Well now that the NDA has dropped, and the headstart is starting tomorrow, let me tell you (in a very long post… sorry about that…) what I’ve been up to for about the past week or so in gaming. Simply put: The Secret World. I’m all excited as it’s my first closed beta experience, so I wanted to take it all in. I posted a ton of bugs, explored a whole bunch, and really went to town checking out the starting area of Kingsmouth and all it’s secret society zombie filled goodness. However, I do have a few bones to pick with the advertising of the game. No classes? Not quite. No levels? Yes… and No. Awesome game? Absolutely.
The Awesome: Setting
In my mind, setting is what makes the game. It’s why if I’m going fantasy, I like the Tolkien lore of Lord of the Rings Online, if I’m going sci-fi I like to go where no one has gone before in Star Trek Online, and if I’m in the mood for something a little more gritty and horror, I’d definitely pick The Secret World. The gritty horror theme is simply awesome. That, and the “M” rating (I’ve already heard more F-bombs and sexual innuendo than I ever expected to hear in an MMO ever) really give it an “adults only” feel. I was only able to play through the starting area of Kingsmouth, but the spooky, empty shoretown crawling with zombies and demons lends a startling realism that no MMO I’ve played has even come close to. Now, it could be that I live near the Atlantic Ocean and so visiting a shore town with large colonials and small shops is within an easy drive, and so the fictional town of Kingsmouth hits a little close to home. But the level of detail, down to the stained glass windows in the church or the listing of the day’s specials at the diner, lend a certain level of eerie familiarity that is just awesome.
“M” rating. No, seriously.
The Good: Missions
When it comes to missions, I’d love to say it’s novel and new and you’ve never seen anything like it, but really it IS more of the same. Missions in TSW are split into 6 types: Story missions, Dungeon missions, Standard missions, Espionage missions, Investigative missions, and Side missions. When you pick up a mission, it is already split into a chain consisting of multiple parts.
For a Standard mission (the most prevalent of the bigger missions) it might go like this: look at a phonebook, go to the first place you find and collect items, go to the second place and collect items, go to the 3rd place and collect items, beat up bad guy who tries to stop you. Then, like in Star Trek Online, once you finish any mission, you don’t need to head back to the main questgiver to get a reward. I like how it’s split up into a chain, but the questing overall feels like more of the same. Collection/kill/click missions. Thankfully, I haven’t run across any limited drop missions yet (and I hope not to… they are just… Blech!)
Open 24 hours! … except during a zombie apocalypse…
Dungeon missions take place in instanced dungeons and I also assume are also chained… I didn’t play one.
Story missions are an over-encompassing mission for an area, but is generally filled with the same stuff in the standard missions.
Side missions are smaller, but have fewer steps in the chain.
Espionage missions are solo (possible group, I haven’t experimented) instances. They involve puzzle solving, but mostly just sneaking. For example, one mission I had to avoid security camera’s lights to get to the back of a basement. Dungeons and Dragons Online has missions like this, where using brawn won’t help you.
Investigative missions, though, are where the game really shines. Holy crap they are cool. The downside is they are so rare. Investigative missions just give you clues and say “Go nuts! Find it yourself!” No direction, no arrow pointing you to where you need to go. Its these quests that are the reason Funcom has put an internet browser INSIDE the game client, as they can be pretty tricky to figure out.
For example, I’ll give you the first couple parts of an Investigative chain called “Something Wicked” (SPOILER WARNING: I’m only going to give the first couple parts of the mission, but then stop well before I give any major spoilers away): A lady tells you that she believes recent events are connected to murders that happened in 2002. The game suggests something about looking in newspapers, but doesn’t tell you where. Well, its a small town… there aren’t too many internet enabled computers around… so where would one find newspapers from a decade ago? A newspaper stand? No, that’s boarded up. The police station? No, the computer at the police station just has a few suspect listings… The town hall? Ahhh yes. The second floor of the town hall has storage cabinets with newspapers… but wait, what year and quarter did the lady mention they’d be in? Not 2008, 2006, ahhh 2002. She mentioned something about the leaves had fallen off the trees, so that suggests either Q3 or Q4… Ahh here it is, a clipping of an arrest with details that have been redacted by the police force… Well, lets head to the police station and check out their computer… well thats odd, it has a listing with lots of redacted info and mentions a man wouldn’t talk, and killed himself in his cell with the last words being something like “Only my ghost will tell you”. Well, lets check out the cell… dang… it’s locked… How do I get in there? …
See? Awesome. I love a good puzzle. I bet this is where most players will complain about the game, though, as many games make the questing process almost too easy, with giant arrows pointing you in the direction you need to go and players are too used to that by now. I mean, no worries, The Secret World has plenty of that, too, but it’ll throws you the occasional curveball, just to mix it up.
