Hands-on with The Secret World's Issue #8: Scoping out scenarios

Handson with Issue #8 Scoping out The Secret World's scenarios
"I know your people are eager to go to Tokyo, but now is not that moment." - Arturo Castiglione, Council of Venice representative.

Truer words have never been spoken. As much as players are looking forward to exploring Tokyo in The Secret World, that time is not yet at hand. (If you doubt, just look at how much Filth is still left to clear out in Agartha!) However, now is the moment for something else: the Venetian Agenda. And despite its unfortunate luck to be the DLC right before the most anticipated Secret World update ever, Issue #8 is more than just a stepping stone on the way to bigger and better things. This issue has merit in its own right; it introduces another layer of endgame as well as an entirely new mode of (replayable) gameplay.

Although the update isn't live on servers until next week, I had the opportunity yesterday to travel to a sunken slice of Venice and dive into the new scenario and augment systems of Issue #8 in a special tour with Funcom Creative Director Joel Bylos and Communications Manager Tor Egil Andersen. After that hands-on experience, I've got to say that I think this DLC will keep folks sufficiently occupied, if not totally distracted from thoughts of Tokyo. And believe me -- you don't want to be distracted during these scenarios!

New bee outfits in TSW
The endgame is nigh

You don't have to be a long-time fan of The Secret World to know that Issue #8 doesn't fit the mold of the other updates -- and that's not by accident. Bylos explained:
"This issue, at least from my end, is very much about endgame. We've been focusing on storylines, and we've been focusing on story-based content, which is important; Tokyo's going to be a chunk of story-based content as well. But I wanted to give something to the endgame people, the people who feel like they have already done what there is to do in the game."
And that's exactly what is accomplished through the augment and scenario systems. Being aimed at endgamers, however, doesn't mean that Issue #8 is pointless or off limits if you haven't completed everything. In fact, mid-range players might enjoy dipping into the augment system, and even new players can participate in the scenarios.

Augments: Boosting those bee-powers

Currently the augment and scenario systems are pretty intertwined; you don't get the former without the latter. The augments (which are not gear but "tuning forks" that allow the holder to tune into a new wavelengths of anima's power) currently drop from mobs in the scenarios, although Bylos did note that they'll be added to dungeon loot tables at a later date. Seeing as I was using an unfamiliar build, I can't say one whit about whether the augments I was using improved my performance, but I did get to learn more about the system and poke through the new augment wheel.

The augment system
For all those folks who've spent all they can on the ability wheel and skill trees, the augments provide a new place to spend all that AP and SP; augments take both in order to use and enhance. (As you increase in skill with augments, your max AP limit also increases, all the way up to 515 AP.) But there is much more than purchasing involved in this new system. You've also got to find and craft the augments!

Most augments that players loot will need to be attuned in order to use. This attuning process involves crafting, so having a stockpile of runes on hand is definitely not a bad thing. Green augments, however, are already attuned and can be used right away. To upgrade an augment, you need multiple attuned augments of the same type and a special tool in order to combine them in the crafting interface.

Sound like a little much for you to take on at your stage of the game? Do you harbor concerns of (as Bylos put it) "OMG they've made it so complex that nobody can play this; it's like EVE Online"? Don't worry -- you won't even see the augment system as a new player, so there's no need to stress over it. The augment part of the UI won't show up until a player has reached the stage at which he can use it. Remember, augments are meant as an endgame gear progression, so by the time you can use them, you'll have a better handle on how to use them.

Handson with Issue #8 Scoping out The Secret World's scenarios
Scenarios: Venetian training grounds

As interesting as augments are for for those who love to theory-craft, my excitement grew when the time came to enter my first scenario. I have really been looking forward to getting a taste of these instances with random encounter possibilities to keep us on our toes. How was my first foray into one? Let's just say you should all be very grateful that Issue #8 is not launching tomorrow as initially planned so the team can balance these scenarios better.

