Reverberating the Praise

So honestly… I started writing this out over on a friends blog.  She posted something that resonated with me so much, that I just had to respond.  However as I cleared the end of my fourth paragraph, I came to the realization that I was not posting a response, but writing an entire damned blog post on her site.  Granted it is not unusual for me to rattle off a two or three paragraph response… but this was entering the territory of the ludicrous.

The Spinoff Post

I’ve been pretty lousy at keeping up with Google Reader lately.  So after a busy morning I sat down to read a few posts, trying to grind down the massive count a bit.  I know I have said this before, but my blogroll is literally what I read, so I try my damnedest to read each and every blog that I am in essence “advertising”.  It was to my pleasure that near the top of the stack, MMOGC had thrown up a brand new post. 

First off you have to go over there and read it right now, because it covers a topic that has become very near to my heart.  In her post titled “Funcommunication” she goes into a length how amazing Funcom has been at bringing us, the players, into the experience.  I have to say that I agree completely, and she managed to put it into words far better than I have done to this point. 

A Bigger Shout Out

I mean I have given shouts out to the Funcom staff in several posts, but I don’t think I have really covered the magnitude of the experience.  I’ve thought a few other companies in the past have done a great job interacting with the community, but that said Funcom has really taken it to the next level.  Players tend to have completely unrealistic expectations for games companies, I am just as bad as anyone about this.  However having this level of constantly interactivity, has been extremely humanizing.

So while we get frustrated about the bugs, seeing a constant effort to try and fix things makes the pill a little easier to swallow.  As a programmer I know, that you have to pull off a lot of layers of false assumptions about a bug before you can really get to the root of it.  In the case of the chat system issues, they were basically occurring in a way that could not be lab tested.  There is no real way to get hundreds of thousands of players to connect to your development server.

While it was annoying, and I am glad that time is behind us I cannot describe how much I appreciate being “kept in the loop” about what was going on.  So much marketing babble and spin works its way into patch notes and announcements, that it is really refreshing to see the equivalent of “we thought we fixed it, but I guess we didn’t, we are trying something else”.  No one is all knowing, and as a programmer we usually operate on our best guess.  When dealing with extremely complex systems, the wrong answers are often times more telling than the final solution.  Be it through the forums, live streams, official blog posts, or twitter, I am always impressed with the level of candor shown towards the community.

Amazing Customer Service

Another point that I have to harp on is just how great the customer service has been.  GC writes in her post:

Honestly? I was pleasantly surprised. On a Saturday evening, right smack in the middle of a busy celebration weekend, both my husband’s and my tickets were answered by a helpful in-game representative within ten minutes, and within another five we were all fixed up and ready to go. Let’s face it, bugged quests are irritating as all hell and no one ever likes running into them, but the sting sure is lessened by a prompt response and swift resolution to the problem. I was very satisfied.

Granted, based on the inevitable complaints on the forums, not everyone has been as fortunate. So maybe you can say that my husband and I just happened to hit the GM lottery.

I can say without the shadow of a doubt that she did not win the GM lottery.  It might be because of the level of evolvement with the community, but for whatever reason I have simply cared more about The Secret World than I have most games in the past.  Always in the past it felt like my petitions had little to no effect on the game world.  I am notorious for figuring out a work-around to avoid bugs, and then just ignoring the fact that they actually exist rather than reporting them.  In this game however I have been a bug reporting fiend.

So far it has not mattered what I have reported, be it a problem with geometry or the chat issues not actually being fixed…  I have always received a prompt and courteous response.  I’ve put in somewhere between five and a dozen petitions since launch, and in every case I have had a tell from a GM within ten minutes.  The vast majority of these times, it was far closer to five minutes.  In one instance, I reported a bugged encounter in a dungeon, and we moved on to the next boss.  The GM responded before we were through the first phase, and patiently waited for us to finish the fight so I could more properly respond.

I remember one night, I had petitioned a GM about a geometry issue or as I call them ‘”The Potholes” of City of the Sun God.  There are a few places in the world, with gaps that you cannot see before accidentally falling into them.  While I was typing up my petition, another player fell in the hole with me and used /reset to get out.  I could have done the same, and ultimately I did to free myself, but I figured that if I didn’t report it, it might not get fixed.  The GM took the time, and asked me to go back to the hole, so they could properly document the problem, and make sure it was on the list of known issues.  This little attention to detail really gives me hope for the future of the game.

Phenominal Community Team

I know specifically I have harped on this before, but if I am going through the process of making this post anyways, I have to take a moment to talk about Ragnar and Morteia.  Other companies have been involved with the community, but Funcom really sets the standard here.  They are constantly responding to players, and answering questions directly.  Maybe it is silly, but it feels somewhat awesome to have the Creative Director or Community Manager share your post with the community. 

Thing is it goes so much deeper than just rebroadcasting links.  It feels like we are getting let in on some secret, like they are leaking little bits of information to the diehard fans.  So when they answer a question, or hint at some upcoming feature we get all giddy with excitement.  MMOGC gives the great example of Ragnar talking about upcoming work from Peter Stormare.  I mean that is awesome, while he might not want to be known for this, I cannot picture Satan without thinking of his amazing performance from Constantine.  This man belongs in The Secret World so much it almost hurts!

Why This Matters

The Secret World still has a lot of bugs, and there are a good number of features that have been frustrating to deal with. In most other games, these would have been deal breakers, because the layer of clinical distance from the user community gave the impression that they frankly did not care about my gameplay experience.  Normally my tolerance for frustration is pretty low, I have trouble looking past a bad UI or controls to see the story underneath.  While I really like the UI and controls, you can read my original review of beta weekend and see that I was less than favorable.

So upon reading that, you might ask yourself what changed?  In many ways the game has changed drastically since beta weekend, and improved in almost every way imaginable.  But I have to say that a good chunk of why I can look past the rough edges at times, is thanks to my experiences with customer support and the community team.  They are the face of Funcom to me, and my regular dealings with them has allowed me to handle the quests going wonky, and getting stuck on geometry.  My frustration is always tempered with the feeling like they actually care, and are working to try and make the game a better experience for everyone.

Not Just a Love Song

So it is pretty easy to write this post off as a love song towards the company that runs the game I happen to be playing.  I mean I have rambled on for 13 paragraphs at this point, about my awesome experiences with them while playing their game.  For me it goes deeper, as bloggers it is so easy to dwell on the negative aspects of a game.  It is so much easier for me to pull myself away from a game I hate, to write an angry rant than to log out of a game I am really loving.  The problem is, all this negatively just turns into a wall of sound, where every opinion, dissenting review and frustrated plea becomes a indistinguishable from the mass of angst.

Instead I think we are better served spending our time, pointing out the things that are going well, the individuals that are in fact doing right by the community.  Each week it seems like we hear of another game flailing, another round of layoffs, and more pox upon the industry.  We need to highlight the good in gaming, and make sure those people feel appreciated.  So here you go Funcom, I really appreciate your efforts, and that of the amazing team that has created The Secret World.  While I am somewhat angsty, about not being able to get the nifty Steam swag, I wish you all amazing success with that new venture.

Good Job!

