We're continuing our Top Five Important MMOs of 2012 with a feature spotlight on Funcom's The Secret World!
Check out ZAM's other Top Five Most Important MMOs of 2012:
If 2011 was the year of blockbuster RPGs and FPSs, then 2012 will certainly be the year of MMORPGs and online games. With almost a dozen highly anticipated titles confirmed to launch in 2012, there can be no doubt that this year will be a revolutionary one for MMO gaming. That being said, not all of you will have the time to check out all of these big releases, so ZAM has compiled a list of what we consider to be the Top Five Important MMOs of 2012. In this top five series, we'll be looking at some of the most innovative titles of 2012 and why you should keep a close eye on them. Today ZAM Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom will talk about.... The Secret World!
I've always been fascinated with the interpretation of genres and how artists continue to invent meaning within their respective mediums. With video games, for example, the modern FPS genre might have begun with Wolfenstein 3D or Doom, but it has now progressed along multiple paths of interpretation, with games like Portal 2, Fallout 3, and Battlefield 3 all acting as iconic examples of the FPS genre reinvented. Not all developers, however, can afford to experiment in innovative ways, and the higher the development cost of the game, the greater the risk a company takes in pursuing something new. Thus, MMORPGs - with their multi-million dollar development cost and large ongoing maintenance fees - are probably the genre of the industry most resistant to change.
This is why Funcom's The Secret World is so important.
At surface level, The Secret World (TSW) already stands alone, with its occult modern-day setting and dark fantasy themes. In an industry that staggers whimsically between high fantasy and apocalyptic sci-fi environments, other MMO developers will be keeping a close watch on TSW to see just how accepting players are of this "Off-Broadway" premise. Think of The Secret World as some sort of MMORPG groundhog; if it finds a good place in the industry, we may see more MMORPGs on the way with unique settings. Alternatively, if TSW doesn't get the reception it deserves, then we might just be in for another ten years of high-fantasy MMORPGs.
Going deeper, The Secret World is a remarkably self-aware MMORPG. Not only does Funcom expect you to be surfing the web for quest hints, but they've actually incorporated it into the game with investigation missions requiring you to consult Google for answers to the game's diabolical riddles. In a follow-up interview I had with TSW's Joel Bylos, he noted that the game's modern setting allowed Funcom to "draw direct comparisons between the world of the game and the real world . . . [to] hold up a mirror to the real world and get people asking questions." The fact that your real-world knowledge can be utilized (or even manipulated) within The Secret World may not be a big draw for some gamers, but the writer in me can't help but salivate at the creative possibilities here.
The Secret World's gameplay mechanics are a throwback to those long nights spent planning your perfect character, but with a dash of modern accessibility. I realize this is a number that gets thrown around a lot in fluffy press articles, but 588 unique skills is… a lot. With nine weapons available at launch, that means around 65 active / passive skills per weapon. While active skills do require the weapon they are associated with, passive skills do not, so it is very possible to create almost any sort of finely-tuned character build you want.
TSW also employs a standardized experience gain system, where players will earn ability points at a set rate. More powerful skills in each weapon tree will cost more ability points to unlock, but the low cost of the early skills means room for an incredible amount of customization and experimentation. The moment a valid skill calculator becomes available (who knows, maybe it will be us!), I think I'll lose many a night's sleep planning my various experimental builds.
Finally, where I'm really looking for The Secret World to shine is in creating an immersive, social world that really utilizes the "MMO" part of the MMORPG genre. With most MMORPGs, if you're tired of playing your Warrior, then the only option is, usually, to roll a new character. Of course, this leads to having very little emotional attachment to the characters you make. With TSW, given that there will be almost no reason to "re-roll," I can see this game achieving a level of emotional character investment on par with MMOs like Final Fantasy XI or the old Star Wars Galaxies communities.
Of course, it isn't enough to simply hope that players will be emotionally invested in their characters and, if Funcom wants to push for a socially immersive game, they need to have some strong community mechanics planned. If there's anything that recent MMORPGs have proven with their content patches and updates, it's that players can easily burn out on pure content. With robust social features, however, like Final Fantasy XI's immersive player-based crafting economy, or Star Wars Galaxy's sandbox features, The Secret World has the opportunity to be the MMORPG that everyone wants to be a part of.
Ultimately, TSW ranks as one of ZAM's Top Five Most Important MMORPGs of 2012 because it has a unique driving vision. If you want to have an MMO that challenges you to be constantly thinking about your character and the world he or she inhabits, I don't think you should let The Secret World pass you by.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief.