Chaos Theory:  The best of The Secret World, 2013
When December wrapped up, so too did The Secret World's first full calendar year, having debuted the summer prior. Coincidentally, the timing also marked the first year of the buy-to-play business model; the game transitioned in December 2012. Looking back over those 12 months, I wonder what can be said of the horror-themed MMO. Certainly updates and new content didn't come as quickly as players would have preferred (what game can ever deliver that?!), but there was still plenty of activity during that time. We're going to delve into highlights of TSW's year that started with awarding all players a coveted pet to counter an exploit discovered during the 2012 holiday event and ended with Hel on earth.

One of the highlights of the year was an attitude that can be summed up as power to the players. During 2013 Funcom introduced ways that players could become more involved in the game -- literally. One way this came to pass was through contests that allowed players to make their mark on the game. First came a musical contest that brought the winners' compositions to the airwaves, then along came a clothing design contest to introduce new fashions.

But the theme of player power didn't stop there. Not only did Funcom initiate contests to draw players into the game, but it also supported the community when players created other projects and events to better immerse themselves and others in the world. From ARGs to a collection of panoramic vistas, players worked to enhance the gaming experience.

On top of that, Funcom demonstrated that it does listen to player concerns. What better power can players have than to affect the direction of development? This played out when Issue #8 The Venetian Agenda introduced scenarios and players voiced concerns about the feature's accessibility. In short order, The Secret World had new scenario levels for those who wanted to experience them, a solution that didn't dilute the feature's function for endgame players. Whether you are a fan of the scenarios or not, the fact that Funcom heard the players and developed a fair and reasonable fix is definitely worthy of inclusion in this best-of list.

For me, one of the best aspects of The Secret World is how it remained true to its theme by having holidays befitting the ambiance of the game. Since the game is set in a spin-off of the real world, it would have been completely within the scope of believability to have the cheery celebration that accompanies Christmas. However, TSW is not about cheery -- it is dark and full of terrors. Since the game focused instead on the Christmas devil and Hel, the spook factor was not set aside in the name of celebration.

Of course, you can't talk holidays in TSW without mentioning the holiday of holidays: Halloween! And this past year devs really stepped up the celebration. Even better than just tossing in something new (yet still thematically correct), 2013's event was tied inexorably to the current stories and NPCs. Like life, TSW has many layers, and when new quests and content help peel back those layers to reveal what is underneath, I am definitely a happy camper.

The best things needn't always be big things. Sometimes, it is the smaller things that mean more. For instance, something like a veteran reward is not really earth-shattering, but it brings a feeling of being appreciated to those who support the game. Besides the universal monthly cosmetic gift or pet, subscribers also have the freedom to choose what rewards are better suited to them individually using the veteran points.

Related to that, two other small items rank up there on my best-of-2013 list: the pet inventory and remote banking. Anyone who has collected many pets via the events or as rewards has felt the pain of an overstuffed inventory; the recently added pet inventory is such a small thing, but it adds lots of convenience (as well as extra space for loot). On that same note, the remote banking ability that can be purchased for veteran points is a lifesaver for those who don't want to stop what they're doing and slog through the London lag in order to toss stuff in the bank or mail things to friends or alts. Huge things? No. But great things -- yes!

While it seems unfair to just name issues as part of TSW's highlights (even though they really are!), I do want to point out a very specific part of Issue #7 A Dream to Kill that earns a spot in the highlights. Along with a fun storyline to play through and a creepy little bear, players get to taste their first mount. As part of the spy quests you get to drive a snowmobile through Carpathian Fangs in Transylvania. Not only is this experience fun and full of promise, but it is supposedly only the beginning; Creative Director Joel Bylos referred to this snowmobile as the first mount, which intimates that more will eventually come.

While this doesn't necessarily affect players much, the fact that The Secret World featured prominently in a movie (long before a certain other franchise's flick even finished casting) ranks right up there as one of the best of the best moments!

The implementation of the long-term Whispering Tide event may not have been as great as hoped (it does get tedious), but the fact that Funcom is looking at new ways to involve players in the game is a big deal to me. A good part of the charm of the game is the suspense, and knowing that devs can and will be coming up with new ways to interact with the game builds that suspense on another level. What will they come up with next? The same goes for subject material; with so much inspiration to draw from in real life, I can't wait to see where the stories go. What bit of lore will devs dredge up and offer? How will it connect to everything?

My final entry to this best of 2013 list is that The Secret World successfully cultivated an air of mystery. Even if you have seen and done all there is to currently see and do in game, it doesn't mean you know everything. There are still so many mysteries to be solved and new layers to peel back and peek underneath. And that's going to keep me coming back throughout 2014 and beyond!

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.
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