106 Miles to Chicago

It seems like the Secret World community as a whole is still coming down off the high that was the Monthiversary celebration weekend.  As a whole I think the weekend was a rousing success.  It gave several friends of mine time to get in and see if the game was for them.  I know of at least four converts, and two of those are now proud holders of a lifetime account.

Coup De Grace

Honestly I think the concept behind the weekend was a master stroke.  The 24 hour buddy passes are just simply not enough time to decide whether or not the game really resonates with you.  There have been some discussions in my cabal, namely between myself, MMOGC, and PaganRites… and the basic idea is that it takes at least 10 hours of gameplay for you to really “get it”.  That is to really understand why this game is so unique, why it is worth playing, and grasp the deeply intricate combat system.

Sypster over at Bio Break theorizes that the celebration weekend, is essentially a way to offer a “free trial” without actually saying those words.  I totally think this was the core of the weekend, it let anyone who has a Funcom account try the game.  But even more than that I think it was a great way of building customer loyalty.  While getting to your 30 quest mark, might have been a daunting task for someone brand new to the game.  For those of us who are veterans, we were able to easily cut a path through some of the easier quests.

As a result it also made Kingsmouth an extremely active place.  For all that activity, I was pleasantly surprised in the relative lack of “asshattery”.  People seemed genuinely helpful to the new guests inhabiting our servers.  I know I answered more than a few “newbie” questions, and in my time trying to knock out some of the easy quests, jumped in and saved more than a few overwhelmed players.  So while this was a great trial weekend for new players, for us veterans it became a really easy way to earn enough item shop currency for some spiffy items.  The positive is that there are very few items on the cash shop that cost more than the 1200 points you earned from the quests.  The only negative however is that they are in fact “bonus” points, and will expire in September.

A Mission from God

TheSecretWorld 2012-08-07 20-41-29-91

They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God. – Elwood Blues

Over the last several days since the release of Issue #1, I’ve been on a mission that has completely consumed me.  Essentially I decided that while everyone was off doing the brand new content, and trying to get in their thirty quests for the celebration weekend, I would start my hunt to kill all the rares in the world.  I still have a long ways to go, and some of them have been rather maddening (Mr. Freezie I am looking at you), but I’ve made a pretty massive dent in the total.  I have no clue if I actually get anything for doing this, but it is one of those things that I am obsessing over.

So far I vanquished 27 of the 38 total “achievement rares” in the world.  Here are the ones I have found and destroyed (minor spoilers):

  • Nattfari – Draug in Kingsmouth
  • Mr. Freezie – Zombie in Kingsmouth
  • Soloman’s Omen – Undead Bear in Kingsmouth
  • Father Appleby – Undead Priest in Kingsmouth
  • Dunwich Road Horror – Mud Golem in Kingsmouth
  • Coach Roarke – Zombie in The Savage Coast
  • Lurking Revenant – Revenant in The Savage Coast
  • The Collector – Scarecrow in The Savage Coast
  • Umbral Brood King – Ak’ab in The Savage Coast
  • Penumbral Elevated Caste – Ak’ab in Blue Mountain
  • Algernon – Wendigo in Blue Mountain
  • Bastard of the Brine – Deep One in Blue Mountain
  • Billy’s Muse – Shadow Thing in Blue Mountain
  • Gronarch the Exiled – Sand Golem in Scorched Desert
  • The Lost One – Ghoul in Scorched Desert
  • Deathstalker – Scorpion in Scorched Desert
  • Ainn the Harbinger – Plague Golem in Scorched Desert
  • Corrupted Egyptologist – Filth Infected Cultist in City of the Sun God
  • Kiya, the Pharaoh’s Concubine – Tomb Guardian in City of the Sun God
  • Emissary of the Dead Nations – Ghoul in City of the Sun God
  • Cretaceous Shisocerca – Wasp in City of the Sun God
  • Village-Eater – Troll in Besieged Farmlands
  • Ursine Horror – Undead Bear in Besieged Farmlands
  • Demolisher – Siege Breaker in Besieged Farmlands
  • The Nameless One – Deathless in Shadowy Forest
  • Traitor of Basarab – Vampire in Carpathian Fangs
  • General Blasius – Filth Infected Human in Carpathian Fang

I won’t lie, some of these have already been a massive pain in the ass.  There was one specific spawn that I essentially camped most of the weekend, killing the placeholder every 15 minutes.  It took two full days of doing this off and on before the rare I needed spawned.  Others like Mr. Freezie and The Lost One, spawn in such high traffic areas, that essentially as soon as they are up they have aggro’d onto someone.  I am sure I will take a break before too much longer, since I too would like to se the new content. Up to this point however, I have had a blast tracking down all these dangerous beasties.

The Nightmare Begins

guardian

A few weeks back the little five man team I have been running with, finished all of the elite dungeons and with much effort especially on the part of the dps, managed to get through the Gatekeeper encounter.  I have to say, that even looking back the dps version of The Gatekeeper was insanely difficult, and I am still shocked I managed to get through it without lowering my standards and changing to one of the more standardized builds.  I still plan on doing a write-up for exactly how I managed to down The Gatekeeper as Shogtun/Blades, but I just haven’t had the time to finish it up.

Getting our Asses Kicked

As difficult as the encounter was, I have to say it really did nothing to prepare me for the difficulty of nightmare dungeons.  This week our little team finally started attempting the hardest mode of the dungeons currently available.  At first we decided to dip our toes into Darkness War, since so many of the instances have a number of little painful bugs right now.  We were completely overwhelmed by the amount of damage taken, and the amount that we needed to output.

After some regrouping, we decided to start working on the first instance, Polaris.  I think we were a bit gunshy in trying to assume that the first dungeon was going to be the easiest.  We attempted that login in SWTOR, and found out that honestly The Esseles ended up being one of the most difficult of the hardmodes.  Thankfully Funcom did not do this to us, and we’ve managed to make a pretty big dent in the dungeon.  It is funny that we are treating this 5 man as though it were a raid essentially.

OHGODSQUID

On our first night, we struggled our way through the encounters, learning the mechanics as we went.  All of us are pretty reluctant to try and look up strategies for the encounters.  It is so much more enjoyable to have those “aha” moments for yourself, than to try and do things the way someone else says you have to.  Honestly most of my raiding career was this way as well.  We invested in taking the time to find a strategy that worked for our specific groups makeup.

Last night we returned and had most of the bosses “on farm”, as it were.  We are still struggling massively with the “OHGODSQUID” as I refer to it.  I think towards the end of the night we were formulating some new ideas on how to beat the encounter.  Hopefully we will go back in tonight, make some adjustments and dine on some mutant calamari.  Then of course will come the real challenge, but I won’t go into it for sake of spoilers.

I Has Purplez

The awesome thing that makes the struggle worth it, is that pretty much everything in the zone drops much better gear than we have seen to this point.  So only going in and being able to kill a few bosses is completely worth the effort.  So far we have managed to outfit our tank in a number of really massive upgrades, and our healer in a new headpiece and weapon.  The amount of difference this has made has been significant, in the difficulty of the encounters.  They have gone from “OMGWTF” to hard but manageable with a lot of work.

