Review: The Secret World

Posted: July 9, 2012 by: Terrence Jarrad

When you play this MMO, as you most assuredly should do, it will serve you to remember it is not World of Warcraft. It is not Rift, or Champions Online, neither Age of Conan, nor Star Wars: The Old Republic. It is not for end-gamers or raiders, grinders or power-levelers, PVPers or dungeon runners.

Rather, it is The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, Broken Sword and Syberia, Gabriel Knight and I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. It is for seekers and journeymen, detectives and discoverers; it is for explorers, and it is for adventurers.

Consternation likely surrounds the reader who is also a seasoned MMO player at this point. Is The Secret World a game they will enjoy? Familiar MMORPG trappings are apparent; there are definite systems and mechanics at play that one could use to thusly label this game, but close examination quickly reveals this style of MMO is not one that will appeal to a mass market. If this already disappoints, and the games in the second paragraph above generate no recognition, glance at the below score, subtract four or five from it, and turn the page.

Still reading? Good.

Beyond the limited character customisation options, the somewhat hasty justification of your avatar’s situation and subsequent induction to their chosen faction, lies an entire parallel universe to be explored. The scene set is present day, with the twist that here in The Secret World, all conspiracies, myths, and legends are true.

Dubbing this universe created by Funcom “rich” is like trying to explain Bill Gates’ wealth with the same term; technically true, hardly adequate. The Secret World delivers a definite sensation that there is nothing here that does not exist through explicit design, be it the name of a town or the colour of the flowers planted in someone’s front yard. It feels as though every constituent is grounded and has a weighty history attached, as though understanding the lore is but an Internet-search away.

This is highly appropriate given the game’s Investigation missions, but perhaps I should take a step back. The mission (quest) structure is unlike any you will have encountered before. There are several types of mission, and a small limit on the number of each that can be active at any time. The translation of this is that one cannot race wantonly through hub areas, collecting missions with gay abandon, to turn-in simultaneously for experience rewards broaching hedonistic quantities.

Neither can missions be discarded once acquired, and though it is possible to pause them to resume later, it’s not an efficient method of churning through content. Of course Funcom doesn’t actually want you to be churning at all, but to be instead involved in your actions, and to see missions through their multiple tiers and increasing difficulties to their satisfying conclusions.

Investigation missions then. They are challenges to tax the brain. You thought The Longest Journey’s inflatable rubber duck puzzle was mystifying? Well, let me put it this way: there’s a reason why TSW has a browser with Google as its default home-page, built in to the game interface. Your level of tenacity will not dictate whether you use it, but how many times you use it. I’d love to provide an example, but I don’t want to spoil anything; they’re that good.

Some missions require a rethink of your entire MMO approach to date, and this time I can provide an example. An escort mission of sorts mandated the continued living status of my accompanying NPC. After failing twice, I resolved to level a bit and come back later, until I remembered there are, in fact, no levels.

Experience does still accumulate, but its effect is to unlock more skills and abilities. True, some of these are more powerful, but it doesn’t have the same impact as levelling in other games. So I re-examined my equipped skills, and decided a change of weapon was in order – something with more spread to draw greater ire away from my ever-so-squishy charge – and succeeded first time. Tactical skill-based combat is important.

It’s time now to address the Cthulu in the room, the creator whose name is fused with The Secret World. Ragnar Tornquist’s influence is felt rather than seen in the game world. It’s thematically inherent in the narrative and design, a ubiquity that won’t be bound in a single element or facet. Those familiar with The Longest Journey and Dreamfall will immediately recognise his presence. I’d even go so far to say that anyone still longing for Dreamfall Chapters would be well served playing this in the interim.

It would be unfair to reduce an entire studio’s work to one man’s name however, and despite its slightly rocky start, I have not encountered the game that matches The Secret World for raw writing talent. Its story is engaging, its lore intriguing, and characterisation of its NPCs sublime. Its only downfalls are concessions made to appease and appeal to the larger MMO crowd.

I lament the restriction of space that necessitated the brevity of this review. There are many elements of the game not really covered in detail, and I hope to rectify this through State of Play in future issues. For now, I must leave you with this: The Secret World is a breath of fresh air in a stale genre. It is the adventure reimagined for a new era. I love this game, unequivocally. And I sincerely hope you do too.

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Developer: Funcom
Publisher: EA
Price: $79.99
OFLC Rating: MA15+
VERDICT Undoubtedly too niche for some, the experience is divine for those who choose to lose themselves in The Secret World.

