Funcom's The Secret World invites players into a macabre world of make believe. Imagine that every conspiracy theory, every horror story, and every cryptozoology creature was real. Now get ready to unravel the mysteries and face slumbering deep terrors, howls in the woods, and bogeymen in the night. The Secret World spins modern myths, ancient legends, and dark tales into a thrilling theme park for the MMORPG connoisseur.
There’s zombies, cultists, ghosts, golems, werewolves, vampires and just about every other terror trope out there, all meticulously placed in perfect environments. The lost vessel at sea that came back with something from the deep, and then the people started... changing. The school of occult teaching where the students and faculty became victims of their own twisted experiments and magics. The abandoned amusement park that remains powered by dark secrets. They’re all takes on stories you’ve probably heard, and just a few of the stories you get to play through in the Secret World. Don’t mistake this for a MMORPG skinned with some Left 4 Dead leftovers - This is as close as it gets to an interactive horror story adventure.
And I do mean that. Although they’re strapped to “quest chains” players will find all kinds of optional story and forbidden knowledge along the way. Delicious little lore-gems that are placed just off the beaten path that lead to all kinds of other information and adventures. Because in the Secret World, that becomes the motivation for many of your decisions - You want to know. You don’t decide to keep digging deeper into what happened in the old cave in the woods or the town’s past because you want to get a new item or a burst of xp - You do it because you want to find out what happened. You want to complete the story, to find out what happens next. It’s as if Silent Hill, The X-Files, and a few volumes of King and Lovecraft were placed into a MMO mixing bowl, turned into a tangy terror sauce, and drizzled delicately over a lush fiction frame. Although new players start off taking on a zombie apocalypse and some Cthulhuesque sea spawn, players will quickly discover the range in The Secret World is expansive.
Questing has a few different faces in The Secret World. All quests begin with some deliciously dark backstory that reveals the beginning of whatever skeletons in the closet you’re about to dig up, and is color coded. There are the traditional quests that have players rooting around killing, exploring, triggering bosses and waiting for something even nastier than the last thing to creep out of the shadows.
There are sabotage quests, which generally include some fancy footwork and problem solving against detection, tripwires, and traps (Think Metal Gear Solid, BioShock security cameras). And then there are investigation quests, which may require the player to do research outside of the game as well as puzzle solving within the game. Those numbers you found on a piece of paper, they probably matter. That photo with the three doctors that ran the asylum, there’s probably some important information there. There’s a browser within the game to conduct research and searches using the old Google search, and curious players will be using it often to fulfill these quests.
The game is indeed level free. The Secret World uses a skill-based system, there is never a need to reroll or respec unless a player wants to change factions. If you “mess up your build” simply go do some more things, and place the points. Yes, a player can potentially learn every single skill in the game over time! Players can make their very own class using a huge variety of weapon-based skills, 7 passive and 7 active at a time. Don’t feel like making your own and need some guidance? There are “Decks” available that can give you skills to work towards to create a class that can do what you’d like, from tanking/healing/dps/support and all kinds of combinations.
The combat itself is comparable to any other modern MMORPG, blast your hotbar in the right order and keep an eye for fire on the ground. Setting up your abilities to take full advantage of your hotbar becomes the real meat of the basic combat game.
Yes, the “holy trinity” exists here but it’s sort of different than other games. Sure, there’s a tank - but that player may have a dps spec, a healing spec, and a support spec too. Maybe even multiples of all of them. The Secret World allows players to taste the beginning skills of any tree for a marginal investment, and then allows the more refined skills designed for specific builds to be unlocked for larger point investments.
Characters will find increasingly higher quality loot as they progress through the game, equippable by placing points into various specializations. But again, loot is more of an afterthought to things going on than the focus. Trust me, when you’re battling an Ur-Draug for the first time the last thing on your mind is going to be “I wonder what loots this guy will drop lol!”. No, it’s more like “Oh my god this thing is going to eat me! I should probably run, fast.”
The dungeons we had a chance to explore featured streamlined bossfights that fit the lore of the location (Trying to dodge spoilers left and right!). That’s right, there is virtually no trash to speak of and it’s just battle after battle with the good stuff. Discussing some of the bosses is impossible without massive spoilers, but there is interdimensional warping and a good number of other surprises to be found in the traditional 5-man dungeon crawls.
The Secret World succeeds admirably at creating an immersive, dark adventure wrapped in a MMORPG shell. No high elves, no battlecruisers - Just things that go bump in the night and ancient secrets. It’s part Indiana Jones adventure, part H.P. Lovecraft nightmare, and one completely immersive adventure story that puts the player in the pilot seat, always looking to see what’s on the next page. Strap on your tinfoil hat, the truth is out there in The Secret World.