The online role-playing game The Secret World is shaping up to be a real rogues' gallery of supernatural horrors. From zombies to vampires to nameless, indescribable monstrosities, this upcoming massively multiplayer online game has all your childhood nightmares in order. After being kind enough to respond to our extensive Q&A, developer Funcom (Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures) invited a handful of journalists to visit their office in Montreal, Canada. There, we caught up with creative director Ragnar Tornquist and got our first hands-on session with the game.
"We see our story as a giant jigsaw puzzle," Tornquist said during his introductory presentation. The pieces to that puzzle are scattered all across the globe, and it will be our charge to seek out the truth and possibly save humanity along the way. Story is one of the main focuses of The Secret World, along with character progression and the game's modern-day setting. Upon concluding, Tornquist explained that our play time would take us through the Templar's starting area to the city of Kingsmouth Town--which is under siege by the undead.
Before heading to the suburbs of the dead, our first order of business was combat. Fighting in The Secret World was all about generating and spending marks. Since we were using dual pistols (a ranged weapon), we put marks on enemies by hitting them with our standard ranged attack: "the Business." Once the enemy had a few of these marks, up to five maximum, we could use our "Wanted" attack to cash them in. This cleverly named attack let us strike multiple targets by bending a bullet's midair trajectory (complete with gun-flicking animation). It also did bonus damage depending on how many marks the target had.
"Above the Law" rounded out our starting trio of abilities and let us tag a small area on the ground. Enemies in this area took extra damage, as well as generated marks on themselves. Depending on which weapon you wield, marks will be generated differently. With our pistols in order, we were introduced to the game's quick-travel system: the Garden of Eden. Located down an isolated stairwell in an old train station, the portal to Eden deposited us onto what looked to be a massive tree branch. White light shone all around us, complemented by the humming of hornets and the occasional stomping of a tin man who strolled past in the distance. Following the arm of this massive, winding tree, we eventually found the exit portal.
We had arrived in Kingsmouth. One early mission that caught our interest came from the fortune-teller Madame Roget. She was being plagued by terrible nightmares involving ravens and wanted us to investigate the source. Our first task was to simply follow the ravens. The first raven led us to another raven, who led us to another, who led us to a hulking, knife-wielding psychotic called the Ravenant. Thanks a lot, ravens. A dramatic battle ensued, ending with the Ravenant's retreat. We then collected the feather it left behind, before following the ravens to the next location.
After repeating this process a few times, we came upon an empty fountain. A nearby envelope instructed us to arrange the collected feathers in a specific pattern to "bind the malevolent spirit." However, what it should have said was "make the malevolent spirit really angry." The final battle followed between man and bird-monster, but we won't spoil how it ended.
At this point in any other MMO, our character would have likely leveled up. But in The Secret World you don't gain levels. Instead, there are two main character progression systems. The first involves your character's abilities. Your character earns ability points by completing missions and other secondary objectives. These points can be spent anywhere in the massive skill wheel, with different families of skills being tied to different weapons. The second system involves the chakras. As you play, you will collect different chakras to fit into the seven chakra slots. These improve your character's stats, such as increasing attack rating or critical damage.
Later during our session, we played through the same dungeon seen at the EA Studio Showcase. It played out the same as when we last saw it. However, in that previous demo our heroes were shot down in the end by a flying creature. This time, we got the chance to fight that creature. And it killed us, a lot. This Ur-Draug encounter started out normal enough: our strongest character took point while the rest of the party stood around and pelted it with all manner of pain. Then its eyes began to glow, and we got a radio message about reality breaking down.
Now the battlefield had an otherworldly glow about it. Fighting the Ur-Draug at this point would be suicide, so we all hid behind a stone mound. This creature couldn't be bothered to find us itself and would spawn lesser horrors to skulk around and look for us instead. And if one of them found us, the Ur-Draug would dish out some serious hurt. After a time, reality was restored and the fight proper continued.
Before signing off, we took a moment to look through the game's pause menu, where we found options for adjusting the user interface. It was broken into four sections: auto-targeting, name displays, toggling HUD elements, and toggling cinematics. While the overall feel of The Secret World wasn't altogether different from other traditional MMO games, save for the lack of an auto-attack, the game's sense of humor really stood out. It loved to poke fun at supernatural cliches and was packed with horror and pop culture references. You can discover The Secret World for yourself in April next year on the PC.