One of the most tragic stories of a game with so much potential…
When I think of some of the best MMOs to be cancelled, I think of City of Heroes and Trickster Online. These games had so much potential but were ultimately ended by their respective developers. The Secret World reminds me of those games because it’s filled with so much potential to be one of the best MMOs of all time, but is held back by some serious faults that leave the game in a state of limbo. I want to love this game and play it in its entirety as it has one of the greatest narratives in any MMO ever released. Combining the plot with an amazing world to set foot in, this game has the potential to be one of the greatest modern fantasy games to date, that sadly will never see that potential realized.
Let’s start with the good aspects of The Secret World and its free to play release The Secret World: Legends. The story, while having a weak introduction, is one of its strongest features. The player’s character is introduced into The Secret World by swallowing a magical bee, which opens their eyes to a hidden world of the paranormal that is concealed from everyday people. You’ll find yourself recruited by one of three factions that all have a vested interest in the strange supernatural phenomena hidden from plain sight. The factions include The Templars, The Dragon, and my personal favorite, The Illuminati. Each one has a different way of introducing you to your place in the world and will be your point of contact for completing quests and objectives. Each faction is wholly unique and provides a different take on what needs to happen in order to see their goals met, such as the Illuminati doing what they need to push for the new world order, or the Templars just trying to eliminate evil in the world as they have for thousands of years.
One of your first tasks is to proceed to a town called Kingsmouth. The story of this quiet town at first is about the undead rising to kill the denizens of the town. As the player progresses further into the area, they’ll find that there are also deep-sea horrors rising from the depths of the coast. Depending on the player’s preferred combat method, you’ll be able to dispose of these enemies without much hassle in this first area.
Aside from just slaughtering enemies, there’s questing to be done. There are traditional quests which require you to fetch and deliver items and kill enemies, but where this game’s questing really shines is in its puzzles and investigative quests. These quests see the player using logic and wit to solve various puzzles in game that aren’t always the easiest. Sometimes you’ll need to really think outside the box to solve riddles and puzzles. Speaking of outside, one of the greatest strengths in The Secret World is that you’ll need to go out of the game in order to solve certain quests. At times you’ll need to open up a web browser out of game to look up a fictional company or other staged website in a pseudo ARPG experience. With these sites existing in the real world, it really makes the involvement and thought of things hidden outside of a normal person’s view more plausible and enhances the experience tenfold.
The actual world itself is rich with lore and locations. Each major location in the game is a chapter that sees the player resolving an arc that is contained to that area. Locations like Egypt, Transylvania, Tokyo and more all feel like appropriate representations of their real-world counterparts. Each area is filled with thematically appropriate myths, folklore, legends, and monsters that add to the experience as you’re not always just chasing a generic group of villains for the entire game. Truly one of the game’s greatest qualities is the world that it plays host to. I cannot praise this game’s story and world enough as both are such strong points going for this title.
Unfortunately, this game’s downfalls and troubles are too egregious and absolutely ruin what would otherwise be an amazing experience. To start, the game hasn’t aged well at all in terms of graphics and visuals. The Secret World released back in June of 2012 and it shows. Character models look old and outdated. Jagged models and low-resolution textures are everywhere. Character creation is limited in options and most options are unappealing aside from all the various clothing the player can select. This game could use a brand-new coat of paint fitting for an MMO of this day and age.
What makes the game truly unbearable to play is its combat. The Secret World has the player choose two weapons to start, and these weapons will be what they build their character on. Once certain requirements are met, the player can unlock titles and costumes that basically equate to a class or specialization in other games, even though The Secret World has no formal class system. While a good idea in concept and something performed well by other games, the actual combat of The Secret World is horrendous. Combat feels stiff, sluggish, slow, and generally a very janky experience. The sad part was that Funcom knew this, so they rereleased the game in a free to play form known as The Secret World: Legends that promised to revamp combat to make it a better experience by adding unique mechanics to each weapon, and promised a better more fluid combat loop. Despite this, the combat was still lackluster and poorly received. Ultimately, they estranged the audience they had that liked things the way they were, while not doing much to bring in new players or lure back in those who had a problem with the games combat.
Monetization of The Secret World: Legends is what really killed things for a lot of players as well. With constant loot crate drops that required cash shop keys to open, the game was doing everything in its power to goad you into subscribing to the available premium model, or making microtransactions appealing in a way that felt heavy-handed instead of inviting. While companies are in the business to make money, restricting the already hesitant new player experience wasn’t a recipe for success in this instance.
The Secret World: Legends is a game I really wish I could give a glowing review. I want to praise what this game does so well because of its unique take on questing and world building. I just can’t see myself recommending this game though, as its faults are much too damaging to the overall experience. With a heavy heart, I have to say I would pass on The Secret World: Legends. This is definitely a title I’ll be following however, because if the game can fix its visuals, combat, and monetization, I’ll be returning to see if the game has become the paranormal MMO that lives up to the world and lore it has created.