Last night we got our very first purple dps item, and through the luck of random numbers I managed to win it.  So I have a little purple tint to go with my blue tones.  The funny thing about gear in this game, is that always before people would link the item and dressing room it, and there would be a chorus of “man that looks cool”.  In The Secret World, these items are just better stats, so in a way you just don’t get nearly as attached to any one item as you did before.

Honestly I am completely okay with this.  My emotions are wrapped up in my outfits, my cosmetic items, and the ability to mold any weapon to look like whatever happens to be my current favorite.  The talismans, simply become a means to an end, a way to perform better and make life easier on your friends.  Always in the past I was reluctant to upgrade out of full sets of gear, because I hated looking like an unmatched hobo.  But now when the gear comes down, with slightly better stats, swapping it out becomes a completely no-brainer.

Linkspam

Going to wrap up this post, since I have the development live stream going in the background.  I still have to give a shout out about how badass it is that they have been giving us a semi-weekly view into the inner workings of the game team.  In closing going to throw out a series of links.  There have been some great articles posted about the game, so these are definitely ones you should read.  Please note, not all of these are super positive about the game, but that is completely okay.  I’ve always said this was not going to be a game for everyone.

  • First up we have a review of the weekend by Kadomi at Live Like a Nerd.  She went into the game expecting nothing, but got completely hooked.  Talks about the “missing time” concept many of us have experienced while playing the game.  I swear it was only thiry minutes!!
  • GC over at MMOGamerChick, also a guildie, does a great write up about her post celebration “hangover”.  Great read, because really the weekend was so much fun it was draining.
  • Maeve over at Multiplaying, gives a great review of the game that has become her latest addiction.
  • Kotaku gives a pretty even-handed review of the game.  You can tell the writer actually played it in production, unlike some of the other reviews I have read.
  • Psynister and Fynralyl are a husband and wife duo that tried the game together this weekend.  While they liked some things, they were overall turned off by the game.  Both are well worth the read, because a lot of the things they mention, are things some of the TSW diehards love the most.
  • Rowan over at I Touched the Sky, posted a rebuttal of sorts.  Not in the sense of trying to state that Psyn and Fyn are wrong by any means, but to answer some of the points they brought up.  Also extremely worth the read.
  • The new episode of Enochian Frequency is ready to go.  I highly suggest listening to the podcast regularly especially if you are interested in the real world lore behind the lore.
  • Lastly I wanted to give a real quick shout out to Scarybooster and Feliz.  Feliz has created a beautiful new skin for Scaryworlds.com, I highly suggest you check it out and tell them what you think.

#TSW Monthiversary

My butchery of the English language truly knows no bounds.  Yesterday I pulled together the word “troubulation”, a mixture of troubles and tribulation.  Today I am either coining or stealing the term “Monthiversary”, because today is the one month anniversary of the launch of The Secret World.  It has been one great month, and was capped by the release of the first of the monthly content updates:  Issue #1 (patch 1.1) Unleashed.

EHMERGAHD!

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 20-26-38-08I find it amusing that to date, I have yet to do one of my traditional “omg you have to play this” posts for the game.  I think the reasoning is twofold, firstly I was informed that it has become almost stereotypical for me to say something is the “best game ever”.  Looking back and my posts, and tweets and google plus ramblings…  I can see the pattern.  This game deserves so much more than one of my now clichéd “EHMERGAHD BORST GERM EVAH” post.

Secondly, I’ve come to the realization that it is so much harder to blog about something, when you cannot fathom stopping playing enough to actually write.  For the first few weeks after release, I simply could not be bothered to stop playing the damned game long enough to put words on paper.  So while I had topic after topic swirling around in my head, I’ve reached a level of obsession that I have not had since the early days of Everquest and World of Warcraft.

Never Judge a Book by it’s Author?

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-04 22-11-28-41 (1)The Secret World has been an interesting experiment to me.  Funcom is a company that I had pretty much written off based on the fact that I never really enjoyed either Anarchy Online or Age of Conan.  So while all the trailers really played into all of my sci-fi/horror obsessions, I just did not want to believe that this company that had left a bad taste in my mouth, could produce a product I wanted to play.  I even had friends argue with me, about how frankly stupid it was for me to judge this company based on experiences from a decade ago.

I’ve come to realize over time that I am often very wrong, and I’ve never been so happy to admit it before.  After the very first open beta weekend, I knew I was hooked and would be for a long time.  I wrote up my beta weekend impressions, which apparently some thought were negative, but immediately afterwards I went out to the Secret World website and ordered my lifetime subscription.  The game brings something to the genre that has been sorely missing in the last few games I have played:  Copious amounts of “Fluff”.

Pen and Paper Experience

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-03 16-53-31-91Playing The Secret World, feels like playing under every great pen and paper game master.  You know those GMs that take the time, to think everything through, and provide lots of handouts for the players?  Ragnar Tornquist is one of those game masters, and we are together playing one of the best “modules” I have ever experienced.  I know, there I go with the hyperbole again… but damnit it is true.  This game reminds me of every good tabletop gaming experience I had over the years.

Funcom and The Secret World team has created this living, breathing world that we get to go adventuring in.  Everything works like you think it should, you can look up addresses in the phone books, execute commands on the computer terminals, and in game references work like they would in the real world.  The world and atmosphere, just feel right, and there is a constant uneasy quality to everything you do.  You know you are treading in a world on the edge of oblivion, the music, the scenery, and the interactions keep you constantly aware of this fact.  On top of all of this the writing and story is simply amazing.

Oh the Tales They Tell

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 10-45-25-06I know I went on at length about the story telling experience behind Star Wars: The Old Republic.  That game featured some of the best interactive storytelling I had experienced in a video game.  The Secret World really raises that bar, while SWTOR was good for a game, some of the dialog in TSW stacks up against some of the best novels I have read.  While I cared about my character and direct companions in SWTOR, I actually care about almost every character in The Secret World.  You never interact with generic imperial officer number 47 here, every character has a motivation, unique mannerisms, and a story that is worth finding out about.

With the first monthly issue, they are going back and fleshing out the tale of Carter, one of the most endearing characters from the Innsmouth Academy.  When I originally quested through the Savage Coast, this was one of the many characters I really wanted to learn more about and sure enough they are giving it to us.  I really look forward to learning more about the characters I have come to love.  There have been several nights I’ve been on mumble, with friends, discussing this or that character and what we thought of the outcome of a certain quest.  Of course, keeping our thoughts and opinions bottled up until everyone in the channel had completed it, often becomes painfully difficult.  But we have a firm no spoilers rule.

Proof is in the Playing

tacomemeI can blather on and on about my love of this game, and of the tacos.  But you won’t understand either reference completely until you’ve actually sat down and played the game.  Luckily for you, in honor of their first month, and the release of their first content pack…  they are allowing anyone at all to play for free this weekend.  From today, August 3rd at 4PM GMT until Monday, August 6th at 7AM GMT all players with a Funcom account can download the game, log in and try it out themselves. They are hosting a meta-game this weekend as well, where you can win a special in-game t-shirt and 1200 bonus points for completing 30 missions during the event.

