Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom returned to Montreal last week for another hands-on preview of The Secret World, where he experienced The Scorched Desert and two new dungeons!
A week ago, I flew to the Funcom Studios in Montreal to get my second dose of hands-on time with The Secret World. Initially, the press embargo was set to drop on Tuesday, but Funcom pushed it back to today, so I've had time to marinate in my experiences for over a week. At this point, if you haven't heard much about The Secret World, I'd like to refer you to my first hands-on preview with The Secret World, as this month's event was all about delving deeper than ever before.
So let's get started.
Our day kicked off with a briefing on the new zone we would be exploring: The Scorched Desert. We did do a quick introductory run through the very entertaining Illuminati opening sequence in New York, but instead of going through Solomon Island, we were whisked ahead about 60 hours into the game (according to Funcom) and plunked down inthe city of al-Merayah in Egypt. I don't want to spoil too much here, but let's just say that things don't go precisely as planned on Solomon Island, so getting shuttled off to Egypt is by no means a vacation for anyone involved.
Players will arrive in The Scorched Desert to discover that the whole place has gone topsy-turvy with bad mojo. Fire falls from the sky, deep chasms have split up parts of the area, giant locusts are roaming about, and the violently zealous cult of Aten has taken root throughout the area. Some of the NPCs who guide you through this turbulent area include a barmaid with a troubled past, a member of the Council of Venice (an organization composed of Illuminatis, Dragons, Templars, and Phoenicians who monitor "the secret world" to ensure it remains hidden), and a rather cynical ancient mummy wearing a suit.
You heard me.
In my last preview I mentioned that the immersive story elements of The Secret World were remarkably sharp, but today I'd like to reinforce my stance: The Secret World's stylish writing, solid voice acting, and overall world design are some of the best in the industry. For the first time ever, I felt that I was listening to a real conversation rather than having few expository quest sentences read to me. NPCs in The Secret World have their own agendas to pursue, and I was delighted to see just how much personality Funcom has infused into their world. Perhaps this has a lot to do with TSW's unique setting and theme, but when you start wondering what hidden motivations a character has - even if they haven't said anything suspicious - I think that's worth significant recognition.
Quests haven't changed much since my last play through, with players being able to grab only three quests at a time. Given that TSW requires you to really pay attention to your quests, the three quest limit is fantastic for focusing attention rather than letting players mindlessly pick up tasks in the hub before heading off to the next waypoint tracker. Everything in TSW is meticulously planned out, with NPCs preferring to tell you the overall objective while you figure out - on your own - how to execute on that objective. There were a few moments where I really had to think about how I wanted to complete a task.
One thing Funcom has no qualms about is punishing players for cultivating lazy MMORPG habits from other games. As an example, one of the story quests required me to secretly trail a shady man, hoping to discover his hideout. At that point, I didn't really feel like playing the role of spy and I figured that, given the limitations of most MMO quests, I could simply run behind him to keep him in sight. The moment he spotted me, however, the man quickly ducked into a building, leaving me puzzled in the streets, wondering what had gone wrong. I was told later on that I could have tried chasing after him through the buildings, but it's the little details like this, the willingness to push players to play carefully and to pay attention, that really gives this game its depth.
Getting into Character Skills
Character customization has received a few upgrades since my last hands-on, and the biggest change is the introduction of Skill Points. Mind you, these are not to be confused with Ability Points, which are used to unlock one of the 588 abilities on the ability wheel (which it is now officially called). Skill points are completely separate from Ability Points, and players will earn Skill Points at a rate of one SP per every three AP earned. After earning one skill point, a player can then "specialize" in a weapon or chakra to boost the base effects of that chakra or weapon. Many weapons you find in the world now have a base Skill Point investment requirement, similar to level requirements in other MMORPGs, so I suspect this was done to prevent players from seeking out and equipping the best items in the game from the beginning.
Currently, players can invest their skill points into a weapon specialization of their choosing, and for each point they invest, they'll receive a special bonus for equipping that weapon. Most weapons have two paths to "invest" in, with one path always being DPS-oriented, and the other being focused on either tanking or healing. For example, there are two specializations for Chaos Magic: tanking and dealing damage. Specializing into the tank line of Chaos Magic gives you a defensive bonus after evading an attack (with that percentage going up as you invest more points), while specializing in the damage line of Chaos Magic gives you the chance to deal extra damage on your spells (or something to that effect). Specializing in specific Chakra types grants baseline HP bonuses and base defensive bonuses to the player.