When it comes to Massively Multiplayer Online Games it is difficult to put out a review after just a few play sessions. Most subscription paying MMO gamers are looking for something that is going to last them longer than one month to warrant the monthly subscription fee. Is The Secret World worth the $14.99 per month? Considering we are in the first month of release it's hard to say.
Lets take a look at the last major MMO release which was Star Wars: The Old Republic. When Star Wars: The Old Republic was launched it was met with decent reviews, but of the reviews that were available at launch none had dedicated enough hours to get to the deeper elements of their character which is what an MMO gamer is looking for in the first place. Now just 8 months later when you log on to SWTOR you are instantly offered a free character transfer because chances are your server is totally empty.
When you play an MMO you never want to feel like you are playing alone. Unfortunately SWTOR made you feel alone even if your server was full because of the way the zones were all instanced and also they seemed way bigger than they should have been. You spent most of your time just walking from quest to quest instead of actually doing the quest objectives.
In The Secret World I have never really felt alone. The technology behind the game is operating a single server with multiple dimensions supporting thousands of players per dimension. This has been the part of the game that has made it that much more enjoyable from the start. Playing with other players is the whole reason people want to play an MMO. Nobody wants to struggle to find people or do a server transfer because you found out one of your friends is on a different server or you play weird hours when no one seems to be on.
When you first start the game you are prompted to pick a ?Dimension? and this ends up being your default area whenever you first log into the game. Then once you are in game and you find out your friend is playing on a different dimension all you have to do is group with them and click ?Meet Up? and you will be moved to the appropriate dimension so you can group up and start questing together. You can even start a guild or ?Cabal? as its called in this game across different dimensions. This is the first time I have seen this technology in an MMO and I hope it becomes the standard in future MMO releases.
You start off in New York, but quickly find yourself in Kingsmouth a town shrouded in darkness suffering from what seems to be a zombie apocalypse. The towns people need your help, but your main mission is to figure out why all of these zombies and other worldly creatures have arrived in the first place.
The game has full day and night cycles, but the starting area of Kingsmouth is very dark and the fog never really lifts during peak daylight hours creating an area where you're not quite sure what will be lurking around the next corner. The next zone is located in Egypt so you are greeted with bright desert landscapes which is a real contrast from Kingsmouth. As of this writing I have not gone any deeper than Egypt so I can't comment on areas further into the game.
Another nice change of pace in the game is its modern day setting. No more playing as dwarves, elves or any of the more ?traditional? fantasy settings. You pick from three factions: Dragon, Illuminati, or Templar. This choice will effect who you are fighting for during Player vs. Player matches as well as change some of the story line specific cut scenes that you will be watching mission to mission. This will not effect who you get to group with in terms of the Player vs. Environment missions as everyone is there to help everyone else in defeating the monsters and madmen of The Secret World.
The Secret World also changes up the traditional leveling system that we have all grown accustomed to in this genre. You now obtain Ability Points and Skill Points that can NOT be reset at any time from an in-game vendor. From these points you pick which abilities you would like to use and how proficient your character is in the selected ability. Abilities fall under several different categories: Magic, Guns, and Melee.
For example I picked that I wanted to use pistols and nothing else. As I gained points I put them into pistols which allowed me to access more powerful pistol abilities. The downside became that I didn't have any points to put into other abilities, but as I played the game I earned more points to put into other categories such as Blood Magic, which gave me some healing and defensive spells. This gives you total freedom to play your character any way you want as opposed to being stuck into your specific class set of other MMOs. In addition to your active abilities you also gain passive abilities that provide extremely useful skills that change the way your character fights. You could have an ability that every time you are critically hit, you are healed for a small amount or if you use a channeling ability it will cleanse nearby group members of any debuffs or poisons they might have. So depending on the needs of your particular mission or fellow group members you might have to switch out certain abilities.
The Secret World is more of a PvE focused game with PvP thrown in just for fun. A majority of the focus has been placed on the PvE portions of the game, but that doesn't mean it won't develop as time progresses. PvP has you running around killing other faction members while attempting to capture points on the map that will provide your particular faction benefits that will assist you in PvE such as experience boosts, or ability boosts. PvP is difficult to participate in without an organized group. If you go in there alone you will be mowed down by experienced organized players ready to pounce.
Part of the game that really shines is the graphics. DirectX 11 is fully supported if your graphics card can handle it. So you will benefit from awesome lighting and shadows which provides amazing atmosphere that really immerses you in the world. I have not played an MMO yet with this much atmosphere. One very much discussed downside to the graphics is the character models but this can only truly be experienced when viewing the many cut scenes in the game that use the in-game engine to further the story between missions. The counter to the low polygon characters is the very well done voice acting in addition to the excellent sound design which can make you forget what you're watching and immerses you into what the characters are trying to say. Audio design also is well done throughout other parts of the game such as fight sequences or just traversing the very detailed, rich and diverse world.
So far I am enjoying The Secret World very much and I am looking forward to see how they continue to expand the game. It's up to Funcom to keep updating the game, fixing bugs, and expanding the games features to provide for their paying community. As of this writing Funcom has been on its toes addressing in-game issues and regularly communicating with their players to provide them with the service you should expect from a pay to play game. Game companies are always doing their best when they first launch a game and Funcom isn't slacking off. It seems like they are looking to make this game a hit, but as with all MMOs, only time will tell. My initial impressions indicate this game should be around for a while and will develop a loyal following. I personally recommend this game to anyone looking for a new MMO in today's market.
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