Chaos Theory: Early access to The Secret World

Chaos Theory - Early access to The Secret World
Dark days aren't just coming, folks -- they're already here. And they're glorious.

As you've probably surmised, Chaos Theory is a new column all about The Secret World. What you might not realize, however, is that this addition to Massively's feature roster was a little bit last-minute. Don't get me wrong; I've been looking forward to this game for a number of years now (heck, I signed up on DarkDemonsCryGaia.com waaaaay back in May of 2007, before Massively even existed!). Up until very recently, though, we had no plans to cover the game on a recurring basis. That changed over the early release weekend as I spammed our editors with zomg-I'm-having-a-blast-and-you-should-totally-let-me-write-about-this emails.

Sure, I played the press beta and largely enjoyed it for what it was, but now that I'm in the game proper, tooling around on my own characters and taking the time to soak up the stories, the lore, and the mechanics, well... let's just say that we'll have plenty to talk about for the foreseeable future.

The Secret World - Tokyo subway incident
If you've made it this far, I'm assuming you're at least somewhat familiar with The Secret World already. If you're not, I'll direct you to Funcom's official website, where you can get an eyeful of everything from the three-faction setup to the lore to the skill-based advancement systems.

You'll also want to check out Massively's handy-dandy TSW community guide as well as our launch-day roundup (coming tomorrow), which collects our best news coverage. For the remainder of this intro column, let's delve into some general impressions from the early release weekend.

The bad
I'm going to throw a change-up of sorts and lead off with what I dislike about the game. Don't worry, fans and conspiracy theorists; it's a pretty short section.

Character creation is... OK. I wouldn't call it horrible, especially compared to the bare bones implementation we saw for much of the beta. But for a game based in the real world, TSW has surprisingly few ways to physically differentiate one character from another. There are no body sliders, for example, so every avatar in the game is basically a True Blood cast member: young, beautiful, with inhuman six-pack abs and the hardest of hard bodies.

Also, oh em gee, the cash shop items. Blech. First of all, they're Age of Conan-expensive. Second of all, lots of people are blinging out their avatars with garish fashion faux pas that advertise their faction of choice in the loudest way possible. Nothing says "I'm a badass covert operative" like a blue and white leather jacket with a gigantic Illuminati pyramid on the back, amirite? Insert your own eyeroll emote here.

The good
The good is pretty much everything else. Label me a fanboy, a Funcom apologist, or whatever else you like, but the fact is that the devs have crafted a game that is simply a lot of fun to play. I lurv the setting, the minimalistic UI, the skill system, and plenty of other things that we'll discuss in detail over the life of this column.

Perhaps most importantly, The Secret World is unafraid to take risks, which is not something that can be said (with a straight face) about many of its AAA MMO brethren.

The MMO story
OK, so I've never been a staunch defender of MMO story. In fact, I've heretofore hated it. The Secret World's is different, though. I can't quite put my finger on why, either. Perhaps it's because it's so liberally sprinkled with mythological and real-world references (find me another MMO that talks about Caligula, the Masons, and Excalibur in one of its starter zones, all the while never breaking your immersion or jumping the proverbial shark).

The dialogue is first-rate, both in terms of the writing and the voice-acting. The Secret World is everything that other MMO story games aren't: sophisticated, relevant, and crucially, interesting. I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon paging through the (completely optional) flavor dialogue trees of every NPC in the London starting zone, and though it took several hours and did absolutely nothing for my character build, it was quite enjoyable.

Playing The Secret World, and I mean really playing it, not just brainlessly grinding my way to max skills, is akin to reading a good novel. A beach novel, maybe, or one of those sublime choose-your-own-adventure books that you loved in the fifth grade, but a novel nonetheless. And at the risk of offending the pun-phobic, I'll say that's a pretty novel experience when it comes to MMOs.

Launch bugs
Some of you are probably waiting for me to talk about the inevitable Funcom launch bugs. They're there; don't get me wrong. But I'm also here to report that the firm has upped its game for The Secret World's launch. Is it perfect? Nah. But it's easily the smoothest-running day-one build in Funcom's long history.

The worst hiccup that I've encountered thus far was a temporary case of crash-to-desktop-itis. I fiddled around with my settings and eventually tweaked up a compromise that offered excellent frame rates and above-average visual quality. For reference, I'm running an i5-2500k dual core system with eight gigs of memory and two GTX 460s powering a 30" display (2560x1600). It was a nice system a year ago, but it's definitely not bleeding edge.

Finally, keep in mind that I don't consider "clunky" combat to be a bug. I've heard this term a few times lately, and if that's your opinion of TSW's combat, who am I to argue? I dig it, though, and the total package is orders of magnitude more enjoyable than that of the game that supposedly wrote the book on "smooth" MMO combat.

Regardless, it's a bit early to be celebrating a good launch (or bashing a bad one). I'll be very curious to see next week's comment section, as surely we'll know by then whether TSW has had a decent kickoff or another Age of Conan-style "disaster."

Anyhow, that's about it for this inaugural edition of Chaos Theory. The Secret World is ours for the taking, and I'll be bringing you the latest news, views, guides, and interviews each week. And hey, because this is a Massively feature, you can rest assured that I'll actually be playing the game on a daily basis, too!

For now, I leave you with a Secret World quotable of the week, courtesy of our mutual friend Jack Boone. Stay alive out there, and I'll see you next time!

Chaos Theory Early access to The Secret World
Yes, Jef Reahard is paid to play The Secret World. He's not paid by Funcom, though, since Massively leaves the bribes and the bad grammar to its imitators (it's a conspiracy!). Chaos Theory comes your way every Thursday, bringing you Gaia's latest news, guides, and commentary.

This article was originally published on Massively.