TSW – Totally surprised, wow!

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I think I mentioned before how much the constant vicious circle of MMO hype irritates me. Games rise, and then crash like falling stars, ripped apart by a former fanbase. Current example: SWTOR, kicked into the dust by EA, people celebrating its fall to F2P with true German Schadenfreude.

The Secret WorldA lot of the MMO folks I follow on G+ got into The Secret World which launched a month ago, and even though it sounded incredibly interesting, I was suspicious. I hadn’t heard anything good about Funcom, it’s a sub game in a world where sub games are doomed to failure, and it has a modern setting, the first game of its kind, afaik. I missed the beta weekends, and given that I am still unemployed, currently in training to become a certified system integrator, I am very wary of spending money on stuff like games. Not wary enough to not haven fallen for the Steam Summer Sale, but…careful. As part of their one month celebration and their first content patch, Funcom allowed free access to the game for everyone, for a weekend. Here was my chance to test it and see for myself.

Despite really wanting to be illuminati, I was convinced to play a templar, joining the Templar cabal Knights of Mercy on Arcadia, filled with such good folks as Belghast, MMO Gamer Chick, Rowan and many others.

By the first cutscene I thought that it looked pretty cheesy. But once the tutorial section started, taking you to Tokyo, I was pretty hooked. The video tutorials are pretty amazing. I wish more games paid great attention to tutorials. You want to be sure that you grasp the most important concepts, and this video and the seamless integration was very slick. I also like the mission system that guides you through quests in different tiers, the story evolving as you go. The combat was okay, and the mobs looked very Lovecraftian. I have to admit I didn’t really pay attention to the setting before I installed the game, I only knew modern + occult. I am a huge fan of Lovecraft, and Stephen King, so imagine my squee when my character was sent to New England where the town of Kingsmouth has been affected by a strange fog. Zombies everywhere! Creatures from the sea! Insanity! And so you get into figuring out the mystery of Solomon Island, trying to find out what happened.

Questing works slightly different in The Secret World. There are no traditional quest hubs with lots of exclamation marks all around, but there are people marked on your map that do have main missions for you. You always have one story mission, can have only one main mission and up to three side missions. Side missions you can pick up anywhere. A good example for a side mission is you finding the corpse of a woman, with a cell phone in her hand. The cell phone shows a text message that indicates she was supposed to spy on the priest of Kingsmouth’s church, and that there’s a laptop hidden by the church, with the passcode the first song that’s going to be in the sermon. Now your task is to a) find the laptop and b) break the passcode. Quite fun! It’s quite cool to stumble over side missions, and at times I felt they were used to gently nudge you towards the next available main mission. As example, you find a weird pseudo-religious cult called The Morninglight, and an RC plane there guides you towards the next mission guy in the Skate Park.

There are many references to H.P. Lovecraft all over Kingsmouth. Even in the phonebook!

The main missions exist in three different types. There are normal action ones where you run around a lot and kill ten zombies, but there’s also investigations and sabotage missions. Investigations are for example that you are to look into a series of murders that happened in 2002. Belghast gave me the hint to look at the phonebook for ideas where to start, and I took it from there. You have an integrated web browser that you will need to use for some missions, and I had to take notes on how to disable a machine in reverse order. Heck, apparently you need to learn morse code or have a morse app on your phone in some cases. Sabotage missions require stealth, disabling traps and avoiding security cameras. As much as I cursed at the stupid cameras, I really had a lot of fun with the two missions of that kind I have done so far.

I felt the challenge of the mobs was pretty nice. You start mowing through normal zombies quite easily, but if you run into the stronger ones, more than one might be lethal. When a mission indicates ‘Very Hard’ it’s indeed tough to survive. At no point did I feel like I wanted to throw my mouse against the wall, unlike Guild Wars 2 where I find the difficulty frustrating at times.

The skill system and abilities wheel is quite interesting, but I wish decks were explained somewhere. MMOGC had to help me with that, and I started building towards the paladin deck. I would like to experiment with healing sometime. Or tanking. I didn’t fully get the crafting and only later found out that you need to upgrade your mats through the assembly window. Again, that would have been nice to get via an advanced tutorial mission, like the one you get initially for crafting weapons.

TSW is a mature-themed game. There’s a lot of gore and horror, and characters you run into swear a lot (a motherfucking lot) or talk about sex, like the fake fortune-teller who survived the fog because the mayor had her in fuzzy handcuffs in bed. That made me laugh. Big thumbs up for the big biker dude who is sweet on deputy sheriff Andy, and there was some chick who hit on my character pretty hard. Yay for gay!

