Chaos Theory: The dark side of The Secret World's Issue 8

chaos theory
Last week MJ espoused her belief that The Secret World Issue 8's scenarios are a terrific addition to the game and worthy of your consideration. As much fun as she's been having, my own experiences have been middling-to-poor with Issue 8. In my opinion, this is the first Issue that's really stumbled in terms of accessibility and quality.

Part of that was to be expected. Issue 8 is, let's face it, a stalling tactic so Funcom can finish up the first half of Tokyo. It's busy work for the community in the guise of a "certification" as well as an AP/SP sink for those of us who have filled out most (or all) of our skill wheel and need some other form of character growth.

Mind you, while Issue 8 has stumbled, it's not a travesty. I actually appreciate the idea of a new form of group content that's repeatable, and it's exciting to get a glimpse into the mysterious Council of Venice. But I do want to look at a few failings of this update and how Funcom could improve matters.

Problem #1: Solo scenarios

I went from smiling to anticipation with Issue 8 to grimacing in frustration following the first few times that I ran a so-called "solo" scenario and had my butt handed to me on an uncaring platter. I rejiggered my build; same problem. I read the forums and talked about it with friends and found that people's experiences were all across the board, with a rather sizable contingent unhappy that solo scenarios were anything but.

What really got my goat is Funcom's repeated response, which was, "Well, tough. Get a friend to run it with you." This made me wonder if Funcom even knows what "solo" means, especially after Joel Bylos said outright that contrary to other MMOs and common-freaking-sense, The Secret World's solo mode was meant to be tougher than group mode. But at least it will reward less!

Great moments in game design history, ladies and gentlemen, right up there with flying Superman through green rings for a half-hour.

Anyway, I'm OK with the difficulty that group modes present, but this solo mode has to be tweaked down. It's just stupid hard in places, especially when you have three camps being attacked simultaneously and the game was inconsiderate and didn't give you a way to be in three places at once. I don't care if Funcom is trying to redefine what "solo" is or is trying to teach us whatever. If I can't find a group or I just want to play alone for a while, I shouldn't be punished like this.

Problem #2: Lack of scenario variety

"But!" you protest, "scenarios have plenty of variety with location and difficulty!"

Yes, I'll concede that, but they don't have variety in the most important drop-down menu of them all, which is mission type. As of right now, there's only one type of scenario, and that's "find and protect the survivors." It's right down there with "escort missions" in my MMO pet peeves because I hate it when a failure threshold is tripped by how incompetent NPCs are.

Simply put, for the money that Issue 8 cost, we should get more than the same rehashed, reskinned scenario. One is not enough, especially considering just how often we're expected to grind them. Speaking of which...

Problem #3: Augment drop rates

This particular problem has a lot of folks unhappy. Augments, arguably the most important reason to run scenarios since you can't get them elsewhere, are dropping at a very low and unpredictable rate. Some players, including me, have reported a good haul while others might run several scenarios in a row and never see a single one drop.

This should be the easiest problem for Funcom to address, and address it the studio should ASAP. I agree with posters who say that at the bare minimum, the final boss of every scenario should drop an augment so there's the guarantee of at least one. What's the harm in that, unless the devs are sadistically inclined to make us run these far past the point of our sanity?

Update: Since writing this, we saw the 1.8.2 update come out. According to my friends, they're now seeing increased drop rates but I haven't had time yet to check this out.

Problem #4: Lockout timers

I hate lockout timers. I really, really do. I always have in any MMO because as a player with limited time to game, I don't want a title to tell me that it's arbitrarily closed off some of its content for the rest of the evening. Scenario lockout timers are really harsh, with 18 hours between successful runs and an hour (!) for a failure. That's like a kick in the pants if you fail a mission: "Hey, not only do you get pretty much squat for your time, but now you've got to wait! AHAHAHA!"

I believe that the reason for the lockout timers is so that farmers don't run scenarios ad nauseam and flood the market with lots of augments (because we might have a more time-affordable option to not running scores of scenarios, and that would just be plain silly). But it just is aggravating in this case because you've spent the time to haul yourself to Venice to run these and then have to spend an hour or more picking your nose instead of re-running content that's specifically designed to be re-run a lot.

Again, great design! I'm looking forward to more of your brainstorms.

Problem #5: Where's the story?

All things considered, I would have vastly preferred another story arc Issue release to what we've gotten with scenarios. Issue 8 is so light on TSW's acclaimed story that it's almost non-existent, and in exchange we get a system that's grindy, unchanging, and somewhat unforgiving. It's not a good trade-off.

And who's to say that scenarios couldn't have genuine story content of some form? Considering that they reuse locations from our past adventures, there's nothing stopping the team from reusing characters, conversations, and cutscenes.

Instead of giving me something useful to do and taking my mind off the wait for Issue 9, Issue 8 actually caused me to crave the upcoming story content even more than I had been craving it before.

In which I dole out some praise

I don't want to end on a sour note. I've aired my grievances against Issue 8, so let me wrap up by saying a few nice things about it. I'm hard on scenarios because the rewards for running them are quite juicy indeed, from QL10 purples to cosmetics to the aforementioned augments. I like the "alternative advancement" system that augments represent, and it's certainly nice to feel my character getting stronger by the day.

And if you get a good team with voice chat, doing group runs in scenarios is a hectic joy of sorts. There's a lot more teamwork involved, a lot of shared moments as the random elements kick in, and a lot less stress since it's not all on your shoulders alone. I think that scenarios can only get better from here, but there is some work to be done, and Funcom needs to stop denying that fact and get to it.

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.