Chaos Theory: Every game needs a Gatekeeper like The Secret World

It finally happened. I've been playing The Secret World since launch, wading through lots of lore, wracking my brains on investigations missions, collecting clothes, and soaking up the amazing atmosphere, among other things. But there is one activity that I have successfully dodged participating in that entire time until the moment came when I could no longer justify evading it. I'm talking about the Gatekeeper.

For those who aren't familiar with TSW's Gatekeeper, here' the scoop: He's the giant golden golem that stands between you and the PvE endgame. He's the feature that all players who want to participate in the hardest mode of dungeons and acquire the best purple PvE gear must prove themselves against before being allowed to move their play to that next level. Consequently, he prevents those who are completely unprepared for that level of challenge from getting in over their heads and dragging down their groups in the process. Golden boy is a powerful (and merciless) teacher who can humble those not ready for the fight as well as those who are by really testing their knowledge about the game's combat system and forcing all to face up to their inadequacies.

So I finally faced this Agarthan nemesis, and he was all I expected him to be. And yes, I was initially schooled. But I did end up laying the smack down on him, learning a few important things in the process. And one of the top lessons? I think every single game should have a Gatekeeper!

As you've already gathered, I wasn't in any hurry to meet up with the Gatekeeper. It wasn't really any secret; those of you who know me or watch my The Secret's Out livestreams were already well aware of this. But what you may not have known are the real reasons why. There was more to my avoiding the Gatekeeper than just the question of whether or not I was ready (which, admittedly I never felt I was!).

The truth of the matter is I was purposefully not ready. You see, I actually avoid min/maxing in games. I loathe it. Even during tabletop games, I pass my character sheet off to someone who loves that aspect while I, in turn, help them craft backstories and whip up personalities -- things I love to do. It's not that I can't do it; I just don't like to! I ascribe to the whole play-to-the-group's-strengths division of labor kind of thing. And I knew that meticulous theory-crafting was necessary in order to face and defeat the Gatekeeper in The Secret World. But at the same time, the charm of the game was in figuring things out for myself in every other aspect of TSW, so why not carry that over to decks and builds? So I put off doing it as long as possible.

Since I wasn't the ultimate theory-crafter, my method of getting abilities was by and large confined to nabbing whatever was necessary to get specific decks to grab those deck outfits. And we all know that the predesignated decks are not the primo collections. (Well, the Exorcist healer in the Templar decks is pretty spiffy!) So I didn't have the confidence that I'd have the necessary abilities to succeed until I earned the AP and bought a ton more. Of course, earning AP takes time! Maybe once I had the entire wheel completed....

The other main reason I avoided the Gatekeeper is that I have never liked being solo. As in, I loathe it! I do not play massively multiplayer online games to keep to myself. So the idea of facing the Gatekeeper was especially unappealing because you have to do it on your own. It's not that I didn't want to carry my own weight or accept personal accountability for my actions (a personal pet peeve, by the way); I just don't like playing without sharing the adventure with someone.

I was finally able to mitigate both of these enough to actually go through with it. For one, I broke down and ditched the I-have-to-do-it-all-myself mantra. After collecting a larger set of abilities to choose from, I listened to some suggestions of friends and viewers to try a slightly different set up than the one I was currently using. Then I circumvented the solo part by inviting Massively TV viewers along! Of course, that was laying myself bare to scrutiny, which is nerve-wracking and causes one to perform to the best of your abilities, but I was able to share the experience.

If there's one thing the Gatekeeper does, it's humble you! You can't depend on anyone else to save your bacon, and you can't ride anyone's coattails. It's all on you. At least you only have yourself to answer to in the privacy of your own little instance, and there are no witnesses to point out your mistakes -- unless, like I did, you actually stream your attempts! There is also no timer pressuring you, there is no wear and tear on your gear when you die, and there is no limit to the number to times you can attempt the fight.

You can also choose to engage the Gatekeeper in either of the three roles -- tank, healer, and DPS -- regardless of what you actually play regularly. Obviously, it would make sense if you utilized those skills you used in-game the most to prove your readiness in your chosen role. But as everyone comes to learn, the supposedly easiest game role of DPS is the hardest role in the Gatekeeper fight! As a tank, you cannot do any DPS, but you must manage aggro so that your little green DPS man can whittle the GK's health away. As a healer, you can't do any damage, but you must keep that little green man alive so he can. As a DPS, you are on your own and must burn Golden Boy down before he gets you.

As I promised to share my experience, I chose to highlight all the roles just a bit so that those who haven't ever seen the Gatekeeper could get a little taste of all of them. For me, although I've been playing a DPS mainly on my streaming Illuminati, I have never been wholly comfortable in the skin of a DPS; my Templar has been healer all the way, a role I play in pretty much every game. Ironically, against the Gatekeeper I ended up focusing most on the tank role!

My first foray into that special instance highlighted just how ill-prepared I felt. I didn't know what to expect and was pretty nervous. Luckily, I was limited to one-hour blocks of attempts for streams; that had the added benefit of preventing my stubborn streak from kicking in after too many failures and staying until I got it. By taking a break, I was able to earn more AP, nab a few more abilities, and come back refreshed with a new strategy. The second attempt went much better, and I earned my right to continue on to Nightmare mode dungeons.

Truly, I think the sentiment that all games should have the equivalent of a Gatekeeper is a pretty sound one. It's not that you are barring anyone from content; it's that you are making sure players have the minimum qualifications to be able to do it. Think of it as getting a license: You definitely aren't the best driver when you go to take your test, but you have to show a base aptitude for the safety of yourself and everyone else. In The Secret World, players must show a beginning mastery of how to create builds and utilize synergies. While this doesn't guarantee that all endgame groups will perform flawlessly (ha ha ha), it at least lets everyone there know that groupmates have what it takes because they have proven it. This boosts confidence in fellow players by preventing those who don't have a clue from wasting everyone's time. All games could benefit from this.

There's another benefit that comes form the Gatekeeper experience: role empathy. Personally, I don't feel I was in need of a lesson on the basics of roles besides the one I prefer; as a healer in other games, I have worked closely with tanks and know how much positioning and aggro management matters. However, for those who lack this background, the Gatekeeper affords a very realistic lesson on these. I have heard from a number of people that their appreciation for tanks and healers was heightened after trying those roles. Even I can better related to the frustration tanks feel when DPS focus solely on their pew-pew output instead of paying attention to positioning and group dynamics. I can't tell you how many times I was yelling at that stupid green guy who wouldn't stay behind the boss (actually, I don't have to; you can hear for yourself!).

Because of this role empathy, one thing I would change in TSW's fight is to make players have to actually defeat the Gatekeeper in all three roles, not just one. As it turns out, I defeated the GK in the one role I never play! It was very interesting to step into that role in TSW and get a feel for the specific ability combinations that ensured success, but how does that show my readiness for the roles I actually use? Perhaps players could unlock two NM mode dungeons for every role they succeed at, or maybe there could be some kind of super bonus for defeating him as more than one role.

On top of that, I think it would be pretty awesome to have the GK be available even after you defeat him. We now have scenarios, so why can't we have a training simulation of the Gatekeeper? I think it would be great to go in and see how much I have improved in the other roles -- or my own, for that matter. He could very well be a standard by which players can judge their personal progress, something not possible in groups because of the many variables involved.

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.