Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Secret World, Beta Impressions

After playing for about 10 hours, I think I can make a slightly naive assessment of the game.  I did not play PvP, and spent almost all of my time in Kingsmouth Landing and the Savage Coast.   The story and atmosphere are extremely good, whereas the character customization and combat were pretty underwhelming.   The three factions offer an interesting choice, but I found for the most part, faction doesn’t really matter.  There is fun to be found in this game, but it is hidden behind frustration, agony, and turmoil of poorly implemented features. 

Edit:  This by no means a full, or even knowledgeable review of the game.  The opinions below are merely my first impressions of the game!

I played to tier 12 of the story "Dawning of the Endless Night", sadly no one could continue because one of the zones was not open during this beta. This storyline offered some of my favorite moments in the game. Fantastic, horrifying, satisfying. There were several other quests that were pretty fun too. Having to dodge lights, navigating around booby traps, solving puzzles. I love how the game gives you enough information to find what you are looking for, but not enough that you are ever quite sure what you are doing. For example, it provides a circle over a gas station and tells you to find a camera. After a while and no luck, you start walking around the gas station, only to find you can jump up on the roof by jumping on a dumpster, and on the edge of the roof is a camera. Quite fun, but it can be frustrating. Sometimes the AI will tell you find something specific, but it will provide you a giant area to look in. Many of those quests, I simply cannot find the quest target and I am forced into switching to a new quest. Other quests, are simply bugged. There’s one quest that asks you to follow a raven, and every time I started the quest. Instead of flying off, the raven would just disappear.

The cut scenes ranged from fantastic to slightly average, but were almost always interesting to watch.  In the first two minute of the game, my character had oral sex.  While slightly strange and off-putting, I can’t say I was bored.  Other times the cutscenes were terrifying, and many of the character’s personalities were complex and interesting.  However, I would like to see the character we control to have more of a response.  In every cutscene, I just stare blankly at the person talking, give me some dialogue and action please.  Connection with your character is important, and the Secret World falls extremely flat in this category.  The character creator is rather bland and boring.  Many of the characters in-game end up looking alike, and it’s sad to see such poor implementation.

On the other hand, the combat has improved since the previous iterations I've seen in videos of other beta events.  Specifically the animation quality has definitely improved.  However, let me be clear, this is not great combat.  TERA and Guild Wars 2 are on a completely different level when it comes to animation, impact, and the flow of combat. 

One of the biggest frustrations in my experience was the lack of quality vendors and access to upgrades.  So this beta, I liked to use an Assault Rifle and Blade, however I could not find an upgrade to my starting weapon.  Let me explain, since there are no levels in the game, the restriction on use of items are through skill points.  There are 11 levels of quality of gear, Q0-Q10, with 10 being the best.  However, to use a Q4 gear you would then have to make sure you had enough skill level for that slot.   Sure, I could find Q4 blood focus, Q3 elemental focus, but I feel like I was forced into using them.  Even worse, to use the different weapons I would then have to sacrifice skill points in order to use them.  So I could either waste skill points on a weapon I did not like simply because it had a much higher offensive rating than my standard assault rifle, or I could stay with my weak rifle.   Worse when asking around general chat and finding vendors in both my home instance of Seoul and throughout Kingsmouth Landing and the Savage Coast to find no way to upgrade. I had nearly 100,000 coins and yet they couldn’t buy me a single upgrade in gear.  And the tokens that I gained from quests were not nearly enough to buy an upgrade.  I was stuck into playing a weapon I did not want and wasting skill points, or forced to play the weapon I wanted that was weaker than what it should be.  I chose to stick with my rifle and blade combo, and I was forced to trudge through rather difficult content.

The difficulty in this game is pretty slanted towards a higher level of difficulty. However, while I like high difficulty in the game, it must be justified.  In this game, I’m not really sure if it is.  It’s one thing to have a complicated puzzles with good directions to follow.  It’s another to have a relatively simple puzzle with absolutely atrocious directions to follow. You will spend 10-15 minutes trying to figure out an objective to a standard quest, sometimes this is fun because you are trying to find clues or think your way through.  Other times, it’s because of frustratingly poor instructions to a meaningless quest.  It can be fun, but it often is not.  Another problem is that there often is no way to tell if mobs are higher “level” than you.  The only way to find out is to charge in and hope you don’t get your ass kicked.  If you do, then you have to ignore that area until you find some upgrades. 

In PvP, the Dragon faction was getting absolutely obliterated.  While I never joined it, it was very easy to tell from the browser that we had no chance in any of the arenas/battlefields/some big area zone field thingy.  Worse after watching some videos, it seems that there is no queue.  Which is fine, but when the two opposing teams have ten people, and yours has three, is that really fair?  Shouldn’t you just have a queue to at least have fairly even teams?

