The Secret World Review for PC

The Secret World Review for PC

The Next Step For MMOs?

Plenty of MMOs are highly anticipated. But only a few succeed. And with The Secret World, Funcom and EA have taken an enormous risk: Not only is this game the result of five years of development and untold millions of dollars, but it breaks the MMO mold in a variety of ways. The Secret World might set the tone for the next generation—or it might crash and burn, if players decide they like the old way of doing things better.

It’s still early yet. The story of an MMO’s success or failure is told in years, not days. And there are certainly things about The Secret World that could be better. But the early signs are very, very promising. This is a game that turns an entire genre on its head and lives to tell the tale.

The Secret World Screenshot

The Secret World is not set in a Tolkien-esque land of fantasy like World of Warcraft. Nor is it based on a major franchise like Star Wars . Instead, it’s a new IP set in the modern-day real world, with locations ranging from Egypt to London to small-town America. Like The X-Files , The Secret World assumes that every conspiracy theory, every supernatural tale, and every secret organization you’ve ever heard about is real—and tells a variety of chilling stories as a larger underlying plot develops.

At the start of a game, you choose one of three powerful factions: the Illuminati, a group bent on attaining power through any means necessary; the Templars, a group of holy crusaders; and the Dragon, a gang that loves to sow chaos. As the story unfolds, the three factions must team up to ward off a supernatural threat that is overtaking the earth. Your foes will be zombies and similar otherworldly creatures, rather than the fantasy monsters you may be used to. Violence, darkness, and intrigue lurk around every corner.

The Secret World Screenshot

Character creation isn’t too elaborate; you can choose a gender and adjust some basic elements (hairstyles, etc.), but you can’t really fine-tune your character’s features to make him look a particular way. However, the important thing in The Secret World isn’t what your character looks like—it’s what he learns to do.

Unlike virtually every other MMO on the market, The Secret World doesn’t assign your character “classes” and “levels.” Instead, by earning XP you accumulate “Ability Points” and “Skill Points,” which you can use to unlock new attacks and upgrade your character. The number of available upgrades—not to mention the number of ways to combine them—is simply ridiculous. There’s also a crafting system, which lets you break your weapons down and build new ones.

Most upgrades are linked to certain weapon types (assault rifle, blood magic, etc.), and you can carry only two weapons at a time. (One of your earliest and most consequential choices will be your first weapon.) As you focus on abilities that lend themselves to your play style, the upgrades will become more and more expensive, and you’ll encounter enemies that give more EXP—but it will still take the same amount of EXP to earn each point. This is convenient, because it allows higher-level characters to build up neglected skills quickly, should they decide their current build isn’t working for them.

The Secret World Screenshot

However, there is a major problem with this setup, too: If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily spend hours building a character whose blend of abilities just doesn’t work. If this happens, you pretty much have to grind until you develop the skills you’re missing, which happens quickly at first but eventually slows down. Fortunately, though, the developers foresaw this problem and created some “decks”—basically, templates you can use to build your character if you want to. I highly recommend that players choose a deck and stick to it until they get more familiar with the game.

One area that MMOs have been experimenting with lately is combat; Wakfu uses grid-based matches, TERA is set up more like an action game, etc. In The Secret World, combat feels a lot more visceral than it does in, say, World of Warcraft, but that’s largely thanks to the presentation. The music always has an intense and spooky feel, the enemies you shoot always respond appropriately, and the gun noises are satisfyingly loud.

The basic mechanics of combat are fairly standard for an MMO, though there are some nice twists. For example, there’s a dodge maneuver you can use the avoid damage, and a lot of times it helps to back up while you’re unloading lead into a group of zombies so they don’t get behind you. Further, your basic attacks charge a meter that you can use to unleash more powerful blasts of bullets and magic. Unfortunately, all of this makes the default control scheme, with the attacks mapped to the number keys and movement mapped to WASD, very cumbersome—if your hand is on the mouse and you’d rather not click on the attacks from a menu, your left hand is pretty much doing everything. I found it helped to move my right hand to the keyboard during combat, and I remapped the attacks in a straight line from “Y” to “].” I wish the default setup worked a little better, but the beauty of a PC game is that you can set up your controls however you please.

