August 9, 2012

My review of The Secret World

Well, I thought about it for a while, and considering that I haven’t actually written anything for this blog in like two months or so, I figured I should. Given that The Secret World has been out for over a month now, as they so proudly proclaimed in an email, that sounded like a desperate plea to me to get more people to sign up to their game, I figure it is about time to probably sit down and discuss why this game didn’t work with me like I hoped it would and why I never got it after having played it for a while during its beta. In fact, I came to despise the game so much that I actually uninstalled it twice during the beta life, only reinstalling it again after a friend got in beta and thought I could at least give them a familiar face to hang around with (until we discovered he was in those weekend betas which was completely different and builds behind the beta I was actually in).

Now, let me begin this by saying I wanted to like this game; I really did. You can’t believe how deep down I wanted this game to actually be the fresh faced, change of pace and offer something new that was sorely needed in the MMO space, especially given the stagnating nature of the genre. The idea of a modern setting place with the investigation missions sounded fresh and original, but even sounding fresh and original doesn’t mean it delivers exactly what was promised. So, when it comes to the break down I will try to point out exactly what I liked, but I will probably have a lot of things I absolutely despised about this game, and I am quite sure this will set off a few people who think that TSW is the second coming, just like people who believe GW2 is the second coming as well.

Now, first up let me talk about character creation. Needless to say, a few articles I’ve read have applauded the character creator and I have to keep asking myself one simple question; why? It’s atrocious in this game. Now, I will freely admit I might be spoiled from other games like City of Heroes, Champions Online and APB, but come on. The character editor makes games like SWTOR and WoW look positively deep and complex. At best you can do is choose a couple of faces and various slide positions that actually do nothing in the long run and despite TOR actually has a limited but at least an ability to change height and body mass on a character. This is just appalling.

Now, that’s not to say that the character art is bad; it isn’t. In fact, the character models are fairly detailed and animated (at least with emotes) fairly well, and with little tearing or stretching of the actual character model polygons; but if you were hoping for deep, or meaningful character generator, you might as well look someplace else. Clothing variations are limited, and anything you look for style which actually put you off because things like long coats or jackets still use that ancient taped to the back of your legs type of animation, thus it doesn’t look good at all.

Game world wise, this is a beautiful world; as long as you aren’t playing around in the three central hubs. London, Seoul, and New York are all cramped, tiny, not well built or well-planned out. The other locations in the game, however, are nicely sized and in some instances can feel too big at times, and quite beautiful to look at and very atmospheric. It’s almost a jarring contrast because the actual play areas feel like so much went into them, while the hub areas, the areas meant for socializing and getting together, feel like such an afterthought. Of the three hub locations, only London was the one thought about the most as it is the largest, and New York feels like the smallest. None of them feel like they offer the venue they were supposed to be for and feel completely superfluous to the actual game as the Argatha network provides all that basically.

That brings up the three factions; again totally superfluous. They aren’t required other than the once in a while faction story arc you might get. The three factions can be completely cut from the game and nothing would change. That is how tacked on they feel. I never really got to try out PvP, because every time I would try the actual thing would break, so I can’t say how any of the PvP maps are, but considering my past experience with games that base their PvP around skirmish maps, that would most likely suck anyways, especially given the fact it’s skirmish maps with 3 factions fighting instead of 2. 3 factions really don’t work well in a theme park environment. But down to the wire, other than a few lines of dialog here and there, there is no reason to have three factions in this game. Once you’ve passed your initial intro (which is the exact same for all three factions again) your contact with your faction is negligible at best and just completely pointless.

Speaking of superfluous systems, that brings me around to the entire skill system. Now, outside looking in, this sounds like a great and awesome concept; except, it’s not. There’s little to differentiate one skill set from another and there is even less reason to actually shoot for high level skills other than you have them. This is a game where the low skills are just as good, and in many cases better, than the higher skills you can actually get later on. The whole concept just seems like bad ideas, and instead of feeling like earning something new, you just get the same skill you were already using with a slightly different animation, sometimes, that can have a longer cast time or actually delivers less damage. It really did sound like a neat, and interesting concept, it’s just it was delivered poorly because each skill set does the exact same resource building as the other, offering no real variety other than a look when the wire is actually drawn out.

And that brings me to the other part of that equation the combat animations or skill animations. Take your pick. They are horrid. I am not going to mince words here. The combat animations are stiff, poorly animated and at times makes me just want to go play a game like City of Heroes at times just because I feel a game that is now 7 years old going on 8 has better animations, when I feel that most of the new animations in City of Heroes are atrocious now. The characters are stiff, very wooden and when it comes to actual attack animations barring a couple, look like they went the cheapest route possible for animation budget.

