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GDC 2011: The Secret World Preview
Post by trog @ 12:44am 11/03/11 | Comments
We check out The Secret World at GDC - and it's looking sharp.

Funcom have been slowly teasing the gaming world with glimpses of their Secret World for the last couple of years now, and the showing last week at the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco was their most comprehensive showing to date - featuring the first live demo of the game in action - and the game is looking sweeeeeeet, even in its current alpha stage.

“Everything is true” in The Secret World, a mantra that is more than a mere tagline - it is a defining principle that sets the scene for the entire epic. The real world is not all that it seems. There is another world, a darker world, that lurks beneath our own; a world where every piece of historical mythology, every every scary story you’ve heard, isn’t just idle fantasy. It’s real, and it’s coming to get you.

If you’re not familiar with The Secret World, then the below trailer is tailor-made for you - released after GDC, it introduces the game and gives you a great high-level overview of the setting, story, and gameplay - as well as giving you a great look at the fantastic visuals.

In a special press screening session at GDC, Game Director Ragnar Tørnquist discussed what he calls the “four pillars” of The Secret World - the key things that set it apart from other MMOs. The first - and most noticable - is the setting, a modern day, contemporary environment, combined with “real” mythology, all sourced from humanity’s rich history of coming up with some really disturbing and creepy ideas (and then, often, doing them to other people).

There’s also no levels. And no classes. I know, right?! What sort of crazy game is this? How do you know how much better your character is than someone else if you can’t say “I have a level forfty-sleven Yellow Furnicular Magus”? Well, your character will have the ability to access around 500 unique skills, which can be mixed and matched to come up with a set of abilities that more perfectly reflects how you want to play the game. As lead designer Martin Bruusgaard explained, “it’s all about changing the play styles - play the way you want to play”.

The third pillar is the secret war itself. As you play through the game, you’re taking part in a raging, tumultuous battle between powerful forces, occurring beneath the seemingly normal fabric of every day life. This pervades all aspects of the game, carrying through to the PvP, and the huge amount of mythology lends itself to the feeling of this strong divide as the secret world intrudes on the regular one.

Finally, the story. Drawing on the rich tapestry of mythology, Funcom are taking the story of the game extremely seriously. All aspects of the game tie back to the story - but you’re going to have to wait for more details on this, because they’re resisting almost all temptations so far to provide any spoilers. Intriguing.

The live demo we were treated to was for a level called “A Fistful of Zombies”, with the characters entering the picturesque town of Kingsmouth, one of the areas available in the game early on, to find out why it’s dropped off the radar. Turns out it’s a got a bad case of the zombies, and we watched gameplay mechanics unfold as as the characters did their best to battle though the zombie horde.

But it’s not a static instance or simple mission that just happens to have zombies - the creatures are intricately tied into the development and evolution of the story, and your involvement with them is more than just lighting them on fire or filling them with lead. “This mission is all about exploring the ecology of these creatures”, explains (Australian!) Joel Bylos, a lead designer, and as we went through the mission we learned about the origin of the zombies, and what had to be done to stop them, which involved some more spectacular visuals and a boss battle down by the ocean.

Investigation missions are another cool aspect of the game. Instead of a typical linear style of progression bouncing between waypoints or objects, an Investigation mission will see players really putting on their thinking caps and scouring the game for clues on how to proceed - and sometimes, having to look outside of the game.

An example we saw involved the player actually firing up a browser to do a search on a particular clue that was found, yielding a Wikipedia page with some information to help you proceed, and it was hinted that Funcom will be creating a host of websites outside of the game that you’ll need to track down in order to complete some of these sorts of missions. We asked if there’d be an in-game browser and it sounds like that is on the cards in order to facilitate these sorts of tasks.

Of course, it is most definitely worth spending some time talking about the visuals. As you would expect from the team behind Age of Conan, The Secret World is simply the best looking MMO out there. Everything is crisp, sharp, lush and simply a pleasure to watch playing. The performance was equally impressive given the extremely high level of detail, even in large and busy scenes.

However, what stood out most to me was the incredibly creative design of the (non-human) creatures in the game; almost everyone one you see stands out as being utterly unique and perfectly crafted to fit in with the pervading theme of this battle between incredible, hidden forces. The design and art team deserve a massive pat on the back for coming up something that stands out head and shoulders above the pack in a fiercely competitive field.

