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Chaos Theory: Reticles and roleplay in The Secret World

Jef Reahard

Funcom is a lot of things, but quitter isn't one of them. The company and its flagship The Secret World title have been through the proverbial poostorm in recent weeks, but the devs are doing their damnedest to come out swinging. What in tarnation am I talking about? Joel Bylos' state-of-the-game letter from yesterday, of course.

The newly minted Game Director dumped a wall o' text on us that hinted at a couple of exciting developments in store for everyone's favorite horror/conspiracy MMO. Let's chat them up after the cut.

The Secret World - Egypt duo
Reticle combat
First off, what exactly is "reticle combat?" That's a fair question, and hopefully we'll have some definitive answers direct from Funcom later this week. One thing we know for certain is that it will be a toggle option, so those of you who prefer the game's current combat methodology needn't worry.

"We are not forcing it upon anyone," Bylos says. "You will be able to freely switch between traditional targeting and the reticle depending on what you feel is best for you." This leads in to whether or not the change is largely cosmetic, which I doubt, given the big deal that Funcom's making out of it.

It also raises all kinds of balance questions, like how reticle users and tab-target users will synergize in groups, PvP, etc. But back to what it is, exactly. When I hear the term reticle combat, I think action MMOs like TERA or even hybrids like Global Agenda and others. The key component is player aiming, which does seem to add an interesting new wrinkle to TSW's active combat mechanics.

There's already a good bit of dodging in and out of area-effect cones, plus most of TSW's abilities can be fired while moving. When you combine these factors with some sort of aiming system, you get a recipe for awesome, at least theoretically. To be frank, I already like TSW's combat and have since beta, but apparently I'm in the minority as many reviews of the game (as well as popular commenter opinion) seem to regard it as a weak link. Either way, good on Funcom for moving forward, especially in light of its recent staffing challenges.

Animation fixes
While we're talking weak links, another oft-heard criticism of TSW usually involves the title's animations. They suck, apparently, but again this is news to my untrained eye because I've always found the game's visuals to be one of its strengths.

Regardless, Funcom is again addressing fan feedback here, as Bylos says that plans are in motion to beef up the Dreamworld engine's capabilities. "We know this was one of the major complaints both in the beta and after release," he explains, "and we are looking at how we can make player animations feel more fluid and natural. This entails implementing an entirely new animation backend for the Dreamworld engine, which will allow us to make improvement in both The Secret World and future Dreamworld projects."

This is an interesting development because Age of Conan is also powered by the Dreamworld platform, and if I remember correctly, those who know about such things actually found the animations to be one of AoC's selling points. In any case, I'm interested to see how much TSW's visuals change going forward, and at the risk of repeating myself... attaboy, Funcom.

Roleplaying content
Also buried in the bowels of Bylos' textual assault was an interesting blurb about some new roleplaying content. Yes, I just typed that. Roleplaying content. Repeat it with me, roleplayers. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Sharp-eyed readers will note that Ragnar Tornquist alluded to this last summer in TSW's first state-of-the-game address, but frankly I had forgotten about it after all the negative hubbub surrounding the game these last few weeks.

Fortunately, Funcom did not forget about it, and in addition to inserting the Big Apple raid and reticle combat, Issue #4 will open the doors to London's Albion Theatre. Bylos says that "players can put on plays for each other and receive rewards," though he omits any details for the time being. I really have no idea what this sort of feature entails; I know only that I'm very glad to see it given even a little bit of lip service. Funcom tried something that sounds sorta similar with Age of Conan's insult contests, but honestly, the concept fell on deaf ears given the PvP- and combat-centric nature of Hyboria's player population.

With TSW's active roleplay community and its focus on PvE and narrative, though, I'm betting the reception will be a lot warmer this time around.

That's all for this week, Secret Worlders. I'll see you in seven days, perhaps even sooner if you're shuttling between London, Agartha, and the City of the Sun God.

The Secret World - Albion Theatre
Yes, Jef Reahard is paid to play The Secret World. But he's not paid by Funcom; Massively leaves the bribes and the bad grammar to its imitators (it's a conspiracy!). Chaos Theory comes your way every Thursday, bringing you Gaia's latest news, guides, and commentary.

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