A roadmap to The Secret World's ability wheel

Screenshot -- The Secret World
After months and months of warning us that dark days are coming, Funcom's new horror-sprinkled title, The Secret World, has finally arrived. The game brings a number of new twists to the tried-and-true MMORPG formula, but its character progression is its biggest departure from the MMO formula. While many modern titles rely on class-based systems or other linear progression paths, TSW takes a considerably more open-ended approach with the ability wheel.

However, this freedom of progression comes with a price. With more variety, there's more choice, and with more choice, there's bound to be more indecision. But don't fret: I'm here to help pull back the curtain on the mystery of the skill wheel and its many offerings. Want to know which route to take to dish out damage, take the hits, or heal and support your allies? Then follow along with me as I delve into the many intricacies of The Secret World's ability wheel.

As the word "wheel" implies, the game's ability wheel is a circle, and this circle is divided into wedges. Think of it as a delicious pie full of ass-whooping. First, the circle is divided into thirds. One-third is devoted to melee, one-third to ranged, and the other third to magic. From there, each of those thirds is further divided into thirds. The melee wedge is divided into hammers, fists, and blades; ranged fighters have the choice of shotguns, pistols, and assault rifles; and the finger-wiggly types can choose from blood magic, chaos magic, and elemental magic. Each of these ability categories is further subdivided in a way that's rather difficult to explain without an illustration. Thankfully...

The Secret World's ability wheel
We have one of those right here! Check out the bottom right of the wheel where it says Blood Magic; note the six small red segments on the outside of the wheel and the two segments closer to the inside. Each of those segments contains a collection of seven abilities. The two segments closer to the center of the ring contain the Blood Magic category's starting abilities. Before purchasing any abilities from a category's outer segments, players must purchase every ability from the inner segments. Abilities in a given wedge must be purchased in sequential order, and each ability generally costs more AP than the previous one, though the first three abilities in each category's starter wedges cost one AP each.

Now that we've got a basic idea of how the skill wheel operates, let's take a look at each of the various categories.

"Blades toons deal heavy damage through the use of stuns and bleeds, or they stand in defense with a number of self-heals and defense buffs."


Blades abilities tend to fall into one of two categories: melee DPS and defense. As such, blades makes an excellent fighting style for dishing out damage or soaking it up as a tank. On the damage-dealing end of things, swordsmen and women have access to a number of notable abilities. Take, for instance, the DPS swordsman's first elite ability, Stunning Swirl. This point-blank AoE ability dishes out a healthy amount of damage to begin with, but the real kicker is that the ability will impair all affected targets for three seconds, rendering them unable to move or act. This works well with early passive ability Expose Weakness, which grants a +10% penetration chance increase whenever the character applies the impaired effect to an enemy, which means you get to stun 'em and then unleash an ungodly assault while your foe is incapacitated. Another noteworthy ability of the blades fighting style is the 50 AP elite ability Master's House, which creates an AoE with a 15-meter radius on the ground. While the ability-user is within this area of effect, which lasts for 10 seconds, his movement speed is increased by 25%, his damage is increased by 20%, and to top it all off, he's immune to root and snare effects. A good many of the blade DPS abilities also rely on applying the afflicted state, which causes additional damage over time.

But what about the more knightly sorts who would rather take up a blade to defend their allies? Don't worry; you're covered here too. Those swordmasters who walk the path of the protector will find a bevy of self-heals and defense-boosts at their disposal. For instance, take the first defensive elite ability blade-users have access to, Fluid Defence, a passive ability with a twofold effect. For one, it causes its user to gain the minor ward effect whenever he receives a glancing hit. Whenever the ability-user penetrates a target's armor with an attack, he gains a buff that increases damage by 5%, allowing him to build additional enmity through the more powerful attacks. The blade-user's defense grows ever stronger as more AP is put into the category, with powerful abilities such as The Art of War awaiting players in the 50 AP ability slots. The aforementioned ability could be thought of as the earlier Stunning Swirl on speed: In addition to stunning and dealing heavy damage to all enemies caught in the point-blank AoE, the move also forces each affected enemy to attack you. As if that weren't enough, the ability also guarantees that the next X attacks made against the caster will glance, with X being equal to two times the number of affected targets. High damage, a stun, a taunt, and a defense buff all rolled into one ability? Fairly useful if you ask me.

"Damage debuffs, stuns, and knockdowns are all part of the hammer-user's arsenal, with a number of defensive block-chance-increasing abilities allowing for a strong defense as well."


