Review by Pulp
"A fun game but a below average MMO"
*Note: I have played for 20 days. Normally I would be hesitant to post a MMO review after such a short period but that is actually ample time for this game.
The story content in The Secret World is generally quite good. Basically there is your "Faction story" and then quite a few optional area-specific NPCs with their own semi connected stories. You have to make an effort to keep the big picture in mind as you traverse the many various cutscenes but it does all tie together and make for a satisfying experience. No matter which of the three faction stories you follow, it does end on a bit of a... cliffhanger.
Voice work, and there is quite a bit of it, varies between top notch and ridiculous. It is worth noting your character NEVER says a word. I am not sure if that matters but it did strike me as odd. The NPCs even joke about you being a mute.
I was actually a little torn on how to rate this. With everything at max, it does look fairly good, especially the environments and attention to detail. It does require a beefy PC though. I averaged 40-45 FPS with an i5 @ 4.6 and 580 GTS. That said, the animations (player & NPCs) are pretty choppy and rough -- it detracts from the overall experience.
Sound is always hit & miss for me. In TSW, I found the sound passable. Environmental sound is quite well done, while combat sound and music is usually bland. I would mute the sound in a number of quest hubs, just because the background music was absolutely obnoxious.
Funcom does seem genuinely interested in communicating with the player base and one account issue I had was cleared up in record time. The Funcom website for account management, purchase of Funcom points (there is an in-game cosmetic item store) and stat tracking is top notch.
The main selling point of TSW combat is the "level-free" system...but that isn't altogether accurate. Levels exist, it is just that progression comes solely in the form of AP/SP points which you distribute. SPs increase your weapon / gear score, while APs are spent on various skills in the various weapons trees (all laid out in a simplistic wheel format). If this sounds confusing, it really isn't. The key thing to understand is you do not need to use a weapon to advance in the skill tree and, at the end of the day, everyone will have everything maxxed out.
You then take 7 active skills & 7 passive skills -- that is your build. Builds/loadouts can be switched on the fly (buggy), assuming you are not currently in combat. With 525 skills, this might sound like a lot of variety but the reality is only certain skills synergize into effective builds and TSW still operates (for PvE at least) with very, VERY specific roles (Tank, DPS, Healer). In fact, expect to be asked to download UI addons and meet specific numbers to be allowed into end game content.
Having a build is one thing, but perhaps more important is getting gear. You can gain end game gear(Q10+) through PvE (Black Bullions) or PvP (White / Black Marks). PvE is far more efficient for gaining gear. Because of how big a difference gear plays in having an effective build, new players will find themselves severely underpowered in both PvE & PvP, until they manage to collect inital sets of Q10 gear.
PvE Content: 8/10
Probably the best part of TSW, the quest content is quite varied and fun. There are a number of different mission types: Faction (main story), Investigation (use google, decipher clues), Stealth (avoid enemies, cameras, etc), Dungeons (raids, sort of), optional story quests (standard kill x, etc) and quick mini-quests. It really is a mixed bag and some areas/quests are much more fun than others. End game PvE is all about grinding out Nightmare versions of dungeons for 'Black Bullion' which are used to gain gear. Perhaps a side portion of PvE end game, and a longer grind, is collecting Signets, which can be added to gear.
PvP Content: 2/10
There are 3 pvp battle grounds: Stonehenge (King of the hill), El Dorado (Flag defense) and Fusang (Open, objective based). Since the latest patch, Fusang is really the only one being used on my server, possibly due to a bug giving out additional marks. There are three factions, Templar, Illuminati and Dragons. Once again, on my server at least, Templars greatly outnumber the other two factions, leading to a very unsatisfying experience (and leads to simply objective trading).
Probably the biggest mistake Funcom made was making domination of pvp equal a substantial world buff, that works both in pvp and pve. This leads to a situation where players are simply rolling Templars to gain access to the buff... a vicious cycle in overpopulation.
(This score is not an average)
As a short term, pve-only game, The Secret World can be a genuinely fun experience worth $60. I did have a good time with certain quests -- a haunted house that was genuinely creepy, sneaking through a parking lot with no lights and more. Several issues make the long term outlook seem bleak, especially with a subscription fee tossed into the mix.
At the end of the day, the PvE content isn't all that deep. You can certainly power through one faction story in a fairly casual week of playtime. A person could take the time to all 3 faction stories (3 characters allowed per server, more can be purchased through Funcom) but even that won't take all that long. Unlocking all 525 skills will take quite a while but while being a substantial grind for minimal payoff, I would not exactly call this kind of exercise "content".
PvP is fundamentally broken, with imbalance issues in both population and gear discrepancy (there is a lack of any real ranking). Players can make unkillable builds with proper Q10+ gear. A frustrating experience to be sure. I think the basics are there for a fairly fun experience, it's just the balance of everything around it is completely broken in practice. Re-balancing of skills/gear and proper ranking is far from happening anytime soon, if ever.
This MMO is built solely around combat. It is a stretch to claim this game has "crafting" -- at best it has "assembling". There is no economy to really speak of, nor is there any hope of one, despite Funcom recently adding a terribly broker Auction House. PAX (gold) is plentiful and only worth spending on a few key "upgrades". Housing is non-existent. Hobbies don't exist either. Again, combat only.
End game, which currently will be the majority of the first 30 day experience unless someone works hard to avoid it, is grinding Nightmares or trying to make pvp work. It is just not very fun and it is doubtful it will keep most people entertained. There are other games...better games, that are combat centric and come without any subscription fee. TSW simply doesn't have the tools to compete as a subscription based MMO.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 08/06/12
Game Release: The Secret World (US, 07/03/12)
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