Postcards from The Secret World: A R'lyeh close look at multiplayer

Welcome to Postcards from The Secret World, a trip through Funcom's new title from the perspective of a player new to MMOs. Read parts one and two if you haven't!
As I've written before, nearly everything about The Secret World has appealed to me since it was announced. That said, the least appealing aspect was always the fact that it was a massively multiplayer game. As a fan of horror and games like Alan Wake and Silent Hill, The Secret World struck the right chord. The fact that it was an MMO was an afterthought.

I don't play a ton of multiplayer games and, when I do, it tends to be with a close group of friends, so saddling up with strangers isn't a terribly exciting prospect. But The Secret World is an MMO, after all, so this week I was determined to do exactly that. After seriously typing the letters "lfg" for the first time in my life, I delved into a dungeon with four other people. I'll admit I was nervous and died during one of the boss fights. In my defense, I was distracted by taking screenshots for this very article. Dumb, I know.

It was okay though, because after that ... we fought Cthulhu.%Gallery-161251% The Secret World may have referred to the squid-faced monster as an "Ur-Draug," but I know Cthulhu when I see him. At the time, I was playing as a healer, though I've since changed to a more damage-focused build. For my first run through a dungeon, I'd say healer was probably the way to go, as it allowed me to avoid unfamiliar confrontations but still provide support for my teammates. Or, to put it another way, I could hide behind a rock while everyone else ran face-first into a plume of Cthulhu's poisonous breath. My reward for so generously helping out: Some sweet, rare loot.

Dungeons in The Secret World are essentially an escalating series of boss fights. The first few bouts are fought against more powerful versions of the foes you normally encounter, while the final battles are against more imposing, gargantuan enemies. The boss that killed me, for instance, was basically a giant, walking cuttlefish (and the screenshot I got wasn't really worth it, by the way). Given that dungeons focus on multiple boss fights, a team with a variety of roles is important.

MMO players are familiar with these roles, from tank to DPS to healer. Remember though, there aren't specific classes in The Secret World, so you'll have to equip the appropriate abilities to take on any given role. While this means you have to be a little more involved in ability selection as you progress, it also means you're not stuck in a particular role from the moment you create a character. If you have the necessary abilities, you can always change your loadout to serve the needs of the group. You might tank in one dungeon, rearrange your abilities and become a healer in the next dungeon. It's a welcome degree of flexibility that not only allows players to experiment but also keeps things fresh.

I should mention that, when it comes to finding a group for a dungeon, you'll need to bring some friends or do your best to wrangle up some strangers. Funcom is working on a dungeon finder tool, but for now you're stuck with "lfg."

Beyond the dungeons, there's also Player-vs-Player and basic groups. Groups were actually how I first began to dabble in multiplayer, and I imagine that's true for other players as well. Inviting someone into a group is as easy as clicking a player's avatar. I found myself inviting players who were clearly pursuing the same mission as I was. Not only did I get extra help slaying difficult monsters, but it kept either of us from having to wait for events to respawn (one of the more annoying bits of downtime in an MMO, I'm discovering).

Competitive multiplayer takes place in three different areas, Stonehenge, El Dorado and the Fusang Projects, each offering a different mode of play. Stonehenge and El Dorado offer king of the hill and item control games (think Halo's Oddball), while the Fusang Projects is a persistent "warzone" with its own missions and goals. I'm sure there are players who get a kick out of PVP, but it's easily the least appealing part of The Secret World for me. Juggling seven different abilities, a mouse and movement keys – all while trying to target specific players – isn't quite as intriguing as solving ancient mysteries. I'm sure it's more fun with a group of friends and, who knows, I might change my tune whenever I start picking up better equipment and abilities.

For now, dungeons are where it's at. Working together to take down shambling horrors is more in line with what I signed up for in The Secret World, though it's hard to imagine another dungeon topping Cthulhu. Having said that, the second dungeon (literally) takes place in Hell itself, so I'm hopeful.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.