Postcards from The Secret World: Riddles in the dark

Welcome to Postcards from The Secret World, a trip through Funcom's new title from the perspective of a player new to MMOs. Read part one if you haven't!
My character stands outside a locked cell in the Kingsmouth sheriff's office, there to uncover the secrets behind a 2002 murder case. All I know is that something vital to the case's mystery is inside that cell. The cell, as it happens, belonged to Larry Checkon, the man allegedly responsible for a string of summer murders – at least it did when he was alive.

My only clue was discovered inside the sheriff's computer, where I found a record of Checkon's actions after he was arrested. The sheriff had questioned him at the time, but Checkon kept quiet, telling the sheriff that she'd have to talk to his ghost if she wanted the truth. Somehow, this information is supposed to get me inside the cell and get me what I need.

The really weird part is that this isn't an adventure game, but rather an MMO: Funcom's The Secret World. It's this investigation mission – and others like it – that is fast becoming my new obsession.%Gallery-160671% As I've mentioned before, The Secret World certainly has its share of traditional "Go to X and kill Y number of baddies," and they're honestly just as tedious as they are in other MMOs and RPGs. Investigation missions, on the other hand, are something else entirely. Rather than confronting players with a gaggle of monsters, investigation missions offer up a series of puzzles.

Hearkening back to Funcom games like The Longest Journey (which shares The Secret World's lead designer, Ragnar Tornquist), the puzzles can be esoteric or even downright obtuse. The next step to getting into that cell, for instance? Suicide. In order to see Checkon's ghost (and thus find the truth), I had to become one myself. Shamefully, I have to admit that I looked up the answer to that one on the internet. In fairness, I actually did get into the cell while still alive at one point – a glitch, which I didn't realize at the time – so that threw me off track.


That's only the tip of the iceberg though, as other investigation missions had me tracking down clues from multiple sources – even sources that exist outside of the game. Are you familiar with the work of painter Frans Hals? You'll need to acquaint yourself with it if you hope to crack the Kingsmouth Code. Other quest branches made cryptic references to Bible passages – again, something I had to research online. There's even a built-in web browser in the game, though it's a bit on the slow side.

And, just like an adventure game, I've come across more than one red herring. Said Bible passage referenced King Solomon, which was a clue to the location of a hidden Illuminati site. There are several locations in Kingsmouth associated with the name Solomon, including a road and a bridge. Heck, the town of Kingsmouth is on Solomon Island. Here I was, running up and down roads, walking across and swimming under bridges, just trying to find something. In the end, it turned out that the clue referenced The Secret World's lore itself. Lore is picked up in bits and pieces and automatically added to a journal as you explore, and the Solomon I was looking for was buried in its pages.


This mixing of the real world and The Secret World doesn't stop there. Attempting to break my way into a laptop, I was given the password hint "my wife." The corpse of the laptop's owner, a member of an organization called the Orochi Group, was handily nearby, so I started my search there. All he had on him was a company ID – a Mr. Kitsune Hayabusa – but one detail caught my eye: his email address. It was registered to Orochi-Group.com, a URL with a real domain name, not a fake one obviously created for a video game. In a bit of mind-bending meta, I looked up the address in a web browser, which turned up a real website for the fictional Orochi Group. I don't know why an employee database would include the names of spouses, but I had my answer.

I haven't come across too many investigation missions, but they are already my favorite part of The Secret World. It's not often that an MMO – or any game, for that matter – really asks you to think, let alone one that asks you to do so outside of the game itself. And yet, here I am, intercepting transmissions and deciphering Morse code to complete a mission. I'll take more of that any day.

Next week I'll try to finally dive into multiplayer.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.