Ah, there's nothing more satisfying than cracking a few skulls with a sledgehammer. The hammers category, like its close neighbor the blades category, contains a mix of DPS- and tank-focused abilities. As you might expect from a fighting style that essentially boils down to "give the other guy a concussion," hammer abilities tend to deal heavy damage and apply the debilitated or impaired states, which cause reduced attack power and a variety of stuns, respectively. Take, for instance, the first two abilities of the Brawn subcategory: Smash is a basic resource-building damage attack, but when coupled with Below The Belt, it causes targets to become weakened with each hit, reducing their damage dealt by 3% per stack. Oh, and it can stack 10 times. Those two abilities will cost you all of two AP, and they'll let you knock an enemy's damage dealt down by 30%, which isn't something to scoff at. It gets better, of course. The early elite ability Shockwave deals nasty damage in a column in front of you, knocking down up to five targets for three seconds. Several of the hammers category's more damaging abilities exploit these states, causing additional affects when used on weakened or stunned targets.

And you'd probably reckon that anyone crazy enough to charge an eldritch, otherworldly fiend with a sledgehammer has gotta be able to take some hits, and in this case you'd be right. Defensive maneuvers such as the elite ability Cool, Calm, & Collected (a mirror of the blades category's Fluid Defence) boost the hammer-user's defense with a particular emphasis on blocking attacks and retaliating afterward. Unstoppable Force, a 50-AP elite hammer ability, increases the user's health by 15%, making him immune to crowd control effects and increasing his block chance by 40%. Oh, and it heals him too. By utilizing these block-boosting defensive abilities in conjunction with his damage debuffs and stuns, a hammer-user can make a formidable front-line defender.

Claws: the gentleman's weapon

"Using your fists or claws, you'll bleed 'em dry with a number of DoTs and abilities that exploit them, or heal yourself and others with a variety of heals with an emphasis on healing-over-time."


Now this is the gentlemanly way to fight: nothing but you and your trusty fisticuffs. OK, and maybe some Wolverine-style claws. The fists category is the odd man out of the melee ability sets, in that it can be used for dealing damage or for healing. The DPS style is pretty much what you'd expect from a guy going all Bruce-Lee on everything: quick and deadly. As with blades, bleeds and stuns are common here, and applying the afflicted and impaired states will be useful once you consider the number of fists abilities that exploit them. One useful combination of abilities is Salt in the Wound, Bloodsport, and Tear 'Em Up. In short, Bloodsport is a passive ability that causes every hit to afflict the target with a bleed effect. Meanwhile, Salt in the Wound causes extra damage every time such an effect is applied. Then, to top it off, Tear 'Em Up deals massive damage, and if the target is afflicted with a bleed or similar effect, grants the user a 10% damage buff.

Odd though it may seem, claw-users are rather capable healers as well. Their healing style seems to be built heavily around heal-over-time effects, with abilities such as Vigour, which creates an area of effect on the ground that heals allies within it every second, and Empowerment, which triggers an extra heal whenever a HoT crits. Claw healers also have a few methods of locking down attackers thanks to a number of abilities that apply the impaired state. One such ability is Restraint, which causes each successful hit by the user to build a Restraint counter. When the counters are stacked to six, the next hit will lock down the target's ability use for three seconds, providing ample time to heal up or book it out of the fight.

"Shotguns provide conal AoE damage galore, plus a few nifty tricks like turrets and landmines. They're great for dealing damage or providing a little extra support for your team."


OK, now we're moving away from the melee category and into the land of ranged weapons, beginning with the shotgun. As you might expect, shotguns tend to do a focus on doing a lot of damage in a wide area, resulting in a great number of conal AoE abilities. The shotgun category, as a result, is a primarily offensive one, though it includes a fair number of utility and support skills as well. All of this, combined with a number of hindering and debilitating abilities, makes the shotgun an excellent weapon to pick up if you want a bit of area damage with a bang. This doesn't mean that the shotgun's single-target damage is lacking, however. The 50-AP elite ability Point Blank deals massive damage to a single target plus a little bonus damage if you're close to your target.

Shotgunners also have a number of support abilities, the most notable of which are probably their various turrets and placeables. On one hand, we have the Shotgun Turret, which places a turret in front of you that will sit there and happily blast round after round of buckshot in a conal AoE. On the other hand, though, there's the Rail Turret, which is a 50-AP elite skill. This bad boy slings a series of deadly rails at anything within reach, dealing a hefty amount of damage while leaving your hands free for more shooting. If you're more the protective sort, though, you may want to look into the Defensive Turret, which is exactly what it sounds like. Anyone who stands near this protective machine will have all incoming damage reduced by up to 15% (depending on the number of resources spent to use the ability).

