The Secret is out—this game’s good!

The Secret World, the latest massive online offering from Funcom, surprised me. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t much. What I found, however, both shocked and frequently delighted me. The game’s darkly twisted world, set in a warped view of modern times, challenges how MMORPGs are played.

The story hinges on the premise that everything your mother told you wasn’t true…actually is. Myths, urban legends, crazy conspiracy theories—all real. That backdrop gives the designers carte blanche to include any wild idea that comes to mind, all in the name of The Secret World.

The game starts off predictably enough; players choose a server, a faction, and create a character, with three secret societies to choose from—the Illuminati, the Templars, and the Dragon—based in New York, London, and Seoul respectively. I chose the Templars and went through the disappointingly shallow character-creation process.

Once you’re satisfied with your character, you jump into the game through a series of drawn-out cutscenes broken up by some not-so-long stints of gameplay. Honestly, about an hour in, I was pretty discouraged, kind of bored, and not digging the game at all.

And then I started to receive quests and gain experience.

This is where you’ll realize how different The Secret World is from most MMORPGs. There’s no formal leveling—only an experience bar that fills and gives out rewards. Every time you fill about a third of the bar, you’ll receive an ability point, and once it’s completely filled, you’ll get a skill point. You use these abilities and skills to build out your character, and while you can only equip so many of each at a time, you can change them out whenever you’d like, effectively allowing you to change character classes at will.

If you want to be able to play as both a tank and a healer, depending on the situation, just take some extra time to grind XP and acquire the abilities for both. Save your favorite builds and change between them with a single click.

This ability alone frees players from the familiar constraints of MMORPGs. At best, previous games have let you unlearn and then retrain certain skill sets, often charging you for the privilege—anything else required creating a new character. While my personal OCD dictates a certain appreciation for the structure offered by other games, the no-leveling, do-what-you-want system in The Secret World presented a fantastic change of pace.

The other element that separates this game from the horde of other MMORPGs is the sheer variety of quest types. Sure, you still have plenty of things to fetch and groups of random baddies to kill, but The Secret World takes things further. In addition to the familiar Story and Action missions that play similarly to other games, there are also Sabotage missions where stealth is key and Investigation missions that make players go outside the game to solve complex puzzles.

While other games have attempted to integrate media from outside the game, The Secret World does it the right way, by simply using real-world resources, particularly the Internet. It doesn’t try to create and place fiction elsewhere—instead, it brings reality into its fantasy. That simple, singular act of having to search the Net for answers to solve a puzzle drew me deeper into a game than any in recent memory.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the game looks better than most other MMORPGs, as long as you have a DirectX 11–compatible graphics card. The game will run on systems with less, but if you find yourself enthralled with the game, it’s definitely worth the upgrade.

It’s also worth noting that the acting and voice work here are top-notch. Like Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Secret World features full speech for every conversation, a surprise for what appeared to be a second-tier game. Funcom pulled it off, though—to impressive effect—and it really enhances the game.

The Secret World only stumbles in a couple of places: the aforementioned slow, cinematic-heavy beginning and the bugs. Most MMORPGs are buggy at launch, so experienced players expect it to a certain extent, but it still sucks when you can’t follow secondary parts of quest chains for no good reason or when you get stuck between objects in the environment and have to restart the game. I’m sure these will be ironed out, and they’re not severe enough for interested players to avoid The Secret World, but they did make me walk away from the game a few times to avoid putting my fist through my computer screen.

Overall, The Secret World was a pleasant surprise. I went in thinking I was reviewing a new game—and, instead, I found a new obsession.

SUMMARY: The Secret World is a fresh, different sort of MMORPG, with both a modern setting and modern sensibilities. By eliminating class and level systems, the game allows players to take a more free-form approach to character development, effectively allowing a single character to fulfill multiple roles, depending on what the situation calls for. Add in a deep story, diverse quest structure, and some amazingly dark and horrific environs, and the end result is one of the biggest surprises in recent years. Once Funcom squashes all of the bugs—and assuming they continue to support it with new content—The Secret World could become the hit it deserves to be.

  • THE GOOD: A refreshing take on the MMORPG genre, with more innovations than you’d expect from a game with this low of a profile.
  • THE BAD: More bugs than an episode of Hoarders. Few are game-breaking, but the patches need to come fast.
  • THE UGLY: When every myth, urban legend, and conspiracy theory ends up being real, the things that lurk about the world will make your skin crawl.

SCORE: 8.0

The Secret World is a PC exclusive.


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About Marc Camron

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Marc somehow survived E3. The crowds were big, the games were loud and somehow he managed to get a sunburn on the top of his big, bald melon. Yet, despite all of this, he had a blast, seeing people he only sees once a year, playing all of the new games, and staying up way past his bedtime. Next year he might even have a beer. Find him on Twitter @RkyMtnGmr