Why I Play: The Secret World

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|07.11.12

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Why I Play: The Secret World
The Secret World screenshot
I can't stop! No, seriously -- I had delusions of sneaking this article out a week earlier than scheduled, but that involved actually tearing myself away from Kingsmouth long enough to log out and write. And you can see how well that turned out! It's hard enough trying to do so now; every time I think about The Secret World, I want to jump right back in and... um, excuse me a moment, I'll be right back...

Hey, I just needed to test something in-game for this article, honest! Though if the test was to be able to log in and right back out of TSW, I failed. I checked what I needed to and thought to myself, "Just five more minutes." Before I knew it, too many hours flew by. And this was not an isolated incident, either. As much as I enjoy playing MMORPGs (anyone who has heard me in a game can attest to that!), it has been quite a while since I truly reveled in my time in game and champed at the bit to get back in when I had to leave. It's no secret that I have been waiting for this game for years now, and I have to say I am not disappointed. Funcom's newest release has truly ensnared me.

So what is so compelling about The Secret World? Do you have a minute or five?

The Secret World
Warning: This article might contain mild spoilers, so if you are avoiding all possible chances of being exposed to something before you are ready for it in game, go ahead and skip to the end. However, I promise I won't add anything too blatant!

I am not usually the one to go all fan-girly on games, but this truly is the most fun I have had in a game in quite some time. The Secret World may not appeal to everyone, but it has elements that I have been waiting for and quite frankly had begun to believe were pipe-dreams.

It was a dark and stormy log in

For me, one of the best features of this game is the setting. Not only is the game set in the real world (making for the best immersion experience since idle chatter about real-life happenings actually relates), but the theme is actually my favorite genre. Exploring Funcom's world is like walking into my favorite stories from my youth.

My growing up years were spent consuming copious quantities of mystery and horror films and books. My bookshelves are still overflowing with both hardcover and paperback copies of my favorite authors, Dean R. Koontz and Stephen King and many others. And movies? My friends and I even made our own horror films! So when I step into The Secret World, I feel like I am a part of one of these great stories that takes the world you know and stretches it a bit more to incorporate something that feels just barely in the realm of possibility. Face it, there are plenty of fantasy games out there. They practically rule the MMO market. It's not that I have anything against fantasy -- after all, I play and enjoy a few of them myself -- but it is not my first or greatest love. So having a game finally cater to a genre I love is worth celebrating.

The Secret WorldBRAINZ! Not just for zombies

Possibly my favorite thing about the game is the chance to use my brain. You know, that squishy thing some people prefer to turn off when they relax. I am good at PvE and OK at PvP, but my skills and strengths are definitely not in the combat arena. My first MMO experience was building an empire off of social skills and information sans any combat prowess, something no other game has come close to mirroring. I like MMOs; I like being in different worlds and seeing stories unfold. But it is a nice change of pace to have a game that calls upon my personal skill sets.

Piecing together clues to solve puzzles and mysteries is something I really love. Now, I fully understand that this particular feature is the pinnacle of turn-offs for some. For me, however, the investigative missions are a highlight of the game and are something I am overjoyed to have! The feeling when you successfully reason something out is a great one, like being able to hit every area of the fortuneteller's visions just from the knowledge gained by running around Kingsmouth. I'm not going to lie, I was pleased with myself that I knew how to get the code from the church without even a second thought and that I deciphered the doctor's password from my own love of the music. Being able to use my own personal experiences, skills, and knowledge to advance in a game instead of my ability to mash buttons is completely awesome to me. And the fact I can share in these experiences with friends in an MMO is just icing on the cake.

In that same vein, the fact that everything feels like a clue draws you into the game even more and makes you pay attention to every word. You feel like you are being given small clues, such that if you explore enough and listen close enough, you will find out some truths that those who barrel through will miss, like what is the real story behind Halloween that Deputy Andy keeps mentioning? I am going to find out!

I will mention one disappointment: Some of the investigative missions have offered waypoints to quest objectives and mark the map with the relevant area. There are times I'd rather just be led to the next point, but otherwise I'd like to rely on the phone books, street signs, and other such means to figure out where I need to go. After all, Funcom, you put those things in the game to be guides, so why do I need a distance tracker? I might not be as fast as others at completing things, but I am in no rush, and we all already knew I am an odd duck. I did find that I could work around this a bit by just highlighting a quest I am not working on so that I don't have the tracker guiding me, but that doesn't help with the map markers, and it doesn't help when there is only one quest active. I am hoping the option to completely turn off the tracker is offered soon.

The Secret WorldExpecting the unexpected

What makes a real-life horror setting where I use my wits even better? The unexpected! What I have enjoyed the most is coming across little details that add to the ambiance and make it more a world to experience and less a game to get through. What am I jabbering about? Let me give an example. *spoiler alert*

Unlike the terrains of many games, the environment in The Secret World is not just a painted landscape. Just because you can't click on something or it isn't highlighted as a quest object doesn't mean it is just some innocuous scenery. Case in point: While exploring a new place, I noticed bear traps on the ground. They looked like just your average flavor decoration devs would toss into a game. Being the immersion fan I am, I skirted them instinctively. Then I stopped at one and wondered, "Could these actually be real?" I couldn't click on it or interact with it in any way, so in true I-gotta-find-out fashion, I jumped right on that bear trap. SNAP! What wasn't interactive before was now clamped around my ankle, and my bleeding was interrupting my attempts to remove the trap. The moral of the story? You can't assume anything is as benign as it looks. And that's so much fun!

Suspense is one of my favorite feelings (note favorite genre above). The fact that aspects of the game build suspense and leave you on the edge of your seat while you're glancing over your shoulder just engrosses me when I play. I have literally jumped when something unexpected happened and loved every moment of it.

The Secret World screenshot
Shinies and stories and so much more

There are other reasons I really enjoy TSW. The game basically gave me a version of one of my favorite features from another game I play; with my love of exploring and treasure hunting, the addition of the lore pieces in game was an extra special treat. True, they stick out and don't look very immersive, but they are a way of rewarding players who take the time to really explore in every nook and cranny. Players like yours truly.

The Secret World screenshotAnother feature I could go on about at length (but can't because I am almost out of space) is the storytelling. Earlier I mentioned that I hang on each word because I don't want to miss a clue. But it's more than that: The stories and characterizations are plain fun to watch and experience. The voice acting is superb and creates memorable characters that come up in conversation both inside and outside of game. And then there are the little references and jokes tucked away in the game. One of my favorites to date is hearing Tuvok make a red shirt reference. I have to wonder what other quips are in store!

To top all this off, the game rewards unconventional play, and since I'm the poster child for unconventional, it's right up my alley. Just one small example of this is *spoiler alert* adding things to the game that can be seen or done only while you're dead. I mean, come on, wandering around in non-corporeal form is not exactly the typical way to spend game-time. And since I am far from typical gamer, do you see why I love this game?

Honestly, these are just the reasons I can rattle off the top if my head. There are more (like the ability to choose whatever skills I want, working in-game computers, live surveillance feeds), but my five minutes are up. If I had to summarize why I play in a single thought, it would be this: The Secret World has ventured off the beaten path to bring something unique to MMOs, something I have been waiting a long time for.

Can I log back in now?

There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
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