Monday, May 21, 2012

Secret World Beta Weekend #2 Day 1

You're a member of an elite secret faction imbued with celestial powers, fighting against chthonic forces bent on devouring the world. Sounds a little like the love child of the X-Files and World of Warcraft, which is a fairly accurate description of Funcom's newest MMO.

 Looks like H.P. Lovecraft. Better get a DNA test, X-Files.

The setting is a mixture of modern science fiction and fantasy, introduced to the player right off the bat by a tiny glowing bee. Have you ever heard those rumors about how we swallow bugs in our sleep without realizing it? That's how they start things off, with a pleasant, skin crawling urban myth. A bee floats into your characters room and casually slips into their mouth. Jolted awake, your coughing character reaches for their jacket, which of course lights it on fire with arcane energy. Apparently that wasn't a garden variety bee.
Bumble Bee Tuna anyone?

It was a really well done scene that illustrates how subversive the mystical side of the Secret World's  reality really is. It just creeped right on into the character's life while they were sleeping. Skipping forward a few days, your character starts having transcendental indigestion, puking energy all over their apartment like Cyclops on a bender. They obviously haven't been outside in a while, and probably lost their job by this point. It's not really clear on this part of the setting, which I will get into later.

Another few days and the character has really started to get the hang of their new powers. They're just juggling a tiny energy ball, minding their own business, when there's a knock at the door. Who could that be? Why it's a super secret Templar recruitment agent. She goes through a lengthy exposition detailing the basics of the Secret World to the player, what's expected of the character, hands them a note sealed with a Templar symbol, and ends with a subtle "join or die".

I'm no snake doctor, but I'm pretty sure this kills the snake.

A little background about myself before I respond to what just happened. I have been waiting for The Secret World MMO to come out since I heard about it. The modern setting mixed with elements of fantasy and science fiction really appeals to me, because of certain horror books I read as a child and the more recent World of Darkness setting that I really dug into in the early 90's-2000's. There's just something about people living normal every day lives, oblivious to the monstrous terrors of a true reality underneath theirs, which really appeals to me. Basically, I'm going to be hyper critical of the setting, more so than the gameplay.


The setting is fantastic. Of what I've seen, and I only played through a small portion of the beginning London area, but they managed to pull off a really hard feat. The issue with this sort of setting, and it came up a lot in World of Darkness, is that it's based around supernatural creatures, but as if the events were taking place in reality. What that means is that the setting can't exclude mortal characters/NPCs and just showcase a bunch of monsters or super heroes and cool powers. There has to be reminders that normal people exist. That can be as easily pulled off as having casual NPCs meandering around the city, or expendable characters with no idea what's going on, running for their lives from black ichor soaked horrors. However, I would classify this under "World Setting", because it's external of the character.

The character needs to have a dichotomy of supernaturally imbued badass, and mortal responsibilities. So far, I haven't played enough to understand the nature of what that bee did, but what happened to your character's job? Did they have friends? Allergies? Likes and dislikes? What made them human? That's something I hope there will be more of as I play on. I had a similar discussion with a friend about comic book characters. It's not about the cool powers. They're certainly eye grabbers, but the long time readers keep reading because of the characters. They get attached to the personality. My character is mute. And I know why.

Funcom has placed their excellent setting into a classical MMO build. The combat runs like World of Warcraft, Aion, etc. However, there feels like there's a great deal less emphasis on resource management, and more on movement and action. That's one aspect that really held back the old formula, which involved a lot of staring at bars. I was only able to try out the Shotgun, but it had several different abilities that utilized the position of your character and facing requirements. Oh, and no auto-attack!

But what about white-paw damage?

There is a quest log/mission journal, and quest/mission markers on the mini-map. All the staple improvements of previous Everquest-tier MMOs are included. However, Star Wars: The Old Republic introduced your own character's personal voice acting, which is absent. I think that's really the only complaint I can think of, which popped into my head during the long rambling exposition of the Templar agent. That could have been a moment when any normal person would have spoken up.

They didn't pull a SWTOR and slave a bunch of voice actors to recite thousands of lines of dialogue. The NPCs are all voiced, and there appears to be in game cutscenes at every juncture of a mission tier, but using a voice actor for a minor character or two that only has a few lines of dialogue is different from getting one to recite nearly every possible reply for every mission in the game. Plus, they would have to implement some system like in SWTOR to accommodate multiple personalities, and really the more we talk about this, the messier it gets. SWTOR didn't even get that formula perfect, and they had EA, millions of dollars, and plenty of development time to work with.

Except replace "no" with "kill him"

Overall, I have some really high hopes for The Secret World. I'm definitely heading back to it in the next Beta Weekend for a second look, and an overview of any major changes. It still has a ways to go before release time, which leaves plenty of time for exciting surprises.

Check out the recorded footage from Day 1.

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