So if you find yourself wandering what all the excitement is about, download the game and play it for a few days.  The truth of The Secret World, is that it takes probably 12 hours minimum gameplay for you to really grasp the complexity and intricacy of the game.  Saying that, I know now that this game will not be for everyone.  I’ve said it before, but the game is a niche game, and completely knows it is a niche.  I will not hold your hand, and tell you what you should be doing.  Often the developer takes an almost cruel pleasure in “trolling” the players, but behind all of this is an extremely rich gameplay experience.

You Have to Decide

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 (1)I think a third reason behind me not doing a “Why you should be playing Secret World” post, is that for the first time in a long time I cannot say with any certainty that this is the game you should be playing.  The Secret World is a very personal experience, and each player will find things they like and dislike about it.  This is not a “shoot down the middle” and “target all the things” type game.  You have to work for your fun here. If you are looking for a theme park ride, expect it to try extremely hard to kill you in the process.

What I can tell you, is that the game is extremely rich and rewarding.  That the team behind it is extremely open to the community, and offers some of the best customer support I have ever seen.  I’ve gotten every single ticket I have opened answered in person by game staff, and in all cases within 15 minutes.  They have amazing folks supporting the community like Amber Skinner (@Morteia) and a Creative Director that constantly responds directly to tweets.  While there are numerous bugs, all of this and their dedication to keep ironing things out makes the game enjoyable to experience.

Ultimately, you are going to have to download the game, put in some hours of game play and determine whether or not it is right for you.

On SWTOR and F2P

While I anxiously wait on The Secret World to patch in the background, I thought I would take a few minutes to respond to today’s big “un-news” story.  Pretty much every news source from IGN to Forbes is reporting that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be going to the free to play model by this fall.  I am not really sure if this was any surprise, since in mid-june there was another similarly placed article hinting that Bioware was looking at the model.

Roar of the Crowd

What is also fairly unsurprising is the immediate upwell in the gaming community, including much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.  This really should shock no one at this point, and is really deserving nothing more than a polite “I wish them well”.  I know for me personally, the subscription fee was no barrier, and had nothing at all to do with my reasons for leaving the game.  I completely believe in the concept of voting with my dollar, and I have no problem supporting the causes I believe in.

By that token, I guess you can state that I just stopped believing in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was an amazing rollercoaster ride of riveting story.  But at the end of the day, there just was not enough content to hold my attention.  By the same token, I don’t feel a need to “Rage against the machine” and try and bring the game down.  I still have several friends playing it, and reportedly they are still enjoying themselves.

Enter the Pundits

I find it annoying that this move is being treated like the sign of something bigger.  On one side we have groups of players that are mad at the game, feel betrayed by it, and are already signaling this as the desperate act of a dying game.  On the other side you have groups chanting “death to subscriptions”, and ushering this move in as the beginning of a brave new era.  I tend to think this is the act of a company, doing what they feel is best for their product.  While this might be the highest profile conversion, it is far from the first, and likely will not be the last.

While I personally find the subscriptions a much more honest business model, Free to Play is not necessarily a bad thing.  I know at least in the case of the games I have played, the free to play status has done a lot to lower the barrier of entry.  I’ve seen the server populations bolster in Everquest 2 since the conversion.  While there are a lot more ruffians on my roleplaying server, the vast majority have been seemingly well mannered.  The only thing I am uncertain of, is whether or not these players actually stick around for the long haul.

Negativity and Zealotry

I think one of my biggest frustrations with this whole situation is that there will be so much negativity in the coming days from all the camps.  I realize this makes me seem like a hypocrite, because I’ve ranted about more than my fair share of games in the past.  If you look back through my archives you can see many an angry tale featuring my favorite boogeyman, the dreaded Blizzard.  I would like to think that over time I have mellowed.

I’ve reached a point where I am just tired of both the rampant negativity and zealotry in the community.  Do we have to hate all other games just because we are playing something different?  If we love a game, do we have to shove it in everyone else’s faces until they accept our choice as the “one true game”?  I guess I have reached a place where I am happy to play the games I like, but equally happy to hope the other games succeed as well.

We Need More Success

We have built a zero sum climate in massively multiplayer gaming, that really doesn’t need to exist.  While every game is in essence competing with the games that came before it, when did we start having to tear the others down?  I feel like in order to keep the MMO culture thriving, we need each one of these games to find their own niche, and their own kind of success.  Ultimately we have to redefine what success means, because there will likely never be another 10 million subscriber game.

I know personally I have stopped looking for a WoW Killer that will never exist. So long as we keep using that as the bar for success, we are setting every game up for a failure.  Maybe I have grown up a bit, but right now I am just looking for some enjoyment in whatever I play.  Currently that happens to be a mixture of The Secret World, Everquest 2, and World of Warcraft. 

While I have joked that “If you don’t like TSW, you have no soul”, I do not literally mean that.  Not every game, has to appeal to every player.  I think part of what has had me so excited about The Secret World for example, is that it is a very niche game, and seems to be happy with that fact.  We need more games that are OK with catering to a specific niche.  We as players, need to be okay with not winning the subscription race and playing the game with the most people.

No Free Ride

So I think this announcement heralds neither the doom of Bioware or the subscription model for that matter.  Players will always be willing to pay good money for good content.  Free to play, simply means that these companies are giving us the game, and hoping we like it enough to give them money in return.  Ultimately we the players have to fulfill that social contract and give them that hard earned money in one form or another.  If you don’t then honestly you are just a drain on that games community.  At the end of the day someone has to pay for it, because there is no such thing as a free ride.

#TSW Automatically Join Custom Chat Channels

Today is the big patch day, and I am having to pacify myself by listening to The Secret World soundtrack while at work.  We’ve had report from in game, that custom chat channels are now working again.  You have to rejoin the channel when you first log in, and then reportedly the tab stays bound.  That said, it is probably still safest to use the Auto Join script.

This won’t be a “real” post, but I wanted to throw together a quick howto for setting up the Auto Join scripts.  Credit goes to Scopique of Levelcapped for tipping me off to this existing in the first place.

Creating Auto Login

  1. Find your Secret World install directory, this is typically “C:\Program Files\Funcom\The Secret World”.
  2. If you do not already have a scripts directory, create one aka “Scripts”.
  3. Inside the “C:\Program Files\Funcom\The Secret World\Scripts” directory, create two new files:  “auto_login” and “auto_teleport” with no extensions.
  4. Edit each file so that it contains the following lines:
   1: delay 5000

   2: /chat join channelname password

I’ve found that in order to get this working correctly, you do not need the normal chat channel # sign.  When you log into the game auto_login gets executed, and when you zone auto_teleport gets executed.  If you have a chat tab bound to this channel, it should automatically pick up on the newly joined channel.

If I figure out a way to automate the re-binding of the Cabal tab on zone, I will update this post to include it.  For the time being it looks like 1.1 has not fixed that problem yet.

#TSW Fun with Shotguns and Blades

It has been several days since I finished the main storyline in The Secret World, and I have neither had the strong desire to play an alt, nor any sense of boredom and lacking things to do.  So far so good, if anything I feel even more fanboy-ish than I have been to this point.  Today I listened to the second of the Secret World live developer streams, and I am really pumped about the 31st update.

