Over-thinking! Learning to enjoy the finer points of The Secret World

Overthinking a situation can often be a cardinal sin when it comes to problem solving. If one approaches a situation with a technical mindset you can often overlook the minutia within or perhaps miss vital bits of information that you could otherwise have gotten with a more open mind. As an engineer I find myself falling into this pit trap fairly often. While at work I am required to come up with complex solutions to problems, sometimes the small work problems or day to day life problems have far simpler solutions than I anticipate. It is easy to spend far too long agonizing over factors that really don’t apply to the situation at hand.

There’s an amusing story that I’d like to mention that exemplifies this way of thinking

Back in college we found ourselves working as a collective in different dorm rooms depending on who was hosting that night. A group of us engineers were sitting in a female engineering classmate’s room working on a breadboard doing some introductory assembly language programming. Things were going pretty smoothly, as we had a firm grasp of the  assignment, though it was time consuming and we went late into the evening. It was late when one of the classmates was showing the girl whose room it was how to do something she didn’t quite get using her pen as a pointer. Recklessly he flipped the pen and it fell down into the air vent along the base of the wall near her computer. She became quite unhappy as that pen was her favorite one and we all decided we needed to get it back for her.

So naturally we started brainstorming. We thought about using a sticky substance on the end of some paperclips to snag the pen and carefully pull it up through the bars. We tried creating a primitive gripping device to reach down and pull up the pen. We ran through a handful of ideas and implemented a few of them with little success. We were getting quite frustrated as we failed to pull the pen out.

After we had all but given up her roommate ended up coming home from the library and found the host particularly upset. Once we explained to the roommate what had happened and what we were trying to do she looked at us rather oddly. She walked over to the vent, reached down, and simply lifted up the metal vent cover that wasn’t fastened down allowing someone to simply reach in and pull the pen out.

We had missed the most obvious and simple solution out of all of them. Why did we assume the vent cover was fastened down…because we wanted more of a challenge? It is entirely unclear.

What is the point you might ask

Recently I have been playing a game called The Secret World. It is the most recent MMORPG released by Funcom the company that made Anarchy Online and Conan. It is subscription based and not free to play so I understand the barrier to entry for most people seems a bit high. Having played the game during the beta and growing to really like it we decided to take the plunge.

The “WE” bit in that last paragraph is fairly significant. My fiancé doesn’t have a PC fast enough to run higher end games and she doesn’t really like playing online with strangers which I 100% understand. We really loved the modern day mythos feel the game had when we saw it at PAX (hence the beta key) and decided we would try playing it side by side to experience the story beats and voice acting. This is a big deal. She never had any intention of sitting with me during WoW or SW:ToR playing so wanting to see an MMO from a spectator seat is quite different. It also says something that the game is enjoyable enough story wise that it can support this kind of play together.

The kicker is that while I have not avoided it entirely, I am not really getting into the nuts and bolts of this game. I normally like to be a powergamer, min/maxer, munchkin (whatever term your gaming group uses) when it comes to these types of games in order to give myself the best chance to succeed. With The Secret World we’re just playing the game. We’re not going crazy looking up strats and tweaking out our character. IF we ever need to look something up the game offers an in game browser window which is super handy for when you get stuck on a quest and absolutely need some guidance.

Taking a step back, knowing that I have no intention of pushing hard into the endgame of Secret World has allowed me to appreciate the game for its main elements. The quests are enjoyable and while there is some of the kill X or get Y items in there, there’s often enough flavor and dialogue that it feels like a real mini-story. I can’t do it justice describing it but I find it far and away more enjoyable than other MMO’s with its questing system. The rest of the game is fun but certainly far from perfect. There are some bugs and very clunky mechanics. To coin the term used by Jeff Cannata the game is probably “More Fun Than It Is Good”.

While the game itself includes many of the core tenets set into motion by WoW such as the holy trinity of Tank/Healer/DPS the lines get fairly blurred with the complete lack of levels or classes. Don’t be misled though, until you finish your ability deck you’re clearly on a track when it comes to AP points (used to buy spells and abilities from the power wheel) and that, along with gear, pretty much determines your level. The fact that you can eventually train multiple roles on the same character and completely customize your character growth allow you to have that flexibility they promise with this system.

