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The Secret World
The Secret World

Genre: Role Playing
Developer: Funcom Official Site: http://www.darkdaysarecoming...
Publisher: Funcom
The Secret World Review
Review By @ 12:26pm 11/07/12
For a title that has spawned more hype over the past year or so than most of its brethren, The Secret World has been the recipient of a particularly anemic marketing course so far. Its strategy of running various open(ish) beta weekends, obscure flash games and odd preview presentations has been designed to represent the nature of the game world; abstract and mysterious. But a very buggy and badly managed beta coupled with poor information on how the game plays and what it contains has put off almost all but the most dedicated or those, like me, who are being paid to play it.

The Secret World is easily one of the most ambitious, complex and intelligent MMOs to release over the past few years, and as a result, is stymied when marketed like just another (gritty and dark) WoW. Shoehorning players into beta weekends, which are almost now designed to be time-limited demos rather than actual live tests, does nothing but confuse and disorient players who are not used to managing complex skill-trees or loose mission structures. Almost the entire beta period was filled with players who were completely baffled by what was in front of them; rookie questions flogged the in-game chat system.

Players are offered a reasonably irrelevant choice, at the beginning of the game, as to what faction they will align themselves with. This only comes into play around the story-based missions, some faction-based gear and a few guild mechanics. You can’t make a wrong choice and it’s fitting that the game doesn’t limit or punish you for this, but it’s worthwhile making a few alts if you want to play through the various paths. But it’s when you find yourself in the starting zone, Kingsmouth, that things start to get a little bewildering.

As many guides and other players will instantly advise you, the game “starts” at end-game. There are no levels in TSW, thus there are no metrics on which to moderate where and when you should play. Skill points are assigned to you as you complete quests and tasks, kill enemies or reach other benchmarks, and it's the choices you make with assigning these points that advances the strength and performance of your character. The number of available abilities is just staggering. There is a custom build available for almost any type of play style on the planet.

Sound confusing? It is, at first. Outside of the (very inadequate) tutorial mission, the game relies almost exclusively on your ability to read the manual and discover how things work on your own. There are no tooltips here folks, so deciding on what weapons or magic to use is entirely up to you. There are no warnings for poor combinations of skills nor (outside of some basic ratings) if you are too weak to complete objectives or take on enemies. Just like another hardcore MMO, Eve Online, the game rewards investigation, learning and collaboration, and punishes ignorance.

It’s in this situation that you will probably spend your first four-to-five hours of play gradually learning how to fight and work the mission system. Combat is tricky at first, (using GW2’s mixture of movement and hotkeys), since the strength of your enemies will dramatically outweigh the power of your abilities, forcing you to move around as you fight and utilise the active dodge system. It’s in this experimentation with various weapons and magic that you will slowly settle in to the groove. I highly recommend that you take advantage of the early opportunity to try various fighting styles out before deciding on one or two to grow.

Over time, you will become not only more powerful, but more skilled at chaining various abilities together, or understanding the cues of strong enemy attacks. Want to wield an assault rifle but also like the ability to self-heal? Done. Want to control the elements and carry a machete? No problems. There are abilities that attack and exploit every type of status and ailment. You’ll also quickly notice that mobs aren’t willing to sit back and take it easy, as demonstrated from the very first time you walk down a street in Kingsmouth, where you will be mobbed by brain-munching zombies at every opportunity, 28 Days Later style.

All of this comes to a head when you take on large group missions or bosses with other players. While there are builds available for people unable or unwilling to go it alone, known as “Decks”, many players will notice quickly that they have certain advantages in combat. Healing spells, for example, are pretty good across the board, and certain items lend themselves to obvious boosting capabilities. The same thing applies to tanking; it’s not difficult to choose gear with high health or abilities that offer crowd-control. Since it’s difficult to fight by yourself without some particular major strength, your place in group combat won’t take long to realise.

As a result of this focus on difficulty, you will be rewarded with a fantastic, actually intriguing story lead by some brilliant voice acting and a number of cut-scenes that aren’t too long or too boring. Thankfully, not every single quest is harangued by long, drawn out dialogue, since the majority of them tend to spread out across four-to-five various tasks before they are completed. The tasks are, for the most part, interesting to complete, however, there are still various hooks (kill x, find y) that tend to bulk out some of the objectives.

But questing is not linear, nor is it designed to be based around “safe” hub areas. Many of the tasks you require will not be marked on your map, but designed to be found as you walk around; maybe from a discarded cell phone with an unopened message, or a postal van full of undelivered parcels. You can take one “story” mission, one “red” mission and three “green” missions at one time - this restriction keeps you from being overwhelmed with objectives, along with keeping you moving from point to point, rather than running back constantly. The added bonus of being able to complete quests remotely (via your mobile phone) helps to keep things flowing.

This is all cocooned by some very creepy aesthetic, with locales ranging from sleepy New England towns to desert struck Egypt and the gothic locales of Transylvania. You really do get the feeling that the whole world is gradually turning to shit, and as you uncover more about the overarching plot and “the filth” that is taking over the world the more you just want to dig deeper and discover who or what is behind it all. I won’t spoil anything; but I will say that the story is leaps and bounds ahead of even SWTOR’s impressive efforts, although I have yet to come to the final conclusion.