The game is not without its problems. It crashed multiple times for me, with the Out of Memory bug that seems common in Win 7-32 bit, and sometimes face textures looked pretty awful. Also, Kingsmouth feels like a single-player game, totally. That’s probably its biggest issue. In fact, having other people around was actually disrupting in some cases. There was an investigation mission involving ravens you needed to talk to, and if another player was doing it, the ravens kept flying away. I had to restart this at least three times, and a Twitter friend, at_marianne, and her husband were unable to finish at all, because they were grouped. That is pretty sucky! You shouldn’t be punished for playing with people, because that’s after all the MM part here. SWTOR set such a high bar for duo content, so it is disappointing to see TSW fail here. Others are telling me there’s more group stuff outside of Solomon Island, but I can’t say if this is so.

A plus on the group side is that you can help other players kill mobs and they count for you, even if you didn’t tag the mob first. I happily helped pew-pewing zombies with my pistols whenever I ran into other people.

I have to say, this was the first MMO since WoW that totally made me forget the time. When my SO told me it was time to do groceries after I sat down to play it at noon, and it was miraculously 6 pm, I was boggling. It really sucked me in, with a fantastic atmosphere, great storytelling, and interesting missions. According to Raptr I managed to clock 23 hours of gametime since Friday, which…seems a bit high. Raptr did not stop counting when I crashed to desktop, so that probably explains the discrepancy. Still, I likely did at least around the 20 hour mark. The weekend was enough to convince me I need to play this for at least the free month. It’s given me a bit of hope, because I seriously thought I was done with MMOs as a genre, the passion for the games out of my system. Guess I was wrong!

20 Comments

  1. I am glad to see you enjoyed it so much. It will not appeal to everyone but to those it does, they get hooked fast. I hope to see you in game again soon and that you stick with it.

    • I probably will. I now do understand why people seem so fascinated by it. I saw you off and on this weekend, will have to say hi next time. :-)

  2. Echoing the divisive nature of TSW. That said, I still adore the game, even if I’m too preoccupied with other things to play seriously at the moment.

    Perhaps you’d care to read an article I wrote about Lovecraftian themes influencing TSW? http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/game/404/feature/6590/The-Secret-World-Lovecrafts-Influence-on-The-Secret-World.html

  3. Wow, you kept busy this weekend! Seriously, once this game gets its hooks in you it doesn’t let go. I’m glad you got to do so much including running through all the dialogue options for the NPCs. Madame Roget’s conversation is hilarious (Yay, Kingsmouth!”.

    And that investigation quest with the ravens, though bugged for me when I first did it, is probably one of my favorites.

    If you do get the game and end up trying Illuminati, apparently their dialogue is the funniest. I know I like their intro more than the others.

    • I would at least like to try the two other intros. Other than that, I don’t know how much influence faction has on the game. Alting doesn’t really make much sense, as you simply can learn enough APs and SPs to have your character do anything. Which is kinda cool. :-)

      The raven quest is very cool! I have to admit to using outside help, because I was totally stumped, but I vowed to myself I wouldn’t do that for future missions. Using the in-game browser is kinda overwhelming because the best google hits are by now guides to all the missions.

  4. Honestly the whole faction thing isn’t as big of a deal as it was. We have the server channel now, and with a lot of the chat issues being fixed our little community seems more active. I love being able to talk to folks over the channel regardless if I am on my templar main or my dragon alt. So I say branch out and see which one you really like the most, if you indeed purchase the game.

    Soloman Island, at least Kingsmouth is very much a single player game. Basically from what I have seen, Kingsmouth and the Polaris dungeon are the way that Funcom tries to ease you into their way of thinking. It isn’t much of an easing process, but it feels like a concerted effort on their part. Basically once you leave Kingsmouth you start to see a few things standardize… you start getting easy side missions, difficult but soloable main missions, and impossible to solo missions. The later is when you start seeing players just freeform grouping, these really start in full during Egypt, but by the time you reach Romania, almost every quest giver has at least one brutally difficult quest.

    Also what you do not really get into much in Kingsmouth, are the nightmare areas and Lairs. There is at least one lair per zone, and these require you to group up to be able to defeat them. At level, you usually need a full group or maybe even two…. at QL10 you need 3+ people generally. There is an achievement for each and every lair. Basically while you are in there, you will get special drops, that when combined allow you to summon the boss of each area. In addition to these, there are some areas that feature much harder nightmare level mobs, that are designed for grouping. They drop much better rewards, and later on are the only real way you can get signets other than elite dungeons.

    All this said, the game definitely becomes a grouping game, just doesn’t start out that much of one. However one can get from QL0 to QL10 without grouping at all, but you are going to be greatly limited in the quests you take on if you do.

