Chaos Theory: Sidestories lead The Secret World in the right direction

Chaos Theory: Sidestories lead The Secret World in the right direction
Let me just start by saying that the fact that I have not completed all four of The Secret World's new investigation missions in the recently released Sidestories: Further Analysis does not in anyway diminish the awesomeness of the pack. You don't have to do them all -- or even do them at all -- to appreciate this new content. That's because the beauty of these new missions goes beyond the actual investigative content; it's the fact that it is additional content!

If there is one thing that TSW fans have been clamoring for, it's more content, especially content that tosses players deeper into the world and expounds on the story. (The popularity of last Halloween's Spooky Stories of Solomon Island quests sure proved that!) So even those who would rather stab their eye repeatedly with their mouse instead of puzzling out an investigation mission should be fistpumping this new development. With this new type of content release, Funcom has hit on an idea that can satisfy nearly everyone! And that certainly bodes well for the future of the game.

Anti-investigators rejoice!

Let's focus first on how Sidestories is good for those who loathe investigation missions. Just because this pack is composed solely of said missions doesn't mean that those who don't like them are shafted.

Funcom has released this pack as the first mission pack, indicating quite blatantly that more will be coming. And we need more! Obviously, players are excited for Tokyo in Issue #9 and are looking forward to that major expansion bringing a whole new zone. Just as obviously, something on that scale will need lots of time to develop. We get that. We all understand that the major issues cannot come as frequently as originally planned because of the smaller staff. But getting something new too infrequently is detrimental to the game; a number of fans have already checked out for lack of anything fresh to do. You can run the Flappy raid in the Whispering Tide event only so many times before you just can't take it anymore. I have long championed the idea of smaller updates more frequently as a way to keep excitement and interest in a game alive. These new mission packs have the promise of just that.

Even better for the puzzle-hating crowd, chances are that future packs will not be relegated to just investigations but will span the spectrum of missions. However, Funcom was really smart to make the first mission pack an investigation one. Why? Because even those who can't stand the process of solving the investigations can do them and get the reward without any fuss thanks to the numerous walkthroughs available online. If it were a main mission pack and involved tons of fighting, there are those whose skills and gear level would not be conducive to success. Even sabotage missions can be problematic; the most detailed walkthroughs can't instill that bit of finesse on a player that's occasionally necessary to get in just the right spot. With the investigations, everyone can actually participate, giving the pack a higher chance of being bought by a larger percentage of the playerbase. And we all know more revenue is not a bad thing for a company looking to continue development!

Now let's look at it from that angle: Another reason those who hate investigations should be glad to have this pack is for the money. Let's face it, Funcom really needed to secure another revenue stream, one that avoids the pitfalls of pay-to-win at that. To keep developing the game at the quality we all want, Funcom needs funds. And personally, I can only buy so many outfits from the item store! The consumables like the portable bank teller are pretty neat as well, but there has been a need for something more. With Sidestories, the studio has hit on what I suspect is a gold mine; at the very least it's a revenue stream that's palatable to the playerbase. Fans have long expressed their willingness to open their wallets for additional story content, so it stands to reason that frequent small bursts of said content will have those wallets opening more frequently.

The question of the pricing, however, is one that is more difficult to answer. The first mission pack, Sidestories: Further Analysis, is priced (for a Grandmaster lifetime sub holder) at 768 Funcom or Bonus points, as opposed to 960 for Issues #6 and #7. Is it a good deal? Perhaps. But I suspect it would be better for future packs to have a lower price, especially if there are so few missions involved.

Investigators rejoice!

Of course, for those who love investigation missions, this pack is like mana from heaven! And the question of whether or not its is a good deal is pretty much lost in the fact that there are new puzzles to pour over. I myself find the investigation missions one of The Secret World's crowning jewels. The chance to advance and excel in an MMO using my brain, drawing on real-world knowledge I've gained instead of just my button-mashing prowess, is a dream come true. Heck, these missions have even made me learn new skills! Reading bar codes? Who knew that would ever be a needed ability?

So obviously, just getting new investigations is worthwhile for this crowd. Those who spend time piecing together the puzzles will have days -- and yes, I do mean days -- of content ahead of them. Those who use walkthroughs will tear through the content quickly, but those who don't have a nice meaty update to keep them occupied, even if it is only four missions. Let me try to convey some of what players can look forward to (hopefully without divulging too many spoilers).

I knew from a conversation with TSW's director that there were different levels of difficulty to these missions, so I was even more curious as to how they turned out. While I can't vouch for all four, I can say that each can have its stumping moments; one in particular stumped me early on, and I have yet to get past that part! There may also have been a bit of smoke coming from my ears as the gears were grinding through some of the clues; these missions supplied some deft misdirections. But it was definitely worth it to experience those glorious EUREKA moments when it clicked and I knew exactly where it was going. I was also totally giddy when I got to the reference to one of my favorite poems by my favorite poet, Robert Frost.

This was no "just slap something half-baked together and toss it out to distract the players while gobbling up their money" update. The stories I have experienced so far were clever and even jolted me with their twists and turns. Yes, there are a few shocking tidbits in store. Another very pleasant discovery was that these missions push the envelope farther than any I've completed to date. I'll give you this one hint: There is a bit more of an ARG element in these missions than there has been previously, so don't restrict yourself to your computer. That's all I am going to say about that!

Mission packs are the right path

Some might whine that Sidestories was just a way to distract players from the fact that Tokyo isn't finished. To that I say: So what? And why infuse nefarious intent in that? The Secret World is a game that begs to have many small distractions thrown at players, with winding side paths leading in every direction off the main one. That is what is so awesome about the game! Sure, there is a chance that these investigation missions were intended to be added in a previous or a future issue (and therefore bundled in with that price) and weren't. We shouldn't care. In a game where the story is the main attraction, going too long without a a new chapter means you lose folks. If tossing a few additional missions out here and there keeps the masses, then great!

And for any who might complain that this scenario is an unnecessary money grab, I counter that this method is a win-win and possibly the best I've seen. We get more frequent content, and Funcom gets development funds. Besides, you can buy the pack or you can ignore it; it is totally up to you. It won't make you any less of a player to skip over this mission pack; however, it's a definite bonus to those who revel in the atmosphere and story of TSW.

With the introduction of Sidestories, I am hopeful that TSW is on the path to more frequent, if smaller, updates. Now, don't get me wrong -- I still want issues! But I think offering content snacks in between the main courses will be a boon to the game as well as the bottom line. I am looking forward to what other packs are in the pipeline. For now, I have a clue to decipher!

Conspiracies, paranoia, secrets, and chaos -- the breakfast of champions! Feast on a bowlful with MJ on Thursdays as she infiltrates 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 and she'll jump on the case!

This article was originally published on Massively.