Archive for the ‘The Secret World’ Category

I apologize to those of my readers who are still around and who might have thought they’d get any sort of meaningful commentary from me about The Secret World’s release or the impending, almost anti-climactic (no, really, who am I kidding? It was always going to be climactic) FINALLY of Guild Wars 2. I’m still alive, though a number of real-world matters have pushed updating the blog and gaming itself to a bit of a backburner. Everyone’s fine and healthy, though, and I’m not pregnant, so I can’t really complain.

Mr. Randomessa and I have been enjoying our limited time in The Secret World, however. We’re lifetime subscribers, which makes the next few days blissfully decision-free since we don’t have to evaluate how much we’ve been playing or how much we intend to play. We play when we can, and we’ve been having a blast. We’re running with different factions so that we can read each other our respective factions’ responses to our mission status, and watch as we sabotage one another.


We steered relatively clear of the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event because we’re honestly just ready to play the real thing at this point. We spent just enough time tinkering with character creation and the Asura and Sylvari starting areas to develop a whole new appreciation for those arrogant little midgets. As someone who previously had my Sylvari main’s life journey planned out for the past two years, I can say that I for one welcome my new Asuran overlords.

It’s my hope that life settles down soon enough (and enough in general) that I can really sit back and enjoy playing these games and continue to post about them, because from what I can tell, this is going to be the best year for MMOs for me. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that after this I may very well be done with looking for the next Great Thing. These two seem to have us covered, and I hope they remain to for a good long time.

Hope you all are well, my friends in the computer. Ciao Ciao!


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Being the MMO junkie that I am, I have been following the development of The Secret World with some interest for the past few years, despite the fact that it seemed in many ways to be the polar opposite of the kind of MMO I thought I’d enjoy. I mean, it’s set in the present day when I love medieval fantasy settings, it’s got a horror theme when I avoid the horror genre like the plague, it’s an ARG when I dislike having to look up sources outside a game to progress, it’s gear-based when I’d rather bring my wits to a battle, and it’s got a raiding endgame when I’d rather gnaw off my own arm than partake. Oh, and it’ll have a monthly subscription fee, and I’ve all but sworn those off.

Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the ideas being put out there by Funcom, and I’ll be the first to admit that the first 30 or so levels of Age of Conan (yes, even the first few post-Tortage levels) were some of the best story and most memorable times I’ve had in an MMO. A level-less system appeals to the part of me that hates self-enforced leveling pacts, and Funcom’s eye for scenery, and gorgeously replicating such, can’t really be denied. So while I haven’t pre-ordered, I did get on over to Gamespot and nab a weekend beta key to try this out for myself. And even though I’d seen a ton of footage and read up on many of the game’s systems, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much I liked what I saw when I got to take the reins.

First, the bad, or maybe the “meh.” Character customization is limited. There weren’t very many female faces (or combinations of features) I could choose that made me feel I was looking at a real human, nevermind whether I felt they straddled a believable range of attractiveness. Skin color was inexplicably tied to base face shape. There were no varying ethnic hairstyles to correspond with the diverse (thank you!) ethnic facial features on display. No sliders makes a sad Randomessa. And I couldn’t see a way to alter my body size or shape, even to the degree that Age of Conan allowed it.

Let me choose this old lady face, Funcom!

Character animations are… not very good, in my opinion.  Running is pretty bad; jumping is quite awful. In-combat animations have no “oomph” to them; I never feel like I’m really hitting anything, just swinging my arms through mush. I couldn’t figure out how to emote, though in the case that I didn’t miss something obvious, beta is beta and that’s one thing I’m sure will be added in prior to launch. Quests, whenever they more closely resembled typical MMO quests, suffered from the same problems I have with them elsewhere: waiting in line for spawns, competing for interactable nodes, etc.


Quests, whenever they did not closely resemble typical MMO quests, were a delight. Being able to put a random bit of knowledge to use in cracking a password was amusing. Having to decipher notes and apply recipes and talk to all manner of crazy people really mixed things up for me, and having quest icons let me know right off the bat if what I’d be asked to do involved wholesale slaughter or investigative work of some sort was just the kind of quest hint I appreciate. As with Age of Conan, NPCs are fun to talk to about a wide range of subjects, and they all are injected with quirky personalities that make them memorable after the fact (I still remember the guy in Tortage who hid the pearl in his… hidey place, for example, and I’ll remember Kingsmouth’s Deputy Andy for a long time as well). I greatly enjoyed all the voice acting and the varied accents involved (being neither a New or Old Englander, I have no idea how cringe-worthy they might have been for one from those regions. I did guffaw with recognition at the fortune-teller’s southern Californian nasal drawl, though).

