You’ve just started to manifest strange powers when you’re dragged into a strange underworld, where three secret societies rule.
Whether you join the Illuminati, the Templars, or the Dragons, you are now part of a war against an evil that has started to take hold in various parts of the world. And it’s now your job to find out where it came from, and how to stop it.
I played a ridiculous amount of The Secret World about a year ago (but gave it up, for reasons I’ll explain further along), but for the sake of this review I started a new character in a new faction.
After the frustrating job of trying to find a name that wasn’t taken (grr!), and customising my character (based on the admittedly limited options given to you), I was immediately reminded about what I’d loved about this game the first time around: namely, the story line, and the NPC dialogue.
It might sound weird for someone to say that they’re a fan of NPC dialogue, but I really think it’s one of the things that sets The Secret World aside from other MMORPGs. It’s smart, engaging and – for someone like me, who loves sarcasm – it’s funny. These aren’t your friendly, garden variety NPCs; they’re either people who see you as a nuisance, or people who are living in a world gone mad (that still probably think you’re a nuisance). This makes for some engaging cut scenes that you won’t want to miss (at least, not the first time).
There are a couple of other reasons you won’t want to miss anything: firstly, because the story is complex, and there’s a lot of information to take in; and, secondly, because at some point you’re probably going to need that sweet, sweet information in order to complete your quests. Because, while there are some “kill X amount of X enemy”-type quests in The Secret World, there are also a lot of puzzles.
Like, a lot.
There’s also a lot of information to take in as far as the gameplay is concerned. You don’t level up; instead, you get points (AP and SP) that you can spend on being able to use higher level items; and a really complex set of skills, which you can mix and match to suit the gaming style that suits you.
I won’t go into too much detail about the skills (because there is a lot of detail to go into), but, in a nutshell, there’s a lot of freedom, and you’ll be rewarded for experimenting with new combinations. However, part of the reason that the game lost some of its shine for me on my first time around, was that this freedom is somewhat illusory. The reality is that some combinations don’t really work together at all; so, my idea of going full-on magic (woo, magic!) with my original character meant that, despite having some strong base attacks, I was unable to get the kind of combos required to do any real damage, and I had limited survivability. I found this kind of annoying, because I didn’t want to have to follow one of the many build suggestions available online; but not doing so made me kind of useless.
Still, while this was an issue for me when I first played the game, I’m currently enjoying running around and hitting things in the face with a hammer on my new character; and I think I might be more inclined to just give in and look into what my best options are if this is the path I want to go down.
To the game designers’ credit, while there may be a fairly limited range of base looks for your own characters, they have at least been more creative with the enemies. While zombies are common across all the areas, there’s also enough variation in the other monsters available in each area to keep things interesting. And, thanks to the great work that’s been done on the music and creature sounds, there can be some genuinely scary moments.
As is the case with most MMORPGs, there are points where you’ll find yourself grinding like crazy in order to fill your EXP bar and get that next lot of Points to spend. This can get a bit boring at times. But, the ability to re-do quests (which have refresh timers) at least means that you can break up the monotony of grinding through certain spawns.
There’s heaps more I could go into, but I think I’ll finish off by quickly touching on the “buy-to-play” aspects of The Secret World. The game is, overall, free-to-play; but there are certain benefits to throwing some money at it, such as items, more customisation options, and new missions. However, there’s nothing to say that you can’t play it without paying any money. It just means that missions won’t be available to you, or things will take a bit longer to achieve. No big.
The Secret World may not be the flashiest game around, but it’s highly atmospheric, and well worth playing. Just prepare for it to eat up all your extra time.