So while I am geeking out as a fanboy, I am trying really hard not to do so in an offensive way.  Honestly one of my biggest turnoffs with Guild Wars 2 in general, has been the army of militant fans that appear to bludgeon down anyone who might question that title.  I really want the TSW community to be different than that, so I feel hyper conscious about how my current love of the title might translate to the “un-initiated”. 

So while I might joke that not liking the game, means you have no soul…  I completely understand that the game is not going to be for everyone.  The Secret World is this awesome niche title, that a year a go I would not have thought could exist in the modern MMO market.  It is this odd intersection of Harry Dresden, Harry Potter, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, Clive Barker and James Bond.  The world is almost tailor fit to the type of stories I love reading, but it will not be right for everyone.

Of Shotguns and Blades

There has been a lot of talk about builds lately amongst my group of friends.  For the most part everyone is branching out and trying to figure out what works best for them.  Overall the faction template decks seem nice, but in practice each of us ends up fiddling with things to suit our own needs.  Each of us seems to be building towards the deck we want the costume for, while creating our own custom made mix of abilities.

Personally I chose both Shotguns and Blades for pure geeky reasons.  I love using shotguns in any game that allows it, in Doom I made a beeline for the double barrel shotgun each time and never looked back.  In fantasy games, I must have a sword in my hand, and I am never quite happy until I am wielding one.  So giving me a game where I could do both, pretty much meant I knew exactly the build I would be going towards.  Even if it sucked, I would likely be playing this combination… but oddly enough it works really well together.

How the Deck Works

One of the cool synergies between both Blades and Shotguns is that both have a good number of abilities that either increase your chance of landing a penetrating hit, or doing something really cool when you do.  In addition to this, I have built pick up some claws abilities that make it really easy to drop a target into an afflicted state, which mixes nicely with a swords finisher that exploits this condition.  So essentially this deck is all about landing a penetrating blow, that starts a cascade effect.

The build works around three abilities for the most part.  First is Twist the Knife, that you will see below.  Essentially when you penetrate your target gains an ability that stacks to three, that increases all damage dealt by 3% for 10 seconds.  Each time you penetrate, it resets the stack timer.  To make sure we keep penetrating, I throw in the next ability:  Fatal Flourish.  Each time you apply afflicted you gain +30 Penetration for 8 seconds, which stacks to 10.  Finally I have thrown in the Bloodsport ability from the Claws tree, that sets and afflicted state anything you hit the mob.

Shotgun and Blades Deck

Blades Abilities

shotblade_four_seasons

Four Seasons

Four Seasons is the epic ability I have chosen for this deck.  Essentially it serves two purposes.  Firstly since this deck is all about starting a cascade effect when you penetrate, this allows me to land four guaranteed penetrates.  The second  purpose, is this doubles as an interrupt, since the fourth hit stuns the target.

 

shotblade_bamboo_cutter

Bamboo Cutter

Since most of this build is AOE based, I went with Bamboo Cutter as my melee builder.  This is essentially a low threat version of the Blade Torrent ability from the inner blades wheel.  This is pretty much my spam button when I can be near a target.

 

shotblade_clear_the_path

Clearing the Path

There are multiple good AOE and single target resource dumps in the blades trees.  I have friends that swear by Chop Shop, but for the purpose of this build, since I will be setting the afflicted state I chose this ability.  If you notice, this attack will automatically penetrate any afflicted target.  Which only services to keep the cascade effect going.

shotblade_flight_of_daggers

Flight of Daggers

Going along with the AOE theme, this epic passive causes 3 enemies near you to take a direct damage hit, and gain an affliction that deals damage over time.  This ability procs on every fifth hit, so you will be throwing out a ton of “daggers” as you go.

shotblade_twist_the_knife

Twist the Knife

This is really the ability that started the theme of the deck.  When you penetrate, you gain a stacking buff that when fully stacked increases all of your damage by 9%.  We want this stacked to three as quickly as possible, and to always maintain a full stack.

shotblade_fatal_flourish

Fatal Flourish

This is the ability that is going to make sure that you are penetrating by stacking a buff each time we apply afflicted.  It stacks up to 10, and each stack grants 30 penetration.  Since Bloodsport is making us apply afflicted each time we hit the target, by the 10th time we have struck the mob we will have +300 penetration.

shotblade_sudden_return

Sudden Return

This is one of those no-brainer fillers.  Each time I penetrate I deal a small bit of extra damage.  Build is set up so that I penetrate constantly, so this is just free damage.  When I need to swap things around for certain fights, this is one of the abilities I can easily drop without losing any real effectiveness.

shotblade_martial_discipline_regeneration

Martial Discipline and Regeneration

You might be asking yourself… “Bel, I thought you were DPS in this game, why do you have a tanking ability?”.  One mantra I have always lived by regardless of the MMO, is “Dead DPS do no damage”.  While this combination takes up both an active and passive slot, it is completely worth it.  Essentially every 45 seconds you can hit an ability that will greatly reduce the amount of damage you are taking, and heal yourself.  This ability has saved my ass more times than I can count, and often times is the reason why I can solo nightmare content.

Shotgun Abilities

shotblade_striker

Striker

This is my shotgun ranged builder of choice.  There are many builder options in Shotgun, but so far this feels like one of the better picks as it has a really good range.  Raging Bullet seems like a great pick, but in order to get the maximum effect you have to stay close range.  If I can be in range, I tend to be using swords attacks.

shotblade_sure_shot

Sure Shot

This is my all purpose ranged dump.  It does slightly less damage than Out for a Kill, the basic single target ranged dump.  However when I am grouping it comes in handy, since it has the added benefit of purging 1 detrimental effect from you, and 1 beneficial effect from the mob if the mob is in a hindered state.  I have other abilities that I can swap in and place the mob into a hindered state, namely swapping Flight of Daggers for Close Quarters that causes me to apply hindered each time I hit within close range.  When grouping, someone is usually applying hindered.

shotblade_scatter_shot

Scattershot

This is my favorite AOE builder so far.  Essentially it will hit your target, and 5 enemies within 5 meters of the target.  This is really useful for packs of mobs, and often times I can have the pack dead before they reach me if I am kiting them.  At the very least within a sword AOE or two they die.  Found this super useful in instance fights where packs of mobs spawn that the DPS needs to handle.

Fist Abilities

shotblade_bloodsport

Bloodsport

This ability is one of the three that really make this build work.  Anytime you hit a target, it becomes afflicted with a DOT that stacks up to 3 times.  Several abilities in the build rely on either applying afflicted or hitting an afflicted target.  This is the easiest way to make sure this happens.

shotblade_salt_in_the_wound

Salt in the Wound

This is another no-brainer filler ability.  Bloodsport causes me to constantly be applying afflicted, and this ability deals extra damage when this happens.  Once again this is basically free damage to the target.  Just like Sudden Return however, this is one of those slots that I can freely swap in other abilities as needed without losing build effectiveness.

Why I Love This Build

Aside from simply liking both Shotguns and Blades, and the visceral feel of using both, this build gives me a good deal of both survivability and versatility.  The Secret World is a game about constant movement, and during most fights I find myself shifting back and forth between needing to be close to the target, and needing to be at a safe distance from any point blank AOE.  This build gives me the ability to shift back and forth between ranged and melee without every having to stop attacking.