Other than that, almost every mission in the game is repeatable. Everything except story and investigative, I believe. So, if you want to do a quest again to get more exp or a different item, you can after a certain time has elapsed. Every mission becomes a “daily”. This at least solves the problem of having mutiple players and everyone being on a different quest. Now, you can pick it up whether you’ve already done it or not.
Something fishy is going on here…
The Okay: Combat
Combat is… well, combat. The combat system is like Guild Wars where you pick out a small number of active skills and triggered skills, with only one “elite” skill per type, and try to combine them in a way to create a synergy between them. In practice, though, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Targeting, area of effect, healing, dps, tanking, blah, blah, blah. Just replace bows and arrows with rifles and machine guns. It’s still fun, like pretty much most MMO gaming combat is, but it’s nothing really new.
Has anyone told Richard Garriott about this? Awesome homage, Funcom.
The Deceptive: Levels and Classes
Here’s where I have a bone to pick with Funcom and their advertising of The Secret World. They say “There are no levels and no classes! Go nuts!” But really, there are. They just aren’t under the same trappings that we normally see them.
“There are no levels!” The leveling system that we’ve seen already in numerous games is all about the big number. I mean, what is World of Warcraft up to these days? 85? Crazy. When one levels up in most games, after a certain amount of experience is gained, the following occurs… your abilities do more damage/healing, you gain access to better weapons and armor, and you gain new abilities. Ability Points in The Secret World, which are gained after a certain amount of experience has been attained, allow your abilities to do more damage/healing, and allow you to equip better weapons and armor. Skill Points are attained also after a certain amount of experience is attained and allow you to gain new abilities. See what I did there? Ability and Skill points, which are gained through missions and general grinding of experience, give you the same benefits you see from gaining levels in other games. The only difference is there is no specific level number attached. Still, though, a rose by any other name…
“There are no classes!” When you create a character, it’s true… there are no set classes. However, shortly after you start playing, before you leave your home city, you pick a starting weapon. For me, it was a pair of Wolverine-style claws. I like to get toe-to-toe with the bad guys, and dealing damage over time effects is something I prefer. So, when it came to distributing Ability Points, where would I put them? Shotguns? Umm… no. Claw Weapons! For at least the beginning part of the game, your weapon IS your class. If you want to pick another weapon and make progress in it, well, that’s what the repeatable missions are for, but if you don’t want to do the same stuff over again, you stay with the same weapons. And finally, the coup-de-gras of “No classes”, when you complete a mission and get a new piece of armor as a reward, like a ring, they come in 3 distinct varieties: Defense + Healing, Defense + Attack, Defense + Hit Points. Son of a… This SCREAMS of the often mentioned and often duplicated Holy Trinity of Tank / DPS / Healing. Sure, there are no set classes, but if you want to be taken seriously as a tank, well then you better pick tank items/weapons/skills. Same goes with DPS and Healing. So, although The Secret World doesn’t have specific named classes, it does carry the heavy weight of the Illusion of Choice, and really narrows you down to the three most common gaming stereotypes if you want to be viable for running more intense stuff.
My avatar doesn’t look like me at all… nope, nothing like me…
In Conclusion: Awesome… but I’ll pass (for now).
So yeah, the classes are the holy trinity, the levels are levels without numbers, the combat is the same that we’ve seen before, and most missions are the same kill/fetch/deliver missions we’ve seen and done time and time again. However, want to play a game where you have to actually use your brain? Where they not only treat you like an adult who knows what they are doing, but also give you a setting you’d feel uncomfortable showing to your grandmother? THAT is the real pull of The Secret World.
Will I be playing it at launch? I’ll be honest, I did not pre-order, and although the Investigative Missions were fun, and the setting is amazing, it’s just not enough to pull me in. So I don’t think I will be. A few months from now if there is a good sale, I can definitely see myself picking it up and playing for a month or two. But sadly, paying a subscription? When there will be such great games out there like Guild Wars 2 come the end of August that will offer so much but with no subscription? It’s a hard sell.
However, if Funcom can keep up a good pace, look to Trion as an industry example, and keep the content flowing, The Secret World might be a sleeper success. I really do hope it does well.
This weekend, from June 7th – June 10th, 2012, Steam is having a sale on titles by Paradox. If you’re not sure who Paradox is, that’s alright, it took me a second as well to remember. They don’t have a gigantic selection in their stable of games, but two titles stick out that I highly recommend: Majesty and Magicka.
