Chaos Theory The Transylvania transition
A couple of weeks ago, I finished my first "playthrough" of The Secret World, having wrapped up the last quest and main storyline in Transylvania. Oh, sure, Funcom's going to push the finish line further away in the coming issues, but until that happens, this is the end of the road for the solo experience.

I was so darn eager to get into Transylvania after Egypt. For me, Egypt is the weakest part of the solo game, with dull desert zones, statues you're supposed to empathize with, and a truncated main story that didn't really pay off in the end. It wasn't all bad, of course; Last Train to Cairo is six kinds of awesome, and Said and Nassir are two of the most memorable characters this game has produced. But Transylvania seemed like this juicy fruit that hovered just out of reach the entire time I was in Egypt -- and I couldn't wait to be there.

I wasn't let down when I finally arrived, either. Transylvania's "old Europe" charm felt like a refreshingly distinct experience than what I'd encountered before, and I thoroughly enjoyed my journey through its three zones. Before my new Dragon alt dims my memories of my time among the bats and wolves of Romania, I wanted to jot down what I felt made this a special place to visit.

Chaos Theory The Transylvania transition
Chaos Theory The Secret World's Transylvania transition
One of the things about The Secret World that makes it so interesting is that each of the areas is thematically night and day different than what's come before. Solomon Island was American-style horror: haunted houses, zombies, C'thulu critters, portals to hell, and (yes) ancient Indian burial grounds. Egypt drew upon the Mummy mythos as well as Indiana Jones, although I wasn't seeing as many strong connections to other fictional tropes past this. All signs point to Tokyo as embracing the J-horror phenomenon, so throw grenades down any well you encounter there.

Transylvania is a blast from the past. It's one of the most iconic locations when it comes to horror: Dracula's stomping grounds. The Secret World twists your ingrained expectations of what you'll encounter. Expected enemies might well be potential allies, and the werewolf/vampire monster mash is given a few spins that yank it away from the cliches of Twilight and Bram Stoker's Dracula.

What I liked about the monsters is that they're given real substance and weight; they're not just treated like hairy or fangy cannon fodder. The vampires are genuinely disgusting, for example, harvesting blood from barely alive captives and hiding their bodies under a full getup that includes gas masks. The werewolves come across as powerful, primal foes that nonetheless are subjugated by the vampiric order. And then there are the local legends, the spirits of the forest that are strange and deadly in their own way. These beings struck me as the natives who are seeing their home bulldozed by the evil and filth that is spreading everywhere.

There's also the neat element of old-school Russian technology and mad science that is made manifest in certain enemies. These hulking foes remind me a lot of the Big Daddies from BioShock, a notion that is reinforced by the fact that they hit like a Mack truck.

Chaos Theory The Transylvania transition
Chaos Theory The Secret World's Transylvania transition
Pound for pound, Transylvania has the best collection of fascinating NPCs in the game. The Romany and Draculesti embody the native stubbornness that shrugs off the weirdness of the situation and continues to fight for good in a darkening realm. There are several allies you meet that might look human, but appearances deceive their true nature. They're Grimms' fairy tales come to life, with savage strength and sage wisdom.

Consider the stranded who find themselves in a fate worse than death: college girls who find themselves fighting off werewolves, a cult member who is a captive in more than one sense, and a refugee whose only desire is to meet death on her terms. These are the folks I felt the most pity for because while you can run their missions, you are never given the chance to evacuate them from their plight. Even after I leave, they are still waiting in the cold forest for sharp things in the night to bite them. That haunts me.

Orochi Group makes an appearance or two as well; I can never get tired of these guys getting killed off in all manner of embarrassing ways. Let's just say that wherever you see the Orochi symbol, it's most likely attached to the jacket of a mutilated corpse.

That's not even to mention the lady with the possessed wagon, the Vampire Hunter who is tougher than you are even without superpowers, the inbred hillbilly who looks like Firefly's Jayne, and a couple of guys who have been sitting around for hundreds of years waiting for events to come to a head. I thought that by the time I reached these high-level areas, I'd be scrounging the dregs of Funcom's storytelling. It turns out that the writers may have saved some of their best creations for those who persevered to the end.

Chaos Theory The Transylvania transition
Chaos Theory The Secret World's Transylvania transition
Probably my biggest criticism of Transylvania is its scarcity of compelling investigation missions. Yes, there are some (and one or two brilliant adventures among them), but Solomon Island still has the lion's share of the best ones. It's a shame that we didn't get more of them. One of the few that I did run, a mission involving a ton of music, was visually bugged to the point of unplayability in the final tier.

Another criticism is a lack of anything decent to spend Transylvania sequins on. Yes, you can buy signets and potions, but I really can't understand why Funcom didn't allow players to save up sequins to purchase QL10 blues as in the other zones. I ended up with a bagful of these tokens, which felt like a waste.

While Transylvania does have a slight increase of toughness, I didn't find it as challenging as, say, heading into Blue Mountain for the first time. One significant adjustment I had to make was to really pay attention to mob buffs. Some of the enemies are almost impossible to defeat if you're not debuffing them or afflicting them with certain conditions.

Generally, I loved the main storyline... until the final act. There's so much build-up about the queen of vampires coming back and oh how that'll be such a terrible thing. Yet we really never see this threat arise, and by the time that a little psychic girl (and her magical teddy bear) was thrown into the mix, I just felt confused instead of enthralled. Maybe I need to go through it all again or wait for Issue #7, but I didn't really get her role or how Transylvania fit into the larger storyline of the filth.

Any confusion or combat frustration I might've had was easily offset by the joy of traversing these zones. It's not as maze-like as Egypt was, and Carpathian Fangs was downright beautiful. I loved the old-soul feel of the place, and there were plenty of creative locations (such as the largest wooden windmill I ever did see) to be had.

As a veteran of many MMOs, I was quite appreciative that this "endgame" area had more beauty than lava and scorched earth. Eventually Transylvania will be a middle child in The Secret World, and as such, I think it'll hold its reputation as an engrossing location that adds a lot of flavor and acceptable challenge to the game.

Chaos Theory The Transylvania transition

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ and Justin every Monday as they infiltrate 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 or justin@massively.com and they'll jump on the case!

This article was originally published on Massively.