I like the feel of the cascading effect of Twist the Knife and Fatal Flourish working together.  As the fight goes on, I keep dealing more and more damage until the mob dies.  This has allowed me to burn through many encounters I just should not be able to take on.  I’ve managed to solo a good deal of the lair and nightmare content, so long as I take it carefully and stick to single and sometimes double pulls.

No amount of damage dealing however could really account for that.  The fact that I put Martial Discipline in the build gives me enough survival to be able to stay up long enough to finish off the mobs.  Last night in Elite Darkness War, I kited the boss for the last 50 seconds of the fight after everyone had died, and managed to pull out the victory.  I had to hit Martial Discipline twice, and take a healing potion, but I was able to stay up long enough to whittle down the bosses health.  Basically the build lets me tackle pretty much whatever I want to do, and with some careful planning survive.

#TSW: The Atmosphere

The Secret World has been out just shy of a month now, at least for those of us who pre-ordered.  At this point I have racked up roughly 170 hours, including some played when Raptr was not watching.  As of last night, I have completed the main storyline of the game.  I still have a good chunk of Romania to complete, but as we got into the last bits of storyline it was like reading a book that you just couldn’t put down.  I had to keep moving the main quest along to see the conclusion.

I am not sure what all I can say without giving anything away, but I will suffice to say I am looking forward to the monthly episodic updates.  To point if you divide it out, I’ve put in a bit longer than 20 hours of gameplay per zone.  All through Solomon Island, I was running about 35 hours per zone.  So why did my time spent in a give zone get shorter?  Well honestly the story just kept getting better, and I felt the drive to see the next tidbit all the faster.

As a result I’ve left a good chunk of content to go back and experience in every zone since and including Blue Mountain.  I have lore and quests to find, places to explore, and buckets of AP to earn.  I am still extremely happy with my shotgun/swords build, and as a result I am pretty much chasing down the various other decks now to get the outfits unlocked.  Currently I have Paladin and Puritan, and will likely finish out Executioner tonight if I get the time.

Normally this is the point at which I get the desire to start an alt.  Odd thing is, this time, the way that Secret World is set up, I feel like I still have so much more of the world to see and do.  I’m slowly working on getting the various Elite dungeons done with some friends, and am still miles away from being able to challenge the Gatekeeper and unlock Nightmare modes.  One of my guilty pleasures right now is running around the world, soloing Lair and Nightmare content.

I think more than anything the thing that is keeping me absolutely hooked is the lore and atmosphere.  This is the first time in a long time, that I want to know everything I can about the game world, its settings, and the characters.  So much of the game feels familiar to me, as I spent years playing the various World of Darkness games, renting B horror movies, and reading up on as much occult lore as I could get my hands on.  Stepping into The Secret World has been like discovering an old friend that I somehow neglected along the way.

I completely blame MMOGC for this post, because she talked about going back and watching the various trailers that were released for the game.  Of course I had to go back and do the same.  What shocked me the most is just how accurate a view of the in game atmosphere they give you.  Looking back I found myself noticing little places like the Horned God Bar in London, that how have become rather familiar.  This is the first time in a long time that a series of pre-launch videos give a really accurate portrayal of what the player can expect.

So now I will break for the gratuitous videos!

 

Everything is True Trailer

 

Dragon vs Hellspawn Trailer

 

Templar vs Revenant Trailer

 

Illuminati vs Failed Experiment Trailer

 

Tokyo Incident Trailer

 

Pre-order Trailer

 

Blue Mountain Trailer

 

Launch Trailer
If these videos don’t make you want to go home and play, then nothing likely will.

If you still want more of The Secret World, you should totally check out the Enochian Frequency podcast.  I’ve long been a fan of Petter Mårtensson and his podcasts Claims of the Normal (with Breki Tomasson and Arkenor Oakshadow) and The Three MMOsketeers (with Arkenor Oakshadow and Teppo Tastic), and this one brings the same kind of “not too hardcore, not too casual” mix to The Secret World.  You should add it to whatever podcast program you use and listen frequently (as well as to the other podcasts, though Claims is winding down sadly).  These are pretty much the only podcasts I try and make a point of listening to each week.

Assorted Secret World Tips

On June 29th The Secret World head start began, and from that point on I have been pretty radio silent.  I’ve mulled over what to post, but each evening when it came down to the decision of blogging or playing… the game has won out.  This is the first game in awhile I have had the burning drive to go home and log in each night.  At this point, it is a little far past the appropriate time for a launch impressions post, so I’ve decided to completely skew that and go in a different direction.

Quite honestly the game is just so much better than I originally expected it to be.  While it is most definitely not going to be the game for everyone, it seems to have nailed pretty much all of my triggers.  For years I have said that if a game ever released, that had as detailed of a world as Everquest 2, and a fun combat system I would be hopelessly hooked.  So far it is shaping up that The Secret World might just be that game. 

It still has some pretty major bugs, both in quests and the game client itself.  Right now the chat system is a complete mess, with all of your configuration settings for your chat tabs getting reset every time you zone.  Hopefully with times these growing pains will work there way out.  They have been releasing patches pretty frequently, and have set a pretty lofty goal of a new episodic content patch each month.  Only time will tell if they can live up to these.

Tips for a more pleasant experience

The Secret World if nothing else is a very unique and different take on the MMO game.  As a result there is a pretty steep and often times brutal learning curve.  There are numerous little things I have come across, or figured out that I think will ease the transition.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more some bullet points I think are worth mentioning.

Get Your Secondary Weapon Fast

Regardless of your faction, part of the quest line takes you to some sort of outfitter where you can play with the different weapons and pick your primary.  The combat system doesn’t really come into it’s own until you have two weapons.  Various combinations play off one another, and your builders build resources for both weapons at the same time.  You can get some quick burst damage by dumping both weapons at the same time.  The problem is that it might take you a bit to acquire a second weapon naturally through gameplay.  One poorly documented feature is that after completing your initial weapon quest, you can simply walk right back into the room and pick up a secondary weapon.  The NPC tells you that you can come back at any time if you want to change weapons, but it isn’t implied that you get to keep your original choice as well.

Melee and Ranged Together

One of the things I have noticed, is that this game seems to like to present you with conditions where you will need to melee down something, or kite something, and often times during the same encounter.  My friends who have chosen a melee/ranged combination like myself seem to be moving through the content pretty seamlessly.  However those who have chosen a pure melee, or pure ranged path seem to often times be gimped in some manner.  Being able to quickly switch between a ranged encounter and a melee encounter just seems to make life a bit easier.

Melee Paths
  • Blades
  • Chaos
  • Fist
  • Hammer
Ranged Paths
  • Assault Rifle
  • Blood
  • Elemental
  • Pistol
  • Shotgun

Personally I have chosen Blades and Shotgun, because it fits my personality and what I wanted in a character.  But any combination of ranged/melee seems to work fairly well.  Once again TSW seems to be a game that really hates pure melee characters, but I have noticed some limitations on the pure ranged characters as well.

Getting Stuck?