Magicka straight-up is one of the most fun action titles I have ever played. It combines an ever-present satirical humor with a “discover the best combinations on your own” dynamic gameplay. The premise is that you are a wizard from from a sacred order and have to use an elemental spellcasting system to stop a big bad evil. You have eight general schools of magic: Water, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Cold, Shield, Arcane, and Life that you combine to create devastating effects. Combine Arcane with Fire to create a burning laser beam, combine ice with earth to create a huge snowball, combine earth and shield to erect a wall of spikes surrounding you. The combinations are numerous. You also have to be a quick typist as you set up spells by typing them in with the Q,W,E,R,A,S,D, and F keys. Then on top of this, you get higher “magicks” that require a specific combination. Think you’re a fast typer? Here are a few spell combinations I wrote down for quick reference.
Thunderbolt: QFASA ; Tornado: DQFQQF ; Conflagrate: FQFFQFFQ ; Thunderstorm: QFQFASA ; Napalm: QFDWFF (Napalm is only available in the Magicka: Vietnam DLC, but it’s well worth it).
Now how do I get my rogues to stop stealing…
The other title I recommend Majesty is a fantasy, real-time strategy title with one gigantic caveat: you don’t have direct control of your units. Essentially, you build a castle, then you start building “guilds” around your castle. A warrior’s guild, a thieve’s guild, a ranger’s guild, etc. Through these guilds you hire heroes who will show up and then meander around your town. They’ll wander off on their own, find monsters to slay, and acquire gold. Well, now you have to give them something to do with this gold, so you build inns, blacksmith shops, marketplaces, and trading posts. Your heroes buy stuff and upgrade their equipment, then you collect taxes generated by the sales and put it back into your town’s infrastructure. You convince your heroes to explore and attack by placing reward flags. Want that dragon killed? Put a nice bounty on it’s head and your heroes will rush for the reward. You still have scenarios to accomplish and foes to fight off, but it adds a nice twist to the standard real-time strategy model.
Game well, my friends. Game well.
P.S. – If you are an MMO player like myself, another title recently introduced to Steam is the Lord of the Rings Online, and a Starter Pack. Although the game is accessed pretty much the same way as before, I like using Steam as a platform not only for easy screenshots, but also for the nice extras thrown your way for using Steam. The Starter Pack comes with a Noble Grey Steed, Northdowns, Evendim, and Misty Mountains quest packs, a token that gives an extra 25% experience on monster kills, and 1,000 Turbine Points on top of that. Right now, it’s still at its introductory price of $15, which isn’t a bad deal at all, especially if you’re a new or free player.
I know I just posted an article on the how the MMO community can be a little negative, but as I pointed out, sometimes criticism is necessary. This is one of those times. I haven’t started seeing a trend yet, and maybe that’s because I just haven’t played as many MMOs to notice, but in Star Trek Online we’re starting to see content and missions hiding behind “time gates”. And excuse me for being so frank but they are a terrible idea.
A “time gate” is essentially a certain mission, dungeon, or other event that only happens at different times and only for a short period of time. A good example of this is the Vault Shuttle Event, in which you have five players, all in shuttlecraft, lead a mission into a space station known as the “Vault”. It’s the equivalent of a five person dungeon, but in very specific ships and runs at random times of the day.
I get it. If you have a specific event that only comes around at specific (and sometimes random) times, then your playerbase is going to spend more time waiting for those events to occur and the rewards given are going to not be as common and easy to acquire. This leads to completionist or loot-hungry players playing the game more often. More time in-game means more time playing, which means the possibility of those players spending more money. For a free-to-play game, players spending money is very important. See, I get it.
However, for players that do not have completionist tendencies to the point of disorder and aren’t as attached to one specific game, as I assume a majority of players are, this is not how games are approached.
Maybe the Guardian of Forever likes ‘Time Gating’! Get it?!! He’s the Guardian of Forever… looks like a gate… deals with time. You know what, just forget it…
Here is a possible rundown for this event: I fire up the game, check the missions that are available, see when the specific event I want to play is, stop playing, come back later at that time, find a group, and play it. Three big problems come up with this scenario.
1) I stop playing. For those of us with limited time on our hands to play games, if I shut down a game, there is little chance I’ll be opening it up again later on. I’ll play whatever game I have time to play now while I have time.
2) Come back later at that time. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing or what could possibly come up in between now and when the event is taking place! My wife could suddenly have a cheese fries craving, or a phone call from a friend with an extra ticket could lead to a Toad the Wet Sprocket concert in Delaware, or an impromptu campfire with s’mores, cigars, and whiskey. Every single one of these events has happened to me, and so if I’m playing a game, I want to play it now, not in the future.
