We've finally had a chance to see footage of the gameplay in The Secret World, Funcom's next massively multiplayer game. As you may recall, the game takes place in a modern-day version of our world where occult legend is reality and where three player factions (the Illuminati, the Dragon, and the Templars) take up the fight to save the world from the shadowy forces that have emerged to threaten the world. Previously, GameSpot revealed the first look at the first area revealed by Funcom: Kingsmouth. This fictitious New England town has come under siege by a mysterious fog that encloses the town and also seems to have turned the majority of its citizenry into walking dead with a nasty tendency to get right back up the next evening, no matter how many times you "kill" them.
We were first shown a chopped-up trailer that showed numerous, fully voiced dialogues with various non-player characters who either inhabit the town or have come to investigate it. These characters include a gruff, gray-haired cowboy type with a rifle who gave a weary speech about how the walking dead just keep coming; a priest wearing a sweater vest who had apparently given up on his faith; a housewife who complained about how Kingsmouth used to be a peaceful town; a female sheriff explaining how the police cruiser can't be used to escape now that it's part of the barricade; and two clean-cut youngsters in slick black leather jackets bantering about status reports and government cover-ups. While none of the clips or dialogues we saw were shown at any length, they gave a good idea of what exploring Kingsmouth will be about--getting intel from the locals and trying to piece together exactly what's happening from participants with varying levels of insight (and sanity). Funcom is already recording speech for its ton of fully voiced in-game dialogue.
And perhaps more importantly, the studio is now conducting internal playtests on The Secret World's gameplay, which we've finally seen in motion. Rather than focus on character levels (The Secret World doesn't have any), the game lets your character earn "points," which can then be spent to purchase "powers." Funcom plans to add a huge number of different "powers" that can take the form of either passive abilities that are "always on"--such as enhancements to your character's basic damage levels or perks that may occasionally let your character knock down your opponents with a standard attack--and active abilities, such as using melee weapons like swords, ranged weapons like assault rifles, and occult powers, such as hurling bolts of fire, ice, or lightning.
As to exactly how the powers system will work, The Secret World will have some kind of stamina bar that determines how much you can use your powers before you become exhausted, and active powers will have "cooldown" timers that determine how frequently you can trigger them. Similar to the strategic powers system of Guild Wars, The Secret World's power system will let your character earn hundreds of different powers but load up only a handful for a specific mission, which you must determine in advance. There will be places in the world where you can change your character's current power loadout (explained in terms of game lore as ley lines or other focal points of occult power) and purchase new powers if you've earned enough points through questing and fighting. Interestingly, while you'll be able to load your powers to hotkeys as you've come to expect from massively multiplayer games, The Secret World will also have an onscreen pop-up prompt for your powers that bears a distinct resemblance to the icon-heavy user interface of Apple's iPhone--different powers will be color-coded and labeled with cleanly lettered block script.
We watched a few party combat demonstrations with a small, three-person party of an assault rifle specialist, a hybrid melee/magic character who used a sword that could be ignited with magical fire, and a magic-focused character equipped with fire, ice, and healing powers. We watched this party take on different battles in a demonstration of The Secret World's "states" system, which will add a combinatorial element to battle. Certain powers can put enemies into a specific state, which will render them more vulnerable to follow-up powers that capitalize on that state (such as using a setup power to put an enemy into a vulnerable-to-fire state and then unloading with a fire-based attack). Funcom suggests that the most successful hunting parties will be players who do some pre-mission planning about which power combinations they want to bring with them, though the studio also confirms that The Secret World will very much be a game that will let you go solo if you prefer.
We watched three different battle sequences with this party: the first in the streets of Kingsmouth against a walking-dead onslaught; the second in a junkyard against a gigantic metallic monster made of wrecked cars and other scrap metal; and the third on a beach against strange, warped sea monsters with slick purple skin and glowing yellow eyes. Let's just say that if the setup of an evil curse falling on a New England town resulting in an ancient evil emerging from the seas reminded you of H.P. Lovecraft's short story Shadows Over Innsmouth, you were right on the money.
The Secret World still has a way to go, and no final release date has been confirmed, but we're pleased that we've finally seen the gameplay in motion, and we look forward to bringing you more about the game in the future.