I think what the most revealing aspect of this weekend was how relatively rough the game is, especially since the game is launching next week.  On the opposite side of the spectrum we have Guild Wars 2, that really at this point has extremely minor issues, and we still don’t even have a launch date.  The game has potential, and I do believe it will have a niche following, but God is this revealing.   I don’t think the launch will be nearly as bad as Age of Conan, but this game could see some problems.  During Beta, the game went down at least once for four hours of maintenance.  You know how long Guild Wars 1 was down in the entirety of its seven years of existence, 32 hours. 

In fairness, this game is not a bad game.  The Funcom team definitely created a compelling story with a very lively, interactive world.  However through poor implementation and combat, much of the magic is lost.  This game is one of the strongest of the new releases of MMOs in the last couple of years, however that being said, I don’t think the game is worth buying. (Especially since there is a certain game coming out this year, you may have heard of it.)  The fact that the Secret World has a subscription fee, will have a niche following, and is frustratingly rough at this point in time, I would advise most of you to stay away from the game.  I highly recommend that you try the game when there’s a free trial, but don’t pay money for it.   A few of you will like the game, but many of you will not.  


  1. God damnit! Now I don't have anything to say on my blog! :P This post reflects almost exactly my feelings on The Secret World.

    The game has a LOT of potential, and brings some great new ideas to the table. But after playing Guild Wars 2 on the beta weekends, it's hard to overlook the stiff walking animations, the annoying silent protagonist, the simplistic combat where all weapons have basically the same mechanics for the first 3 or 4 skills, attack animations that give no sense of weight or power, same ol' kill-ten-rats quest objectives, and the facepalming choice of a very limited quest tracker.

    Maybe if GW2 wasn't "a thing", I would consider this as my next MMO, but ArenaNet work set my quality standards on a much higher level. GW2 isn't perfect, but their level of polish is just unparalel... and Secret World simply doesn't get near that level.

  2. Weapons are pretty easy to come by, so I'm not sure how you played all that time and managed to miss all of it. There's several repeatable quests around Kingsmouth that give your choice of weapon as a mission reward, weapons drop all the time off mobs, it's fairly easy to craft your own, and the tokens you get from completing missions can buy blue-quality QL 3 weapons from the vendor northwest of the Sheriff's Office (or QL 5 ones from the vendor in northwest Savage Coast).

    Also, the downtime during the Beta was to add a patch. They had all their staff working that day to monitor and upgrade the playing experience. It wasn't a maintenance, patches happen in Beta in every game, and the only abnormal thing about it was how fast they were addressing issues as they came up.

    Which faction is doing better in the PvP really depended on which shard you were in. You could always switch to a different shard. Also, Templars were the most played faction this Beta Weekend. They had a queue. Illuminati and Dragon tended to get in immediately because there was always space for them. I played Dragon, and on my shard we owned Fusang Projects for the three hours I was in it. Illuminati owned it before we took it from them, and Templars beat us out after that. It's fairly balanced.

    Oh: want to know an easy way to to get an idea of mob strength? Tab/target the mob and look at how high its health is. Also look at what colour it cons (white means its average QL is the same as yours, the other colours are fairly standard from there). And then the symbol by its name will give you an idea of its strength (big dot = strong, three dots = a pack member, flag/crown/skull = elite).

    I don't want to sound too bitchy here, but you should learn more about a game before you post a review of it. :(

    1. Relatively fair backlash. I will be the first to admit, I had next to no information about the game going into it. I was fairly clear about that in my post several days ago, but I should have addressed the point again to clarify. This is by no means a review, and I actually agree with the model that many review an MMO by, in which they play the game for several weeks before creating a review. Like Kemwer said, this is not a review, this article offers my impressions. I could be wrong about many things and is completely dependent on my personal experience. If weapons are really easy to come by, I'm just really surprised I couldn't find the correct weapon. I found tons of weapons I could not/did not want, but nothing of the rifle variety. I actually found the vendors in both Savage Coast and in Kingsmouth, but 30-40 tokens for a weapon was extremely expensive. Also, nice tip on the tab targeting, that really is nice to know. Thanks for your comment, and I will edit this post to clarify that this is by no means a "full review".

  3. @Anonymous: chill out and read the title of the post. These are impressions, not a review. He can only talk about his experience, not about what the game "can" do, but didn't during his game time. Excuses don't change how the game played for him, or me, or anyone else.

  4. Short comment:

    "There’s one quest that asks you to follow a raven, and every time I started the quest. Instead of flying off, the raven would just disappear."