  5. Welcome to the club.
    Somehow I missed completely that the blogger buddies had a guild going on the Templar side. So I dropped my Illuminati character and restarted my neglected Templar again. Let’s see where all this leads. The Illuminati are fun, due to their unfettered capitalist power player nature and a great Sys Admin meddling in the daily affairs of the Illu HQ :) But of course there’s always the dry british humor and the understatement of the Templars.
    Enjoy

  6. I didn’t get to play as much as I liked, but I did get in a little time on it this weekend and I enjoyed it. I played a female Dragon with dual pistols. :D I really was impressed with the variety of mission types; it seems like they used modern setting as an excuse to do some interesting new mission styles, which was something I thought was lacking in SWTOR. I’m considering picking it up, once SWTOR goes free to play and I’m not paying another sub.

    • Oooh. If you do pick it up, please let me know! I went dual-pistols and sword on my Templar. I really felt like they have gone that extra mile for a story-based MMO. SWTOR’s class stories are fantastic, but the quests outside of that always felt lackluster to me. TSW proves you can do better than that. That said, I will go back to SWTOR once it’s F2P, to finish the stories.

  7. I do think that one of the places that the game really falters was with the pre-made decks. The deck system as it is set up confuses a lot of new players into thinking the builds are actually ones–that if they shoot for–will build into a very viable setup. However, Funcom was very clear from early on in the beta that the pre-built builds are not “Optimal” choices, they are just somewhere to go if you have no idea. In the end, they have turned into “pretty outfits to pickup later in the game when you have the AP to spare”. Specifically, if you focus on some of the pre-made in game decks you can severely hinder your ability to move forward (not all of them, but many), and in every case they are not the “correct” way to think about builds in TSW.

    There are a number of “States” in the game, Such as “Hinder” “Afflication” “Weaken”. When you apply these, you can have other abilities (typically passives) that case triggers to occur when you either (1) place, or (2) hit something that has been already put into one of these states.

    Basically, when you use an ability, there should be more going on when that hit lands then just the damage from that attack. The in-game prebuilt decks don’t do a very good job exploiting these interactions.

    For example, if you look at this starter “My first 60″ point build we have up at TSWGuides: http://wordpress.tswguides.com/my-first-60-inner-wheel-survival-soloing-with-bladefist/ you can see that when you build with Blade Torrent ,combined with the Perfect Storm passive, each of your hits adds an afflicted, damage over time effect. Unholy Knowledge causes your damage over time to be more effective and Dark Potency makes your afflictions increase your chance for penetrations.
    Penetrating attacks are part of your heal repertoire, thanks to Immortal Spirit. On top of that, your build is kicking out passive healing every attack thanks to Lick Your Wounds. You gain a direct heal, with heal over time from Nurture and the HOT effect is doubled in duration from Nurturing Gift, you also gain a heal because your fist finisher, Wild at Heart also provides a heal every full rotation due to your equipped passives.

    While you can solo with the pre-made decks, they are far from maximizing your sustainability. Starting with the right build will make the difference between smoothly moving from Kingsmouth into Savage Coast and onto Blue Mountain… or having severe issues when you move out into the harder areas.

  8. One of the things I love about TSW is the Kill Ten Ra… er… Zombies quests are usually more than that. There’s a lot of exploration to be had during those quests; from secret areas, to lore blocks, to side missions laying on ground you’d normally not find just running along the road. Couple that with the fact that the action missions come in multiple parts you’ll find that even though a mission starts as KTZ, it ends with something bigger.

    • Yeah, that’s why I like the tier approach. Even if there’s a mission that requires you to kill zombies, the next step might require you to search around Kingsmouth for something. Still pretty much impressed!

  9. Nice writeup. TSW really is not a game for everyone. I like that about it – but I do miss being able to recruit some of my friends from older games. If you’re looking to zerg every challenge and feel overpowered, you’re not going to enjoy TSW. You have to stop and think. Not just in investigation missions, but in combat. Mobs *will* eat you alive if you’re careless, and often if you’re not. Much as I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with my EQ/EQ2/WoW/Rift friends storming through instances, pulling whole rooms and watching the XP flow, that’s not going to happen here, and they’d be bored.