While there are still a few bugged quests out there, the vast majority of the time, we simply don’t know where to look for the answer.  The Secret World is a game that prides itself on forcing us to use our noggins.  So often we are used to the game providing us a trail of neatly placed breadcrumbs that end up in a very obvious answer.  TSW tends to give us some pretty general clues, and then relies on the player to apply some real world logic to determine the results.  It is really hard to give some non-spoiler examples, but if you were give a clue about a seat of power, you might end up needing to use a phone book to determine the street address of city hall.  Often times during these quests they expect you to use the in game browser to Google the clue, or look up results on Wikipedia.  In addition to the in game assets, Funcom has created a wide number of real life websites for the corporations and locations talked about in game, each of them littered with clues.  Before you give up and get frustrated, just make sure you are using all of the resources available to you.

Bags Getting Full?

The game really provides us a lot of options for storage.  First off, a good number of my friends have missed the fact that London has a bank.  It is located through the park, behind Pangaea and beside the Tabula Rasa fight club.  In addition to this, both your bank and bags have the ability to add more slots.  They start out rather cheap, and by the time you get to where I am at 130 slots, it is roughly 150k to add 10 more.  In addition to bag storage, I periodically compact by bags by breaking everything I am not in need of to crafting materials, and then upsizing them as much as possible.  Each crafting material can essentially be converted up to a higher level at a cost of 5 to 1.  If you need the lower level materials again, you can convert back at a slightly loss getting back 4 materials instead of the original 5.  I’ve habitually broken down everything I have gotten that I could not use myself, and have in general had plenty of materials to craft glyphs, weapons and talismans, yet still be able to afford repairs and travel speed increases.

Mobs Too Difficult?

If you encounter an area of the game where the mobs simply feel too difficult, there are multiple variables you can tweak to improve your performance.  The game seems to gauge difficulty on a murky scale of multiple factors.  Essentially you are likely being held back either by overall weapon quality, or your weapon and talisman skills.  One of the things I wished I had done from the very beginning was run my primary weapon, secondary weapon, and all 3 talisman skills all the way to 10.  Maxing your talisman skills gives you a massive buff in your overall hit points, and maxing your weapon skills greatly reduces the occurrence of glancing blows.  As a result you have better survival, and can kill your mobs faster. 

Any given weapon has two different skill paths.  In the example of blades, there is a damage path that increases the damage you deal, and a survivability path that heals you back a little bit now and then.  One of the mistakes I did early, was try and level both blade skills, both shotgun skills and keep my talismans even.  While it added a bit of survival, it simply meant I was slower to max out any one skill.  If I had it all to do over again, I would level shotgun damage, blade damage, and the 3 talismans equally until I maxed them.  I plan on going back and eventually maxing out the secondary skill for each weapon, but getting to 10 on any one has the effect of reducing your glances, and allows you to equip those higher level weapons.

No Shame in Farming

If you are still struggling, then likely it is the other side of the equation…. your gear.  At several points during my leveling I have found some sweet spots for collecting gear.  Each zone you encounter has a certain level range of drops.  Kingsmouth of example has QL1, QL2 and QL3 drops, Savage Coast is QL3, QL4, and QL5, and Blue Mountains has QL5 and QL6.  In each case there are some relatively easy spots to hunt mobs that drop the highest level loot in the zone.  I spent large amounts of time in each zone trying to fill out my gear before moving on.  In Kingsmouth, the best place hands down is the field near the junkyard full of Mud Golems.  You should be able to start soloing these pretty early on, once you learn their tactics, and they reliably drop QL3 gear or at least cash/runes.  In Savage Coast, the sweet spot for me seemed to be the Draugr just off the dock near Red’s bait and tackle shop.  These guys can be solo pulled, and pretty reliably drop QL5 greens.  Blue Mountain was a bit more difficult, but there are camps of Deep Spawn near the Agartha portal.  Several of these are easily single pulled, and pretty reliably drop QL6.

New Clothing

One of the big complaints I have seen against the item shop, is the impression certain players have that this is the only way to change your outfit in game.  First up, there are many ways to get new clothes without spending a dime on the cash shop.  There are many items that you can pick up through quests or through skill unlocks.  Dulfy has a compilation of all the items and how to get them, that she keeps pretty regularly updated.  In addition to this, there is the Pangaea store in London.  In it you can choose from hundreds of items, purchased using the in game Pax currency.  Dulfy has a nice compilation of the various fashions for women, but I assure you there are just as many cool looking options for guys.  It is reported that in the 31st patch, we will be seeing additional clothing stores, with hopefully more options.

Keep That Weapon Graphic

If you find a weapon that you really like the look of, you can keep that appearance indefinitely, it just takes a little work.  In every zone, there will be a camp (usually several) of Council of Venice personnel. These camps sell various items for the token currency you earn through completing quests.  This is a great way to get blue weapons and talismans, as well as various crafting kits.  In addition to all these things, there is a rather unassuming item they sell.

Casting Kits cost 30 tokens, and are used in changing the appearance of an item.  A word of warning, using the kit will consume the weapon you are “stealing” the appearance of.  Essentially you purchase a casting kit, and open your crafting window with Y.  Place the kit in the tools slot, and the weapon you want to take the appearance from in the materials window.  This will destroy the original weapon, but give you a blade mold in its place.  Finally take the weapon you want to apply the graphic to and blade mold into the materials window, just like if you were swapping a glyph.  The end result will be the appearance of the weapon you used to create your mold, applied to your current weapon.  I’ve used this process numerous times now to keep the Tyrfang appearance from Polaris on whatever I was using as my current blade.

Tacos are Tasty

Finally I have a super important tip, at least if you like Tex-Mex.  In the Haitian Market, which is located in the Darkside neighborhood of London, there is a vendor that sells Tacos.  If you have perused your achievements you will notice an achievement called "Tex-Mex T. Rex" for eating 7,460 tacos.  Thing is this is not just a vanity item, anytime you eat a taco, it massively buffs your out of combat regeneration for a short time.  Always keep a stack handy for those situations where you might be getting another mob any moment.  You can regenerate back to full pretty quickly while aided by their crunchy goodness.

The Secret World Impressions

[update]  The beta weekend continues Friday 5/18.

TSW_LogoScreenAt this point I have spent about 6 hours in total running around in Funcom’s latest MMO, The Secret World.  Up to this point I hadn’t really fully decided if I liked the game or not.  From what I am seeing floating around, seems like most people are having similar mixed emotions.  The game is an odd mixture of really good elements, and horrifically bad elements.  Up to now I wasn’t quite sure if the good were good enough to make me ignore the bad.

The Ugly and Awkward

TSW_Cutscene_stifflegsThe Secret World focuses heavily on the story of this dark setting.  The problem is, the cut scenes and voice acting that make up the otherwise well written story are tragically bad.  The motion of the characters are rigid and mannequin-like as then bend in impossibly puppet like directions.  The voice acting varies greatly between extremely well done, to tragically confused accents.

The saddest part about this is that the dialog is actually extremely well written.  The characters are interesting enough to make you take note of them and remember their names.  They weave a story of a world gone wrong.  Instead of giving it to you in a sea of quest text that you likely wont ever read, you have to draw it out of the characters a line at a time.  In traditional roleplaying game fashion, each question has multiple answers, and talking to the NPC yields different results each time.  When you have heard all the possible results, a green check mark shows up at the end of the prompt.

