the secret world

This post will be shorter than my previous ones, since I never became too invested in this game to be more thorough. The usual 500 character limit wasn’t cutting it either.

The Secret World is a 2012 MMORPG, lauded by many for its world, storytelling and questing. As of this post’s writing date, the company behind the game is currently attempting to relaunch it as Secret World Legends, while making the original game unavailable to new costumers. I’ll admit, it wasn’t a good time to start playing the vanilla version for the first time, therefore I won’t be talking about certain aspects of the game, like dungeons or anything team-related.

The biggest complaint when it comes to this game is the combat. On the surface level, it can be described as a tab-targeting action combat system with multiple skills available to the player and the occasional need to dodge enemy AOE skills, just like so many other games around. But it’s obvious right on the first enemy encounter that the complaints are legitimate. The character and enemy animations are very awkward and carry little weight to their attacks. It’s hard to keep track whether your attack missed, glanced, hit, or even if it registered at all, without checking the floating messages that pop out. Being an online game, there’s also variable latency to consider. Such animation inconsistency and poor player feedback should not be acceptable in an action-oriented game.

(spoilers: partial investigation solutions mentioned ahead)

As for questing, there are three main types: action, investigation and sabotage quests. The most common one is the action type, which usually involves fighting a lot of enemies. The quests aren’t usually too interesting mechanically, and fighting enemies by itself feel like a huge waste of time, specially considering the quality of the combat system. Sabotage quests involve various miscellaneous tasks, nothing too exciting, but they help break the tedium from the action quests. The investigation quests are the most noteworthy of the bunch, as they break the usual MMORPG formula. They require puzzle solving and their solutions are anything but obvious. That sounds great at first, until you realize how absurdly tough they can be to figure out on your own: making connections between ingame hints and passages from the bible, translating Morse code from an audio track, or figuring out an alphabet by first making a connection to the periodic table (all that before even leaving Solomon Island). On one hand, it’s very satisfying to solve them by yourself, but on the other they completely lose their allure once you become hopelessly lost, which happens quite often. Sometimes it’s not even the puzzle difficulty itself that makes you beg google for help, it’s the wandering around almost aimlessly while fighting respawning enemies that takes its toll. In the end, I can’t really praise the investigation quests, much less questing as a whole.

(end spoilers)

A small nitpick that I’d like to add is how the game greatly limits the amount of quests you can have active simultaneously. I can’t say what is the purpose of this decision, but it very much feels like a way to artificially increase the game time. As if making a ton of action and side quests with the usual “kill x enemies” and “collect these items” flavors wasn’t bad enough.

One upside of questing is how it helps to build the game world. They offer extra details about the setting and characters, either directly or by guiding the player to certain points of interest. And the world is pretty interesting, as it mixes the occult with conspiracy theories in a contemporary urban setting. The later is something very few videogames ever try to do, much less on the MMORPG side. A small benefit of mixing this sort of setting with this type of videogame genre is the character customization, or more specifically, the “fashion wars” side of it. I can’t say much about the story though, since its progression is very slow, and, up until where I am now (Egypt), it has yet to manage to hold my attention.

The bottom line is that uncovering details of the game world, either by paying attention to the details in quests or by reading the lore entries, is far more entertaining than actually playing the game itself. But it’s not that much of a reward for dozens-to-hundreds of hours of poor gameplay.

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