An MMO Like No Other
September 17, 2009 – Perhaps more than any other genre, the MMORPG category is dangerous and risky territory. Sure, many companies have found reasonable success with niche titles and free-to-play online games, but expensive, big-budget online games all find themselves in the shadow of the undisputed king: World of WarCraft. Many MMOs have tried to take on WoW by emulating what players like about the series, but smarter developers have opted to go in completely different directions. Age of Conan developer Funcom’s The Secret World is one such upcoming MMO that steers clear of the “me too” formula, instead opting to carve its own unique path. You won’t find any orcs or goblins in this game; The Secret World takes place in a much more familiar world: Our own.
Your adventures in The Secret World will begin in London, New York, or Seoul, and the character you create will be just a normal human – more or less. While you won’t have an opportunity to create a traditional fantasy character like and elf, every player in The Secret World is a human being who has discovered that they’re a part of something larger. The fiction behind the game is that every urban myth you’ve heard is true. Vampires, zombies, demons – they’re all real. It’s not just current myths that figure into the plot, either; The Secret World’s game director Ragnar Tornquist has stated that the fiction extends back millions of years and incorporates stories such as the Fountain of Youth, Pandora’s Box, The Knights Templar, The Freemasons, and more. Your character has seen into the world behind the mundane, and you’re forever changed by it.
Tornquist claims that The Secret World will have a linear narrative arc, although the details on what that story might be are unsurprisingly still a secret. We do know that the world of the game is made of three factions: The Templars, The Illuminati, and The Dragon. All three of these groups are sworn to fight the evil forces in the world, but each has its own motivation for doing so. You will not be able to change factions once you’ve joined without creating a new character, so Funcom has provided an interesting mechanic to help you decide which group is right for you. By visiting The Secret World’s viral marketing site (www.darkdaysarecoming.com), you can take an “initiation” test to determine what faction you’d best fit (I am apparently perfect for The Dragon). This site is just the first of many ways Funcom claims the game will blend the MMO with alternate reality gaming and social networking.
There are many other ways that The Secret World hopes to differentiate itself from the rest of the MMO crowd. Combat is being touted as much more involved than the standard “point and click” method of the genre. Little has been officially revealed about the gameplay mechanics, but the stated focus on movement, strafing, and shooting definitely suggests that combat will feel more like a traditional third-person shooter than an MMO. The Secret World won’t be the first online RPG to attempt this, but the way it fits into the structure of the game is all new. You’ll never be forced to fight in order to “grind” for levels in The Secret World – it doesn’t have any. All character growth is tied to skills. Use a particular skill a lot and your proficiency with that skill will grow. If you don’t enjoy combat, you can focus on developing your skills as an investigator, a magician, or other non-combat abilities. Tornquist stated that the decision to remove levels from the game was a very conscious choice designed to make the game fun from the first minute. In the development team’s opinion, most MMOs make the player work too hard to get to the meat of the game – the upper levels. For similar reasons, The Secret World doesn’t feature classes. Rather than spend hundreds of hours mastering a class and restarting with a new character, The Secret World allows you to alter your character simply by refocusing on new skills. Just like a real person, your character in The Secret World can develop new interests and areas of expertise through practice and time.
Much is still unknown about The Secret World. Funcom has revealed many of its goals and ideas for the game, but little of the game itself has been made public. Not even a release date has been shared. While the facts of the game are currently as secretive as the game’s fiction, Tornquist has remarked that 2009 will be the year the public learns about The Secret World. If the final game can live up to the potential of its promises, then it might indeed be a secret worth exploring.