    The loudest complaints about TSW (other than those about quest bugs or chat bugs, which I sympathize with) is that the game doesn’t hand spoonfeed you. There are certainly places where it doesn’t do enough, such as crafting and decks. But once you understand what decks are, you realize as Aela pointed out that decks are not the game’s ultimate goal. Each deck is only one set of options, not necessarily the best even for what it addresses, just viable. You can make a viable build purely out of inner circle abilities, and you don’t instantly become uber on getting a deck. So some complain that decks take far too much AP, but that misses the point that a deck is really an achievement, and that you don’t need it to go as far as you like in the game. Others complain that XXX deck is available to Dragon, but not to Templar – but you can put together precisely the same set of abilities as a Templar than a Dragon. All that’s missing is the uniform – so fill in another deck for looks, if you want.

    The one thing decks do give you is a concept of synergy. I know that I *can* put together a viable build using swords and elementalism, because that’s what the Ninja deck uses. But then I find that many of the synergetic abilities aren’t available until later, so I look for different ones, and find different synergies. And honestly, I’m not sure that there are really combinations of weapons that can’t be made to work.

    You’ll find there are a number of checks in game. The first comes up at the start of The Savage Coast. Up to that point you’ve been figuring out how combat works, abilities and gear and such. If you haven’t tried to race through content and bypass missions, you’ll arrive at The Savage Coast with the gear you need to survive, but you’re going to discover very quickly that you need to *think* about the combination of abilities you’re using, and actually have a strategy for surviving harder singles and occasional adds.

    In fact that was what made me a True Believer in TSW. After following the game with interest for a year or so (after I burned out on Rift) and even doing the first couple of open beta weekends, I was certain that I would be interested in the game, but not so sure that the limited combat system wouldn’t become boring. Only seven abilities, and most of the time hitting only a couple of them… and it didn’t help that the instance videos I’d watched usually showed an elementalist apparently casting the same spell over and over. But then I ran into the demons below the Overlook Motel, and realized that the random collection of abilities I’d put together weren’t cutting it. I died several times before realizing that I needed to put some effort, and several times more before I began to understand that I needed a) to think about balancing single-target and multiple-target attacks, b) to have multiple consumers available, so that I was completely utilizing both weapon types, and c) that my passives needed some synergy to support those.

    At that point, two things happened: the meta-game of creating a viable build became interesting, and combat itself required me to think about the order of pushing buttons. And at that point I realized that combat wasn’t simple, it was elegant, and I wasn’t going to get a free pass on mob killing.

    In group play one of the biggest problems I’ve seen is the dreaded tank shortage. As games become more complex, there’s more pressure on tanks. TSW fights require constant vigilance. For someone like me who can do okay as a DPS and maybe even reasonably as a healer, TSW tanking would be impossible. You understand tanking, and you have the situational awareness that I lack. I think you’d almost certainly love it.

    I did the raven quest grouped yesterday. I don’t know why it didn’t work for your friends.

    • You have no idea how much it fills me with glee that that there’s an Overlook Motel. What a wonderful reference to The Shining! :-)

      The build stuff is intriguing. In a way I regret that I went with my pistols/blades combination but I really didn’t know any better at the time. I will have to spend some time looking over the suggested synergies in the paladin deck to figure out how to play. It’s all very confusing, but also exciting! When did I last have a game where it was truly exciting how to set up skills? This definitely beats GW2′s traits and skills system, IMHO.

      I should look into tanking. Dang, haven’t been this excited about a game in ages! :-)

      • There’s a doorway to Hell in the Overlook Motel. Actually a door. It glows a little around the edge, and it’s a door sitting in the middle of a room, without a wall. I love it.

        I’m sorry my reply got to essay length. It wasn’t supposed to. I get carried away.

        Anyway, I want to add to it. You were having problems with Win7/32. I was first using XP/32, and there *is* a memory leak (whatever Funcom chooses to call it :) ) which causes a crash after a few zones, usually on zoning but not always. If there’s any way you can upgrade to Win7/64 it should go away.

        If you don’t have the option of upgrading, there are a couple of suggestions from threads on the forum. I never tried these, because that machine was overdue for an upgrade anyway, but they look promising.

        http://forums.thesecretworld.com/showthread.php?t=52063 – see post #4. That’s a pretty safe change, but whether it will really help I don’t know.
        http://forums.thesecretworld.com/showthread.php?t=52180 – this looks like it has possibilities.

        The two together should give you much more time between crashes, but if it truly *is* a memory leak (and it looks like it to me), eventually it will crash. Relogging before running an instance might not be a bad idea.

  10. Love your insightful observations. You see what so many fail to see in TSW, the genius in the design and storytelling, despite some flaws. Retweeted by Tornquist himself! Proud to have you as a fellow Tempar in Knights. The game gets better and better, just wait! ;). Oh, we have a sister Illuminati Cabal ;)

    • I heard about that, and will have to get in, when I roll my illuminati. Though I got attached to my nerdy looking Templar already. :-)

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