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July 2nd, 2012, 11:23
I played this friday evening and most of sunday.

My impressions:

++ Setting
++ Atmosphere
++ Stability
++ Story
+ Visuals
+ Voice acting
+ Skill SYSTEM

- Combat
- Crafting
- Gear
- Skill variety

Overall, I'd say if you're into Lovecraftian stuff and want a refreshing modern day take on the RPG/MMO genre - this is a no-brainer. There's enough content there to fill the free month easily. Unless, of course, you absolutely hate the idea of other people roaming around in the same world.

If you want an idea of what it feels like to play it, think traditional adventure wrapped in an action/RPG package. Then add most of the standard MMO trappings and you have The Secret World.

The closest comparison is actually SWtOR - but in a good way. It takes the best parts of that game and significantly improves upon them (story and quests) - and it manages to set itself apart from WoW and other themeparks. It has fully functional 3-faction PvP with 225 players duking it out without significant slowdowns. SWtOR was brought to its knees with 16 players.

The best part of the game is how the quests are REALLY the meat of the game. It's not 1 cutscene - kill 50 beasties - 1 cutscene. It's 1 cutscene - immerse yourself/think/fight a bit/wonder - 1 cutscene. It just flows naturally - and you don't go from hub to hub to collect 10 quests at each place. They've designed the game around solving 1 quest at a time - and they've actually succeeded. At least for my part. I want to concentrate on each quest - and I care enough about the story to finish each of them. The writing is miles ahead of every single other MMO out there - but that's subjective of course. Some might find it too opaque or overly "mysterious" - but I find it's mixed with a good dose of down-to-earth characters and stuff that makes sense.

It's very easy to play as a singleplayer game and experience most of the content. Group dungeons is the most painful exception - but because there are so many players in each dimension - I think it should be easy to find some quickly and just get through each dungeon. At least, for the first few weeks. Just pick the RP dimension Arcadia - and people will be reasonable for the most part. But the dungeons aren't necessary at all.

For me, the primary downsides are about combat and mechanics. The actual combat is not particularly bad - but it's just not that interesting. It works ok - but lacks variety and doesn't have that visceral adrenaline kick of the best systems. One would think that with 525 skills - you wouldn't be wanting for variety, but I find that most skills are about a relatively small selection of effects. There's a distinct lack of messy/special/cool skills like stealth/backstab and such (yeah, I'm a stealth player). It's not all bad and there ARE some utility skills like limited teleport and a few stuns - but most of them are too samey for my tastes.

They've also opted to limit the player to 7 active skills and 7 passive skills. Obviously, the first reaction is that it's TOO limited - and then you start to trust the developers, because the game is actually pretty damn good in most ways. But after careful consideration, I've found myself thinking it should be 8 skills. Mostly because of the dual weapon paradigm of having 2 builders and 2 finishers almost as a requirement for efficiency. That leaves you with 3 non-spamming skills - and I find that's not quite enough. 1 more would be perfect - because then you could fit in a utility skill without feeling you were gimping your build entirely.

Gear is also rather bland and linear in design. It's clear that the developers didn't want gear to be a major factor - and I understand their reasons. It's the fashion these days to go against the traditional themepark model - and even if I think most developers don't understand how to evolve the genre without losing the good bits, there are plenty of players who think it's the right direction. Guild Wars 2 is doing much the same thing in terms of gear and progression - and that game is reaching previously unseen levels of hype. Personally, I like my gear to matter - and I like my progression. What I DON'T like is the treadmill ala Bilbo's "butter spread over too much bread" sentence. I don't think those two things have to go hand-in-hand, but obviously that's what the modern direction in design thinks. I consider it an overreaction to people being tired of the themepark model.

At this point - having played a combined ~30 hours or so (I was in 2 betas) - I'm ready to rank it 8.5/10.

This is assuming the content stays interesting - and keeps me hooked throughout the game. This game is literally all about the story/quests. Without that level of quality - the actual gameplay wouldn't be able to keep this game alive long. I'd say the gameplay portion is more like 6/10 for me.

This also, much more importantly perhaps, means that once you've experienced the quests - I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing. Yes, there are 3 factions - supposedly with some variety in quest dialogue and stuff. But from what I've seen of it, that's WAY too limited. I don't think many will really want to experience the story again just for that reason. The PvP/Raids both work reasonably well - but because of the distinct lack of progression once you've mastered a few skill categories and gotten QL10 (max) gear - I just don't see it keeping people for long. So, it's absolutely key that Funcom produces quality content at a steady rate - and I must admit, I don't really think that's possible.

Producing top-level story content like what's in the game now, is something that takes a LOT of work and a lot creative inspiration. I'll be extremely impressed if they can produce this level of content for more than ~6 months post-release.

So, to be safe - consider it a standard singleplayer game with a couple of hundred hours of gameplay - and don't expect much more from the initial investment. That's still pretty damn good value, I'd say.

Also, I feel I must emphasize that the early access has been ROCK SOLID. I've encountered 1 quest bug (Men in Black Vans) - and I petitioned a GM to trigger the resolution. So, it wasn't even an issue.

Technically, it performs very well with full details (except Tessellation) - and I've only ever experienced lag in Fusang with 225 players. I've had a few 1-second spikes, reminding me of Age of Conan sieges. But all things considered, this is absolutely one of the strongest launches I've seen.
Last edited by DArtagnan; July 2nd, 2012 at 13:58.
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Waste of potential

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