"High single-target damage, a smattering of debuffs, and utility drones make pistols a solid option for damage or support."


This category is for everyone who's ever watched a John Woo film and said emphatically, "I wanna do that!" Pistols, like shotguns, fall under the DPS/support umbrella, but the dual pistols focus a bit more on single-target damage than their buckshot-spraying brother. Pop-culture junkies might get a kick out of the early ability Wanted, which sends a single bullet ricocheting between up to five enemies. If you're more of the guns-blazing type, you'll find plenty to love as well. Take, for instance, the 50-AP elite ability Gun Crazy. This aptly named skill unleashes a barrage of bullets in an area around the target before firing a final, high-damage shot at the target's face.

Like shotgunners, pistoleers have a few handy tricks up their sleeves besides the pair of handguns. Drones are the pistol-user's deployable of choice. On the defensive end of things, the Backup Drone follows around a friendly player, increasing the power of healing effects on him by 30%, while the Health Drone does exactly what its name implies and heals an ally over time. The Cleansing Drone is also a useful tool that deals a bit of damage to nearby enemies while removing debuffs from allies in the area. Of course, there's also your standard Area Drone, which exists only to shoot the everloving daylights out of anyone unfortunate enough to get caught in its path. A number of abilities causing (and exploiting) the weakened and hindered effects round off the pistol's support options.

"Assault Rifles enable you to deal lots of damage with an even spread of single-target and AoE abilities and/or heal your allies by leeching health from your enemies."

Assault Rifles

As the only ranged category with viable healing options, the assault rifle stands apart from its fellow ranged weapons. But of course, as is only fitting of a weapon with the word "assault" in its name, it doesn't shy away from causing a fair share of damage, either. If your motto is "one shot, one kill," you'll surely find joy in an assault rifle, especially once you get your hands on Red Mist, a 50-AP elite ability that deals massive damage from a long range. Oh, and it can't be dodged, and it cannot glance. Just do us all a favor and try not to scream "boom, headshot!" every time you use it. Other abilities are fairly evenly balanced between single-target and AoE damage, with a few utility abilities in the form of grenades (of both the frag and incendiary varieties).

Even the assault rifle's healing is intertwined with dealing damage, as many of the category's healing abilities feature leech effects. In case you couldn't tell from the name, leech effects suck health from an enemy and transfer it to an ally. As a result, it's useful if you pump skill points into your assault rifle's damage line as well as the healing one in order to get the most out of your myriad leech effects, such as the basic anima burst, which damages an enemy while transfusing health to your defensive target. Or you can shell out 50 AP for Reap and Sow, which gives your entire group a 26.4% leech effect for eight seconds (meaning that, for eight seconds, you heal all of your groupmates for 26.4% of your damage done). There are a few direct heals in the form of Shot of Anima and Mortar Support, but a good assault rifle healer will be relying heavily on leech effects, and as a result, on his own damage.

Screenshot -- The Secret World

"If you want to make things go boom, look no further than Elementalism. High burst damage and deadly nukes abound."


And here we are in the (sorta) final category, magic. Elementalism is what most people think of when they think of magic in fantasy games: fireballs, lightning bolts, all that jazz. As such, elementalism is all about big, nasty nukes. From the relatively early ability Thor's Hammer to the 50-AP elite ability Hard Reset (which, in addition to dealing devastating damage, strips the target of all buffs), elemental magic has a cornucopia of high-damage spells. As if that weren't bad enough, many of the elemental category's passive and support abilities focus on increasing the caster's critical hit chance -- because why hit for infinity damage when you can hit for twice that? Thanks to useful passives like Social Dynamo, which grants a crit-rating-increasing buff every time a strike ability hits, elemental magic tends to crit hard and often.

Defensively, there's not much here to speak of. As I said, elemental magic is all about doing damage, and that doesn't leave much time for support. However, that doesn't mean the category is completely devoid of utility. Players can learn to summon a number of elemental manifestations; there's one for lightning, ice, electromagnetism (what?), and fire, each of which provides different effects. The lightning manifestation, for instance, deals electric damage to enemies in the vicinity plus a little extra damage if they're hindered. The ice manifestation, on the other hand, deals a bit of damage while rooting enemies in place for two seconds.

"Chaos magic provides some great tanking abilities based around evasion while also being capable of dealing out significant AoE damage with some interesting and unique effects."


