In my last blog on Funcom’s The Secret World, I mentioned how I was very impressed with almost everything except the combat. I read with interest that combat had been beefed up a bit for this third beta weekend, so I hopped into the game to spend some serious time with its combat system.
My conclusions are twofold.
A Sense of Hitting
Firstly, many aspects of the combat in the opening stages of the game still lack real weight. Animation quality remains stilted, and while some effort has obviously gone into making the enemies react a little to hits since last beta weekend, I was killed a couple of times this evening simply because I was in a building and didn’t notice my health depleting from an environmental effect — there was absolutely zero feedback on my character or screen.
However, I have played quite a lot of the game this weekend: more than the previous two weekends combined, thanks to the unlocking of the skill wheel which enables players to really experience the Deck system properly, as well as exploring how the higher tiers of combat abilities work.
While I can’t say I’m particularly impressed with the abilities I have unlocked for the Thaumaturge deck, the synergy is undeniable. And it is with this synergy that combat finally starts getting some oomph to it.
Not enough, but some.
Once I started getting some Penetration and Crit Rating (at around Quality Level 4 — the way TSW keeps track of the quality of your gear and thus your ‘level’) I started getting some real feedback on some of my abilities. Screen shaking and more meaty sound effects from crits and penetrating hits finally started feeling like I was doing some damage.
The trouble is, relying on these kind of procs makes the spamming of my resource-building abilities even more lacklustre and tedious. I’m really tired of the ‘bzzzz‘ casting sound of Blood Boil and all my other Blood Magic abilities.
Furthermore, it strikes me as a case of too little, too late. I persevered that far for the sake of curiosity but really, in probably 15 hours of gameplay it is only just starting to get a bit interesting combat-wise. That’s just too late. In an MMORPG, combat needs to be good right from the start. Even World of Warcraft‘s auto-attack abilities have more feedback that the initial attacks in TSW…
My other issue with TSW‘s combat is its over-reliance on combo-point style resource management. While I have no problem with combo point systems in general — Feral druid in WoW says hi! — every single weapon in the game uses essentially the same system of builders and finishers, with just slightly different names.
It isn’t just that, however, but the way the necessary information is presented to you as well. The UI really does a cumbersome job of tracking your resources.
From the perspective of a Thaumaturge, specialising in Claw weapons and Blood Magic, I have to keep on looking down at the bottom of the screen to see how many blood magic points and claw resources (both out of 5) I have. Coupled with trying to watch the centre of the screen, watch buffs and debuffs, and generally stay alive, and the combat system is unnecessarily headachy! Doesn’t help that my character feels really weak too…
Hopefully we’ll be able to customise elements of the UI in the next (final) beta weekend. I’d really like to be able to stick that combo point metre somewhere central! Hopefully it won’t lag so much too, as currently the metre can’t keep up with your ability spam!
Is It Worth It?
Here’s where my brain gets real confused when it comes to The Secret World. I really feel like I shouldn’t enjoy it — its combat is just way inferior to Guild Wars 2 and TERA. But it has such an atmospheric setting and a brilliant storytelling design, I’ve found myself playing on almost for that alone.
I say almost, because the horizontal progression system is also really good at keeping you playing. A couple of times I found myself thinking, “Just a couple more AP and then I’ll log out…”
21AP (for the next tiered ability) later and I finally do so.
Speaking of the tiers, the outer ring unlocks on the skill wheel are expensive: starting with 9, and quickly ramping all the way up to 50 for the final ability in the cluster. Fortunately the amount of XP you need to get for each AP seems to be fixed, it’s simply the amount of AP you need that rises rapidly.
This should give the game a decent pace, though I confess I’m still really unsure of how the monster ‘levels’ (for want of a better term) work: some enemies just seem massively more powerful than others in the same area, to the point where I’ve got really frustrated with the lack of apparent balance in some places.
So far I have gathered that it is the colour of the dot next to the enemy’s name that is the important bit: blue is weak, white is about right, yellow is a bit tougher, red is really tough… Or at least that’s what I thought… but that doesn’t seem to be consistent either. And then you have enemies with red names and orange names… what’s the difference there?
I digress. I wanted to use this third beta weekend to really make my mind up about The Secret World and whether I would buy it or not. Unfortunately, I actually haven’t made a decision. I find it unlikely that I’ll preorder it, simply because I think the game still has a long way to go before its really ready to launch, and the release date is only a couple of weeks away: I just don’t think it is ready yet.
That being said, I haven’t crossed it off in my mind. It’s a lot of fun, the stories are great, and it’s nice to see a game with a modern setting. The monster design is terrific as well.
But they really need to work on that ‘sense of hitting’ that Guild Wars 2 does so well!