Finally the worst, 3) Find a Group. Since these events seem to be at random times, scheduling to play the game with a group of friends or fleet-mates is a lot more tricky and so a lot of the time, playing the event would require getting into a pick-up-group. A pick-up-group is a group consisting of random players you do not know personally, and is one of the curses of the MMO world. Every once in a while you can get into a good pick-up-group that knows what they are doing and everything meshes well. Mostly, however, the group consists of opposite personalities, different playstyles, different response to authority, different experience, and different competency. So the pick-up-group has a much higher chance of failure. MMOs have different ways of dealing with the stress of pick-up-groups. Some offer more reward for being in them, some offer a convenient way to enter them, so when it fails you haven’t lost a lot of time, too.
By this time, my lungs were aching for air…
My idea (and as with any idea on the internet, please take it with a grain of salt) is thus: If you’re going to have time gated content to get the benefits that I described above, how about make the content soloable? If I’m playing, and it randomly pops up, I feel much more comfortable playing if it doesn’t involve other people. If I’m looking to play that mission specifically, 1 and 2 above still are in effect, but because it’s so easy to jump into and complete, I don’t feel as bad about missing the opportunity to play. Then, given a tiered reward system where the ones who play in groups get the best rewards quicker, I could still get the best rewards over more time. Not having to find a group to play it completely removes that stress, and then I would look forward to thinking “I wonder which random mission will be available tonight?”
As it stands now, I honestly don’t think I’ll ever play any of the time gated content in Star Trek Online. Every time I’ve been on since any time-gated content has been introduced just hasn’t been the right time and I’m not going to start scheduling my gaming time around the events. There are way too many great games that I could play right now that waiting for a specific time in a specific game just isn’t feasible.
I game on my time, not anyone else’s. Now, I’m not saying that I’ll never play it as there is always a chance… but who knows when that chance will be.
P.S. – It has come to my attention that over on Syp’s Bio Break, Casual Aggro has been nominated for the Newbie Blogger Initiative title of “Promising Star, General Games and Geekery“! Woah! To say I’m floored is an understatement. This is a very awesome and humbling nomination, especially considering all the other amazing bloggers that joined in as a part of the NBI festivities. Just to be nominated is an honor. Thank you to all of you amazing readers, I can never thank you enough. You all ROCK!
I’m a sucker for a good game sale. A total sucker. Once I found out about Steam, Impulse, and GOG, my compulsions take over and I get hit with a huge burst of nostalgia. Well, right now over at GOG.com there is a sale that was giving off a siren song that was way too hard to pass up.
Two iconic game series from the 1980′s and 1990′s, Wing Commander and Ultima, are at a steep 50% discount until Monday June 4th at midnight (EDT). $3 per game pack is essentially my pricepoint, so… I picked up the whole lot. For the record, thats Ultima Underworld 1&2, Ultima 1+2+3, Ultima 4+5+6, Ultima 7 Complete*, Ultima 8 Gold, Wing Commander 1+2, Wing Commander 3, Wing Commander 4*, and Wing Commander Privateer. That’s $27 for more great nostalgic hours of gaming than you could shake a proverbial stick at. (* necessary)
Ultima 7 Complete tops the list as being my favorite game. Period. It has also been quoted by the esteemed Richard Garriott as being the pinnacle of the Ultima series, so he agrees, too:
“Ultima VII represented the pinnacle of virtual world simulation where I really felt I had done the best job of interactive storytelling and of world detailing to create a play space and a play environment and reasons to be there. I felt that was the most masterfully executed of the Ultima series, so to speak.” – Richard Garriott in an interview with Gamespot.com
I was ridiculously excited when the movie Avatar came out, until I realized it was just Pocahontas with blue aliens and nothing to do with Ultima…
I 100% agree. Every Ultima game on sale right now is a great game, but especially Ultima 7. I hate to say, but the only Ultima game that doesn’t make the cut as far as quality (and the sale) was Ultima 9. Maybe it was EA’s interference but Ultima 9, storywise, was just not that good of a game.
Wing Commander 4 also stands apart as being the best of the Wing Commander series. Not necessarily for it’s gameplay, but for it’s ridiculously stellar cast list (Notice that I just linked to it’s IMDB page). If there is any game that could claim to be an interactive movie, this one is it!
Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and Tom Wilson make this more than just a game, and $3 is a steal (although Wing Commander 3 also stars the inimitable Tim Curry, I still prefer Wing Commander 4).
Make popcorn and bring a date. If they had made the Wing Commander movie with THIS cast, it would’ve been a MUCH better movie.
Game well, my friends. Game well.