In November 2002, Bill Slavicsek, Jeff Grubb, Rich Redman, and Charles Ryan released the “D20 Modern roleplaying game” for Wizards of the Coast, using the same d20 system developed for the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons pen and paper roleplaying game.
D20 Modern featured soldiers, martial artists, gunslingers, infiltrators, daredevils, bodyguards, scientists, techies, medics, investigators, personalities, and negotiators — all as class choices for people to play as in a modern setting.
For me, it was eye-opening. My only experience with RPGs had until that point been firmly rooted within the fantasy genre. The idea that you could have adventures in a modern day, contemporary universe filled me with curiosity. It wasn’t until I got to Chapter Nine of the core rulebook that I actually did something about it, however, and the seeds of something were planted in my mind.
Chapter Nine was the “Campaign Models” chapter, where WotC presented three different styles of campaign for games masters to run for the players — Shadow Chasers, based on a similar “supernatural horror” premise to the incredibly successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series; Agents of Psi, where the players investigate psychic phenomenae; and Urban Arcana, where traditional fantasy tropes are transported to a contemporary setting.
In May 2003, WotC released an Urban Arcana Campaign Setting hardback, and I snapped it up as soon as it came in. It was the beginning of my love affair with urban fantasy which saw me discover the Dresden Files books of Jim Butcher, and also provided the inspiration for me to change my own writing from a detailed-if-ultimately-cliché fantasy world of my own devising to a more unusual alternate-future-with-magic-style urban fantasy London, Earth.
But I digress. What I’m really trying to say is that I’d put money on the team at Funcom having played — or at least read/been inspired by — the D20 Modern and Urban Arcana books.
I’ve been waiting for a good contemporary MMO for a long time now. In fact, a good contemporary urban fantasy RPG would be great. Our own history is filled with myths and legends, stories barely read or taught in our schools anymore. (I remember a couple of years ago having to explain the story of Little Red Riding Hood to some 11-year olds who’d never heard of it…) There are stories ripe for the plucking here and, just like I’m doing in my own writing, Funcom has cleverly pulled from a huge range of mythological sources to blend together this interesting narrative that forms the backbone of The Secret World experience.
I’ve played upwards of 80 hours of The Secret World since Early Access opened on the 29th June 2012. That, really, is testament enough to my opinion of the game: I simply don’t get that involved in something I get no enjoyment from.
This isn’t to say my experience has been smooth sailing, of course. Being around at the launch of any MMO will always give rise to frustrations. In Funcom’s defence, they’ve had very little in the way of server problems, which are the usual cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth on launch day. They have, however, suffered from an almost unbearable number of broken or bugged quests. Even today one of the early quests in the Savage Coast zone was borked — this is after a five hour maintenance and patch. (Strangely enough I’ve not really experienced any broken missions in the latter zones.)
But otherwise I’m really enjoying a lot about the game. The combat has been much improved from its earlier beta iterations though it still isn’t quite as meaty as it could be. It certainly doesn’t lack for options: the Skill Wheel gives me 500+ abilities to work towards.
According to my chronicle page I’ve got around 40% of the abilities unlocked now. If this sounds a lot to you… well… you’re probably right! Unfortunately, I have the Pokémon complex. If you offer me 500 abilities to pick and choose from I have to catch ‘em all!
Besides, they’re the meat and potatoes of the combat system, so experimentation is the key to finding a playstyle that works.
For people who need guidance, Funcom has introduced Decks, which are combinations of two weapons, seven active and seven passive abilities. The idea behind them is that they specialise in a particular style of play.
Trouble is, the two that I’ve tried — Preacher and Magus — aren’t really my cup of tea for solo play, and my group experience is limited (though it does exist! More on this in a moment.)
In the end I grabbed everything from those two decks to unlock the aesthetic multi-slot costumes you get as a reward for completing the deck. Unfortunately, I discovered that both costumes have clipping issues with my character’s hair — the Preacher outfit especially — so actually wearing them proves a little aesthetically frustrating!
My current playstyle is a mix of elementalism/fist abilities, specialising in strike spells to deal heavy damage to single targets, with a chain-lightning-style spell for AoE situations, and then some heal-over-time fist-based spells to keep myself topped up. With the right mix of passive skills to complement my abilities, I can pump out some respectable damage, although certain mobs in the game seem annoyingly immune to my charms.
