“The Secret World is a massively multiplayer online world with a unique modern-day setting and unparalleled freedom of character progression.Imagine if every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true. Imagine a world where you can become anything you want to be, without restrictions such as classes or levels. This is the premise for The Secret World, Funcom’s massively multiplayer online game set in the modern-day real world.” (source: http://www.thesecretworld.com/gameplay)
That’s how Funcom describes the game themselves, and it’s a fairly accurate description. Forget most of what you know about MMOs. There are no strict character “classes” or “archetypes”, and only a loose concept of “levels”. Any character can learn to use any ability, within very reasonable limits. Did you decide you really don’t like using a shotgun as much as you thought you would? Just start learning something else. Most of the content is repeatable, so there is little fear of running out content to use to build up as many abilities as you like.
Most of the content in the game is open world content. With very few exceptions though, The Secret World doesn’t seem to suffer from some of the issues seen in some other MMOs that use a lot of open world content. With relatively short spawn times, it’s rare to have to stand around waiting for target objects or creatures to respawn in order to complete a mission.
Combat is fast paced and, at times, feels almost like you are playing a shooter. While you can learn hundreds of abilities, you can only have seven active and seven passive abilities equipped. It’s easy to switch which abilities are equipped, meaning you can switch them up based on what you are fighting. Getting ready to go up against a tough boss fight with few adds, unslot some AoE abilities for some harder hitting single target abilities.
Cutscenes are mostly well done with fairly good acting, but they are non-interactive. Don’t look for conversation choices like you see in SWTOR. Things are much more static in TSW. The result is that, instead of feeling like a player in your own unique story, you feel more like an actor performing a script, which you have no control over. There are times when it can force your character to do things which you may not personally feel fit your idea of your character.
A good example of what I mean can be seen in the early stages of one of the faction stories. You meet a girl in a hotel room, she pushes you down on the bed, and slides down your body to, presumably, perform oral sex on you. Out of curiosity, I created a female character of this faction just to see how it would play out differently. It didn’t play out differently at all. Now, I am a good old, red-blooded American guy, so my initial reaction was, “Hot! Some girl-on-girl action!”. Then I thought about it. What if it was a male doing it instead of a female. Would I feel as excited about “some guy-on-guy action”? Probably not.
Don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem with the inclusion of sexual relationships in a game, but when these relationships involve the player’s character, the player should have some choice in whether or not to actually engage in that relationship. This is true whether the relationship is a same-sex relationship or not.
The world itself is well-done and submersive. Due to the dark nature of the material, I don’t know that I would use terms like “beautiful” or “breathtaking”. It’s a very dark world, but it does dark very well. While dark, the world doesn’t necessarily feel “depressing”, it just feels dark and foreboding which is exactly what the world should covey.
From a technical standpoint, the game seems to suffer from a lack of proper optimization. This can result in high amounts of lag or latency (and even graphic crashes) at times. While I am able to play most games or high or ultra settings, TSW suffers if I go above medium settings. If you try to play on something with an older graphics chipset, expect a “less than optimal” experience, at best.
As far as the Buy-to-Play model goes, The Secret World actually offers a very bang for the buck, assuming you don’t subscribe. Wait? Did I say as long as you do not subscribe? Yes, I did. While a lot of people complain when games go free to play because they lock key features away behind the subscription wall, The Secret World does the opposite. They pretty much give you the farm and offer very little to subscribers. The list of features available for subscribing, from Funcom’s own website, include:
That’s it. Let’s take a look at the only two items in the list that have a quantifiable value, the $10 worth of points and the 10% store discount. You are paying $14.95 a month for your subscription. They give you $10 worth of points, leaving $4.95. In order to make that up in the 10% discount, you would need to be spending $49.50 in points every month, which means spending an additional $34.55 every single month, over and above your subscription. Now perhaps you think the Item of the Month and the 1 hour XP boost each day is worth the $4.95, perhaps not. For most people though, these things may be “nice to have”, but they are far from necessary to enjoy the game. The real kick though is that their content updates (which they call “Issues”) still have to be purchased, even if you are a subscriber. So those free points you’re getting every month? Well, yeah, better set aside some for the content updates unless you want to pay out of pocket (or don’t care about having access to the new content). Providing subscribers with access to all of the issue content, at least for the duration of their subscription, would go a long ways to offer incentive for people to subscribe.
There is another option instead of the monthly subscription. There is a lifetime subscription available for $200, which allows you to have permanent access to all of the member benefits for as long as the game is active. That’s equivalent to paying for just over 13 months of membership.
Despite it’s problems, I still find The Secret World to be a fun game overall. While static, the stories are well written and entertaining with unique NPC personalities. Regularly priced at $29.99 through Steam, it’s not a bad bang for the buck considering there are no key features which require a subscription. If you catch it on sale through Steam or Origin, you can get an even better deal.