Over the last several weeks, Developer Funcom has been working to launch their brand new MMO title, The Secret World; a title based on the unique MMO premise of present day myths legends, secret societies and puzzles. A very interesting combination on paper with a wide range of possibilities…but given Funcom’s track record in the MMO industry and the ever expanding genre itself, is it possible for The Secret World to pull ahead? Or at the very least survive as a pay to play MMO? Let’s assess what the game can offer as we answer these questions.

There are a few key things about the secret world that may make or break it right from the start: The Ability Wheel and gear dependency. While the idea of going with a progressive skill-based system (rather than the typical leveling system in most RPG’s) is far from new, the games that attempt this design are few and far between. In The Secret World, players are free to build their character in any way they see fit; in fact any character can eventually learn every skill in the game! Say goodbye to the days of leveling multiple characters through the same content!

However this can be a dangerous path to walk and can backfire on the developers, especially when it comes to PvP. Take Aventurine’s Darkfall as an example. In Darkfall a player could likewise learn every skill in the game, but this led to some extreme imbalances as a veteran player could have very high resistances wearing no armor and with a starter sword could kill a newer player fairly easily, even if the new player were wearing decent armor and a level 50+ weapon. Thankfully The Secret World seems to have a balance for this with their deck system. A “Deck” is any 7 abilities and 7 passives of your choice that you have already unlocked. By limiting the abilities available to a player at any one time, the player still has lots of freedom but they still must play some type of role, as you would in a traditional level based game.

The second big make or break for the title comes in the form of gear dependency. While
this isn’t anything new for MMO games, combined with a lack of leveling this is the only real determining factor as to how strong your character is. The immediate threat is experienced players dumping tons of amazing items onto a new character, but there is a balance in place with something called ability points (AP). AP is granted at a ratio of 1:3 for every skill point you earn, and abilities work a bit differently then skills as the only major effect they have on the character is through passives bonuses and the ability to equip higher quality items. So far it seems like a good balancing factor, but it does force a player to have some focus when starting the game.

So there are some things that are questionable about The Secret World, but where does this
game really shine? To me, the game shows a lot of promise through its storytelling and the PvP combat. It seems that Funcom learned a thing or two after failing to deliver full voice acting beyond the tutorial in its previous title: Age of Conan. This is really good news for The Secret World, which relies heavily on its story, as most quests have a short cut scene to help immerse the player into the world. Even after getting my fill from the beta, it was hard to set this game down as I wanted to know more about what was going on.

Being a fan of PvP I was also happy to see the three faction warfare that The Secret World
had to offer. The game currently offers three unique PvP zones. The first two, El Dorado and
Stonehenge, are similar to what one would expect from PvP battlegrounds. They place a set
number of players into a zone and have them work towards an objective: either taking control
of artifacts or a king of the hill area control. However, rather than pitting two groups against
each other, All PvP zones pit all three factions against each other. This gives a much more
complex form of PvP where each team is almost always be outnumbered, making coherent and
complex strategies vital to success. The third PvP zone is a large scale persistent battleground,
and this zone can hold 50 or more players from each faction without significant trouble. While
there is no way to actually win the map, holding points for your faction does provide bonuses to
everyone in PvE zones so there is an overall benefit that gives reason to fight for zone control.

While this is just a taste of what The Secret World has to offer, it does provide a good
foundation that Funcom is building on. The big question still remains though: what is there for
me at the end of the game? This is something that haunts every new title to be released in the
last 7 years and what usually drives subscriptions away. Funcom does sit on one advantage and
that is the fact that there really is no “end” until you master the ability wheel, which will likely
take a lot more time than most games and very engaging time at that. From the time I have
spent in The Secret World, I get a much better feeling then most new titles about the possible
longevity of the game. Hopefully in Funcom’s case, the third time is a charm.