TSW_CutscenesStiffWristSo the game world is intricate and engaging, but you are forced to sit through a sequence of awkward cut scenes and often times lousy voice overs to get to the meat of the game.  In SWTOR you could skip through the voice over, and still be able to read the text by hitting the spacebar.  Unfortunately right now there is no option like this, and you are forced to make a decision between sitting patiently through the rough movies, or skipping them entirely with the escape key and having no clue what is actually going on.

TSW_CutsceneTaxiThe biggest detractor the game has right now is the fact that in order to get into any action at all, I had to sit through literally 45 minutes of cut scenes and fed ex quests in London before I could actually go do anything interesting.  I’ve heard this intro was unique to the beta weekend, and I really hope they either greatly reduce it, or remove it entirely.  Once you get to Kingsmouth the game becomes fun and interesting, but up to that point you feel like you are having to suffer through a mile of bad road.

The Really Good

TSW_DinerThe atmosphere of the game is amazing.  When you land in Kingsmouth you are surrounding by a town besieged by zombies and other things that go bump in the night.  Little gatherings of survivors fight to stay alive in the midst of the ravenous hordes.  The game feels like a really good World of Darkness gaming session.  I was expecting to need to roll 7d10 for Initiative at any moment.  It has been years since a game made me physically jump, and as I wandered around the small town, I jumped several times as a zombie horde rushed out of hiding at me.

TSW_MuseumThe game is pretty much standard role playing game fare, talk to NPCs, get a quest and them complete it by following on screen guidance.  Where the game differs greatly however is the fact that your standard MMO trope of batching up a bunch of quests simply does not work here.  The system really is designed for you to focus on a single quest, and then follow it through to its logical conclusion.  When you pick up additional quests they go into a 6 quest queue, but only one can be actively worked on at a given time.

TSW_QuestNoteI actually found myself taking notes as I played, trying to remember where I had seen quest objects in the world to interact with and accept the quest after I finished the one I was on.  I found a severed arm, a damaged pda, a suspicious body, forgotten mail, all beckoning me to figure out what exactly was up with each.  Over the hours of play, I have been working my way through a laundry list of objectives I found both from various NPCs and out in the “wild”.

Level-less system still has levels

TSW_AbilityWheelI went into the beta assuming this would be the case, but there is no such thing as a level-less system.  While there is no magical number that appears on your character, there is a mechanism in place that determines how well you perform verses the various mobs.  I have not entirely reasoned out how it works, but it seems as you gain more Skill Points and Anima Points you gain additional hit points.  So essentially, the number of points you have accumulated roughly equates to your level.

TSW_SkillWindowMonsters in the world have a “con”, just like they do in any other game.  White mobs are roughly equivalent to your own level, and Yellow are much harder.  I’ve heard there are other colors that denote different relations, but to this point I have not encountered them.  Normal mobs are marked with a dot, if you see more than one icon on their nameplate, it means they come as part of a group.  I’ve run into several mobs that are marked with a flag, and they seem to be some form of a mini-boss classification.

Atmosphere: Dice Included

TSW_InventorySo essentially you have all the same characteristics of a traditional mmo, they are just wrapped in a more pen and paper dynamic.  Honestly the entire game feels like it came from one of my late night Werewolf: The Apocalypse sessions, tracking down the taint of the Wyrm.  One of the first equipable items I got as a drop, were Dice.  I can see several different games here.  Parts of it feel like Matrix Online, other parts like Grand Theft Auto 3, and even others like the early PSX Survival Horror titles.

TSW_DefendBarricadeAs I walk down the foggy streets near the shore, I had multiple flashbacks to playing Silent Hill.  Honestly so far I have yet to see any reason why this game has to be an MMO at all.  The atmosphere is great, I love the town, the abandoned cars, and the crude fortifications the survivors have thrown up.  One of the early quests I did involved helping the Sherriff defend the barricades against hordes of oncoming zombies.  Each time a new wave would spawn in the distance, a “tornado” siren would start up warning against their arrival.

Forgettable Combat

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-05-12 21-42-25-13At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had withheld my opinion on whether or not I was able to look past the bad and see the good.  As I have played the game more, around hour three, it started growing on me.  I can see the potential I guess.  The game is still very rough, there are a good number of awkward and confused things about it, but there is also a good deal of raw intricacy there.  Part of the reason why I love Everquest 2 so much, is because the game exudes depth, and even in one small coastal town I can see depth to spare.

TSW_ZombieCombatThere are going to be several folks that will be turned off as a whole by the game.  I’m nearing the end of at least one of the skill trees, and to this point combat is still wholesale forgettable.  I went with a blades build, that overall feels much like the Katana Scrapper in City of Heroes.  So far however, it seems like my PBAOE resource builder attack, is somewhat of an I-Win button.  I can run into a pack of zombies and just brainlessly spam it until I win a prize.

TSW_BigBaddieWhen I face bigger baddies, I have to use more or two other attacks, but overall the combat is pretty mindless.  So long as I am careful with what I attack, and watch out for drawn areas on the ground to avoid, I can pretty much defeat anything without much issue.  That isn’t to say that I have not taken more than my fair share of deaths.  Before I had the basics of the “con” system explained to me, I was trying to take down mini bosses and much higher level monsters that I could realistically handle.  The big problem is, nowhere during the tutorial does it ever explain how you should actually play the game.

The Rundown

TSW_GodBlessTheInternetSo far I really like what I see.  I like the look and feel of the world.  Unfortunately the game has a long way to go before it will be ready for the bulk of the MMO market.  By the large number of negative reviews I have already seen this weekend, the game is just accessible enough for most people.  Personally I am looking for games more like EQ2, and less like WoW/Rift/SWTOR.  So all the extra fluff this game has, really appeals to me, and I can look past some of the akward combat and cutscenes for the time being.

TSW_RoofWhat has me most concerned is the fact that this game is supposedly shipping in roughly a months time.  Based on the multiple alphas and betas I have participated in over the years, I see multiple months worth of solid work here.  If this title launches as it is, I am afraid it will fail to find a stable market.  I know now that I will likely play it when it launches, but I will also be playing EQ2, GW2, and probably others.  The game has to be a bit more polished than it is now if it hopes to win even my full attention.

TSW_Combat_MinibossI am looking forward to spending more time working through Kingsmouth.  I hope by the next beta, we see a good amount of polish applied.  I am really hoping that they can poke and prod and tweak everything to make the overall experience better.  They’ve nailed the atmosphere, and they have some really good writing, the delivery just gets lost in all the lousy animation.  Hopefully they will work on all of this, because I see a game that will be really fun if they do.

TSW_ArgarthaUltimately the final challenge will be in pumping out the content.  SWTOR was a fun theme park ride, but after riding the roller coaster to completion three times, I just don’t care to ride it any more.  The storytelling, voice, and cinematics were an amazing tour de force.  When the story is over however, there just was nothing left I cared to do.  The Secret World will have to find a way to avoid the same trap WoW, Rift and SWTOR didn’t.  The end game has to be something other than raiding, pvp and dailies.  Here is to hoping they find a way to make the game stay relevant once you reach the ultimate cap.