While we only saw a taste of the game, it is clearly shaping up to be something MMO players will want to know about - a refreshing take on the genre, offering a powerful, compelling universe with a fascinating and intriguing backdrop. The diverse mythology that Ragnar and the Funcom team have clearly spent years meticulously researching offers almost limitless potential for gameplay.

Under the current schedule, Funcom are planning to take the game into its first external beta in about two months - so stay tuned for updates, as there'll be a lot of people wanting to get into this one.

Latest Comments
Posted 12:21am 11/3/11
Posted 12:50am 11/3/11
My (unfinished, unproofread) preview is here if you want a sneak preview of the raw stuff:
Posted 01:06am 11/3/11
Very nice! I liked the look of the environments for sure.
Posted 08:56am 11/3/11
I'm surprised people are interested in anything from funcom after their Age of Conan experience!
Posted 09:27am 11/3/11
Well it has an aussie as one of the leads, so it can't be all bad!
Posted 09:35am 11/3/11
Yeah Age of Conan was disappointing, but I think I'm willing to overlook that just for the fact that this looks a refreshing change from the typical fantasy based mmo.
Posted 09:51am 11/3/11
I really didn't mind AoC, I thought it shat all over WAR and Aion.
Posted 10:14am 11/3/11
People simply have to get around the hype that was happening at the time of AoC and WAR. AoC still is graphically a great game certainly SW will be the same I would expect.

Luckily enough for me I've already been selected as Illuminati.
Posted 01:35pm 11/3/11
AoC was an excellent game, and had great potential, but they clearly got rushed out the door with it. If they had the missing content between 40-55 it would of been wicked.
Posted 01:51pm 11/3/11
AoC was an excellent game, and had great potential, but they clearly got rushed out the door with it. If they had the missing content between 40-55 it would of been wicked.
Yeh, they're totaaaaaaaally aware of that being the major issue with AoC, and its why they're going gangbusters on the story/content side of TSW - they are really trying to make sure that people aren't going to get to the midgame and run out of content. And the Investigation stuff throws a curve in there as well; they can keep dropping in unique quests that tie into the real world that people will have to collaborate on to solve the puzzles to progress further.

Be interesting to see how that pans out - I'm curious if people will just solve the puzzle then publish it somewhere and people will just Google the HOWTO instead of solving it themselves, or if they'll Do the Right Thing and play through it properly attempting to solve it.
Posted 02:11pm 11/3/11
The fiction of it sounds interesting, just from the bit I saw in the first vid.

There’s also no levels. And no classes. I know, right?! What sort of crazy game is this?

This is also good. The reason WoW's feeling of progression eventually felt empty was because at each expansion they had to make the old "max level" the new "starting point" to begin a whole new series of progression (which was always just a mirror of the old one), which really makes accomplishment feel empty.
Posted 02:23pm 11/3/11
Be interesting to see how that pans out - I'm curious if people will just solve the puzzle then publish it somewhere and people will just Google the HOWTO instead of solving it themselves, or if they'll Do the Right Thing and play through it properly attempting to solve it.
Just as long as you don't have to travel to Iraq and back to finish one puzzle then I'm sure people will do the right thing.
Posted 03:20pm 11/3/11
For a minute their I thought you sounded sarcastic Trog :S But good to hear they know what to fix, and are.
Reverend Evil
Posted 03:37pm 11/3/11
So how does this game work?

Are the zones themselves a different world to play in? I'm just going by WoW so would something like Durotar represent 1 world and once you clear that you move onto Barrens which is the second world?
Posted 06:46am 12/3/11
My guess is this game will be like Age of Conan, yet with more clearly defined/ highly realized, places of appropriate GENRE AND STORYLINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How Fun-com mesh that stuff into AWESOMENESS!!!!????????? now thats the question!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted 05:59pm 12/3/11
This might be an MMO that'd appeal to me. I'm so over the class system and level grind that's so common.

I'd be sold if it will allow your character to develop as it progresses through the game. Something which I feel WoW lacks as it's more focused on end-game gear.

Something sandboxy like EVE Online, without the boring.
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