The Secret World Review

28 07 2012

To be honest, I really hadn’t followed The Secret World at all during its development. Once it had been out for a week or so I started to hear things about it. At the time I had been playing Tera Online, which had great gameplay but terrible story narrative. So needless to say I was dying to play something with an actual story.

So I promptly started to look at reviews, and once again I observed vastly different and varying reviews with stark differences in opinion. So this was something I knew I had to try for myself. Most of all it boasted an incredibly strong story.

So I bought it, and chose to make an Illuminati character. Other than the entry cinematic, the first portion of an MMO that a player gets to see is naturally the character creation screen. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the character creation. The character models were odd and it took quite a bit of effort to create something that didn’t hurt your eyes to look at. Also, along with the weird character models the selections are pretty limited, at least when compared to today’s standards of options when creating a character.

I obviously did not let this dissuade me in my quest to check this game out, so I ended up creating an exotic Illuminati character and went about playing the game. I won’t go into play-by-play detail of the game itself, instead I’ll put out some of my feelings and initial first impressions after playing through the majority of the beginner area and the first to instances/dungeons.

I was greeted by a pretty strong and compelling story narrative right away, albeit a little odd and different, but I can definitely do odd. If you like Stephen King novels, you’ll love the story and visual aesthetics TSW throws at you. More or less, the main premise behind TSW is that all legends/myths/secrets/supernatural stuff is true and fair game. So pretty much like an alternate reality here on earth. The NPC’s are all fully voice acted, and do a pretty solid job of adding depth to their character. Your character does not speak however, just kind of stands there like a bump on a log, which seemed awkward to me since the NPC’s I was reacting with were conveying emotion to me. To be honest, it felt a little… how do you say.. “Half-Assed”. To go to all that work with voice acting, animation, and dialogue. Then not to even have your character speak? It definitely broke immersion for me just a little.

Getting past that, lets talk a little about the gameplay. Where the story narrative and aesthetic design of the world shine as strong points for this game, the moment-to-moment gameplay combat feels awkward. Some have described it as, “floaty”. The character animations as far as running and acting seem okay, but using abilities in combat just feels jerky and unfinished. After awhile you do get used to it, but it doesn’t feel like they were attempting an alternate style of gameplay, it feels like I said unfinished and or rushed to release. That being said, they did produce an interesting and refreshing take on leveling.

Instead of having character levels, you level your weapons. Your character can carry two weapons at any given time. There are no restrictions when you can change, or what to. As long as you put the necessary points earned from playing into those weapons so you can use them. The other interesting aspect is you are limited to a set amount of usable abilities and a set amount of passive abilities. So you have to carefully mix and match your abilities both active and passive. This creates a refreshing and creative way since you can literally build your character however you want.

The characters also do not use armor; you use talismans and jewelry to increase your base stats. This however brings up an interesting, yet somewhat problematic topic. So instead of wearing armor, you just equip whatever fashionable clothes you like on your character. I’m sure some of you see where this is going, yes that’s right, ITEM MALL EVERYBODY!!!…… oh wait you ask, doesn’t the game have an up front price WITH a subscription fee? Why yes, you would be correct!

So now that I’m done being facetious, your character can unlock clothing via completing “decks” or unlocking weapon trees to completion. While these do give you so cool looking outfits, the exotic and everyday stuff has to be purchased in game via an item mall. This, personally I think is a TERRIBLE design decision. In a free to play model, or even a regular pay up front model, this would seem okay since the clothes are purely cosmetic. However, players are paying a monthly subscription fee, on top of having already paid full price for the game. This is going to come across as nothing more than a money grab, plain and simple. I believe long run, with that business model, they will end up alienating their customers and honestly it probably turned off a lot of potential buyers when they read about it.

Last thing I’ll mention are the quests, TSW does a good job of offering more than, “Hey go here, kill that pig, get some meat and claws, then come back to me and I’ll give you some mad loot!, annnnnd repeat till level cap” style quests. The game does have a few of those, but it also incorporates its version of AGR (augmented reality) style quests, where you actually have to use the built in game browser to research a quest in order to solve it, or just look up a walkthrough. The quests can be challenging and time consuming, but when properly utilized (without cheating) you get that, aha!, moment of elation. The fully voice acted NPC’s do a great job of delivering the quests to you in audio versus assaulting your eyes with walls of text.

So in recap, The Secret World does a great job of delivering a compelling and interesting story with fleshed out NPC’s, but somewhat falls flat on its face with gameplay combat and their business model. This game appeals to those that prefer strong story narrative over enjoyable gameplay, and because of this it will probably end up being played long term by a niche group and will end up being a free to play model or without a subscription.

TSW does have more to it, good and bad, that I haven’t mentioned here. My goal was to give you a rough idea of what it is about. My advice is to seek a friend who is playing and can give you their 24 hour buddy pass, to check it out. Hopefully with time, they can patch some of the inconsistencies. However with Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, time might not be on their side.

P.S. Gonna add a couple pictures at the end because they look cool, and aesthetically speaking they were awesome! (I would have added more but kept forgetting to take screenshots)





Game Industry Future?

7 07 2012

I wanted to make a short blog on the future of our beloved game industry (or at least my thoughts and opinions). I hope to start some dialogue with this posting, as this topic is usually at the forefront of my mind most of the time and I would like to hear other peoples opinions. That being said, I feel we are on the cusp of a massive and dramatic change. I feel conflicted by this, because as I see it physical video game media as we know it is probably about to die (or at least become a lot less common).

I feel both sad/happy about the apparent future of our industry. Any child of the 80’s will tell you about their passionate memories of their first Atari 2600, or playing Mario on their Nintendo until it was broken (except for the magic trick of blowing into the cartridge). Then the ungodly hours lost playing RPG’s and fighting games on an SNES or Sega. Unfortunately, as it appears the direction our medium is going, the physical game product in your home is headed towards extinction. I believe it will be similar to what Netflix did to Blockbuster. With skyrocketing development/production costs, developers/publishers have to change their business models. Its been happening for some time now, but this is the first that by and large the industry is really addressing it.

As I stated I’m also excited, mainly because I see the home consoles following the PC business model. Can you imagine? a home console where you purchase games with the efficiency of something akin to Steam? Most recently, Sony purchased Gaikai a cloud based video game streaming company. Naturally people are predicting the future is just streaming all of your video games to any device from some remote location. While nice in a futuristic utopian sense, I still feel that is a long time from now. Can you imagine every user on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network simultaneously trying to stream HD video games through the internet? I would bet a fair amount of money it would be a catastrophic failure.

In closing, there is a lot of conjecture out there on what Sony and Microsoft will do next. Personally, I’m ready for change…. sorry Gamestop, you had a good run but it’s time to move on (next blockbuster). Given the volatile nature of how quickly our industry changes, I hope we as an industry majority are ready for it. I would hate to personally witness a recreation of the infamous 80’s crash. Time to think outside the box and be flexible for the next big thing as an industry. It’s always as it has been, a sink or swim scenario.