Once I actually got down to fighting, I quickly stopped minding the combat animations so much. This is not to let Funcom off the hook for not making them more impressive, but I did find myself more interested in the effects I could apply and exploit, and combining the skills of two weapons to be more effective. There were plenty of circles of doom to step out of, and big monster wind-up tells, which meant that animations or no, I felt I constantly had to be on the move to get out of hairy situations alive.

Getting out of combat mode is hard!

Scenery-wise, I couldn’t have asked for more, and I did muse aloud that I think The Secret World may have the best-rendered trees I’ve seen in an MMO yet. Having the in-game clock displayed as a cell-phone HUD is ever so fitting, and made me use the in-game clock more readily than I have in other MMOs that provide the same – it probably helps that sunrise and sunset are done so well here, with the light playing off structures in a really believable way. I’m reminded of LOTRO and Fallen Earth, but I feel TSW takes it just that bit farther, which makes sense given the release year.

Not outdoor scenery, but I love this shot all the same.

Finally, I wasn’t sure how the “level-less” system was going to feel in practice, and I think it’s clear that you are still gated, in a sense, by how many skill/anima points you can put into building your skill trees; I’m sure you’ll need skills more than 2 points deep (and so on) to beat certain bosses in missions, etc. But from what I could tell, there was one very big gate missing for me as I progressed through the overarching storyline missions: at no time was it “suggested” to me that I be of a certain capability before proceeding, and I actually did skip most side missions just to see if I would be able to. Not only was I allowed to do this, I could also still keep pace with the monsters the game threw at me, even within story instances, which is more than I can say for the previous two heavily story-based MMOs I recently beta tested. I don’t know if this is indicative of the rest of the game or just a case of beta trying to make it easy on us, but I could not have been happier.

Oh, I’ll do the side missions – I have nothing against them – but being the story fiend that I am, if I had a common complaint to lodge against both SW:TOR and Guild Wars 2, it was that my major storyline was spread out over levels such that I had to engage in other activities before I could feasibly continue, and I hate being restricted in that way. Not having levels meant both that the early zombies were not quite trivialized, while still allowing me to see progress in my ability to take down harder enemies. Later I look forward to not facing down an exponential XP curve to acquire that next SP or AP (dare I hope?).

One  riddle I can’t seem to crack about The Secret World is that of audience; that is, what is the audience Funcom is going for, and how big is it? On the one hand, I welcome the changes from the standard MMO, both genre-, mechanics- and content-wise, and I think this could be a really strong niche title with an amazing, helpful, tight-knit community if it gets all the technical issues ironed out before launch. On the other hand, with EA backing it, how happy would they be with a “strong niche title?” I just don’t see this going over well with a lot of crowds, from the open-PvPers to the action combat fans to the sandbox aficionados to the rush-to-endgame crowd. Yet it has the raiding and the gear progression and a subscription fee that seems to imply they expect more than a few folks to cross over from other games and make a home here. I can’t quite figure it out. What would constitute a success for The Secret World?

So now I find myself wondering whether the things I feel TSW does so well – story, interesting world and characters, variety and complexity in gameplay, stunning graphics – really do trump the things that bug me like the odd old-school resource competition, a raiding end-game with gear progression, subscription fee, and my qualms about the audience and success it may or may not achieve. I don’t have an answer yet, but prior to this weekend, I thought there was no question at all. I’m not convinced there isn’t some Illuminati mind control involved.

Illuminati mind control and a soft-focus lens.

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This was over the entranceway to the main Exhibition Hall. Boy, do I hope Casey Schreiner's words don't come back to haunt us all.

Well, I am finished with PAX Prime for the year as the exhibition halls have closed and I have returned to my temporary abode in WA, so my feedback on what I saw and experienced this weekend will be brief. Most of the news about Guild Wars 2 has been covered to death by those who attended Gamescom, so there’s very little to say.