    This is probably not correct. The raven flies off and lands on the ground together with a lot of other ravens. So the raven you are looking for sits on the ground a few meters away from you. You will never see it land, but the direction it flies gives you the direction you need to follow.

  5. I'm sorry to hear you essentially ran into the same type of obstacles to enjoyment that I did while playing TSW. There really is some great atmosphere and story writing (imo) but there are also undeniable technical issues with the game - some of which could be corrected following launch, but many of which are simply down to design level decisions that are fundamental parts of the game, and for which there is no "fix."

    I'm not sure it's fair to compare TSW to GW2, but I understand the inclination to do so, and I have to agree with that part of your overall impression also... ArenaNet sure can write some seriously good code, and the degree of "polish" their game appears to have as a result sets a pretty high standard to be judged against.

  6. I agree with many of your comments. Whether you're wrong or right about everything, a first impression counts and a last open beta is a chance for the company to sell the game to people who might not have picked it up otherwise.

    It's a shame it hasn't been given more more time to polish it because it has so much potential in terms of questing and atmosphere. I'm a huge fan of the way they implemented the quests and was surprised so many people were just asking in general chat for codes when the clues were in their quest logs if they only went back to look at them and think about them for a minute or two. That type of adventure-game questing isn't everyone's cup of tea but it's what makes TSW stand out in a sea of other MMOs. It's just a shame that at times it's so frustrating. I and the person I was playing with had numerous game freezes, horrendous lag at times and occasional login issues. And yes, both of us have played many betas and don't expect perfect polish, but when the game is coming out in just two weeks and it's the final beta, that's a concern.

    As it stands at the moment I feel like I may wait a couple of months before buying TSW, and if I'm caught up in another MMO it may not happen.

  7. There are a lot of tutorials and missions missing that explain how to craft your weapons, how to tell the power level of mobs, and a few other things. It doesn't help that the game starts out extremely slow. Solomon Island is interesting, but everything really starts to pick up in Egypt, and Romania was mind-bogglingly well-done.

    The complaints that irk me the most are "stiff animations" and "boring combat." Granted, while the combat is not as smooth as it could be, it feels only slightly less responsive than the golden standard: WoW. The combat is much more interesting than any other game when you factor in substance rather than style. Once you get into Savage coast, you'll have to make the right decisions about your gear and build before you step foot into combat, and it is very thought-provoking, and you'll be rewarded and punished for each of the decisions you make.

    As far as your gear complaint, that will be handled with a tutorial mission instructing players on the importance of crafting. You won't be buying gear from vendors or having to switch weapons because of drops. You'll disassemble the gear you won't use and stock up on materials until you can make what you need. Between crafting and mission rewards, you shouldn't be lacking in gear. We had that sort of explanation on the closed beta, but it never made it into the weekend beta.

    The downtime you experienced was to re-introduce the active dodge and implement a few features. Don't confuse beta testing with free trial! On closed beta, we see at least 10 downtimes a week for patching and fixes, not to mention countless hotfixes. Funcom is busting their ass, and the difference between quality of the weekend beta and the closed beta shows that progress is being made.

    All that being said, no, it is not a very polished or flashy game. There are plenty of things that need work, most notably combat and the character creator. It's not nearly as polished and playable as Guild Wars 2 is, but that's apples and oranges. Guild Wars 2 is standard fare high-fantasy, while The Secret World is gritty and realistic. That realism is part of the reason the game doesn't run so well on a lot of machines; the amount of lighting and sound technologies that contribute to the necessary atmosphere the game requires.

  8. If your article was ONLY an impression, why did you tell people not buy it? You had no idea about what the finished product would be like. I believe you let your GW2 bias get in the way. Something a true reviewer can't let happen.

    1. I think you can judge a game from first impressions. When you interview at a job or graduate school, do you not form ideas and impressions from the time you are there? Are you not able to tell people those impressions, and say to them that you would not go there if you had another choice?

      For example. I've heard many people apply to Columbia for graduate school. When they arrive for interviews, they were treated very rudly and a few of them were seriously mistreated by other students/faculty. Based on their first impressions, some of them have warned me not to apply. They weren't reviewing the school, and yet they told me not to "buy it". You can make judgment calls on first impressions, but I do want to say, I do wish The Secret World the very best. The team working on it seems very enthusiastic and creative, and I hope for the MMO genre's sake there is more choice for people than one MMO.

      Finally, I'm not a reviewer of The Secret World, thus your last statement does not apply to me. I'm not a reviewer, so in fact, I can let it (as in my bias) happen. As the lead author to a Guild Wars 2 centered blog, devoting 10-15 hours a week writing, reading, and researching, do you really think the author can be unbiased? Try it some time, I would be lying to you, if I said I had no bias.