The Secret World is an urban fantasy/horror MMORPG, set in a post apocalyptic version of the modern world where mankind is under assault by monsters, demons, and every bad thing from legends and fairy tales - from Chthonic Deep Ones to Norse zombies and genetic plagues accidently unleashed by international mega-corporations. Three secret societies have stepped out from the shadows in order to push back the darkness, and the player is part of that war. The three societies are the Illuminati (behind the scenes string-pullers focused on the acquisition of power), the Templar (crusaders and traditionalists who will do anything it takes to stop the darkness), and the Dragon (centered on a blend of Eastern mysticism, they believe that giving the right push at the right time can change events throughout the world). It is being developed by FunCom, the same people behind Age of Conan, utilizing much of the same engine.
The booth at PAX did not have a playable demo, and the computers they had set up were only set to homepage on the game’s website. I didn’t know what to expect at the presentation they put together for the press, but it was a pleasant surprise. The content designers offered engaging conversation about their game theory and goals, and the game itself looked very compelling. They showed us a few of the things they have in store for their world at large and some of the multi-faction PVP, then ran through a pair of instanced dungeons. The PvP content seemed well thought out, with the ability to provide server-wide bonuses for an entire faction if they capture strategic battlefields and warzones. Further, the PvP is the only faction versus faction part of the game; in the PvE content, all three factions work together to rid the world of the evil that is assaulting it.
The game’s “world on the brink of darkness” atmosphere was very much present as they demoed the PvE content, and I saw quite a few things that I would have loved to have been able to explore. In the first instanced dungeon, the player and party were investigating the wreckage of a cargo ship infested with zombies; in the second, the player was sent to investigate a parking garage where their society had lost contact with an agent. In each instance, the plot was a strong element of what was happening and why, rather than just a backdrop of “Oh, go here and kill this” like I have seen in a few other MMOs. There was even one point in the first instance where the player came across a locked container -- in order to find the pass code to open it up, they could log in to an in-character website here in the real world, look up the cargo ship that had crashed and its shipping manifest, and then find the number of the cargo container to locate the proper pass code. I love seeing this kind of complexity and immersion in an RPG, and I hope the finished title has a lot of this going on. Further, even though it was a container ship full of zombies, it did not come across as contrived at all. The team did a great job of inserting the legend and the mythology into their world without making it glaring and unbelievable.
In the second instance, they showed off the game’s ability to use dynamic lighting. Part of the parking garage was completely dark, and they used a headlamp to see their way through some of it and road flares for another section. The choice of what kind of lighting to use had tactical implications as well, as some monsters are afraid of light, while others are attracted to it. In some PvP areas the player has to choose between being able to see and moving stealthily – another layer of complexity and immersion.
The game play itself looked interesting, and the team explained that The Secret World does not have any classes or levels. As players gain experience they earn skill points, which can be invested in any group of skills they want. Only a fixed number of skills can be active at one time, but this gives players an enormous amount of flexibility in tailoring their play style to what works for them and what mood they are in for any given day. During the demo, we witnessed the developer modify her skill selection and equipment loadout in the middle of the instance to switch from being a melee damage dealer to a ranged attacker. Another welcome piece of information was that equipment affected stats, but was separate from a character’s costume. Players will be allowed to tailor their look however they wish, and won’t have to worry about looking silly because their gear doesn’t match aesthetically.
Overall, the presentation was great, the game looked fantastic, and I am excited to get a firsthand look at The Secret World.