The Secret World Updated Impressions - More Story Details and Player-Versus-Player

We take an updated look at this unusual modern-day massively multiplayer game from the creator of Age of Conan and Anarchy Online.

The Secret World is Norwegian developer Funcom's next game, and unlike the studio's other fantastical forays into the world of massively multiplayer games, this one will take place in a modern world setting. Except that every old wives' tale and every superstition you've ever heard of is actually true. The Holy Grail existed, witchcraft really works, and there are, in fact, secret societies controlling the world. In fact, your character will belong to one of them--either the Illuminati, the Knights Templar, or the Dragon, a secret society based in Asia. We recently had a chance to take another look at the game in motion in both player-versus-environment (PVE) gameplay and player-versus-player (PVP) gameplay.

The PVE section of our demonstration was a deft combination of live gameplay demonstrations jumping back and forth between video trailers showing off content in the same area. It once again took place in Kingsmouth, the American seaboard town that bears a strong resemblance to the sleepy New England burg from H.P. Lovecraft's horror story Shadows Over Innsmouth. As you may recall, Kingsmouth is besieged by a zombie outbreak as well as by eldritch horrors crawling out of the ocean. Your character arrives on the scene to attempt to discover what caused the outbreak and what, if anything, can be done to contain it.

Our demonstration began with a quick zombie-hunting session in the Kingsmouth backwoods after receiving a mission from a local militiaman. The Secret World will have a variety of different mission types, such as investigation, sabotage, and action--with the action in this case being "go kill some o' them zombies to make the roads safer." Though our character was kitted out with a sword in each hand, Funcom reemphasized that The Secret World will have a highly open-ended character development system that does not have character levels; instead, your character will collect hundreds of different skills and use them to build a "deck" of skills to bring into battle, not unlike the metagame of Magic: The Gathering or the first Guild Wars game.

Is this a zombie apocalypse I see before me? Yes. Yes, it is. Expect to see scenes like this in The Secret World.

Funcom representatives were quick to point out that stomping on abandoned cars in Kingsmouth sets off their alarms and that car alarms bring zombies running, which means that should your character ever have a quest to kill off some walking dead, or just a spare 10 minutes or so to do some old-fashioned monster-huntin', you can hop onto the hood of the nearest car, set off the alarm, and spawn some enemies. The demonstration also showed off another player's magical ability to hurl fireballs--explosive projectiles that cause the nearby ground to burn momentarily. Should your enemies (or your character, for that matter) walk through the fire, they'll change "state" and be considered "burning," at which point they may be susceptible to other effects or abilities that are particularly effective against burning targets. We also did battle with the "corpse gorger," a giant zombie boss made out of, what else, a bunch of corpses lumped together into one shambling form, though since our demonstration characters were all extremely powerful (overpowered for this area, in fact), they dispatched the brute with little trouble.

Our demonstration then skipped ahead to a meeting with Andy, one of Kingsmouth's last surviving police deputies. All major characters in The Secret World will be fully voice-acted, and while this fellow wasn't very well spoken (and didn't sound all that bright), he expressed his suspicions about the zombie invasion and its possible connection to the misshapen monsters, known in the game as "draugs," that routinely shuffle in with the tide and leave even-more-suspicious-looking sacs of what appear to be gigantic eggs on the beach. After getting debriefed, our character and her adventuring party headed directly to the beach to find several shambling sea zombies waiting for us, which she dispatched with help from her fireball-tossing, gun-toting buddies.

At this point, Funcom staffers pointed out that the sea creatures have their own ecology--female draugs lay eggs at sea and charge male draugs with dragging the eggs to shore to hatch into more male draugs. By killing off any landlocked male draugs and then destroying any remaining egg sacs, you can force the females to come out from under the waves (spawn into the world, in other words), at which point you can kill off the females, which will cease the spread of the beasts for some time. Unfortunately, killing off female draugs also raises the ire of the draug lord, the giant, yellow-eyed, horselike critter you've seen in the game's screenshots and trailers. The draug lord is essentially the race's wizardly boss monster, and it pounds its foes with psychic powers. However, even this fearsome foe was no match for a group of four overpowered adventurers, and it also shuffled off this mortal coil.

The developers then paused the in-game demonstration to discuss the game's character development system, which will, again, not be based on gaining linear levels. While your characters will, in fact, gain experience points for performing general and faction missions, crafting, PVP, or killing monsters, you'll use experience points to purchase skills for your character, though at any given time you can equip a maximum of seven "passive" skills (abilities that are "always on" and provide various bonuses for you and/or your companions) and seven "active" skills that you must manually activate. The studio plans to include more than 500 skills at launch, including anything from advanced firearms damage to melee weapon skill to magical powers. These abilities will appear on the game's "skill wheel"--a circular interface that sorts the game's skills into different sections based on whether they pertain to melee combat, ranged combat, healing, magic, or other miscellaneous skills.

