Chaos Theory  Exploring endgame
Throughout my tenure as the Chaos Theory author, I've ruminated on a number of Secret World subjects that personally interest, intrigue, or otherwise affect me. I've covered ARGs, different issue updates, sabotage quests, the conversion to buy-to-play, ambiance, and more. I've even expounded on things I'd like to see in game, like housing and vehicles. But one thing I haven't covered with much detail are areas that don't have much personal relevance to me... yet.

While it makes sense to talk most about my personal experiences, The Secret World offers so much more than what I have delved into. There really are different strokes for different folks, all wrapped up within the one world. So this week we are exploring an area that captures the attention of others if not mine: endgame.

TSW screenshot
Disclaimer

Let's get this first bit out of the way. Obviously, since I have not personally run most things at endgame (heck, I haven't even gotten to the end of the game yet!), this is not going to be a kick-arse guide with step by step instructions revealing "I win" secrets. Instead, this is an introduction for those who do not know what is out there beyond the storylines and the PvP warzones. It's a glimpse for those who may want to know what they can work toward. I know that even if I'm not focused much on endgame, plenty of other people are.

Of course, if you happen to know any of those special hidden endgame secrets, you are more than welcome to share them with us in the comments! I know I'll be referring to them in the future.

TSW screenshotHappily ever after

Regardless of whether you are perfectly content with just playing through the story in TSW, there comes a point when the story ends. True, more issues come along, bringing more story to follow, but what do you do in the meantime? If you are treating the game more as a single-player experience, perhaps you wander off to something else until the new content comes out. But if you want to stay with the game, there is a whole new realm you can get in on; just because the story comes to an end doesn't mean the game does. Let's explore two areas.

First off, there's the elaborate ability system. If theorycrafting is your thing, then The Secret World is your game. You can get through the base game without knowing the ins and outs of every ability and every stat; however, if you want to really master your technique and increase your effectiveness, you have to dive really deep into the progression system. You have to know how each ability works and how they work together, both active and passive ones. And determining which abilities work best when and against which encounters is no small endeavor.

When I think about the folks who really enjoy this aspect of gaming, I think of friends who spent time carefully crafting tabletop characters to perfectly execute their desired role. I freely admit that wasn't me: If I wanted a character to do or be something specific, I could hand it off to my friends, and they would work their magic and mold it just so. In TSW, players can do the same. But -- and this is a big but -- players are not constrained to only one class or build! Take that drive to perfectly tweak your character, then add in the ability to move between healing, DPS, and tanking (or any hybrid combination of the three) on a whim, and you have opened up a huge playground. And for those who have that daring "I wonder if I can do this" streak, there's always extra challenge in using different strategies, even different builds, to conquer challenges.

Of course, just being an expert at abilities is only part of the equation for those who want to master their characters. The second half is gear. Hey, don't look at me like that! Some folks really do like the gear grind. Working toward the goal of mastery is a worthwhile endeavor, and if this is a path you want to pursue, you'll need to collect glyphs, signets, accessories, and weapons found in first the elite dungeons and lairs, then ultimately in the nightmare mode of dungeons.

Chaos Theory  Exploring endgame
Embracing the nightmare

Throughout the course of play, you've been through all the dungeons. Awesome. But have you vanquished the bosses in the elite versions of all of those same dungeons? That's another step in the endgame ladder. Players also can practice their moves in lairs, which drop gear and present challenges. But ultimately, there is a final mode of dungeon to conquer: nightmare.

In the elite versions of the dungeons, players find that having a good handle on a variety of builds is essential, not just optional. These skills will be obligatory when moving ahead to the nightmare dungeons. In fact, you can't enter without them.

TSW screenshotYou see, the only way to get to the nightmare versions is by first proving yourself worthy. If this sounds like a challenge, it is. When a player successfully conquers all elite dungeons, she earns an achievement that grants the ability to visit the Gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper must be vanquished before you can earn the right to participate in nightmare mode dungeons. And here's the catch: It must be faced solo. So for the duration of the fight, the only person you have to depend on is yourself.

The test entails defeating one of three different incarnations of the Gatekeeper, each one testing a particular player role: healing, DPS, or tanking. So if you haven't taken the time to acquire and learn how to use abilities of least one realm, you'll find you won't be able to succeed and will be denied access to nightmare dungeons. Wouldn't it be great though, if you had the opportunity to master and defeat all three incarnations?

Lest you think this is just a hoop to jump through, this boss actually tests players' mastery of abilities, mastery that is crucial for success in nightmare dungeons. Can tanks impair bosses at the right time? Can healers remove detriments? Can DPS be agile enough to dodge attacks and stay in the fight? No matter your preferred role in group, you'll have to understand all of them. And what you didn't learn before going in to the challenge, the Gatekeeper will teach you... the hard way. Here's how the devs put it in the endgame blog:
He will instantly kill you if you do not do enough damage to him as a damage dealer. He will instantly kill you if you do not react with lightning fast reflexes and step out of the fire he spreads. He will instantly kill you if you do not have the right abilities to deal with his very specific attacks. In short he will wipe the floor with you until you have developed your character with enough good gear and abilities and your playstyle with enough skill to be worthy to proceed.
My advice is that you not try the fight until you feel reasonably prepared. Know all three roles, have a complete set of blue QL 10 or better gear, and have lots and lots of patience.

As intimidating as this step can sound, it has a very interesting byproduct. When you create a group to take on one of these difficult dungeons, you will be assured that all group members have proven a level of competence and exhibited enough skill to secure their slot. Of course there will be folks who are still learning, and there will be mistakes and even wipes, but the chance of having utterly clueless or inept people ruining a run is negated.

TSW sscreenshot
An eye on the end

Believe it or not, I have participated in hardcore raids in games, so I am not one to eschew endgame just because. I do tend, however, to play how my mood strikes, instead of being on some schedule. So far, I have been plenty busy enjoying other aspects of The Secret World and haven't even really glanced ahead to endgame any. But I am intrigued by the test of skill that TSW endgame offers with the Gatekeeper, even if I will never enjoy the theorycrafting part. I am certainly in no shape to meet the Gatekeeper yet, but I'm game to take the challenge and see if I can emerge victorious... when better prepared, of course. I do like a challenge.

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ every Monday as she infiltrates The Secret World to bring you the latest word on the streets of Gaia in Chaos Theory. Heard some juicy whispers or have a few leads you want followed? Send them to mj@massively.com and she'll jump on the case!

This article was originally published on Massively.