Chaos Theory: Why TSW's Orochi have an uphill battle for respectability

TSW
The other day I posted a Daily Grind here on the site that asked about NPC factions that are, in effect, a total joke. I used the example of the Orochi from The Secret World, which got one commenter's ire up. He said it was "insulting" that I was singling this out this organization, and I assume that I'm no longer on his Christmas card mailing list.

Defensiveness aside, I think I have a pretty good case here that the Orochi are, well, almost laughable. Just about everywhere you go in the game, you encounter their corpses, burning vans, busted camps, crashed planes, and botched excavations. As a friend put it, they're like well-funded kids who go into a military zone with professionals and end up like you'd expect. I've been mocking them for months now, and I am far from alone. After a certain point, their grisly tableaus become a running joke that makes it really hard to take them seriously.

But that's the question I want to grapple with today. If the upcoming Tokyo zones will be featuring the Orochi on their home turf, are they too far gone in terms of respectability in the eyes of players to change the narrative? We've seen them kicked up and down across the world, so I'm wondering if it's too late for the Orochi to put on big boy pants and be invited to the adult table.

"What do you call an Orochi performance review? An obituary."

So other than dead bodies and a sharp white-and-black visual theme, what do we know about the Orochi? A lot, actually; aside from the main three secret societies, the Orochi probably get the most factional attention. As the name implies, the Orochi Group is a conglomerate of eight subsidiaries that are big on science, business, and guns, but not so big on super-powered immortals (i.e., us).

In a strange way, Orochi is both clearly a villainous organization and a sympathetic one. Blame TSW's habit of blurring the lines for this. You meet several Orochi individuals who are kind of all right, such as Ann Radcliffe in Kingsmouth and Lisa Hui in the Scorched Desert. And Dragan in Transylvania is practically a hero trying to do the best he can. Yet you can't condone what the group is doing, including kidnapping and experimenting on kids, all in the name of science and profits.

Orochi team leader Harrison Blake puts the group's philosophy up front and center when he compares it to your own faction: "We choose to deal in hard, quantifiable science, and you... you're the liberal arts." The Orochi are all about science, but science without a conscience, without breaks, without ethics. The power of anima and the filth are incredibly tempting to the organization, which is why you see so many of its people and hardware being thrown at trying to harness both.

The problem that Orochi runs into is that the science and technology they possess is clearly outmatched by the supernatural forces at work here. If we're all the superheroes, they're S.H.I.E.L.D., just a very ineffective S.H.I.E.L.D. crossed with hints of GI Joe's COBRA. These power-mad scientists, soldiers, and bureaucrats are meddling in a domain that they should leave well enough alone, and more often than not they pay the price for it. And then we get to grab easy missions from their corpses.

"What's an Orochi agent's favorite form of transportation? Body bag."

So yeah, the many, many deaths of the Orochi are a running theme of the game and hilarious in a gallows humor sense. I want to make clear that this is not a bad thing. Aside from the enjoyment I get at poking fun of the death-prone Orochi, I think the group serves several important purposes within the game's framework.

First of all, we love to hate "evil" corporations. I mean, any movie where the enemy's not the Nazis, the mob, or the colonial British, we usually get some heartless company that gets what's coming to it by Joe Underdog. The depths of depravity that Orochi sinks to doesn't make us that sad to see them die or to oppose them or to steal their 8th grade science project notes or to pit ourselves against them. At least our secret societies aren't as bad as Orochi, so we can tell ourselves to fall to sleep at night. That's a vital function right there.

Second, they are an essential storytelling link in this game's world. Given how crazy and outlandish some of the plot threads and supernatural elements can get, we really needed a group of people who represented what average people (with bags of money) might do when faced with bee-powered adventurers, an invasion of black goo from beyond, and the standard zombie uprising. In other words, if Orochi weren't there, we would keenly feel the absence of this logical part of the storytelling puzzle.

Third, Orochi challenge our own morality in-character. No matter what secret society you fight for, what you're asked to do and why you're asked to do it can make you feel pretty mucky afterward. We are not lily-white when compared to Orochi, but muddled people trying to suss out this complex world and its rules. So when we encounter the Orochi, we have an opportunity to take the pulse of our character's motives and reasons. Do we find the Orochi sympathetic? Do their ends justify the means? Are they reacting so strongly because the world itself is under attack? Could we become like they are in another four or five zones?

Finally, the Orochi are simply fascinating in and of themselves. As with any faction, the Orochi have secrets galore, and those secrets are some of the most prized plunder we'll be pursuing come Tokyo. I want to know what happened with this "terrorist attack" at their headquarters referenced at the beginning of the game. I want to learn more about their enigmatic leaders, Samael Chandra and Lily Engel. I'm still pondering the symbolic meaning behind their white-and-black color scheme and the number eight. And I really want to put a stop to the whole Virgula Divina project.

One of the lore entries for Orochi sums up their potential as a well of secrets revealed: "There are doors and mainframes that regular Orochi employee security cards will not grant access to. The corporation casts a shadow, and that shadow answers to no outside agency. Rumours of occult research, technology twenty years ahead of its time, elevators that nosy employees enter but never exit -- only the board of directors know for sure. The eight heads hold secrets."

So I'm not saying the Orochi are without a place and purpose in the game. I'm saying that my concern is that we really haven't seen the Orochi as an effective threat or a serious competitor as of yet. When you witness their corpses zone after zone, you start treating them like the game's version of Star Wars' stormtroopers. You know how they were menacing for like two seconds at the beginning of the first film and not at all after that? That's what I'm worried about with this faction.

Even if things get more real in Tokyo, it's going to take a lot for any healthy respect on my part to develop. It's definitely an uphill battle that Funcom's story writing team has to contend with unless the devs are going to blithely do a massive shift from being The Secret World's butt monkeys to a legitimate and capable power.

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.