But it’s not all peaches and cream, as anyone who has played a Funcom title before can attest to. Although many of the bugs from the beta have been squashed, many oddities still remain, like mission objectives that don’t exist (goddamn ravens), or enemies constantly trying to re-align themselves back to their spawn points. Combat, while being significantly tighter than it was in beta, is still sloppy, with targeting still a little flakey and hits occasionally not registering. I’ve also had some situations where frame-rate suddenly became atrocious before working itself back to normal after a period of time.

PVP is another point of contention. TSW has two open-world areas that incorporate both questing and combat, and signing up to PVP gives you the option of choosing a faction-specific role for making group objectives simpler to manage. It’s fun, but it still seems a little unfinished and chaotic. The issues with grouping in PVE are still an issue in PVP, as the lack of a dedicated system for finding like-minded players makes things difficult. I will, however, congratulate the developers for allowing easy transition (teleporting) between servers for grouping.

But it’s the difficulty and how it’s managed that has me sitting smack bang in the middle of a love/hate argument with myself. I can appreciate the sheer amount of work that has gone into one particular factor; the investigation missions, that famously require the use of the in-game web browser. While most of the Google searches inevitably show up the discussions (and ultimate solutions) many of these quests are still very cryptic and require astute observation or research skills to complete.

TSW is certainly not scared to take prisoners, torture them and finally line them up for execution. The early game is, at points, so frustrating, seemingly random and disjointed that unless you are prepared to invest a significant amount of time (if you paid/subbed, then you may have already done so) in learning and growing at a gradual pace, it won’t be a fun experience. It’s almost always impossible to know how you are progressing, or if you are strong enough to invest time in a task.

Time invested, however, is rewarded with a true sense of accomplishment. Overcoming the initial obstacles and progressing, albeit slowly and carefully, through the world sees you actively growing into a true individual. Many games promise this, but few deliver like TSW does as your skill and ability choices are very rarely going to be copied by others. As you grow stronger, so do your opponents, making every fight and win that much sweeter. Missions always have purpose, and exist to further your connection and understanding of the world, an element missing in many other MMOs.

If anything, TSW was released just a little too early. There are still quite a lot of bugs, latency issues and the early experience requires even a modicom of structure and patience. It launches out of the gate too quickly, and many players from other MMOs will find themselves simply lost and annoyed as they attempt to learn from scratch. This is because, although not marketed as such, the game is not designed for people who are used to or are expecting a traditional experience.

But if you’ve been waiting for a true challenge, a sense of adventure, genuine progression and a world that is filled with complex actions, real people and real threats, than you could do worse than entering The Secret World
What we liked
  • Incredible story, gameplay complexity and sense of progression
  • Great atmosphere, graphics and sound
  • Missions have purpose and depth
What we didn't like
  • Still a few too many bugs
  • Early game is very frustrating and messy
  • Combat and PVP need more tweaking
We gave it:
Latest Comments
Posted 01:32pm 11/7/12
Sounds a bit better then expected; although, reading into it the bugs and errors are what drives me away from buying the game.
Posted 01:43pm 11/7/12
Well, I can only speak from my personal experience, but I haven't encountered very many bugs at all. A couple of minor UI glitches (like advanced tooltips turning off by themselves), and 2 quests have bugged out and been uncompleteable (which have both now been fixed in last nights patch), but apart from that its been a pretty smooth experience for me. Haven't really had any problems with latency, and servers haven't been crashing and stuff, and the client hasn't crashed on me (except for when I had old drivers installed and tried to hack in an SLI profile).

If you have an nvidia card, grab the latest beta drivers, they have profiles for The Secret World added.
Posted 01:45pm 11/7/12
I actually might check this out after reading the review. It looks like my kind of MMO.
Posted 02:25pm 11/7/12
Any game that gets 15-16 angry Obes out of 10 must be good.
Posted 03:07pm 11/7/12
I'm still getting over the shock of an Obes post full of praise and positivity, this game has shattered my pre-conceptions of reality
Posted 03:09pm 11/7/12
I haven't had many bugs, but the bugs I have had have stopped me from completing quests. That's poop.

Still, it's not a bad game, enjoying it.
Posted 03:18pm 11/7/12
I haven't had many bugs, but the bugs I have had have stopped me from completing quests.

Was it the ravens in Kingsmouth not working? Cos those have been fixed now in the patch last night (thats one that didn't work for me). The other one that didn't work for me was in Savage Coast, where you're meant to get ambused by some Phoenician mercs but the ambushers never show up, but thats been fixed too in the patch last night apparently.

Its pretty cool with the cross-server play though, cos when I couldn't complete that one in Savage Coast cos it was bugged, I got typo to invite me into a group so I could jump accross to his server and I did the quest there, because it wasn't bugged on his server.
Posted 03:33pm 11/7/12
I'm loving it, so happy they changed the animations for dual pistols from beta. Kicks so much arse. I honestly can't stop playing it =D
Posted 04:33pm 11/7/12
Far exceeded my expectations. This was an on the fence purchase for me, but so glad I ended up buying it.

Besides the mission bugs that pretty much everyone encountered, and a glitch I encountered on the last boss in the third dungeon (Which helped us more then hinder) I didn't really experience any problems.

Dragon member rocking Blade and AR <3
Posted 04:53pm 11/7/12
$37 on intkeys ... it's tempted to give it a whirl.
Posted 05:51pm 11/7/12
ditto :o
Posted 06:31pm 11/7/12
Why must game designers constantly rip off Aliens? There is an enemy in Act IV of Diablo III that looks like one too.
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