Next on that list is combat. And good God, was there entirely too much of it and it is very boring. Early on in the game, dealing with the zombies, you can probably plow through several of them without issue or problem. But as the game progresses, it has a habit of increasing the monster health factor substantially, but your damage stays relative. This is a very gear oriented game and if you are under geared even by a little bit, solo enemy fights will take a while to do. Combat is very repetitive, very boring, and it breaks up an otherwise immersive experience constantly. No matter how you try you can’t avoid it either, you will be fighting regardless of your intent just because of how the game was set up. The only way to avoid combat is to just avoid questing all together.

Now, missions themselves are… standard MMO tripe. Except they lead you by the nose as well as hold your hand to each of the next parts of the mission chains. What makes missions atrocious in TSW is they are so far apart from one part to the next, and are set up exactly like WoW style mission settings it makes you wonder what the developers were thinking. And the mission journal is the worst offender as it is purposely designed to limit how many missions you can actually have at a single time with you only able to have 3 side missions 1 main plot and 1 investigation type mission at any given moment. If you pick up more than that you have to choose to delete an older mission thus losing that progress. This would have been smart, if the missions in this game were not set up to be spoonfed like they are in other MMOs.

However, I will give props to the investigation missions. Now I said earlier that missions lead you by the nose, and for the most part that is right. They lead you by the nose going so far as to highlight and show you the object right down to the few meter area they are in, that you need to click. However, investigation missions actually make you have to do a bit of research and have no such hand holding going on. This is refreshing, to a point. The problem I have with the investigation missions was they sort of club you over the head with the clues that the in game browser became nearly pointless. I did several investigation missions and only a couple of times did I open the browser and sadly, when I entered keywords, it took me straight to the answers as they were already filled out on the game web site itself. While the theory was nice and sound that means that any investigation loses all-purpose thanks to any search engine more advanced than a pocket calculator being able to pick out any post or wiki with the answers you are seeking. This also has the fact that any replay value is set instantly to zero because the answers are always the exact same.

Story, voice acting and the like, I give this game prop’s for. I enjoyed it a lot better than TOR’s poor attempt and I certainly thought it was a lot better written and sounded better acted. I rather enjoyed the conspiracy over tone and that the NPCs actually moved around. However, no matter how good the story is, it is completely over shadowed by bad game play and game design at almost every turn for me. I gave it my all, and then during the last few beta weeks, FunCom started shoving out patches that would break entire systems just to get the patches out fast. My enjoyment factor kept plummeting and fast, especially after the 3rd time I remade a character because of something that happened that forced me to rethink instead of having to try and go through the process of redoing missions and gaining skill points just to try a new skillset. I uninstalled this game twice from my hard drive. The first time I did it was out of pure frustration and boredom with the game. I reinstalled it again when a friend got in one of the betas and I thought I could join them, only to find out I couldn’t. I toughed it out and tried to keep testing, but with only a couple of weeks left till launch, I uninstalled it again.

The gear grind in this game was just awful as well, because gear is what defines the character, not the skill set regardless of what you are told. And though they try to say that you can have whatever look you want, it didn’t help that most people kept choosing the same face and hair styles because those were the only good ones. I couldn’t even walk around Kingsmouth because my preferred face, hairstyle, and clothing look was being used by several other players. This is a game with a bunch of good ideas but awful implementation. It sounded like it wanted to be a sandbox world, but instead decided to be a theme park instead, which is ironic since you spend a large portion of your game time in a theme park.

If I were to give this an overall, I would say wait until it goes Free to Play. I’ve heard they are adding more hairstyles and such, but hell, I hear a lot of things about MMOs that just launch that turn out to actually do very little. I really did want to like this game, as I said, but it just buried itself under the weight of a lot of things that just make it not very fun for me to play.

1 comment:

  1. I've decided to give this a fair shake and play this with the trial. I did this a while back ago. Needless to say, much of my original points about the game still stand, however I've got some added points.

    Now, I do like the story, but I have the repetitive combat in a world where investigation and mystery is suppose to be the focus. I enjoy the dungeons but I hate how tanking is done the "spin to win" style of game play for tanking. And one thing I noticed, at least for myself, is the dreary atmosphere of the game seems to be very draining. Unlike other games where I find myself intrigued to press on, TSW I actually feel drained after a while and need to take breaks, and I think it has to do with the ever constant depressing atmosphere of the game. Grant it it was a choice, but dark all the time is draining, at least for me.

    I can say the game is enjoyable in small chunks and with their new model I think I will continue to give it a whirl, but it definitely misses a few niche areas that would help me more.