Beta Weekend Date: May 11 – 13th, 2012
Score: 6 /10
“Imagine if every myth, conspiracy theory and urban legend was true. Imagine a world where you can become anything you want to be, without restrictions such as classes or levels. This is the premise for The Secret World, Funcom’s upcoming massively multiplayer online game set in the modern-day real world.” This is what the official website says about the game, and I must say, it intrigued me. The only other MMO I’ve played in a modern setting was DC Universe Online, and even that was in the comic book world of DC, so I was interested to see how this game was going to play out but not sure if I wanted to purchase it, and so, I joined up for beta. Sadly, first impressions were not good.
First of all, the sign in screen looked good, but it drew your eyes towards the centre of the screen, which was oddly not where the sign in box was. It was, in fact, down half hidden in the bottom right hand corner. This is not a deal breaker by any standards, but didn’t make sense to me. It was just odd, and unbeknownst to me, a herald of the feel of the rest of the game: odd decisions and a lack of the straight forward nature that usually encompasses games. Like I said, not a deal breaker in itself, but it frustrated me all the same.
For this beta weekend, players only had access to play as a Templar, and only a small amount of story and map was accessible (I’ve never reached the limit to a beta before). In Character creation, you have two sides: character visuals (including face, skin, etc.) and clothing. The options for the faces all looked like real faces, and much less cartoony than most MMORPGs, and it had options to tweak it feature by feature, but the options available were VERY limited. I am unsure as to whether that was because this was a rather limited beta testing, or if they are the only options that will be available at release. The options for clothing were also extremely limited. You had a choice of at most 9 items in each section, and you couldn’t even customise colours. If it remains this way, I imagine it will be where micro transactions will come in. You can purchase more clothing in game, but it is very expensive.
Once you create your character you watch an FMV that spans about a week, where you wake up with powers one day, and destroy your room, then eventually learn to control them. It makes sense that it would take a while to get accustomed to this, but it still seems slow and tedious for an opening movie. Perhaps it should have your TV or radio on in the back ground highlighting some of the recent events to better explain and introduce the story to the player. What happens next annoys me the most. A woman turns up and speaks to you, plain as day, with the door open and everything, about the Templars, who they are and what they are trying to do. You’ve only just met this woman! She isn’t the only one. Everyone is WAY too open about secret societies. They would never openly give that much information to a stranger without testing them first. Apparently they are open about everything due to the secret world behind the scenes being thrust into the public eye when all the destruction begins to rain down upon society. It forces their hand, so to speak, but everything I know about secret societies says that even if this happened, they would combat it from the shadows, and cover up everything as much as they still could. This part of the story came across as very sloppy.
The starter area was (as I found out later) a little different to the rest of the game. There was no looting, you didn’t earn any money for completing tasks, no mini map, and not everything was as straightforward as you would expect from an MMO. There was no real explanation, and until I moved on to the next area, I had no idea that the game would incorporate these elements, which was especially confusing when I found the merchants but had no idea how I was meant to earn money. Most MMOs tend to over explain themselves, but this game seemed to take gameplay for granted. I wondered if this was their first MMO, but Funcom and EA have been involved with MMOs before. I understood that this game was meant to make you think for yourself, but I didn’t think that applied to figuring out how to play, especially since the basic movement was the same as other MMOs. I also didn’t appreciate being suddenly dropped into an instance when I wasn’t ready for it (it was, of course, then that I realised I needed to go to the bathroom…). There was also only one decent NPC so far: Sonnac.
Now, with a beta weekend, especially a first beta test, it is expected that you will come across some minor issues, perhaps glitches with the movement/audio/video and so forth. I, and apparently others, came across some pretty major “minor issues”. While in this starter area, I kept getting stuck in doorways: a minor frustration revolving around logging out and logging back in again (three times), that got worse when I logged in and found myself below the world map (there was nothing on my level, but I could see the street above me). That was my first major minor bug. The second was that during the story videos of the first instance, there was lots of static and my character customisation kept switching between what I picked and something else entirely. The NPCs also started calling me Sarah, and I have absolutely no idea why. If it was intentional, there was no explanation or even hint as to why it was happening. Each time I logged back in, I had to manually set the image to full screen, as it was windowed by default, and nothing I changed helped that. The worst hiccup I encountered was when the dialogue half froze. The image froze, and audio sounded like a Decepticon. I could do nothing. Windows D and Ctrl Alt Delete both did nothing. I had to restart my computer.
