Review: The Secret World

SPELLBINDING: FunCom's new MMORPG The Secret World is a universe full of magic, deception, and darkness.
SPELLBINDING: FunCom's new MMORPG The Secret World is a universe full of magic, deception, and darkness.

The human race is fascinated by what lurks in the shadows. It's in our nature. We want to unravel mysteries, uncover secrets, shine a light on the silhouette standing outside our window. And what's more mysterious than a secret society?

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FunCom's new MMORPG The Secret World is a universe full of magic, deception, and darkness. You play as a member of one of three secret societies - the Illuminati, the Templars, or the Dragon. Regardless of which society you choose, you're probably still the bad guy, sent all over the world to guard your secrets and fight rival factions. A lot of the time, you won't even know why you go where you do - you're not the boss.

But it's not a different world to the one we live in. Not really. Instead, it's an underground version of the modern world. Granted, the real world is probably not infested with monsters, but in The Secret World, parts of it are. Those parts have been cut off from the rest of the world, their infections and invasions covered up by governments. You roam these areas, supporting your society and trying to help people along the way.

Because the game is based in reality, The Secret World is low fantasy. There's a little bit of magic, but most of the weapons are guns, swords and hammers. Buildings and environments are modern, and there are no elves or orcs to be seen. It's a refreshing change, and something entirely new in the MMO space.

What's not new is the combat system. Anyone who's played an MMO before will be familiar with it - just hit a number key to perform an attack, double-tap one of the WASD keys to dodge roll, and control the camera with the mouse. There's nothing new in the combat system at all, which will be a disappointment for seasoned MMO players.

Making your weapons, on the other hand, is something entirely different in the genre. The Secret World employs Minecraft's crafting system - you can disassemble weapons and reassemble them to make new ones, if you have the weapon toolkit drop item. You can also create 'glyphs' to give your weapons extra abilities, if they have a glyph slot.

All of this crafting does take some figuring out, however. Actually, that's a trend throughout the whole game - the tutorials are truly abysmal. Unfortunately, because the game's so new, Google won't help you much either, so you'll have to figure out a lot of the technicalities of the game on your own, or by asking other players. If clearly explaining how to use some of the most basic game mechanics is 'hand-holding', then dammit, we want hand-holding.

We get that this game is about uncovering secrets, but some of them are just silly. Hacking into a computer using clues? That's fun. But some of the game design decisions are just strange - for example, after many, many hours of gameplay, there's a side mission where you have to find a certain pond in a forest and spit in it. Every other mission in the game has required you to simply right-click on something to interact with it, but in this mission you inexplicably have to type '/spit' into the chat box. At no point does the game venture to explain this (although a YouTube video of the mission does).

The Secret World, unlike most MMOs, doesn't have 'levels'. There's no level cap, but rather you earn skill points which give you the ability to equip better stuff. If you want more HP or a higher attack rating, you have to get better gear. To get stronger attacks, you need to earn ability points and spend them on unlocking both active and passive abilities. Active abilities are your attacks, and passive abilities help make those attacks stronger.

There's also no way to reallocate your skill points (respec) - so if you set up your character wrong, you're stuck with that configuration. That said, you're not stuck with it forever - you earn your abilities through an ability tree, so you can branch off into other abilities. As you earn SP and AP, you can naturally respec your character by putting your acquired points into a different branch. To use more than one branch at a time, however, you have to dual-wield weapons, so we had to have both an assault rifle and a blood magic focus equipped so we could both attack with the gun and heal with magic. At the start of the game, you'll only be allowed to choose one weapon, so you'll have to buy or loot a second one.

At first, we found the fact that you can't respec frustrating, but as the game went on we grew to like the new system. It's challenging, and means you have to plan out your character rather carefully, but in the long run it also makes your character much more versatile.

Your character's look, however, is not so versatile. The character creator in The Secret World is very limited. There's no way of changing your characters height or weight - the women are slender and the men are muscular - and there are very few looks to choose from. The starter clothes are very limited, but you can buy a huge variety later on in the game.

The graphics in The Secret World would be stellar, if we were able to run them on 'ultra' for more than two minutes. With our high-powered Alienware M18x, we had to run the game on the lowest settings, or after a couple of hours of play it would start to jerk and lag. It wasn't our internet connection, either - changing the settings back to 'low' would immediately fix the problem. There were also a lot of other graphical issues, including bugs that made text unreadable - not acceptable in an MMO - but many of those seem to have been fixed in a recent patch.

The PvP in The Secret World is fun, but flawed. There appears to be very little balancing - those who have played the game for 100+ hours are a lot tougher than those who have played for ten. If you're still in the early stages of the game, playing PvP is a bad idea unless you have a solid group of players who communicate and will swarm goals as a group.

Despite the game's numerous issues - what MMO doesn't have issues at launch? - we found ourselves drawn to The Secret World. When it's running well, we could play for hours and hours without realising, and have a great time slaying monsters and solving mysteries. The Secret World is attention-grabbing, and once it's sucked you in, you're stuck. The question is: will you still be stuck when your 30 days free is up and you have to pay your subscriber fee? Probably not.

Classification: Not classified
Platform: PC
Test Platform: PC

-PC World