that immersive, co-operative nonsense by putting the mobs on a fixed timer and sticking them in an instance with a portal in the game's main hub. Well, they did say they wanted to make things more accessible.

The effect is to turn the Taloses into even more of a loot pinata than they already were - and this in an event that has actual Pinatas that you hit with a bat. I am very definitely not complaining. I've done half a dozen so far.

Batter up!
They happen every hour, on the hour. Each kill gets you some drops and a shard that, when you collect five, combines into a Shem, the pet version of one of the bosses. I have two so far. Hang on, that must mean I've done ten bosses. Can that be true? I must be having even more fun than I thought!

There are login rewards and other goodies to be had but the surprising thing is that when each event ends I haven't been logging out to go play something else. I've been sticking around and playing the game.

In fact, I've done four levels. I roamed around Savage Coast for a while doing the League of Monster Hunters mission. Then I wandered over to Innsmouth Academy and did Carter Unleashed and a couple of others. From there I headed over to Blue Mountain, doing Ami Legend on the way, then the Sasquatch one for Sarge when I got to the military camp.

All of this is stuff I've already done in TSW.  I got almost to the conclusion of the main storyline of the original game and I've seen everything up to the end of Transylvania. Well, not every mission but all the scenery.

Some of it I remembered well, some only vaguely. One thing I did notice was all of it was a lot more fun. And when I say "fun" I mean "easy". I like The Secret World a lot but it was a slog. I was usually undergeared and always under-skilled. I died a lot and everything took ages. In SWL none of that happens.

Mobs die fast, missions take about a quarter as long to finish and the whole thing feels slick. What's more, my bags don't fill up with vast heaps of confusing drops that I have to spend hours sorting through and assessing. The few drops I get go straight into the Upgrade hopper and that's that.

I found myself wanting to play more and more. It had a lot to do with the addition of Levels to the game. As I was saying yesterday, the original TSW didn't use levels and at the time I had no problem with that, but I have to say that seeing that number tick up is a major motivator for me.

Levels are also more than just a cosmetic addition. If you don't level up you can't proceed with the all-important main mission sequence. I was ready to carry on with mine but when I finished Ami Legend (I think I was Level 22 at the time) the next mission on the tracker that came up was  "Level to 25". You can't make the importance of Levels any more obvious than that.

So that's what I'm doing. And I'm already nearly there. Wearing last year's party hat. Never in fashion, always in style.

Pretty much the motto of the whole Secret World franchise, I guess.


  1. The more relaxed difficulty compared to the old version and the revised item upgrade system are what hooked me in too. Though, it's still quite challenging in areas compared to many MMOs. So far every zone has had one or two "nope not for me" quests.

    If you do nearly every quest and side quest in a zone, sub or not you won't hit that level restriction again. In fact I think I hit 50 late in City of the Sun God, which is only about half way through the content.

    If you do the anniversary login rewards every day, eventually you get a purple cache key which is guaranteed to get you a rare result from a cache. The odds of it being anything you particularly want are still pretty low, but if it's something that sells well on the AH you can easily turn it into something you do want indirectly.

    1. Oh thanks for reminding me! I've had the plumbers in all day (simple job that turned into a nightmare) and I haven't logged in yet. I'll go do it now.

      First time through I did literally every mission I could find but this time I'm cherry-picking ones I remember liking and/or easy ones. And the main story, of course. I have no intentions of doing any of the annoying sneaking/hiding ones or the puzzle ones unless I really have to.

  2. Reading this post made me patch up the game and I noticed that the launcher still advertised the agent system as a new feature. Since that was released more than a year ago, one does have to wonder what they've been doing with their time at Funcom...

    I enjoyed the events you describe the first couple of times, but ultimately they are very samey, and I got tired of logging in just to mash buttons for five minutes and collect a free hat or pet that I was never going to look at again. I think my Templar is still wearing her Christmas jumper and bobble hat from Christmas 2017...

    I think the thing that really keeps me from coming back though is that I didn't find the game very fun to play on my own, after making it through a good chunk of the story with my husband. The ease of combat you describe definitely drops off at the later levels, and by Transylvania I found it a chore to fight anything on my own (though that might have been related to me having a terrible build or something - but still).

    1. Yes, I've heard from a few sources that the combat joyride doesn't last forever. I very much doubt I'll get that far anyway, although given that I might be coming and going for years yet, who can say?

      I very rarely get bored in those huge zerg fights with massive and/or massively powerful hit point sponges. After all, I've been on the GW2 World Boss train for over half a decade. The point about what good the loot is, though, is extremely well made. I'm neither a completist nor much of a collector so why should I care if I get all the Shems? I'm never going tohave any of them out instead of my cat or my crow, anyway.

      And as for the clothes - give me a break! I'm wearing last year's party hat ironically but that joke's already wearing off.


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