Regarding the Secret World

23 05 2012

I’m in the beta, technically…but I only  logged in a handful of times. On principle I want to play the game because I regretted missing the ARG in Matrix: Online. That’s weird, no? Wanting to play a game “on principle”. It is less weird that principle is insufficient motivation to actually play a game.

I am about to come down on the Secret World rather hard.

The short of it.

The things I really like about the Secret World are:

  • presentation; in particular, how you go about solving quests, looking in real-looking phone books, sitting down to terminals, making your way through mazes, etc.;
  • the idea (not the implementation) of a “classless” system;
  • I guess that’s it.

The things I found disappointing are:

  • early combat is boring…of course I can’t speak for late combat, but if I can’t endure early combat, that’s silly nowadays;
  • the implementation of the classless system (stand by for elucidation);
  • it feels soooooo grindy.
The thing I really hate:
  • utter lack of sufficient social tools.

Classless and No-levels

First of all, “no-levels” is kind of silly; levels exist for a reason; they give the player (and the devs) an indication of what a given character can roughly expect to accomplish; what event(s) that player can expect to deal with. It’s an abstraction; a simplified one. There are games that skip this entirely; EVE Online has no “character level”, for instance…and any EVE regular will be quick (and wise) to tell you that the number of character points a player has accumulated does not necessarily correlate to that player’s level of skill or even that character’s intrinsic level of competence (i.e. what the character can roughly expect to handle). So this isn’t new, but it needs to be done carefully.

Herein lies the first issue I have with TSW; allow me to grossly simplify it for time. Consider this scenario:

  1. You do the initial quest area and get a bunch of points.
  2. As these points roll in, you pump them into Assault Rifles because you think they’re sweet.
  3. By the end of initial quest area, you hate Assault Rifles.
  4. Now grind the initial quest region again to get enough points to try something else.
  5. Repeat as necessary.

No, just no. We’re past this now. To their credit, this is an admirable attempt, but it is in fact too painful for me to endure. The first few evenings of combat, coupled with this very feeling that it instilled in me, did in fact boil down to “This is too bad to endure to see the ARG out.”

Now we have Diablo 3 where you not only have the level abstraction, but you literally have access to every skill and ability for your class and can – like TSW – pick a small subset of them (your hand from your deck of cards, as it were) but you don’t need to go back and grind hours and hours of content you’ve already seen in order to try a new build. Find a cool new weapon? Change out some abilities, wait like five seconds and go to town. If you hate it, the cost in time is in the order of minutes and not days.

How to actually do “classless”.

You might see Diablo 3 as not being “classless” but consider what the class abstraction is. Let’s take it to a new level of granularity so you might see what I mean. Here are some classes from Diablo 2 (this list is not exhaustive):

  • a sword-and-shield wielding Barbarian, SwordNBoard Barb;
  • a dual-wielding or Frenzy Barb;
  • a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a PoleBarb (or polearm wielding barb) which often was a Whirlwind Barb;
  • a BashBarb (a barbarian that uses the Bash skill).

One needed to specialize in one field to do anything effective late game, making for remarkably little variety. TSW tries to address this giving you the eventual option to slot in new abilities to try…but to get there you need to deny  yourself variety. Diablo 3 does this the right way, making your now “classless Barbarian” highly adaptable. TSW is actually doing this the Diablo 2 way…where if you are a SwordNBoard Barb and you want a Whirlwind Barb, you need to replay levels 1 through 30. Again.

The amount of content they’d need to add to the Secret World to give us sufficient variety for that effective repeat of levels 1 through 30 is unattainable; especially when you consider they could have done a D3-style route and then had plenty of content with what they have now. Maybe they’ll surprise me. I hope they do. But, honestly, my take away is “this shit don’t scale, yo.”

Social Tools

This is by far the biggest failure I’ve seen so far. The chat system is clunky and sucks. There is a guild or friends system, I think, but when you look at how graceful and intuitive the Friends/Grouping mechanics are in Diablo 3, Star Wars: The Old Republic, WoW, hell even EVE Online, you’d think they’d have enough examples to work with. Or, worse still, you’d think they’d have allocated more resources to the social tools as this is a damned MMO. Really. How am I supposed to work together with people to solve these ostensibly awesome and engaging mysteries when I cannot talk to anybody or form a sub-community in your game?

Tragic.

I’m overall disappointed.

It’s still beta, and these games are ever changing. Possibly a year after launch the game will look sufficiently polished, the combat system will be overhauled, and everything will be cool. Which is, I still think, the dumbest release schedule ever. Software is ever changing. I get that. But some of these things are solved problems and the most important ones don’t involve proprietary code bases. It’s a freakin chat system. Make it size-able, make the fonts select-able, I mean isn’t this in Flash? Outsource it! Ug!

The combat, the grind-tasticness, and the fact my characters look like they’re either members of 90s grunge or glam bands really buried this title for me. But, don’t take my word for it. I think you can still sneak into a weekend beta. I encourage you to try it.

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5 responses

23 05 2012
Gank

Sweet. Now I don’t feel so bad for not getting in because of my lack of a facebook account. I hate grinding.

27 05 2012
nerisanda

I have a friend who is hounding me to try and get in because it’s the, “Best game ever!!!1!11!”, and I’ve been hesitant to try. Your post pretty much confirms my doubts. I might have to link it to him the next time he shares some propaganda on my Facebook wall!

Thanks for the post 🙂

27 06 2012
silvertemplar

I’m sorry, you’re comparing TSW with Diablo 3 and complaining about “the grind” ? Huh? I suppose you did not reach D3 Inferno? Just getting there , you grind the entire game 3 times! Once there, you need to grind and farm a single ACT (which you already did 3 times ) to “gear up” for the next act.

So this “oh i need to repeat Kingsmouth again to learn an entirely new set of skills” complaint is a little hypocrytical considering the game you compare it with.

It would’ve made more sense if you mentioned the fact that if you reached Act 1 Inferno on your Barb and it turned out that “melee classes sucks in Inferno” , that you would have to restart from 0 on an entirely new CLASS to remedy that. Suddenly doing the same thing with your EXISTING character in TSW does not sound so bad…..

28 06 2012
thade

Yea, you do need to repeat content in D3 to progress…after having seen all of the content in the game three times over. By this time, you have the full ability suite. Really, isn’t end-game in virtually every theme park all about content repetition? 😛 Why force that repetition on a player after only their first evening of gameplay?

Not to mention that all abilities in D3 actually do something; none of this EVE-style “plus a tenth of a percentage point” crap. Every single new ability does something unique and often has a new graphical effect.

Finally, D3’s social tools are vastly superior to TSW.

For the record, I have two toons in Inferno and enjoyed getting them there. I couldn’t stomach more than a few hours of TSW. The game opener is zombies. 😦 Really? Haven’t seen that one before.

28 06 2012
thade

(Just so it’s not missed, the zombie comment was a joke. They are not only the first content in D3, but D1 and D2.)

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