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19 Responses to “Review: The Secret World”

  1. Paul #

    Love this game! Nice summary.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:19 am Reply
  2. Kasper P #

    TSW has its flaws, but I must admit that I have never enjoyed an mmo as much as I do with TSW. The quests are amazing, the enemies are detailed and the environment is breathtaking. The game is simply amazing.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:15 am Reply
  3. William #

    Fantastic brief review – I’m so glad you mentioned the adventure games from an age long past (especially Gabriel Knight and IHNMAIMS). You encapsulate why I feel so strongly about this MMO – “It is for seekers and journeymen, detectives and discoverers; it is for explorers, and it is for adventurers.” Not for everyone though by any means but for damn amazing for those that love the adventure genre (hell … good stories and writing in general).

    July 9, 2012 at 9:30 am Reply
  4. Kuni #

    Finally a review that recognises the intriguing, exciting and genuinely challenging game that lies behind a new MMO approach that can take time to adjust to.

    Yes there are flaws (such as character creation, some minor bugs and balance issues) but this is the first week and I am confident there will be effective patches incoming. It is certainly not for the casual player but anyone who wants to be challenged while being completely enveloped in a well written story and detailed MMO world can not do much better than this.

    The first MMO to capture my attention since the early days of WoW and I can see it holding my attention for a much longer time than that former behemoth :)

    July 9, 2012 at 9:33 am Reply
  5. hordak #

    well writen review, its up til now the one that basically summons it all up what this game is all about..

    ps, i heard romours about raids will be added to the game further down the line,, and since funcom is the masters of reaid creation its needed to be there to make end game more lasting..

    July 9, 2012 at 10:01 am Reply
  6. Thanks for the kind words guys. This is definitely one of my favourite games (in any genre) and I had a blast playing and reviewing it!

    July 9, 2012 at 11:41 am Reply
    • I was wondering why you have the price set at $79.99? Its $49.99.

      July 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm Reply
      • PCPowerPlay is an Australian PC games magazine, so prices listed here (for this and other games) will be local recommended retail price.

        July 9, 2012 at 10:49 pm Reply
  7. shim #

    Thank you for the best and most beautifully written review of TSW I have read so far. I’m so happy you mention The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, which are the reasons I’ve been looking forward to this game for years.

    And yes, the inflatable rubber duck was a huge pain back in the days…

    July 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm Reply
  8. Raidet #

    Reads like a marketing piece. Discusses very little in the way of specifics and doesn’t attempt to justify why exactly some (stupid) people won’t like it, as opposed to the (smart) people who will.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm Reply
    • That’s fair criticism Raidet, to which I can only respond by saying that the review is a little out of context here on the Web. I write for a print magazine (yes they do still exist), and this review was restricted by space limitations which will not be apparent to an online audience.
      I also write a regular column in the magazine which is MMO related. With games I think require it (such as this one), I tend to use this as a supplement to the review, which gives me the ability to talk about games in greater detail, rather than the feature-rich but shallow and somewhat mechanical review coverage I find comes when trying to encompass everything an MMO offers in the limited print space.
      I don’t know if that helps explain, or provide context for you, but I do appreciate your feedback.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm Reply
  9. SaintBane #

    It really is such a awesome game – the quests totally get you into it ^^
    the only point, which I would change is that you have to pay every month for it, but it’s totally worth it ^^

    July 9, 2012 at 4:09 pm Reply
  10. Doctah #

    Excellent game! Nice game to take your time with and suck it all in. Many will like it and first people shooter fans that like to powergrind through content and do nothing but raid will not. Who cares! Buy another game! This is a keeper. Games should be reviewed by those that can like all types of them, not just the ones that like ONE TYPE of MMO…

    July 9, 2012 at 10:50 pm Reply
  11. JonesJones #

    Fantastic game! Great review, thanks. Loved the old adventure games, bringing this feeling into MMOs was what I always missed. I´m in.

    July 10, 2012 at 9:24 am Reply
  12. Shildrak107 #

    A review that completely captures my feelings for this game. I too am very impressed, and thoroughly enjoy it. The game has shortcomings, and room for improvements, but somehow when I play it – they all melt away, and I am captivated in a way I have not been since everquest close to 15 years ago.

    July 10, 2012 at 6:39 pm Reply
  13. It seems The Gurth is succumbing to the BK disease…

    August 3, 2012 at 6:20 am Reply
  14. Noesis #

    great review, albeit written in an exceedingly pretentious manner…

    August 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm Reply
  15. kurosawa #

    thanks for that review and for mentioning how this game should be played.

    August 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm Reply
  16. Bigfred #

    Fab review of an excellent game

    December 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm Reply

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