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.