The game's skill system will let you mix and match any of the game's hundreds of abilities for your character at any time.

Funcom concedes that the totally open-ended skill system might seem overwhelming to new players. This is why The Secret World will also have a "template" system that associates certain skills together as a preset group. Over the course of your adventures, as you gain certain amounts of experience or perform certain missions, your character will unlock up to 10 different preset skill templates for your convenience. Unlocking templates will also play into the level of prestige you have with your faction--more-accomplished players who have unlocked more templates may gain access to better guild-related missions or content later on, so it'll be worth the effort to try to unlock all 10 on your character.

We then jumped back to our in-game presentation, in which our adventuring party, having cleared the beach, had headed to the local church to discuss the source of the invasion with the priest. The soft-spoken, sweater-clad clergyman, Harry Hawthorne, spoke at length about his own obsession with conspiracy theories and how he'd extensively researched the outbreak's possibly occult origins both in books and online in various secret blogs and forums. Harry gave our party an investigation mission, to seek out locations in town marked with an Illuminati pyramid symbol, and this led our party to explore town to find manholes, library books, and other objects engraved with the insignia. Which then led us to discover a plaque engraved with the names of a deceased Kingsmouth painter and a deceased Kingsmouth poet. Which then led the party to jump out of the game and onto everyone's favorite Internet search engine, Google, to look up the two men's names for possible leads. Which led to the mention of a specific painting depicting both men together, housed in the town's museum. Which led to the location of a hidden Illuminati treasure cache behind a museum bookcase.

How about a little fire, denizens of evil?

Funcom plans to include plenty of far-reaching investigation missions that will, in fact, challenge you to visit information resources outside of the game. Representatives for the developer seemed surprisingly welcoming of online game resources (such as fan sites and game strategy sites), which will undoubtedly chronicle these complicated quests and boil them down to walk-throughs. The developer's staff suggested that there are simply certain types of players who will want to finish quests as quickly as possible, so they'll reach for the walk-throughs, and that's fine, while there are other players who will want to try to puzzle out the solutions themselves. Funcom intends for such missions to "take months to solve" and plans to incentivize mystery-solving by including onetime rewards for the players who complete a new investigation mission first.

We then jumped back to the game for one last mission, another action mission given to us by a fortune-teller character who advised us to "follow the ravens" because "they lead to dark places." This mission required our group to follow a small flock of the black birds as they flitted this way and that. Funcom's staffers pointed out that this mission had no onscreen flags or map pointers to guide players. The best indicator to follow was simply the birds, who appeared in the world and would periodically take off for new ground--and periodically land near the revenant, a shadowy figure draped in rags and surrounded by ravens of his own. Attacking the creature directly didn't seem too effective--after taking a few hits, it would turn itself into a flock of ravens and fly away until we tracked it down to an abandoned playground, at which point a cutscene showed the creature perched on a slide and preparing to attack our templar character who was armed with a shotgun bearing a Templar holy symbol. This is the same encounter that has been depicted in one of the game's earlier video trailers.

After watching this last mission unfold, we then shifted gears to watch a series of additional video trailers depicting the game's PVP gameplay, which includes both faction-based battles and free-for-all tournaments. Our demonstration revealed three different battleground areas with three different modes, each of which has its own rules as established by the "Council of Venice," a mysterious neutral faction that has established gentlemanly rules of conduct for conflict between the game's factions. The first battlefield we saw was Stonehenge, the mysterious English site, which will act as a team-based, king-of-the-hill-style battleground for two five-player teams. Funcom staffers explained that since the defending team will be required to hold the location against the attacking team, success in this matchup will depend not only on player skill, but also on proper selection of player skills--defensive abilities such as healing and protection on the defending side, and assault-focused abilities on the attacking side.

The game will have in-depth PVP that will let you earn favor with your faction.

The second PVP battlefield was Shambala (also known as Shangri-La), which will house ranked arena fights for serious competitors who wish to earn higher rank levels and the exclusive equipment and other benefits that high rank carries. This will be a "pure PVP" battleground with last-man-standing rules, and matches should be fairly fast-paced, but hopefully also fairly fair, since teams will be matched against each other based on having similar ranking points. The final PVP battlefield was El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, which will appear in the game as a huge pyramid level with four key objectives, ancient idols, that act as control points that must be held for as long as possible (similar to conquest mode in the Battlefield series). El Dorado will not be a symmetrical map; some idols will be easier to capture (or to defend) than others, and the level will have numerous nooks and crannies for you to use as hiding places for ambushes. PVP will work a bit differently in The Secret World than PVE play, in that you will be required to wear a uniform that clearly identifies your faction allegiance, at least in the faction-based modes, to let players clearly distinguish friendlies from foes.