It was at this point that I considered giving up, after really disliking the game and deciding it was a write-off (can you blame me after the experience I had with it?), especially after getting so angry with it. But I still decided to log back in after it crashed again. I felt I needed to give it a good solid go before I told everyone to steer clear of it for a while, and I’m glad I did because the game got better from here. There were also less bugs and my computer only crashed once more after this.
The first major difference once I moved into the first open story area, was looting and earning money finally came into it. Although there were issues with unclaimed loot not disappearing and loot in general being open to anyone to grab, it didn’t affect game play (I’m not sure if this is meant to happen or if it was a bug, but it is much more practical to loot after a battle). You also now had a mini map, which helped with direction and placement. It would also warn you that you were about to go into an instance too. After picking a weapon to focus on in the starter area, you now had the chance to level it up. Well… in a sense. Experience points in The Secret World don’t go towards your character levelling up. In fact, there are no character levels. Each section of your experience bar represents a skill or ability point, and once they are earned you can use them to purchase abilities or increase a particular skill. There are also no classes. Everyone starts off the same, but, not unlike Guild Wars 2, your skill sets (moves) are dependent on what weapon you are using.
Questing is a little different as well. The basics are there: talk to NPC or interact with an item to gain a quest > complete quest > get reward. One aspect that is different to traditional MMOs that I like is how you use your phone to send reports back to your base to complete a quest once you have done the required tasks. This works similarly to DCUO, but I didn’t have anyone contact me directly. I feel this helps the flow of gaming, so that you do not have to trudge back to hand in a quest. However, that flow is distinctly disrupted by the fact that there is a limit on how many of each type of quest you can have at any given time, which in turn leads to “re-finding” the locations of the quest starters. This is also the case with locked quests. I don’t understand why they would limit you like that. Another thing I don’t understand is how you get quest rewards through your phone. I can understand money transfer, but what about items? At least they are always better than what you currently have.
Some quests involve more than following a quest arrow, and this is where the game really gets fun and interactive. There is a link in game (just press ‘B’) to open your web browser to Google search without leaving the game. This is part of the integration that is to come into the game later, but also, it is for researching clues given to you to solve mysteries, discover passwords, etc. And speaking of passwords, you can interact with computers like in Vampire: The Masquerade. An example of this was a quest I had to complete by retrieving files out of a computer with a password. You were given hints as to what it would be, but the answer was not in the game at all. I had to Google the answer. Sometimes you just need to solve riddles and read maps, but one quest stumped me and quite a few others (possibly because we don’t go to church). There was a keypad, and your instructions were that the code was the first song the priest intended to sing at the next mass. The priest, by the way, is pretty cool; very practical. I had to read over the comments on forums for this one, as I had no idea where to look for it. It turned out there was a visual clue in the church: a plaque with 3 sets of 3 numbers. People who don’t go to church won’t know what that is for. Perhaps a title like “Today’s Hymns” would have helped. But what frustrated me further, is that the keypad took 6 digits. I had no idea which 6 to use and tried every combination, to realise: it only needed the top 3 numbers. Now, this is a very simple quest when you look at it like that. But again, some things were taken for granted.
Now, I could only go so far as a certain point in the beta as there was a limit. Sadly, even with the crashes and stopping for lunch, I reached that limit within 7 hours. So I’d like to finish up by going over some last points about the game. While the graphics and audio weren’t very spectacular, the water looked good (sans constant ripple effect even when standing still), but some of the voices were annoying and unnecessarily overly accented. There is hidden lore to find throughout the game map, exactly like in DCU, but the messages disappear too quickly and you have to manually pull them up to read them. Pressing ‘/’ doesn’t automatically open the chat box for commands: a rather silly and annoying omission if you ask me. You don’t automatically face your target, which interrupts fights and skill forwarding, while still leaving you to be damaged. It takes too long for quest items and bosses to respawn. And lastly, your character NEVER talks! It’s like you don’t get a say in what is happening, even as your character. This doesn’t affect game play, but I feel it limits it, especially in terms of connecting with the story.
After all the issues I had in the starter area with the major bugs and poorly designed beginning, I’m glad I stuck it out to get a real feel for the game. It is interesting, and different in some ways. I think it has potential, but it is far from being ready for release. Many of the bugs mentioned shouldn’t even be happening in beta, not that often at least anyway. The beginning needs work, mostly gameplay but especially story. It isn’t believable that, even in the face of destruction, the Templars would just announce themselves to you, while half not wanting people to know… Give the game some more work, better flow, and a more believable and stronger beginning, and I think it could be a good game. If I manage to play the rest of the beta weekend events, I’ll report on how they’ve improved. Hopefully many of these issues will be addressed, as I know I’m not the only one who had them.
Story so far 5
Game Play 6
Ease of Play 7