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The Secret World was on sale on Steam this week.  Hopefully you saw it; hopefully you were intrigued by it; and hopefully you bought it for 10 bucks.

There was no reason to not play TSW before it went on sale.  There’s no subscription fee for the base game.  Anyone can switch roles in the MMO holy trinity at any time, assuming they have the gear it.  The single player missions are compelling enough to keep players interested.  The quest set has a decent amount of variety in it.  Investigation quests are a breath of fresh air in the MMO formula, even if the player cheats at the hard bits by looking at a walkthrough.  Most importantly, TSW isn’t a series of participation trophies.  “You were present and weren’t utterly worthless!  Have some epics,” doesn’t exist in the TSW lexicon.

The Secret World v. The Competition

To call TSW the anti-WoW is, in fact, a compliment.  In my opinion, WoW jumped the shark when Wrath of the Lich King was released 5 months before it was done.  In fact, the progression curve design was so bad for early Lich King raiders, it broke more than one guild before the release of Ulduar.

Imagine for a second that Ulduar is the first proper raid tier of Lich King, and the out of the box Tier 7 served as the equivalent of 10-man vanilla Stratholme, Scholomance, and Upper Black Rock Spire.  Doesn’t that minute change alter the course of the entire expansion?  Doesn’t that minute change serve both the raid guilds trying to push content as quickly as possible and serve the chumps, scrubs, and wannabes who were never good enough to raid in vanilla or TBC?  Doesn’t giving Lich King another 3 months to bake before Beta allow for the software developers to squish bugs and give testers a chance to test the high level content?

Shoving Lich King out the door in November always seemed to me like including JarJar Binks in Star Wars.  Everyone was going to see Phantom Menace, and those who’d seen the original trilogy and had kids were going to take their kids regardless.  Adding a character children could imitate, just to plaster its visage all over every conceivable variety of merchandise seems like unnecessary overkill.  Similarly with Lich King, it was unnecessary to shove it out the door in time for the holidays, as everyone who was actively playing WoW was going to buy Lich King anyway.  It never made sense to me.

The one thing I will give Lich King, Star Trek Online, and Dark and Light credit for is forcing me into a “wait and see” attitude when it comes to my MMOs.  Dark and Light is one of the worst games I’d ever played.  Star Trek Online was schizophrenic—the space missions were excellent, but the ground missions were total garbage.  Lich King oozed potential out of every single one of its pores.  Who can forget the music in some of those zones?  In all three cases, the reality was a massive let down from the expectation.

Getting the Secret Out

TSW benefited a great deal from my “wait and see” attitude.  I missed most of the rough early days every game in the modern era seems to have.  When my wife and I picked it up, there were still points where the graphical intensity caused the graphics card in my machine to stutter, and ground my wife’s computer to a halt, but there was only one of those that occurred when I was facing a certain direction at a certain point in the zone.  Most of the time, everything was silky smooth.

When it comes to character progression, the word of the TSW realm is freedom.  Players are free to take any ability they have the prerequisites for.  Further, players may change their “focus areas” any time they choose.  Just add new abilities to hot keys, equip the proper weapons, and off you go.  There is no routine of paying for respecs twice every raid day for the main tanks and the healers, so they can fulfill their roles for their guilds and still are able to have fun with very little overhead in terms of time and money.  The opportunity cost for a player’s initial decision in how they are going to develop their character is time.

The best part about TSW, by far, is how unforgiving it can be.  Over agro too many mobs?  You’re going to die.  Wander into a zone of elite mobs?  You’re going to die.  Completely clueless about your focus areas?  You’re going to struggle mightily.  Where other MMOs decided to pander to the lowest of the lowest common denominator (LFR), TSW chose a design more in line with the greater traditions of gaming (one gets good gear and exps the old fashioned way, by earning them), and the result is a more compelling single player experience.

One last thing to talk about, and that’s what to do when you are done with the single player experience.  Even if you closed up shop and didn’t do anything else, the experience would be worth your money.  However, for those wanting to spend more time in the TSW universe, again, one has options.  The obvious thing to do is start assembling a set of armor for the raid content, but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  For those who wish to keep their experience single player and wish to explore new content, I recommend investing in numbered “issues”.

Issues are small, semi-self-contained content for players to engage in.  The 2 I have the most experience are Issue 5 and 6, The Vanishing of Tyler Freeborn and The Last Train to Cairo, respectively.  Both are super fun.  The Last Train to Cairo gives serious nods to Raiders of the Lost Ark and sequels.  I recommend checking the episodes out.

So what are you waiting for?  Go get some The Secret World on Steam, if you haven’t already.  You’ll be glad you did.

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.

  • Yosharian

    Is it worth getting the Massive Edition? Or should I just get the standard game?

    I realise you advised checking out the episodes but its £20 for the ME and £8.50 for the standard edition, quite a lot more money.

  • Kyle Francoeur

    TSW is horribly optimized and its UI runs in flash. I can’t say I’m surprised you’re having problems.