Chaos magic is the only school of magic that provides useful tanking abilities, and it does so in a rather interesting way. Chaos magic, lore-wise, is all about manipulating the entropy of the universe in such a way that you're essentially altering reality (which is pretty badass if you ask me), and this flavor shows through chaos magic's defensive abilities. While chaos magic does feature a number of defense-enhancing abilities that provide a base reduction in damage done, it also contains myriad abilities that focus on evasion. Contradiction, for example, is a passive ability that reduces the target's damage-dealing capability every time its user evades an attack. When it's combined with buff abilities such as Smoke and Mirrors, which increases evade chance by 40%, and Inevitability, which gives a chance to increase evade chance after striking a weakened enemy, you'll have one slippery evasion tank on your hands.

The winds of chaos are definitely good for more than just defense, though. Area of effect abilities run amok in the chaos school of magic, and unique abilities such as Black Hole add a chaotic flavor to the whole ordeal. The aforementioned ability deals damage while rooting its target to the ground. Any of the target's nearby allies must remain close to the affected player, or else they'll suffer a great deal of damage and be pulled back to the ability's target. There are also a number of abilities that can be combined to inflict and exploit various debuff states. Let's say you start with Helter Skelter, a dash attack that impairs affected enemies. Then, thanks to the passive ability Breakdown, whenever you strike one of those enemies (or all of them, using one of your myriad AoEs), that target will also become weakened, lowering its attack power. Cap that off with the passive ability Paradigm Shift, which grants a hit rating buff when attacking weakened targets, and voila: You've impaired and debilitated your enemies while granting yourself a nice little boost.

"Blood magic's strong damage barriers combined with solid direct healing equals a potent support character, while a number of damage over time effects kill enemies from the inside out."


And finally, we have blood magic, capable of both healing and damage-dealing in equal measure. On the support side of things, direct heals and damage-mitigating shields are the order of the day. Virtually every healing ability available in the blood magic category involves a barrier effect in some way. From the basic Angelic Aegis to the wicked-powerful Cold Blooded, which places a barrier on all teammates at the cost of the caster's health, there's a shield for every situation. The passive elite ability Clotting further empowers barrier effects by causing each barrier placed on an ally to strengthen the caster's own shield and damage mitigation. Blood magic isn't entirely devoid of direct heals, though; gems like The Scarlet Arts (a channeled direct heal that culminates in, you guessed it, a barrier effect) and Ruby Curtain (a basic single target heal plus, of course, a barrier effect) allow a bit of quick direct healing in a pinch.

If you saw blood magic and immediately thought, "Oh man, does that mean I can make peoples' blood boil until they explode!?" then look no further. Damage over time abilities reign supreme in blood magic territory. Skills like Contaminate and Plague apply deadly DoT effects, while a number of passives -- such as Gross Anatomy, which causes DoT effects to deal extra damage when they expire -- exploit them. Circulation, meanwhile, works to keep the mage alive by applying a heal-over-time whenever he applies the afflicted state to an enemy. If slow, agonizing death is your cup of tea, you could certainly do worse than blood magic.

Screenshot -- The Secret World

Oh, did I say finally? Well scratch that; we've still got a few more things to go over. You may have noticed three small green ability wedges separating the melee, ranged, and magic sections of the ability wheel in the picture above. Each of these little green wedges of delight contains seven utility skills that don't belong to any particular category but are more like all-around improvements that could be benefit any character.

The first wedge is labeled as the Survivalism category. Unsurprisingly, it contains a number of abilities focused on staying alive. This is probably one of the first stops for players interested in PvP, as it contains a number of PvP must-haves such as Sleight of Hand, which removes all crowd-control effects (and makes you immune to them for seven seconds), and Turn the Tables, a powerful self-heal that doesn't rely on healing-enhancing gear to be effective.

Next up is the Subversion category, which is home to a number of threat-reducing abilities for that one DPS that can't stop pulling aggro. Confuse is a single-target detaunt that reduces a target's enmity toward the caster by 50%, while Misdirection transfers 50% of hate generated to the caster's defensive target. Somewhat bizarrely, the category is capped off by an elite ability that increases damage dealt by 25% for 10 seconds.

And finally there's Turbulence, the direct opposite of Subversion. Turbulence abilities are all about the fine art of pissing things off. Agitator is a passive ability that causes the user to generate 300% more threat than those without the ability equipped, and Mockingbird provides a self-heal-cum-taunt for added utility. In case you needed to be told, this ability wedge is essentially a one-stop-shop for all things tanky, so if you plan on being your group's meat-shield, it may behoove you to grab a few abilities here.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, finally concludes our tour of The Secret World's ability wheel. I hope you found it useful in some way. If you've got any questions/criticisms, let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to answer!
This article was originally published on Massively.