All The Secret World's a Stage

Kevin VanOrd looks at where The Secret World has gone and where it's going, including the details of its new pricing model.


The Secret World

When you play a massively multiplayer online game, you are a single player on an immense stage--so it's only fitting that one of The Secret World's recent new features is a theater in which you and your friends can place props on a stage, adjust the lighting, and act out your favorite movie scenes to your heart's content. If you come to online role-playing games for the joy of combat and dungeon running, such a feature probably seems remarkably unusual, but then again, you couldn't rightfully accuse The Secret World of being a usual game.

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In the months since its release, Funcom has worked to improve the game without compromising what makes the game stand out in an increasingly crowded genre. Given current trends, it might not come as a surprise that The Secret World's most prominent new change is an updated pricing model. What might surprise you is what this pricing change entails. The game will no longer require a monthly fee for you to play, but you will need to pony up for the initial asking price for the client, which currently runs at $29.99.

More intriguingly, buying that client gets you everything that paying members get--at least, for the most part. You won't be held back from accessing any of the game's core content as it currently exists: the quests, the dungeons, the lairs, the abilities, and the equipment are all there for you to enjoy. There are still paid memberships, however, and any current subscribers will have their subscriptions automatically converted into the new membership levels, which are available in one-month, three-month, 6-month, and 12-month offers. Let's break things down.

Membership gets you: an item that doubles monster-killing experience gain for an hour, and has a 16 hour cool-down; $10 worth of bonus points to use in the in-game store; an item-of-the-month gift; and a 10-percent discount to (almost) everything in the in-game store. Grand masters (that is, lifetime subscribers) get all that, plus another 10% in-game store discount. Additionally, grand masters can apply their discount to future downloadable content packs, while general subscribers cannot. People that bought initiate packs in December get 1800 bonus points as reimbursement.

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Indeed, The Secret World will be adhering to a DLC model more frequently associated with non-MMO retail games, charging players for downloadable mission packs, though members can put their bonus points towards a DLC purchase if they wish. Funcom isn't charging for every update, but you can expect to pay for major chapters in the ongoing story, though the good news is that if you have a full game account registered before the end of December, the first DLC--coming January, 2013--won't cost you anything extra. If you're exhausted by the nickel-and-diming and ridiculous barriers in other games without monthly fees (Star Wars: The Old Republic being an egregious recent example), The Secret World is a newly attractive option.

Of course, if you shied away from The Secret World, or abandoned it at some point after you started playing, it may not necessarily have been due to the monthly fee. Thankfully, the game has had numerous quality of life improvements and plenty of additional content added, including over 30 new quests. Some of the improvements sound minor--easier object selection, an optional targeting reticle mode, a chronicle of your accomplishments, and so on--but they make the game more pleasant to interact with. Players will also be glad to hear that the animation system is due for an overhaul, so if you thought that the game's overall feel was off, there are applicable improvements on the horizon.

The final boss is certainly an enormous sight to behold, but it's perhaps the small atmospheric touches that make this 10-person raid most intriguing.

One improvement the game has seen is a little more disturbing than you'd expect. Well, not the improvement itself: you can now visit a barber to change your hair style, or a plastic surgeon if you want to change your overall look. But that plastic surgeon is a creepy quack who pulls out your new body parts from a repository of corpses; if you know Minority Report's Dr. Solomon Eddie, you might have a good idea of what to expect. (And consider this: both Dr. Eddie and The Secret World's Dr. Aldini are played by veteran actor Peter Stormare.)

There's new core content as well, much of it introduced by The Secret World's more colorful characters. As always, investigation missions require you to puzzle out a solution from the cryptic clues. Of course, you do get some action to complement that exploration and puzzle solving, which provides a chance to try out the game's auxiliary weapons. One of these, a magical weapon called a quantum brace, is so new that it might not yet be in the game when you first read this article. (It should be in there any day, though.) It's a pleasure to use this shock-spewing murder machine, especially against the giant monster that you face at the conclusion of the game's first raid dungeon, the Manhattan Exclusion Zone.

Like most of the game's dungeons, the raid requires proper positioning, handling lots of adds, and confronting a hulking boss that keeps you on the move. You must avoid patches of filth and attack the adds that spawn in, hopefully with the assistance of a few tanks who can alleviate the pressure. The final boss is certainly an enormous sight to behold, but it's perhaps the small atmospheric touches that make this 10-person raid most intriguing. A father sings in fright to his child, while tourists you pass in the New York subway lament their choice of vacation spots. Soon after, you understand the people's terror when you face the winged dragonlike creatures that soar over the Big Apple.

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Launch bugs and other technical foibles hindered The Secret World at launch, and Funcom seems to have taken early criticisms to heart in determining how to move forward. But even from the start, this modern-myth online RPG reached an audience hungry for something different. Only time will tell whether the new content, a new pricing model, and the promise of even darker days to come will be enough to get new players to navigate the glowing paths crisscrossing Agartha. At the very least, if you abandoned The Secret World at any point, you don't need to renew your subscription to get a feel for the improvements. The game isn't cut from the usual MMO cloth, and without a mandatory monthly fee to consider, the improvements and additional content make this a more attractive virtual reality.


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