The Secret World has a lot of intriguing new ideas for a massively multiplayer game. We'll bring you more updates on it in advance of the game's launch date, which, incidentally, still hasn't been confirmed.

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Discussion

72 comments
McCrunks
McCrunks

finally. a mmo that's not all knights, wizards and dragons. hopefully they don't find some other way to cheese it up.

Elidan1012
Elidan1012

This and Guild Wars 2? Two MMO's that looks promising. I hope at least one of them turns out great.

Olgark
Olgark

Looks intresting in having to use googgle to look for clues in quest lines. Very different from the usual "go there kill 10 critters and collect their ears" quest.

ConstantinNC
ConstantinNC

Interesting. AoC was a great game, but didn't like it much, hope I like this one :) I am sure Funcom did learn something from other MMOs, thats why I have good feeling about this one.

VaanXPenelo
VaanXPenelo

I remember seeing this in development over 18 months ago and it's still going on. I'm not really into MMORPGs but the lengthy development of this game is making my interest wane.

midnight_trashh
midnight_trashh

@orangeroblin I agree with you about Age of Conan, but you really need to lay off the name calling. Personally, I'm kind of sick of people swearing and acting like 5 year olds over their tastes in video games, who likes what and who dosnt like what. Pointless arguments and name calling make me as a gamer look like a total moron to other people, because I am a gamer myself. They are just someones opinions nothing more, so lighten up, breathe and be happy. It's just a game.

zymbo
zymbo

The game looks interesting but after AoCs brutal launch I'll be holding off any pre-orders.

poisonelf1
poisonelf1

Frankly, what they did to us in AOC I just can't imagine a second thought at looking at this. This whole thing was almost funny, looking at the video and that this really looked interesting. Then to look that it was Funcom, and the second team will come in and take over with destruction, is just to much a outright disappointing thought. How long until the first forum post that someone got hit in pvp, and everything starts getting altered? OR pvp rank starts getting earned from rock pounding. No for me.

reign_man01
reign_man01

i would of got this game if they didnt put all that illuminati bull**** in there... ill stick with rift for now -.-. to think its the same people that made aoc..

rhymesmatter
rhymesmatter

Looks Yummy!Many skills and easily swappable?Now that's what i am talking about!WoW eat my shorts! :P

basbasa
basbasa

Not what I was hoping when they first announced the secret world.

whitemute
whitemute

GW2 still impresses me more than this. (Though I give them props on their teaser videos, very well done)

Nodashi
Nodashi

@Crzy1 Well, to give them credit, it's a marketing strategy. I'ts calles slow death. You know a product is doomed, so you just milk it and never re-invest, using the resources elsewhere. Yes it's not gonna make any AoC player feel better, but that's what they've been doing. Now, I also played and was deeply disappointed by AoC. This game HAS potential (it's like Mage: The Ascencion online), but I'll wait and see hog good it actually is and if it's gonna last BEFORE I invest my time and cash.

Crzy1
Crzy1

They've been slowly killing Age of Conan for the past year and pissing on their playerbase, probably going to give this one a pass unless it's incredible. Went from being a huge supporter of Age of Conan to wanting to do not so nice things to the game director in a little over 3 months. This game has HUGE potential, just like Age of Conan. Hopefully Funcom can wrap their head around the idea that they need to foster a good community and playerbase in order to make it successful. MMOs aren't made to play solo, so when you spend more time telling your customers they're wrong rather than listening to legitimate complaints and acting on them, you throw whatever potential that might have been there right out the window. I hope they get it right on this one, I really do, but I'm not going to be holding my breath. Fool me once, shame on me and all.

orangeroblin
orangeroblin

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

midnight_trashh
midnight_trashh

"you can be anyone or anything you want in our world " how many times I've heard this over the last 11 years with mmo's and when I sit down and play the game it turns out I am limited to what I can do, and I find out that it's just a sales pitch *Rolls eyes*

ReaversRevenge
ReaversRevenge

28 days later online. players faced with living in the films story but servers respective to players own country. now THATS an MMO game. (haters gonna hate)

groowagon
groowagon

hmmm.... i might actually start spending my time on MMO for the first time.

GT_APE
GT_APE

Wow different. Looks awesome so far.