One thing that was noteworthy for me was that Mr. Randomessa and I got to take on the ArenaNet devs in the PvP tournaments this weekend. We were part of team EGGS that played in the 3:00PM matches on Saturday. We are not in the picture because…. I’m not sure why. We probably wandered off immediately with our swag, excitedly gabbing and texting our friends about the experience. It was an honor to be insta-gibbed by ArenaNet, though I must toot my own horn and say that I held my ground with my necro 1v1 against Jon Peters’ guardian until he got reinforcements. I will, however, have nightmares about thieves and huge red numbers swarming about my head for many days to come. Feel free to hit me up in the comments if you want more details of our tournament adventures, since they were not livestreamed.

I’m extremely glad that I got to play the demo so many times at ComicCon, because PAX was a whole different story about the length of lines to play. The wait at any given station at the NCSoft booth was, at 5-6 people deep, 3-4 hours; at the Logitech booth it was 1-2 hours. Obviously we chose to wait at the Logitech booth when the line was shortest, which was for added benefit far away from the loud noises of the big displays and therefore excellent for actually hearing the game. Also, several ANet employees were stood around the booth and could just chat with you the whole time you were in line.

We talked the dev’s ears off about our pet subjects: me about character customization and variety, Mr. Randomessa about pets and skill acquisition, and anything else we could think of. As for GW1, we were told there are big plans for the next wave of Winds of Change and they are very excited to get it to us. My impressions after playing the new GW2 demo are pretty much in line with my thoughts after ComicCon, as this demo was again another strong showing, felt and handled great, and was gorgeous to behold. Mr. Randomessa, who got to play for the first time this weekend, is singing its praises (or would have been, if he weren’t already),

The asura are unbelievably adorable; when they are very low on health, or in downed state (I can’t remember which), they say “structural… integrity… failing!” You can tell that ANet loves the asura; it shows in every animation and voiceover. The new dodge button is a huge help to fumble-fingered folks like myself, and learning new skills through use was just fun (will it be fun with the 17th weapon on the nth new character? Hard to say, but neither would purchasing new skills and ranks of skills on that character, either, to be fair).

I had wanted to give other games a try, like SW:TOR, Rage, Skyrim, and Firefall, but without the added benefit of getting to chat with the devs themselves, waiting in line for 2 hours for anything else lost all of its charm, so I took the Secret World faction test instead and got to watch the final demo presentation of the con. The Secret World has interested me for some time (although I’m annoyed with Funcom’s decision to make the game subscription plus microtransactions), and I’m eager to see how the features they’ve been describing will actually play out in the live game.

They showed off some cool things like how the quests you get will pit you against the other factions, so you’ll be sabotaging each others’ missions and cleaning up one anothers’ messes. Remember how, in the Tortage storyline, if you played a healer you’d get word of how a warrior had done this or that, or how a rogue had managed to steal an item, and the warrior and rogue characters were the ones carrying out the duties you’d only hear about as another class? Pretty much like that. That spells “replayability” to me. They also demonstrated neat ways to use special items in the world such as flares or a headlamp to illuminate monsters in an area where the lights have gone out. I can’t wait to see if this stuff actually works as advertised.

Oh, and I mentioned Firefall earlier, it’s totally not my kind of game because it’s a shooter, but they were at PAX in force and had displays everywhere (even the ladies’ washroom mirrors – thanks for considering us in your shooter game promotions, Firefall – I mean that sincerely!). They also had this in the lobby:

It also thumped loudly and pulsed, vibrating the ground and everything. Very cool.

Finally, and unrelated to MMOs entirely, I got a pic and autograph of Steve Jackson, creator of Munchkin Games, because they – and he – are that awesome.

Now I think I’m going to bathe in hand sanitizer and sleep for 42 hours.

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I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Really, I don’t. The Catacombs dungeon cinematic was a thing of glory, and I reveled in watching 8 minutes of dungeon combat, artfully filmed by ArenaNet and showing off a dazzling array of abilities.

But one thing I’d really, really love for ArenaNet to do is a dungeon walkthrough, much akin to the way they first presented the Thief, and introduced underwater combat. Having seen the Alderaan flashpoint video for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and now the menace lurking in the Savage Coast of The Secret World, I think it would go a long way to demonstrating just how this non-trinity kind of combat works, and actually show off the mobility required in a way that the existing dungeon footage does not. A nice developer voiceover explaining what everyone is doing would put a bow around the whole thing.

Pretty please, ArenaNet? Just one dungeon walkthrough? It doesn’t even have to be through the spoilery bits! Maybe we’ll get it at Comic-Con, or PAX….

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