Scenario scorecardIn a nutshell, the experience was fantastic... except for the fact that the easiest version nearly kicked our keisters, even with purple gear and powerful builds (enhanced by augments, no less). Our group of four hardly had a breather between waves, and in the end, only four of the 12 survivors actually survived. But we did finish and earned our reward. Bylos noted that this experience was not unique, hence the delay in releasing the DLC. You know it's gotta be hard when the devs can't even do it! But I really can't wait to jump in again and experience more with friends.

Players who pick up the DLC and have finished the storyline will get a call the first time they enter Agartha with the new storyline mission. The next step is to actually travel to Venice, which is somewhere you have probably already seen recently. Remember that portal in the trunk behind you when you jumped off the edge next to the Seoul portal in order to get to the second stage of The Whispering Tide event? Well, that's the Sunken Library of Venice. Enter and meet Arturo Castiglione, a representative of the Council of Venice, who gets you started on the path of Council VR training.

Scenario interface
If you are not finished with the personal storyline, you can still access Venice by jumping down and entering the portal. Doing this, however, will not introduce you to Arturo as he is just in the cutscene for the quest. Wandering through the Sunken Library, players will find faction representative from not only the known factions but some secret societies that players have not even met yet (as Bylos says, "The first hints of future stuff -- foreshadowing, if you will.").

Vendor goodiesAt the back end of the small area is the console that offers the various scenarios flanked by vendors where you can spend the tokens you'll earn while in them (to buy clothing, purple gear, augment toolkits, and the Council Seal needed to move ahead to Tokyo). The console brings up the scenario window where you can choose your encounter.

There are three different scenario locations that will ship with Issue #8 (The Hotel, The Mansion, and The Castle), with three different modes of each (solo, duo, group), and three difficulty settings (normal, Elite, and Nightmare). All players will be able to do to the normal and Elite versions of The Hotel, but access to the Nightmare Mode as well as all difficulty settings of the other two are available only via purchasing the DLC or each scenario locale individually. Currently the only objective type available is "seek and preserve," but more will be introduced later, including "occult disturbance" and "escape."

The Mansion scenario
The actual scenario is played out in a simulation room that is overseen by an operator who is the one dropping the random events on your head and keeping you updated. Since it is a simulation, some elements are downright arcade-like, from bright slowing power-ups to the spawn indicators. Here are a few tips to get you started in your own first scenario:
  • Survivors will spawn in bright lights, so camp them and protect them if you see them.
  • Random encounters show on the minimap as orange squares.
  • Slow zombies pack a huge punch, so kill them quickly!
  • If the fog rolls in, stand in lamplight.
  • Filth monsters explode into pools with environmental effects, so don't kill near survivors.
  • If you see a box with a glowing Council icon over it, break it open and grab the mines!
An interesting point about scenarios is that they involve tactics that can require players to discard traditional group thinking (especially staying together) and therefore will require players to rethink their builds. Players may even have to quickly swap builds multiple times in each scenario in order to succeed. To help with that, Bylos said that the bug in the gear manager should be fixed as of the Halloween day hotfix.

Saving survivors
Something else players may not realize that is except for the Nightmare solo version, any size group can actually participate in any version of the scenarios. Consequently, players who are not as close to endgame can be in a group with others and complete a scenario in solo mode. Rewards, however, will still be calculated according to the stated scenario size.

One last important note: The 18-hour lockout timer for a completed scenario is only for that specific difficulty and group mode, so players can do the same scenario in a different difficulty and a different group mode (duo and group also share a timer) as well as other scenario locales to complete multiples each day and earn more tokens.

If the chaos and mayhem... I mean, challenge... of scenarios sounds good to you, you have a little time still to prepare yourself. So wrap up that build, complete the story missions, grab some new gear, finish all the Halloween events, and do whatever you need to do -- I'll be seeing you in Venice next week!

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.