Veovisinus
Veovisinus

What's with all the needless quotation marks? From both the author and a good bit of the commenter's? It makes me think of one of Chris Farley's characters from SNL, only not funny at all, just really annoying.

masakri50
masakri50

This is easily the most interesting mmo ive seen yet. my only problem is mmos seem to be kind of boring. i dont like the idea of grinding or just sitting back and clicking something a every few seconds. in other words to me they seem like a combination of an rts and a 3rd person shooter with none of the positives. granted ive never played an mmo so i dont know i guess i could be wrong.

orangeroblin
orangeroblin

What I like most about this game is that the story-line seems very well written... it's an awesome and unique setting, amazingly beautiful environments, lot's of loot and skills.... The only "gripe" I have so far is with the combat mechanics... It seems like, a bit "removed" if you know what I mean... of course it's still in Alpha and they are working off the AoC engine (which in my opinion STILL has the BEST combat of any mmo to date) So I still have high hopes...

AlmostUndead
AlmostUndead

So your saying if "Funcom" was your dad and he got you a car, then he accidentally wrecked it, he lost all liability? I believe in second chances. Now if they kept making crappy games like Crave, I wouldn't be here right now.

emerin76
emerin76

I like the idea of "what skills will I take on this mission", like a deck of cards in a collectable card game. That means, if you've unlocked many skills, you can change the role you play mission to mission. so...it's a "Collectable Skill Game" heh.

rann89
rann89

Call me cynical, but it sounds to me like you still level up. I guess they just don't give you a number to tell you what level you are. If you need one skill to get another, then they really need to stop touting how you don't level up in this game. Experience points to get a skill and talent trees are leveling up.

LTK_Style
LTK_Style

I am sure I'm not the only one left in complete amazement here.

burn6
burn6

I hope we won't be spending a lot of time doing the same animation while battling monsters because it is getting sickening already. it may look promising for now but i will rest my doubts for later.

Ceraby
Ceraby

Hmmm that does looking interesting. Would be willing to give it a try. I like the setting and the concept behind it. Graphics look good. I have hopes for this game =D

CaptainChoob
CaptainChoob

I'm interested to see how the character progression turns out in this game. I'll probably never play it since it'll be subscription based, but it sure looks different than the normal MMO formula spearheaded by WoW these days.

N0tYrBeezin
N0tYrBeezin

@apsis333 How do you role the world? And what does that even mean?

4darklink
4darklink

This seems like it would just be a grind to get skills instead of trying to raise your level and then get skills, which is essentially the same thing, lulz.

apsis333
apsis333

nice game i like to role the world XD

ah20s
ah20s

cashassa they just said there is no classes.. also, when will we see the beta signups? ;p

cashassa
cashassa

I have to agree with megakick. Please get rid of grind! And make sure you guys don't bring the almighty triad of tediousness (a.k.a Tank/Healer/DPS) to the table.

brosim1104
brosim1104

@ timebandot002 i hope you re wrong... :S i thought they said no levels, and instead they ll put an upgrade system or so... that has to do with your skills or guns etc...

orangeroblin
orangeroblin

the game looks awesome... sure it's not perfect, but it's not even in beta yet. I think Funcom have learned alot from AoC.

TimeBandit002
TimeBandit002

open class system sounds good but im not sure it will actually be that, they said no levels, which could lead to some major mishaps with difficulty of enemies and the lack of comparison for longtime to players to noobs.

megakick
megakick

i don't like a rigid class stystem at all. more i can do with my toon the better (rift, ff11>WOW.) all mmo are a grind not one mmo has changed that yet. this is different swor is not, would rather play this.

marcopolo426
marcopolo426

Like the setting, concerned but interested about the character progression system, feeling optimistic from what I have seen so far ... And thats how you keep a positive attitude people!

deltamirage
deltamirage

This "open" character progression systems sounds like what Champions tried to do minus the leveling system. And what that basically led to where 1 or 2 power combination's being viable and everything thing else gimped you. I'll be waiting to see how they balance it considering there will be more ability's to choose from in Secret World.

oflow
oflow

lol @ people defending funcom. They are so fail they bought the domain fail.com and made it link to the age of conan's site. AO was ok but AoC was a serious fiasco and negates any credibility they had previously.

lonkilanki
lonkilanki

funcom is from norway and thats goooood.......... me tooo

gangsterlax
gangsterlax

Hopefully the enemies have lots of variety

AlmostUndead
AlmostUndead

Hmm, you guys must have forgotten about the game before Conan, I believe it was called "Anarchy Online" and it was a superb game. Sure Conan failed, but don't make it seem like that was the only game they have made. -facepalm-

Poezelige
Poezelige

I don't trust Funcom with any title since Age of Conan. I've had a frontrow seat to see that circus happen and it's result was one disappointment after and other. I'm not denying the potential this game has. It's just the developers tendency to destroy any potential this game has.

Cobra5
Cobra5

Looks like they have a lot of good ideas with this game. A lot of very good ideas. You know what else had a lot of very good ideas? Their previous game, Age of Conan. Unfortunately good ideas was all it had. I have little faith in the developers but if this actually pans out, this game could be great. There's no way I'm buying it unless I get great impressions from the beta/free trial though.