In fact, enemies across the board are a bit weird. Certain types just seem rather poorly balanced compared to others.
For many people, group content is the whole point of MMOs. I’ve blogged before about my reticence for joining group content. Too many bad experiences in World of Warcraft‘s dungeons have left me cynical and jaded about the whole thing. But one of the ways to come to terms with a problem is to first accept that you have one and then do something about it.
So I have. I’ve run some of The Secret World‘s dungeons, namely the first three: Polaris, Inferno, and The Darkness War. These aren’t designed with massive gear requirements, but I did overgear them considerably by the time I went to try them. I was rocking QL7 gear for Polaris, which is about QL2-3; and QL9 for Inferno, which requires maybe QL6. Not sure what Darkness War requires but since I’m rocking QL10 gear I imagine I overgeared it slightly too.
And I confess, I was surprised. You see, my biggest peeve with instanced dungeons tends to be the amount of time they take because they are packed with trash mobs to clear before you can get to the fun bit: the bosses. TSW kinda throws that idea out. It has a bare minimum of trash, but has several bosses and minibosses instead.
Of course, despite the flexibility of the skill wheel, Funcom haven’t entirely been able to do away with the typical tank/dps/healer “Holy Trinity” — but at least you can customise your build to really suit how you like to perform your role, rather than being tied to a rigid set of abilities. Over the weekend I was able to both heal and tank Polaris, and tank Inferno, despite being neither geared or skill-equipped for the roles.
After that initial grouping experience a few days ago, I began working on the Exorcist deck, which is a blood/fist healing deck. I had this crazy notion that I might try properly healing a dungeon. This evening, I did just that, heading into The Darkness War as a healer.
To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped. There was just too much to focus on. TSW puts a lot of emphasis on positioning your character and I can’t do that and watch health bars and cooldowns and line of sight all at the same time — not without being able to move certain UI elements about or using @mouseover macros. It isn’t something I’m very equipped, mentally and optically, to deal with, and I don’t think I did very well. Sure we beat the instance in the end, but I don’t think that’s with any thanks to me.
That being said, the Exorcist deck has some pretty powerful passive abilities that I haven’t yet unlocked, so maybe if I’d been fully decked out, so to speak, it would have been slightly easier. Either way, I’m not giving up on the deck — I like the aesthetic costume for it after all — so I’ll continue filling out the higher end of those ability trees. I’m just not sure I’ll be venturing back into dungeons beyond The Darkness War as a healer any time soon.
In WoW I played a tank. I can’t help but wonder what tanking is like in The Secret World. So after I finish with the Exorcist deck I think I’ll try getting some tanking abilities sorted. Not sure what, yet, but that’s the beauty of the skill wheel — I can eventually get everything — and I can switch everything on the fly (out of combat) to complement whomever I’m playing with.
It strikes me, actually, that TSW is a game best played with at least one other person. Monsters are more reasonable to kill when there are two of you, whereas they can be quite frustrating and time-consuming to slay when you’re playing solo. Having someone to bounce ideas off in some of the tougher puzzle-laden missions can be a blessing too.
It’s been a while since I’ve played an MMORPG that I can honestly say I will subscribe to. SWTOR failed to hold my attention for even the first 30 days included in the box. TERA’s questing system failed at the beta hurdle and I never even purchased the full game. GW2 obviously has no sub fee so although the initial outlay has been fairly expensive (I bought my best friend a copy too) there’ll be little monthly expenditure beyond the odd cash shop item.
The Secret World, on the other hand, has a lot of promise: promise that it seems to me will be worth paying for, at least for a while. The lead dev recently made a blog post promising monthly content updates with new missions, new (auxiliary) weapons, new outfits, raids, and much more. As far as I am concerned, they have RIFT’s developers, Trion, to match up to in terms of regular post-launch content, but I’m honestly excited to see if Funcom can live up to their promises.
Which is something I’m very surprised to say after my short dalliance with the tragic Age of Conan…
NB. This post was written over several days. Any weirdness or inconsistencies are likely due to this. Every time I went to write I ended up playing instead xD