  • Very tempted. I’ve been wanting to try a new MMO, something different to the WoW formula, and this is the one I’ve had my eye on the most.

  • Erthwjim

    I agree, it is unique and it is fun, but without me knowing anyone that plays it, I just don’t find myself playing it that much. I would say play it at least for the single player portion, especially the quests that require some research on the players part.

  • I tried the game for a while when it became pay-once, and just couldn’t get into it. Yes, the setting is original, the campaigns are mostly interesting and the community is incredibly friendly. But coming from single player RPGs like Witcher and Skyrim the world just felt like a ride- nothing you did had any effect on the world. You kill the monster, finish the quest and can get right back in line to start over and kill it again.
    It’s a problem common to most MMORPGs, but unless they rise above it they will never feels as immersive as a game world where your actions actually matter.

  • Erthwjim

    Guild Wars 2 I think is the one MMO that isn’t quite guilty of that. Although each individual does not change the world, they do have world changing events once in awhile, where some part of the storyline changes the whole world based on input from players I believe.

  • That may be true, but it doesn’t change your personal experience. In your regular RPG when a villager asks you to kill the giant rat in his basement the rat stays killed, and the villager stays rat free. Here, like in every other MMO, you’re queuing up to get the job from the villager, kill the rat along with everyone else and can go right back and get asked to kill it again. It just doesn’t feel like you matter.

  • Kyle Francoeur

    Yeah, it’s stupid. I think they wanted to make it easy for themselves to design the forms needed, and did so without thought as to speed and compatibility. (Or, they hired a UI programmer that knew jack all about scripting languages)

  • Erthwjim

    A lot of the RPGs I’ve played the mobs still respawn, at least the non unique ones. I do get where you’re coming from though. Games where your choices affect the outcome of the game, and there aren’t many MMOs that do that. I guess another one that might get close is Star Wars the Old Republic, Your individual choices affect your individual story, but even then it’s not as complex as something like Mass Effect, Fable or Elder Scrolls. Once you kill a supposed unique MOB, the next person can then kill them as well (or at the same time in their own instance). You only affect your own story, not the overall world story.

  • Blank Generation

    I was going to buy the game once upon a time but I read the writer was a swedish gommunist that portrays Americans as horrible capitalist oppressors for having the temerity to not want big government, among other stupid shit I get enough of from television, so I passed.

  • Jake Martinez

    I agree with Todd that the single player TSW experience is definitely worth playing through at least once. Many of the initial areas are really interesting in a creepy, dreadful sort of way, so if you enjoy that kind of thematic setting you will be in for a treat. The game mechanics are also not terribly bad either, certainly on par with very polished MMO’s and the gear system is nice.

    Finally, the meat of the issue, the character progression/skill system is quite interesting with a lot of customization for your play style being available. As a single/solo player you will find yourself creating a mix of abilities that focus on offense, defense, healing yourself and controlling monsters. There are a lot of interesting powers and my biggest complaint is always that there is too many interesting ones to fit on your hotbar at one time.

    Ultimately I dropped the game, not because it was bad or not engaging, but because personally MMO’s have a very limited shelf life for me. After wasting a great deal of my life doing high end raid content in WoW as a MT, I just don’t have the intestinal fortitude to delve too deeply into end game content in any MMO anymore. Other people however, will likely have a different opinion.

  • chloe

    “I was going to buy the game once upon a time but I read the writer was a
    swedish gommunist that portrays Americans as horrible capitalist
    oppressors for having the temerity to not want big government, among
    other stupid shit I get enough of from television, so I passed”.

    The above actually appeals to me

  • HisShadowX

    This is a great game and it is also Free2play and if you are Free2play your in luck because you get the same XP and same treatment you did as a member before it went Free2play. Though I will add actually paying a monthly sub is worth it as well

  • BenMS

    It’s even worse… check the list of more known games that use Scaleform (the Flash-UI program):

  • Sebastian Mikulec

    I really wanted to like this game. The setting is fantastic (who doesn’t love secret societies and Cthulhu mythos?), the writing is really good, and the investigation quests are really refreshing (I wish there were more of them). Unfortunately, though, the combat is really awful, even by MMO standards. I’m a story-first guy, so good writing can get me to play a game with mediocre gameplay just to experience the story, but the combat in this game was so bad I just couldn’t do it. So dreadful.

  • Tim Andersson

    If the game runs like shit you are most likely running it in DX11 on a Windows 8 machine with a Nvidia GTX 560 or better. For some reason there’s some unknown issues with the combination, if you run the game in DX9 it will a lot smoother and it still looks good enough.

  • Tim Andersson

    Na, I’m just a player that loves the game.
    If you’re not running win 8/8.1/10 then you might also have some other issues in DX11 if you have the advanced graphic sliders maxed out at 4. Simply pushing them down to 3.8 can lead to a big performance boost with no perceivable change in visuals.

    No problem!