So you’re probably confused with “Deck” and “AP” so I should elaborate. The game’s power wheel is broken up into 9 weapon schools each one have multiple disciplines within them. Some are pure DPS, some are split healing/DPS and some Tank/DPS. They are: Pistols, Shotguns, Assault Rifles, Blood Magic, Elemental Magic, Chaos Magic, Claw/Fist weapons, Hammers/Axes, and Swords. Within each weapon there are 8 clusters of abilities. Each cluster is roughly 7 abilities that must be purchased sequentially. Of the eight, two of them are core and must be purchased completely before moving to the outer rim where the other 6 clusters lie. As you complete quests you earn AP points which are used as the currency to purchase these abilities. AP points are earned at a fixed rate and you can theoretically continue to run repeatable quests over the life of a character to fill out a sizeable chunk of the ability wheel (allowing you to have even greater flexibility swapping up your active abilities). Your Deck is a list of 7 active abilities and 7 passive abilities that you currently have at the ready. These decks can be customized, saved to a preset, and loaded at will.

Since you level up two weapons, one for each hand, you have access to two sets of weapon abilities and can capitalize on synergies between them. While many abilities debuff opponents, the debuffs are kept under fairly broad categories. Abilities can also have descriptors but they are also kept fairly vague to facilitate cross weapon interaction. Imagine, if you are familiar with WoW terminology, that your talent tree had every spec in the game in it. Imagine that you could pull an ability from class A that caused a bleed effect and class F has an ability that triggers on bleeding targets. Class F though has a little bit of a hard time bleeding targets so now you’ve created a cross “class” synergy. In secret world this applies to weakened, impaired, afflicted, and bleeding targets just to name a few.

It sounds complicated right? The beauty of it though is the game has suggested decks for different weapon combinations and it points you in the direction of the abilities on the wheel that you need to complete it. You even get rewarded for buying all of the abilities with a cool deck specific outfit. You could further refine the deck of course but it offers something that is perfectly viable for those people who want to progress soundly through the game but not need to pause and spend hours staring at the ability wheel going “Ok…what’s the best synergy for this?”. Right now I’m going Hammers/Chaos using a build that capitalizes on weakened and impaired targets and it has an execute range damage increase sub 35% target HP. In the end we’re slowly working through the Illusionist deck while experiencing all of the awesome story there is to be had in The Secret World.

Story! The story so far has been absolutely delightful. The first area, Solomon island is straight  out of Lovecraft horror. The town of Kingsmouth (Innsmouth) is a peaceful New England town overrun by horrific creatures, nightmares, ancient magic, zombies, and other forms of the world is coming to a terrible end and congratulations you’re right in the middle of it kind of way. You as a player are part of one of the three more active global conspiracy organizations: The Templar, Illuminati, and Dragon. There are other sizeable “in on it” secret organizations but those serve more as story beats and enemies since they are not playable. There are elements of the US government and military which are clearly in the know when it comes to supernatural events but for the most part the secret societies are in charge of stopping the bad stuff from going down. As a member of the Illuminati I have thoroughly enjoyed the technobabble and witty dialogue I have had with my superior officers. Listening to them comment on the atrocities of Solomon Island has been pretty hilarious at times.

I am not a game reviewer so I honestly can’t do the game the justice it deserves but I highly recommend the game to anyone looking for something fun to do (that isn’t currently playing Orcs must Die 2…which also rocks). Sure it might take a back seat once Mists of Pandaria comes online but it certainly fun. Take a look, do some reading, and decide if it is something that you would enjoy!

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3 responses to “Over-thinking! Learning to enjoy the finer points of The Secret World

  1. I hear a lot of comparisons to original build Star Wars Galaxies (Particularly the lack of a clear leveling path). Any truth to those comparisons? I love WoW, but nothing will ever top original SWG for me.

    However, if someone can nail it close enough…

  2. I am loving TSW. The quests are entertaining enough that I don’t mind redoing them, the missions give us a tantalizing glimpse of a bigger story, and the dungeons get progressively more difficult. As a healer, I have a great appreciation for mechanics that kill you if you choose poorly. ;) I love it enough that it miiiight replace wow as my game of choice. And so far they are delivering on their promise of a smidgeon of new content each month. Or, I guess another way to put it is that since a lifetime membership is about equal to 13 months, I bought the lifetime.

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