Those who prefer to play in groups have options as well. Thus far, I’ve spent most of my time exploring The Secret World as a lone wolf, but I found PvP matches easy to join. There are “fight clubs”—areas of the map where everything is allowed—as well as several locations that host three-way battles between the factions. There is also a “Warzone,” a factional battle that continues 24/7. Because the goal is to control various facilities, the Warzone offers a variety of tasks for individual players to accomplish (such as capturing the respawn points and killing enemies). There are also, of course, well-designed dungeons to raid with companions.

The Secret World makes a few other tweaks to the MMO formula as well, with mixed success. One feature I initially loved is that you can complete a quest by “sending a report”—a single click of a button—instead of hoofing it back to the quest giver to get your reward. The problem is that you still need to return to the quest giver if you want another quest, so I’m not sure this saves too much time. In fact, quest management in general is kind of a pain here—rather than letting you take tons of quests and finish them as you see fit, the game limits you to a small number and never displays more than one on the minimap at a time.

The Secret World Screenshot

Another questionable feature is that instead of giving players a single huge world to explore, The Secret World is divided into several sections that you can access through portals. This is unavoidable in this case—there’s no way for a single game to cover the entire real world, obviously—but it takes away from the sense of scale a little. Further, the developers tried to mix it up in terms of quests, handing players all sorts of bizarre tasks like finding hidden insignias, solving elaborate puzzles that involve searching the Internet, and even infiltrating locations by stealth—but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what you’re supposed to do.

Also, there’s still no good way to die in an MMO; in The Secret World, just like most of the others, you simply respawn at a nearby point without losing any progress.

The graphics are a high point here. This is easily one of the best-looking MMOs on the market, complete with DirectX 11 features and an advanced anti-aliasing technology that will be added by patch soon. Unfortunately, however, the facial animations come straight out of the Uncanny Valley, so that’s something the developers might want to improve with future updates—especially considering that it brings down the voice acting, which is top-notch.

I also noticed plenty of bugs, both visual and otherwise. Most annoyingly, I experienced a couple of crashes, as well as one glitch that made it impossible to equip items from my inventory. (Every time I right-clicked an item, the game placed the name of the item in my chat box. The solution: Press Control-B to bring up the bug-reporting menu, then close it. And then wait for it to happen again, because it will.)

Every MMO has a rocky launch in some way or another, though. On the whole, The Secret World is an amazing experience that’s easily worth your $50, especially if you’re willing to spend a lot of time on it during your free one-month subscription. Whether it will be worth its subscription fee after that remains to be seen. Only time will tell whether a large community will develop around this eerie and fascinating universe.

The facial animations are stiff, but otherwise this boasts some of the best graphics seen in an MMO. 3.5 Control
The default mapping is questionable, but you can set up the keyboard however you’d like. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound really shines, with intense music and great voice acting. 4.0 Play Value
A month with this game is easily worth the sticker price, but it’s not yet clear whether players will commit for the long haul. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Conspiracies, myths, and legends. Everything is true. A real-world, modern-day MMO reaching into legends and myths that unravels as the player progresses.
  • No classes, no levels. Be who you want to be, and play how you want to play. Hundreds of abilities and powers are available as you evolve your character without traditional level or class restraints.
  • Join a Secret Society and fight in the Secret War with thousands of other players. As a member of the Illuminati, the Dragon, or the Templars, fight against the rising tide of darkness or battle against other players in massive PvP warzones.
  • Epic storyline and missions. Unravel mysteries and conspiracies in one of the most engrossing stories ever told in an MMO, told through groundbreaking mission gameplay and overarching storyline.
  • Incredible graphics. Enjoy ground-breaking graphics as The Secret World sets new standards for MMO visuals.

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